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The Pope, the Greats, the Tragedies

by Alamgir Hossain

17 Jul, 2007

The death of Pope John Paul II created an extraordinarily overwhelming hysteria and media-hype across the world. Millions from across the continents have traveled to the Vatican to have a last look at the dead body of the Pope. Events following the death of the departed Pope must have been a billion-dollar affair. 

And there have been calls for ordaining the title "Pope the Great" to John Paul II. As his casket laid for the funeral at Saint Peters Square, the avid followers from below unfurled a giant 15-meter banner, reading "Santo Subito" - meaning "sainthood now". Why not? Pope himself ladled out sainthood to hundreds like cheap cakes. It is estimated that the Pope had canonized 482 saints - a figure greater than those combined by his predecessors over past four centuries. When he can ordain sainthood to such exorbitant number of people, then why not himself? Two-thirds of American Catholics are supporting the sainthood to John Paul II. Now there are stories of Pope's performing miracles (requirement for sainthood) including curing leukemia of a Mexican teenager and brain tumor of an American man. Catholics from the Africa, South America, Asia and other third world countries would surely vote overwhelmingly in favor of John Paul II's sainthood. Recent e-campaign by the Vatican has attracted thousands of emails with evidence for Pope's miracles and in support of his Sainthood. The Catholic Church has launched the official process which may culminate in sainthood for the late Pope John Paul II with a service in Rome (BBC News, June 28, 2005). His sainthood is just about a formality and is surely going to be a fast-track one.

As sainthood to Pope John Paul II awaits just a formality, there is growing momentum for awarding him another extraordinary title, "the Great".  Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who presided at the funeral Mass, in his written homily referred to John Paul as "The Great" - an honorific applied only to two of the church's 263 previous pontiffs. Pope John Paul II would surely make himself worth the "the Great" title of the modern time. It remains a fact that no other modern figure would create such an overwhelming media-hype and astonishing public hysteria around his/her life as well as death. Pope John Paul II's charisma even seemed to have win favor amongst his sworn enemies including Fidel Castro, the last communist vanguard who ordered three days of mourning for Pope. Even the Taliban, who used to behead Christian preachers if caught in Afghanistan, conceded: "Pope's word worth considering". Given these facts, Pope John Paul II would deserve the "the Great" title as much as he deserves the sainthood - the latter he will surely achieve.

Pope the Greats and the Tragedies

There has been a number of "the Greats" in the history mankind. Amongst them, there were two Popes, Gregory the Great (Papacy 590-604 CE) and Leo the Great (Papacy 440-461 CE). Before I get into the discussion of these two Pope "the Greats", let me shed some lights on another Christian "the Great", known as Constantine the Great (BCE 280-337). Constantine the Great could be considered as one of the founding fathers of modern Christianity, alongside Jesus and Saint Paul. Constantine the Great was a great warrior and had fought many ruthless wars to become the undisputed ruler of the Roman Empire. It is known that in 312, he was engaged in a difficult Battle with Maxentius. On the eve of the decisive Battle with Maxentius, named Battle of the Milvian Bridge (near Rome), Constantine saw a "fiery cross" in the sky together with the words, "By this sign, shalt thou conquer." Apparently, this provided him great strength to fight the brutal war and he defeated Maxentius. Following that war, he became very religious and as a first step, he instituted the Edict of Milan to empower the Christians. This did not only transformed the small and often persecuted Christian sect into the dominant religion of Europe within a century but also marked the beginning of the official persecution of the Jews, which persisted for so many centuries and led to the Holocaust during World War II.

Although it is Constantine the Great who put the Christianity in strong footing through various discriminatory edicts against other religious sects, he never established Christianity as state religion. However, the two Pope the Greats (Leo and Gregory) contributed a great deal towards the making of Christianity into a great cruel legacy. Pope Leo the Great was strongly intolerant of non-Christian religious faiths. The Manichians, who had settled in Rome after being driven out from Africa, became his worst victims. Emperor Valentinian III issued, at Pope Leo's instigation, a stern edict in which he established seven punishments for the Manich'ans. On 30 January, 444, the pope sent a letter to all the bishops of Italy warning them to be on their guard and to take action against the followers of the Manichian sect. Those who did not convert to Christianity were evicted from Rome and the provinces. Pope Leo the Great thus did not only initiate a legacy of intolerance against those who did not subscribe to Christianity, by the time of his death, it also became quite evident that the emperor had become a puppet and the real political power was at the hand of the Clergy.

