Before examining the theology, or rather, the strategy of Panikkar, it is useful to compare the present state and the recent history of Christianity with that of Hinduism - the main target of Catholic theologians like him (not to speak of Protestant politico-religious entrepreneurs like Pat Robenson). The basic problem for the Church today is its exposure as a secular political and economic institution; the public, at least in the West, is no longer buying its claim to being an institution concerned with spiritual upliftment. People know that most of its efforts have gone towards maintaining its secular wealth and power in the guise of religious activity. The history of Christianity as mainly a record of power struggles and publicity postures is there for everyone to see.
When we compare this with the history of Hinduism over the same period the contrasts are indeed striking. If we take 1846 as a benchmark - the year in which Pius IX, the first 'modern' Pope, ascended to the Holy See - over the succeeding century Hinduism gave the world Dayananada Saraswati, Ramakrishna
Paramahamsa, Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo, Ramana Maharshi and others, though not perhaps of the same stature, who delved deeply into the problems of the human spirit; none of them held or sought any political or economic power. The record of Christianity over the same period presents a barren landscape. Even Mother Teresa, undoubtedly the most admired Christian in the world today, is known more for her social work than anything within the realm of the spirit.
(A closer examination however, shows her work to be little more than a largely secular, fund-raising and publicity campaign. The cloak of religion and social work have allowed her to accept money and honours from the most unsavoury quarters -including mass murderers like Baby Doc Duvalier of Haiti - with no questions asked. Articles in the authoritative British medical journal Lancet have shown her health care programs to be dismal, lacking in basic hygiene. It is not widely known that one cannot adopt children from her orphanages unless the parents are Catholics, or convert to Catholicism. She also helps recruit Indian priests and nuns for the rapidly emptying churches and seminaries of Europe and America. Even the United States Army has need of her recruits to serve as chaplains. More recently she has also been involved in an unseemly political campaign by Indian Bishops to give special job preferences to 'low caste' Christians. This is partly the result of the declining fortunes of the Church in Europe leading to reduced contributions flowing into the missions in India.)
Furthermore, the Church is entirely a communal organization, and the clergy are its officials. No member of the clergy performs a spiritual function such as providing guidance to a troubled soul. Once he is removed from his affiliated church, a member of the clergy loses his standing. He is then not much different from a government official or a business executive out of office. He owes his position as a man of God only as an official in the organized church - not as a man who has realized any higher truth. In Ram Swarup's piquant phrase, he is a God-substitute appointed by the Church hierarchy - as a bureaucrat who knows the 'book'. There are no equivalent spiritual leaders in Christianity who stand apart from the 'organization' - as there are any number in Hinduism and Buddhism - men and women who are respected purely for their spirituality and not because of their official position in the religious hierarchy. Even a highly visible man like Reverend Billy Graham will be remembered as the friend of many presidents, and not for any spiritual message; contrast this with Mahatma Gandhi who for all his many follies will be remembered as the apostle of non-violence and tolerance.
The most spiritual figure produced by the West in recent history was undoubtedly Abraham Lincoln - the apostle of freedom and equality. It is illuminating to learn that Lincoln belonged to no church denomination and rejected the notion of revelation. This of course would have made him a non-believer in the eyes of devout Christians. So too was Thomas Jefferson - an active critic of Christianity. But Jefferson saw himself more as a Greek than a Christian.62
In light of this background, it should come as no surprise that the methods and activities of even the best-intentioned men of the Church have tended to be political and economic rather than spiritual. Even Albino Luciani (John Paul I), the most honourable man to assume the holy office in recent history, was preoccupied entirely with secular affairs during his short tenure. This being the case, the history of Christianity as a record of power struggles becomes fully understandable; the history of Hinduism on the other hand is essentially a history of different schools of thought. In Christianity, inflexible dogma, and, until recently, blasphemy laws have ensured
62 It was Jefferson who said, "The Christian God is cruel, vindictive, capricious and unjust." James Madison, his successor in the While House asked: "What have been Christianity's fruits? - superstition, bigotry and persecution."
that no new light can be shed on fundamental problems afflicting the spirit. (In Islam - its sister faith - such questions cannot even be raised.)
