Sunday, July 12, 2015

It’s Because We’re Still Around

In this case, the messenger was more important than the message.
When prominent neurosurgeon Dr. Upendra Devkota claimed the other day that Christian missionaries funded Nepal’s communist revolution, he didn’t break new ground.
Ever since we turned secular, Nepalis have been wondering what hit us. Or, more to the the point, how whatever hit us did hit us. In recent years, the debate has sharpened to the point where no one can even claim credit for having thrown out Hinduism together with the monarchy from the basic law of the land.
That someone of Dr. Devkota’s stature said so cuts both ways (pardon the pun).
On the one hand, for some, his inclusion in King Gyanendra’s first handpicked cabinet was ‘payback’ for his ‘cooperation’ at the military hospital on the night of the Narayanhity Carnage.
On the other, Dr. Devkota demonstrated early on as minister his no-nonsense demeanor when it came to matters of statecraft. He famously called the constitution a piece of paper if it could not embody the hopes and aspirations of the people.
The love-hate relationship between Christians and Hindus was established with the founding of the modern Nepali state. Among the first things of King Prithvi Narayan Shah, who asserting the country’s status as the real Hindustan, was the expulsion of the community of Capuchin missionaries. Interaction among different civilizations had positive and negative elements in the 18th century, as the Qing and Mughal courts both knew. When overt interference became the dominant creed of the purveyors of an alien faith, it produced a reaction locally. When the dispossessed and dislodged went into exile, they found well-oiled allies, leaving the rulers in Kathmandu in eternal attentiveness.
With the opening up of Nepal in the 1950s, the resurgent royals were driven by the same love-hate imperative. The Jesuits almost became a fraternity of their own because they lay low politically (or so we thought), while educating some of us. However, other Catholics and those professing rival branches of Christianity were on the state watch list.
Media in Kathmandu and the Vatican covered King Birendra’s one-on-one with Pope John Paul II as if it was some kind of concord of civilizations. The imperative was purely geostrategic. Nepal was still among the half a dozen countries or so where it was impossible to spread the Good News.
The Church is a corporate structure where the bosses strategize how they can get the best possible deal for their congregation. Religion may be the ultimate good, but there are trade-offs and detours. As an institution that once ruled much of what it held under its sway, the Church is also master of self-preservation.
Thus the Church funded the anti-Soviet jihadists in Afghanistan against the godless Communists with ease. If the Russians ever became free to worship, they had their own Orthodox Church, whose resurgence was a no-no anyway. It may be easier to understand things if we consider the European Union the latest successor to the Holy Roman Empire.
At least Pope Francis is honest about his institutional role. A true votary of the liberation theology of 1980s Latin America, he rails against capitalism with the élan of a Marxist. When the issue of genocide of Christians in the Middle East comes up, he pays little beyond lip service.
Coming to Dr. Devkota’s other point, why has Hinduism become the target of all other religions? Here’s a thought: every other faith emerged as an alternative to Hinduism. But we’re still around in great numbers. That must grate upon a lot of souls.