Pope Gregory the Great, only had walked further along the path of Pope Leo and made sure that it was a duty of the secular ruler to protect the Church and preserve the "peace of the faith". So, he was often found to call in the aid of the secular arm to suppress schism, heresy, or idolatry. Pope Gregory made sure that the rulers and the clergy became virtually a single entity thus transforming Christianity to what is called "state religion". There started the legacy of cruelty and barbarity of Christian religion - being one of the greatest of its kind - and the advent of Dark Age in Europe. Killing and burning of unfortunate women as witches, estimated to be a hundred thousands to a few millions, and innumerable number of atheists and pagans (including the brilliant scientists Giordano Bruno), heartless slaughtering of the Jews and Christians in the holy land, the bloody Catholic-Protestant war in Europe and killing an estimated 50 million indigenous people in South America etc. became the fruit of the seeds sown by the two Pope the Greats.

The advent of Christianity ushered in the fall of the classical Roman Empire instituted on rationalism and scientific thoughts of the Greek Civilization and started the arrival of the Dark Age (~5th to 10th century) and the Middle Age (until 17th Century). These ages of Christian domination was a period of irrationality, superstition and tyranny and was characterized as a period of stagnation in economic development and lack of progress in literature, arts, philosophy, rationalism and science as well as a period of extreme religious violence and cruelty. Decline of the Christian domination started with the arrival of the "Age of Enlightenment" which also refers to a historical intellectual movement, "The Enlightenment." This movement had advocated rationality as a means to establish an authoritative system of ethics, aesthetics and knowledge. The intellectual leaders of this movement regarded themselves as courageous and elite and their purpose as rescuing the world out of the Dark Age and toward progress. This movement had also provided a launching pad for the American and French Revolutions, as well as leading to the rise of "capitalism" and the birth of "socialism". Prominent courageous Enlightenment philosophers, namely Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Ennamuel Kante who were vocal in attacking the religiously dominated Middle Ages as a period of social decline and the existing system of Church and state. The Enlightenment movement  acted as the precursor for the separation of Church and state, leading to the emergence of modern secularism and democracy in the Western world.

Centuries of "age of reason and enlightenment" progressively emasculated the Christianity and its grip to state power. However, the religious fervor in Western Europe, defying over 200 hundred years of Enlightenment and emasculation, got rejuvenated early in the 20th century. World War I is a prime example of religious invigoration as Bertrand Russell writes: "The First World War was wholly Christian in origin. The three emperors were devout and so were the more warlike of the British Cabinet." Christianity played a key role in WWII too, since Hitler was a devout Christian, whose famous book Mein Kampf was profoundly influenced by Martin Luther's book of Protestant Reformation containing strong anti-Jew tone. Hitler's soldiers used to sing "God on our side" as they went to the battle. In his own words, Hitler had claimed himself blessed by God to kill the Jews:

"Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: 'by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord." [Adolph Hitler].

"God gave the savior to German people. We have faith, deep and unshakeable faith, that he (Hitler) was sent to us by GOD to save Germany." [Hitler's Elite].

Pope John Paul II - a maker of future catastrophe?

Christianity has seen a resurrection in Western world throughout the last century albeit in a slow pace. We do not see a recent or future US president who would bravely refuse to meet the Pope like President JF Kennedy, "I am a Catholic man and not a Catholic President...". We have watched liberal president Clinton and we saw John Kerry hopping into Churches to show his strong faith in religion for winning votes in the last US presidential election. It is doubtful if the United States has ever witnessed a devout president like Ronald Reagan, and President Bush since her founding in 1776.