For these reasons, the Church's concern, as always, is to come up with new tactical moves to help in its expansion, and now its survival. And to achieve these goals, the Church finds it necessary to adopt surreptitious methods - something that it has always done. This brings us back to Raimundo Panikkar whose The Unknown Christ of Hinduism was hailed as a new synthesis of Christianity and Hinduism. It is nothing of the sort; it is a less than forthright tactical ploy to be used in undermining Hinduism in the name of 'synthesis'. It also goes to show how an exclusivist theology cannot view a pluralistic system with anything but predatory eyes. This was the case when Christianity encountered Greece two thousand years ago, and the Americas five hundred years ago. This is still the case in India with the present Pope and the American evangelist Pat Robertson admonishing the Hindus to:63
...confess their faith in Christ and receive a touch from heaven, and set free from a lifetime of bondage and demonic oppression.
In reality this means accepting as spiritual guide Pat Robertson - a man who with the help of dictator Mobutu has looted the rainforests of Zaire! The Pope has said much the same thing to Hindus and Buddhists - in more civil language of course. He also told his followers to look for a "new harvest" for their faith in Asia. In the circumstances intolerance is only to be expected.
Panikkar, however, cannot be accused of such crudities; for whatever his theology, he is a scholar of Indian origin who has studied Hindu scriptures. His method is not so much to denounce Hindu scriptures as to 'complete' them by submerging them within Christianity. This is not the place to go into the 'philosophy' propounded by Panikkar in his work beyond noting the fact that it claims to be a new synthesis of Hindu thought and Christianity - comparable in scope to the fusion of Christianity and Platonic thought sought by some early Christian philosophers. The blurb on the jacket of his book The Unknown Christ of Hinduism asserts:
Dr Panikkar's great concern is that Hindu philosophy should find its place in the Christian tradition in the sort of way that Platonic and Aristotelian found its place during the Middle Ages and late antiquity.
...He [Panikkar] will not dismiss Hinduism as wrong, or doomed to disappear. On the contrary, he sees Christ already at work in Hinduism, and declares that the good Hindu is saved by the sacraments of Hinduism.
The condescension displayed by Panikkar is breathtaking - allowing a 'good Hindu' to be saved by the unknown Christ of Hinduism! It is not his goodness that saves the heathen Hindu but the Christ hidden in Hindu sacraments. There is actually more to what Panikkar writes than meets the eye. It is not Christ that is hidden, but the real wish of Panikkar and his organization Opus Dei - the wish that Hinduism should meet with the same fate at the hands of Christianity as the Greek civilization of Plato and Aristotle.
The same wish was expressed in less subtle form by one Father J. Monchanin:64
63 Quotation by Ram Swarup in A Hindu-Buddhist Rejoinder, New Delhi, Voice of India, 1995. p. 12.
64 Quoted by Ram Swarup in Hindu View of Christianity and Islam. (Third revised edition), New Delhi, Voice of India, 1992, pp. 55-6.
Father Monchanin and other Christian enthusiasts do not want to tell us why Europeans who had themselves been 'shown the light' by Christianity had to go back to ancient Greek civilization to recover its lost pluralistic genius. Nor do they want to tell us why Europe itself has rejected Christianity.
India has received from the Almighty an uncommon gift, an unquenchable thirst for whatever spiritual. From the Vedic and Upanishadic times, a countless host of her sons [sic. and her daughters] have been great seekers of God...
Communion with Him and liberation from whatever hinders that realization, was for them the unique goal.
... Unfortunately, Indian wisdom is tainted with erroneous tendencies and looks as if it has not yet found its own equilibrium. So was Greek wisdom before Greece humbly received its Paschal message of the Risen Christ...
But once Christianised, Greece rejected her ancestral errors;.. .
Is not the message she [India] had to deliver to the world similar to the message of the ancient Greece? Therefore the Christianization of Indian civilization is to all intents and purposes an historical undertaking comparable to the Christianization of Greece. (Emphasis added.)
