Must one retire from religion?

Doubting Catholics don’t stop being doubting Catholics, even though history of religion and bigotry have changed

Photo courtesy: Twitter
Photo courtesy: Twitter

Hartman De Souza

Every doubting Catholic like me, fifteen-years-old, growing up in Kenya, will remember priests in shiny white cassocks and glittering vestments, exhorting the congregation in their sermons preceding December 25 that they should remember what the day signified – that it was not a time to eat and drink and sing and be merry, but to offer peace to all humankind.

It didn’t stop the Catholics, doubting or otherwise, from fattening the calves and getting ready to make pigs of themselves. The cooking and baking began a good ten days earlier. Everyone ate and drank and sang and made merry, with everyone invited to the Christmas lunch, whether they attended the morning mass or not, or whether they knew the words and melody or whether they sang bum notes or not.

It was close family and your parents’ friends – whether they were Catholics or not. Since they were my parents’ friends, they could have been Hindu, Muslim (probably didn’t know the difference between Sunni and Shia and died not knowing), or Khoja, Sikh, Anglican, Malayalee Protestant/Orthodox, and could definitely have transcended the food being eaten, the colour of their skins and passports – off the cuff, they would have been Indian, Pakistani, Kenyan, British, Canadian or German.

That’s following the spirit of Christmas. Every one eats, drinks, sings, makes merry, wishes each other peace on earth, leaves white doves to dot the skyline and bring forth a new world...

In early 2015, I made fun of the BJP ideologues who made fun of my son’s father calling him a ‘pseudo-secularist’.

I stand by what I wrote, and it’s worth repeating, because today, after the dastardly attack at Satna, it needs to be repeated over and over again like a mantra:

“When our son was born, we delayed his Naming Ceremony until we reached the day when the Hindutva SS Troopers pulled down the Babri Masjid, then held his ceremony on a misty, drizzly evening under a large tree close to the Vice-Chancellor’s Office at the University of Poona that my wife remembered with fondness. We gave him another Kiswahili name meaning ‘Light’, and dedicated him to fighting communalism of all kinds. His retired Hindu grandparents, and an uncle and aunt, sang a song in Marathi and recited a few prayers; and my cousin, a practising Catholic nun, read some Haiku written by a Jesuit priest”.

That’s being a ‘retired Catholic’, that’s celebrating the spirit of Christmas...

On December 5, so that we should never forget that shameful day in 1992, filmmaker Rahul Roy listed the number of Indians killed because of the Hindutva storm-troopers pulling down the mosque. Only eight hundred and twenty Indians in that same year, definitely not a year that you would like to remember signifying peace on earth to humankind...

Doubting Catholics don’t stop being doubting Catholics, even though history of religion and bigotry have changed.

When still young but old enough to know, one remembers a vintage Mad magazine taking the mickey out of the Christmas season in a special edition – with the bonus, a pull-out poster of the Three Wise Men, not bearing frankincense or myrrh, but one with missiles, one with guns, and one with bombs...does anyone remember Monty Python’s Life of Brian?? Okay, may be the wrong time to talk about that film; or Pasolini’s superb film on the gospel, could have put a huge bounty on their heads...

Has there been a season to feel that things have changed. The three wise men are still around: so easy to imagine all three of them pro-big-business, all of whom hating equality, all them patting each other on the backs, with fake hugs, and eyes that catch fire while they divide the world for themselves, and for those who are straight and narrow as them. One’s an Arab prince, one’s an American sheikh, one’s Indian king. They would also be the same triumvirate that sits on the table to decide the fate of the LGBTQ community world-wide? Isn’t that funny?

And you dare to ask me about Satna?? Or the fact that they’ve brought their tricks to Jerusalem?? That both the Jews and Christians could be targeted by extremists in Egypt?

It’s reached that time of the year when everyone, to celebrate the oneness of this world, the real season of goodwill, must retire from their religion.

Do I have a Christmas wish? Sure I do. After having said that I am very happy my father died and didn’t have to see his beautiful India riven apart with the hate of one Indian against another, I wish he could come back again for just one evening, to have a drink with his beloved Pandit Nehru. He was also the author of The Discovery of India and Glimpses of World History, two books that inspired my father enough to give them to his son to read when he was sixteen.

I’d love to be the lizard on the wall as they sip their single malts and nibble on beef shammi kababs that melt in the mouth. Or will they just weep when they’re told about Satna?

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