And the great Pope John Paul II has played a great role in rejuvenating the dying Christian faith in the Western world. The utopian Communist experimentation, which turned tragic for humanity and Pope John Paul II exploited the opportunity like an immaculate master to invigorate the religious sentiments amongst the common people and set them on the ungodly Communist regimes around the world. Having devoutly religious presidents in the Whitehouse like Ronald Reagan and the Bush senior, have immensely helped the theological cause of the Pope.

Too much accolade has been heaped on Pope John Paul II for inspiring the downfall of Communism, yet there remains a lot of doubt about how much his Christian faith has contributed to the fall of Communism. Because Communism did not collapse in China or Cuba, in spite of a more open access to religious preaching in these countries as compared to the Communist countries of Easter Europe when the cruel authoritarian regimes were brought down by popular uprisings. The desire for freedom from oppression and tyranny, which was not enshrined in Christian doctrine but instead in the Enlightenment and the French and American Revolutions, must have played a major role in uprooting Communism in Eastern Europe. The history of Christian legacy in the Western world has never been one of freedom and democracy but instead one of cruelty, oppression, tyranny and subjugation similar to the Communist legacy. Hence, it is unfathomable as to how Christian faith might have played any significant role in achieving freedom from the cruelty and tyranny of Communism.

Whatever might be the contribution of Pope John Paul II in dismantling Communism, the rejuvenation of Christian faith is worrisome nonetheless. There has been too much of blood bath and sacrifice by the reformers and freethinkers in emasculating the terror of Christian faith and rescuing the world from the age of darkness. Going back to the same path is definitely worrisome. The rise of Christian Right groups in Europe, Australia, and the United States is already undoing many of the civil liberties and individual rights that were achieved through the ages of Enlightenment. The Vatican has always been there to support any such measures. We witnessed the tragedy of Christian rejuvenation in the Balkan following the fall of Communism there and Pope John Paul II can surely be made partially responsible for that tragedy.

Yet, the great Pope failed to make an overwhelming impact resuscitating the Christian faith in Europe and the cunning Pope had caste his eyes on right targets which are the impoverished, illiterate and superstitious countries of Asia and Africa. Christianity has made a strong headway in those unfamiliar lands through his great many trips to those destinations as well as through vigorous proselytizing activities. There has been a lot of praises for the Pope for his tone of reconciliation and harmony with other religions and his visiting mosques, synagogues, temples and what not. The master artist has surely been a great success in fooling the gullible world.

It should be recognized that despite all the gestures of reconciliation by the Pope, the period of his stewardship at the Vatican has seen a steady rise in the conflicts and fights between Christians and followers of other religions in Asia and Africa in particular. The reason is very simple: Pope's stewardship at the Vatican has seen an aggressive preaching and propagation of the Christian faith in those unfamiliar territories. We have seen religious violence between Christian and Muslims in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nigeria, between Christians and Hindus in India and between Christians and Buddhists in Sri Lanka. This rise in violence is due to aggressive preaching and conversion of the Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists in those countries, which angers the indigenous Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists alike. One thing to be considered is that Buddhism is universally recognized to be the most pacifist religion without any history of violence and even the great thinker Einstein saw it as the religion of the future. However, followers of this peaceful religion are becoming increasingly intolerant and violent (like Muslims, Christians etc.) in countries like Sri Lanka because of active conversion of their followers to Christianity.

Things are not too bad as yet despite increasing attacks on Christian converts, priests and nuns by the people of local religions in countries like Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka etc. However, the future may not remain the same and indeed may turn out to be gory. As Christians would grow in number and strength, which will increasingly anger the followers of local religions, tensions would only grow, violence will increase and if the Christians grow strong enough to hit back, there will be terrible blood-bath in these countries.

The master tactician Pope John Paul II has paved the way for this likely future conflicts and blood-bath through a master-stroke. And that master-stroke is his visiting mosques, synagogues, temples and what not in the guise of reconciliation, recognition and harmony amongst different religions. This was nothing but a "deceptive ploy" by the great Pope such that he (his religion) would attain a favorable impression amongst the Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists in the third world countries which would give his mission a better acceptance and access to non-Christian third world countries. In deed, the Pope had openly declared his ultimate mission: "the church will reap a harvest of faith in the Asian Continent in the new millennium". And that master stroke has worked brilliantly for Christian proselytizing mission across the world away from the Western Europe. 