So, according to Father Monchanin, all India has to do is allow her civilization to be destroyed by marauders in the name of Christ - like the classical Greek civilization at the hands of vandals like 'Saint' Cyril of Alexandria and his hooligans. Only then will she find fulfillment having 'received its Paschal message of the Risen Christ' - a euphemism for allowing her ancient pluralistic civilization to be uprooted. Methods might have changed, but not the goals of Christianity - subvert, destroy and expand.
This is still not the whole story. It should be noted that the English edition of the book by which Panikkar is mainly known is a greatly sanitized version that gives a misleading picture of his real aims. K.D. Prithipaul who has looked at the original Spanish work had this to say:65
One can see evidence of this desire to convert a still incomplete Hinduism to its fulfilled stage, by the adoption of Christ as its essence, in Panikkar's early book entitled La India (1960). The original Spanish text was followed by an Italian version with the same title, and by its French version with the title Lettre sur l'lnde (1963). Largely because of the language barrier, most Hindu scholars have not read these books in which Panikkar refers to Hinduism as a lie, 'una mentira'. Shortly after the publication of La India appeared The Unknown Christ of Hinduism (1964)...
This book is actually the collection of the first chapters of Panikkar's doctoral thesis submitted at the Pontifical University in Rome, which explains the abrupt ending of the book. At the time the book appeared, Panikkar belonged to Opus Dei, an arch-conservative order. (Emphasis added.)
So from the Unknown Christ to Opus Dei! Opus Dei being that 'sinister, secretive and Orwellian organization' as Dr Roche of Oxford called it. As a former member of the organization, Roche clearly knew whereof he spoke. But he probably did not
65 In his review of Christ as Common Ground by Kathleen Healy, International Journal of Indian Studies, 1992. Vol. 2. No. 1. What I have seen in the French version fully bears out what Prithipaul has to say in his review of me Spanish version. I was not aware of Panikkar's connection with the sinister Opus Dei.
know that it was also a criminal organization with close ties to Licio Gelli's P2 that might have had a hand in the death of Pope John Paul I. And Orwellian is indeed an apt way of describing Panikkar's The Unknown Christ of Hinduism.
The fortunes of Opus Dei have been in the doldrums of late, what with its major benefactor Roberto Calvi 'suicided' in London by his Mafia friends, followed by the arrest of its patron Jose Mateos - 'the richest man in Spain' - by German authorities. So Opus Dei - the spiritual soulmate of Gelli and Sindona's P2, the maker and breaker of governments in Italy and Latin America - is the hidden Christ! This should give some idea of how far removed the Church, the Opus Dei ('Work of God') and its patron the present Pope (John Paul II), are today from any spiritual concerns. It is not known if Raimundo Panikkar is still a member of Opus Dei. One hopes not.
I brought up this episode among other reasons to draw attention to the fact that the Vatican does not distinguish between politics - no matter how unscrupulous -secular affairs and doctrinal issues. It may safely be stated that every organization of the Vatican is a secular department that may or may not have any religious duties. This means: whenever there is any dispute about a particular doctrine, or a perceived threat to it, the Vatican views it as a threat to its secular empire; as likely as not it will use purely secular methods to counter it - for it knows none other. It is in this light that we need to view the conduct of the Church in the face of the threat posed to it by the Dead Sea Scrolls. Scholars may complain that its methods hinder progress, but as far as the Church is concerned, its survival as an absolute monarchy is at stake. It is a war for survival, and all is fair.
This is how the Church has operated throughout its nearly two thousand year history. It is unrealistic for Biblical scholars and historians now to expect the Church to change its ways and play by the rules of academia and adhere to free debate. (Not that academia itself has always played by these rules, but that is a different story.) Recognizing this basic fact will help one understand the Church's response to its present crisis - the resurrection of the Inquisition in howsoever a modified form. It is worth taking a look at this hoary institution, and its metamorphosis into its present form - as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
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