21 September 2000, 810 words
Some weeks ago, the Vatican issued a declaration saying that Catholicism is superior to all other religions. The main basis for the claim to superiority was that other religions didn't have the Pope. Mind you, there have been Popes who ordered or overlooked mass murders, took bribes, had lovers and even contracted syphilis. Logic therefore makes it difficult to see how having a Pope can be a basis for spiritual superiority; but, of course, no religion has ever let logic interfere with its reasoning.
Is there any other basis on which the Catholic Church can claim superiority? It's difficult to judge. In its stand against abortion and condom use and in its refusal to ordain women priests, the Church has done an excellent job perpetuating the inferior status of women. But Islam can rightfully claim to do this even better.
Not only does the Qu'ran actually say to beat disobedient wives, it says to do so even if the man just thinks his wife might defy him: "...those from whom you fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to separate beds and whip them." [Surah 4, verse 34].
Thanks to such laws, in Pakistan, a woman can be put in prison for being raped and, in Muslim Nigeria, a unwed pregnant 17-year-old girl will receive 180 lashes after she delivers her baby.
Hinduism, too, can claim equal status with other religions in its views on females. The Bhagavadgita describes women as being of "lower birth". The Manusamhita states categorically that females must never be given freedom but must be "protected" by her father and then her husband.
In India, this "protection" has resulted in five million girls vanishing from the population between 1981 and 1991, in more than 500 women being killed every month for dowries, in an average marital age for Indian women of below 21 years and in fewer than four in 10 women being able to read.
It might be argued, however, that the Catholic Church can claim superiority in its promotion of oppression and barbarism. After all, the Popes of the past did little or nothing to prevent the genocide of Amerindian tribes in the New World, the traffic in enslaved Africans, or the Holocaust.
But both the Bible and the Qu'ran portray slavery as legitimate and support the death penalty. Similarly, the Bhagavadgita justifies the caste system, which is only a form of slavery, and all major Hindu texts allow killing (especially of persons who commit heinous crimes like robbing the rich, arson and squatting). So, theologically or historically, I don't think any religion can claim a clear-cut superiority in oppression and savagery.
What about the promotion of ignorance, though? Surely Islam and Hinduism have done better than the Catholic Church in this respect? After all, Islamic spokespersons continually claim that the Qu'ran must be the word of God because, among other things, the Qu'ran has scientific knowledge that nobody knew 1400 years ago.
Indeed, scientists apparently still haven't discovered the scientific facts in the Qu'ran. Did you know, for example, that the Earth is flat [18:86, 90], that mountains stop earthquakes [21:31], that the moon has its own light [10:5], that ants talk [27:18-19], and that human beings are formed from a clot of blood [23:14]?
Hinduism also has similarly wonderful scientific facts. The universe is 4.32 billion years old, for instance, not the approximately 14 billion years astronomers say it is. It couldn't be the latter, because that figure would contradict the Hindu concept of time. And, because the world is so old, evolutionary theory is also wrong - so wrong that the theory doesn't even say that there are 400,000 human species, as Hindu swamis tell us.
Yep. That's no doubt why, in last week's Independent, Pundit Ramesh Tewari could say, "Hinduism teaches the importance of preserving and not watering down one's race," he said. Scientists tell us that race has no significant biological basis; but who are scientists to contradict the word of God's spokesmen?
The Catholic Church, having declined in power, has admitted that the Earth does move around the sun and that evolution is more than a theory. On the other hand, Stephen Hawking records that in 1981 physicists were told by the Pope that they should not study the Big Bang because that was the moment of Creation and therefore the work of God.
On that basis, and on the basis of the Vatican's declaration, it seems that the Church has not learnt from past errors. In fact, it seems that the 1864 Syllabus of Errors, which stated that the Pope had no obligation to "reconcile and harmonize himself with progress, liberalism and recent civilization" still holds good. But Catholics can hardly claim any superiority on that basis, since the credo obviously applies to all religions.
Copyright ©2000 Kevin Baldeosingh