Yet, the people across the continents, including many of the great minds of our time, have voraciously consumed the deceptive trick of the Pope and heaped loads of accolades and praises on him. What kind of gesture of amity, reconciliation and recognition of other religions is this when he launched a more aggressive mission to proselyte the followers of those religions? Doesn't that simply mean "I recognize your religion but mine is good and yours is bad?" This simple thing did not get into the minds of great leaders like former Russian president Mikhail Gorbachev and EU president Jose Manuel Barroso (forget about president Bush) who have been in unfettered praise of Pope's deceptive gesture of so-called reconciliation with and recognition of other religions in the aftermath of Pope's death.

The Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists can engage in active conversion of the Christians in the Western world. Why the Pope, then, cannot do the same in the third world? This is a valid argument and the Christian missionaries should be able to engage in the act of conversion. However, it is a helpless reality that the people in the third world are uneducated, less tolerant and deeply fanatic about their religions unlike those in the Western world. And it is also true that Christian churches had burned innumerable number of apostates and atheists in the past. There is no credit to Christianity or the Christianists for the tolerance that exists in the Western world; all credit belongs to the centuries of assaults and sacrifices of the unorthodox reformists and freethinkers who forced tolerance on the Clergies albeit against stiff resistance.

Since, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists can proselytize Christians freely in the West; Christian missionaries should also be allowed to do the same in Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist countries in Asia and Africa. However, it is a bitter truth that if Christian conversion goes in full-swing in Asia and Africa as desired and envisioned by the Pope, there will be increasing tensions between Christianity and the local religions. The Christian converts and priests have already been attacked and murdered and nuns have been raped in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. As Christians form a critical mass, they will surely hit back and there will be a disastrous bath-blood. There is only two ways to stop that: either if proselytizing is stopped or the people in Asia and Africa learn to become tolerant. With the religious passion and fanaticism of the people on an unassailable rise in those countries, the latter is an unlikely possibility whilst the former is equally unlikely, given that priests and pastors from Western countries are willing to defy likely deaths to carry on their mission. Just two day ago (15/07/2005), an Italian Catholic Bishop was shot dead in Kenya. So, a great human tragedy appears to be in the waiting.

Stop Proselytizing

It is unfair to stop Christians from proselytizing since followers of other religions are doing the same in Christian countries without any major problem. But an ominous possibility outlined above remains very real. It is time for the secularists, freethinkers and atheists to take a hard look at the problem. It should be reiterated again that the religionists had never contributed to anything in the past that could reduce religious conflicts and cruelty, be it the banning of widow burning (Sati) in Hinduism or witch burning in Christianity. It has been the secularists, freethinkers and atheists who enforce these things on the religionists. And once again, the religionists are not going to do anything in tackling future tragedies that may arise from religious causes. For example, the current blithe of Islamic terrorism are not being countered by the Islamic religionists. They are mostly supporting it and only when under pressures, doing some eye-wash condemnation. We have not seen any Islamic cleric refuted the claims of the suicide bombers on the Koranic ground they present, nor have they sought to edit those Koranic texts so that future generations would not turn to the same menace. It is the home-grown secularists, Islamic apostates and freethinkers as well as non-Muslims Western powers trying all their means to modernize and moderate Islam.

If there is a real danger that may arise from the aggressive Christian missionary activities in Asia and Africa, the secularists, atheists and freethinkers again have to wear the mantle of stopping that likely tragedy. The Islamists, Hinduists, Buddhists or Christianists are surely not going to take any step, regardless of how serious the tragedy would be - they never had in past tragedies. Given the nature of the problem, the only way out is a complete ban on proselytizing of any sorts and anywhere in the world. This is going to be a very difficult job, given that Western secular democracies are strongly in support of allowing free proselytizing in any country. However, if the atheists, freethinkers and secularists think that they have one important job in hand, then "campaign against religious proselytizing" should be that job. It is time to raise your voice or else it might be too late to stop that ensuing human catastrophe.

