On 18 March 2012, the BBC broadcast its morning debate show the Big Questions:
In the above video ( start 4.28 ) Dilip Lakhani of the Vivekananda Centre was lambasted by Canon Chris Sugden for the caste system caused by Hindu beliefs. Sugden further argued that Hinduism only went onto its renaissance due t the influence on it by Christianity, of which Mahatma Gandhi was a product. Now Sugden is Executive Secretary of hardcore fundamentalist group called the Anglican Mainstream in which the old racist and colonialist stereotypes of Hindus are obviously very much alive. This is further enhanced by his role in the Oxford Centre of Mission Studies. He spoke of living in India and having ‘dialogue’ with Hindu leaders. Having watched this programme I was to find out first-hand what this man’s idea of dialogue was. At best it was warped and bizarre. Most of the time it was non-existent.
First he never replied to my email or acknowledged it, Then he was constantly unavailable on the phone, apart from getting his point across that social change was useless without religious conversion because unlike Hinduism which taught inequality through its creation myths, Christianity had better myths which taught equality. This was in reference to Brahma, where the four classes are created from various parts of his body, the lowest ‘caste’ being from his feet. After that Sugden put the phone down and refused to speak again.
Now let us examine his claims. The creation myth of Brahma explains who all society is all part of one greater whole. To call it a manifesto for inherent inequality is simplistic. Indeed all pre-modern societies were unequal. All had creation myths similar to Brahma. For example the Norse had the primeval being Ymir, and the Chinese had Pan’ku. As to Christianity bringing equality and teaching all are equal well the very Bible itself makes a nonsense of this. Eve was created from one of Adam’s ribs. So in Genesis itself women are deemed inferior.
The Church historically treated them as subhuman and when they got too uppity they found themselves burnt at the stake as witches. Such was the result of the much lauded ‘Reformation’. In fact the godfather of that puritanical trend was Martin Luther who not only marked women as inferior but also advocated the wholesale massacre of peasants when they dared to raise their demands for equality. In fact Luther was quite smug about it. This was the same time that king like Charles I claimed to rule by divine right, and Oliver Cromwell put down the sect that actually was demanding equality, the Levellers.
Can Sugden be so ignorant? Does his Hinduphobic bigotry make him that myopic? The Church had historically stood against equality and freedom and as such was marked for attack by revolutions in France, Mexico and then Russia. In the deepest religious heartland of America known as Bible Belt, white preachers and churches expressed their love for blacks by importing them as slaves from Africa, and subjecting them to mass rape and abuse by the lash. Can Canon Sugden ignore this? How about when he reads his so called equality Bible and comes cross disturbing verses?
However, you may purchase male or female slaves from among the foreigners who live among you. You may also purchase the children of such resident foreigners, including those who have been born in your land. You may treat them as your property, passing them on to your children as a permanent inheritance. You may treat your slaves like this, but the people of Israel, your relatives, must never be treated this way. (Leviticus 25:44-46 NLT)
When a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod so hard that the slave dies under his hand, he shall be punished. If, however, the slave survives for a day or two, he is not to be punished, since the slave is his own property. (Exodus 21:20-21 NAB)
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ. (Ephesians 6:5 NLT)
Christians who are slaves should give their masters full respect so that the name of God and his teaching will not be shamed. If your master is a Christian, that is no excuse for being disrespectful. You should work all the harder because you are helping another believer by your efforts. Teach these truths, Timothy, and encourage everyone to obey them. (1 Timothy 6:1-2 NLT)
In the following parable, Jesus clearly approves of beating slaves even if they didn’t know they were doing anything wrong.
The servant will be severely punished, for though he knew his duty, he refused to do it. “But people who are not aware that they are doing wrong will be punished only lightly. Much is required from those to whom much is given, and much more is required from those to whom much more is given.” (Luke 12:47-48 NLT)
Even after ‘emancipation’ white churches refused to let blacks join and should they dare claim equality they would soon be visited by nasty devout Christians wearing white sheets and burning a sacred wooden cross. The love of Christ indeed! As jazz singer Billie Holiday so poignantly immortalised in the eerie ‘Strange Fruit’, the Bible Belt was littered with mutilated corpses of African-Americans hanging from trees. Then again in the Bible it preaches blacks are inferior in Jeremiah 13:12:
Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.
How about this one Mr Sugden, in Songs of Solomon 1:5?
I am black, but comely, Oh ye daughters of Jerusalem, As the tents of Kedar, As the curtains of Solomon.
Why would someone say that if being black was not ugly? And here it is in the Lord’s book! Southern Baptists fully backed slavery and only allowed black membership from the 1970s.
Sugden’s main weapon is that Hindu scriptures teach caste and therefore a third of India is deemed inferior. Christianity offers equality. But does it? Can anyone be accepted as a brother (even if not a sister because of that rib Eve got formed out of)? Martin Luther did not just advocate the massacre of peasants if they got sick of being treated like inferior beings. He also wanted the Jews exterminated. No wonder he was such a hero to the Third Reich. But then he was only quoting from Christianity’s sacred book. In here Jews are cursed for eternity.
“Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.”
In the next bloodcurdling verse, the Jewish spectators demand that responsibility for Jesus’ death be placed on themselves and on all their descendants:
“When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it. Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children.”
The Book of Revelation repeats John’s accusation that the Jews were secret demon-worshippers:
“Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee.”
It is the constant anti-Jewish refrain that led to the Holocaust. It is easy to see why Canon Sugden does not want real ‘dialogue’. In fact it is worse. Sugden boasts smugly about how Gandhi got his ideas from Christianity. Indeed he did, but this is hardly something to boast about because Gandhi’s anti-Semitism and lack of sympathy for the Jewish victims of the Holocaust or for the state of Israel come directly from the anti-Semitic virus he was infected with by Christian missionaries. This in a country with no history of anti-Semitism.
Perhaps Sugden should stare this reality in the face before embarking on foreign jaunts to force outdated and laughable ideas down the throats of his unwilling victims in poor countries like India where conversions are made at the point of a free bowl of rice and soup (in the case of Nagaland, Orissa, Meghalaya and Tripura) a bullet to the skull. He should also ask if his beliefs are so superior and socially levelling why has Christianity declined across Europe, and only thrives in America because it provides a welfare service in a country where even basic health care is out of reach for a third of the country (a bit like the third in India he claims are deemed inferior by birth). But then dogmatic and bigoted beliefs never did like intelligent discussion. Which is exactly why Neo-Platonist philosopher (and woman) Hypatia was torn limb from limb in the name of Christ and the Great Library of Alexandria burnt down by a Christian mob. This is exactly how Canon Sugden’s religion achieved victory, not through civilised debate.