Let us realize that there is no "real value" in the activities of propagating the primitive and illusory cultist doctrines, be it Islam, Christianity, Hinduism or Buddhism, which have caused human sufferings greater than those resulted from any other single cause in the history of mankind. The kind of nonsensical primitive rituals that were performed for the burial of the Pope (done for centuries away from public view) clearly indicates where the mindset of real Christianity stands in modern days and if they are allowed to rule the world, the consequences are very clear: reappearance of the Dark Age remains a real possibility. There is no reason to believe that Churches would not go back to the teachings of the Bible and start burning the witches ("Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" Exodus 22:18) and the atheists and freethinkers who criticize Christianity ("Whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost it shall not be forgiven him neither in this world nor in the world to come." Mat 12:32), if they regain the power. And most shockingly and shamelessly, world's greatest satellite TV channels, including CNN and BBC, telecasted those primitive mambo-jumbo rituals live around the world with great fanfare.


It is now clear that John Paul II, the evidently the greatest Pope of recent centuries, have sown the seed of likely apocalyptic tragedy as did the other Pope the Greats, namely Leo and Gregory for now-effaced cruelty of Christianity. There was another "the Great" in Christian holy legacy of terror and cruelty, named Charlemagne or "Charles the Great", who was crowned Emperor on Christmas Day in 800 CE by Pope Leo III. Then there were other "the Greats", namely Cyrus the Great (founder of the great Persian Empire; 590-529 BCE) and Alexander the Great (the great ancient conqueror; 356-323 BCE). All these "the Greats" have one thing in common - they were great warriors who created some of the largest Empires through numerous wars at the cost of innumerable number of human lives. Yet, there were differences between the conquests of secular "the Greats" like Cyrus/Alexander and the Christianist "the Greats", namely Charlemagne and Constantine in that the former were very respectful of the local people, their religions and cultures whilst the latter sought to destroy the cultures and religions of the conquered people. For example, after defeating the pagan Saxons, Charlemagne killed those who did not convert to Christianity or reverted back to paganism. Indeed, Charlemagne (in association with the Popes) was the founder of the thousand-year long Holy Roman Empire of cruelty and terror which included the inquisitions, the burning and killing of a greater number of witches, atheists and pagans. Constantine's discriminatory policies to force non-Christian to covert has been discussed already. On the other hand, Alexander had envisioned the Graeceo-Persian Empire with the conquered Persians in equal partnership with the Greeks and Macedonians. Cyrus the Great was no different from Alexander in that when he conquered Judea in 536 BCE, he allowed the return of the Jews, who were evicted from their homeland by the Babylonians when the latter conquered Judea in 586 BCE. Michael Hart writes in "The 100": There seems little doubt that he (Cyrus the Great) was a remarkably humane ruler for his time. Even the Greeks, who long considered the Persian Empire to be the chief threat to their own independence, never ceased to regard Cyrus as a thoroughly admirable ruler."

Given this is the standard of "the Greats" in our history, there must have been others worthy of the title although they were never duly rewarded. There should have been Genghis Khan the Great, Prophet Muhammad the Great, Prophet Moses the Great, William (the Conqueror) the Great, Hitler the Great and Umar (Khattab) the Great - the master warriors and makers of great human tragedies in the history of mankind. And "Pope John Paul II the Great" may not have been much different in engineering a human tragedy which is yet to come. Pope has surely done a great deal in reversing the tide of the Enlightenment in the Western world. However, this scribe has already outlined Pope's sowing the seed of a graver human disaster to come. If the thesis of this scribe holds any water, the question would be: Are we going to wait and see? We have enough of hindsight from the long history to decide our course of action. From hindsight, wait and see has always been disastrous. There is no time for the secularists, atheists and the freethinkers to take refuge in slumber. Actions have to start now if we wish to avoid this coming disaster.

Literatures Consulted:

  1. The 100, Michael H Hart
  2. Why I am not a Christian, Bertrand Russell

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