Recently, while reading a Wikipedia article about a Star Wars villain called Khan Noonien Singh, I stumbled across a reference to John Milton’s “Paradise Lost”. Walking that treacherously enlightening path of Wikipedia linked articles, I reached the page about a Frenchman named Collin de Plancy and his book called “Dictionnaire Infernal”. This is a book published in the 1800s, classifies and describes 69 demons according to Christianity and provides detailed drawings of their physical characteristics.
Now, I’m not one to think much about Christian myth, but stories ignite a passion in me. Stories like Anthony Hopkins’ recent movie “The Rite”. It too dealt with demons and exorcism and since then, I’ve been interested in the subject and the mythology surrounding it. But this “dictionary” of demons left me with a bad taste. One of the sources of the Wikipedia article is a website maintained by someone talking about the philosophy of religion. Here’s a quote from the section that details the contents of the dictionary in plain English (the original book is in French) –
I personally wouldn’t classify Ganga as a ‘demon.’
What??? Well, it seems that Collin de Plancy, who never set foot in India, listed out 5 Indian Gods or Demigods as demons in his book. The book described the Gods in their angry or sadistic form, talking about physical forms that are in no way associated with the Indian versions but describing how the Indians worshiped or feared these “demons”. The author of the website apologizes for hurting the religious sentiments of Hindus and Buddhists but says that the text will remain online in order to be historically correct instead of politically correct. I respect that thought.
Religion is a deeply personal concept. Calling out someone’s religion is like saying that my kid is better than yours. There’s no way anyone can bear the comparison. What Collin de Plancy further did, was to misunderstand Hindu myth and use that incorrect knowledge to create Christian concepts. Such incompetence only hurts.
Shifting gears just a bit, this news item caught my eye today –
Germany’s secular society considers religion a relic from the past. This is especially true in the former East Germany with its history of Communist atheism.
I have long considered Europe to be a privileged and old society. The continent was allowed it’s fair share of religious and political freedom, it was allowed the chance to suffer the Dark Ages and to rise out of it while it’s countries oppressed and elongated the Dark Ages of other civilizations. The society in Europe has moved so far beyond the current problems of overpopulation, need for medical aid and basic amenities that they are now turning towards even more antiquated problems like nation-wide religion and superstition. However, what Germany would do well to remember is that with secularism and democracy must also come the power of choice. The concepts of freedom dictate that you do not impose your ideas on people, allowing them to choose what they believe in. It’s a good thing that the case in point has gone in favor of freedom of choice instead of state-sponsored secularism.
While one text condemns a particular religion’s revered Gods to the annals of another’s hatred, a state tries to use laws to test whether religion is a matter of choice or not. Regardless of what others believe, I believe that religion is a matter purely internal to a person, contingent only upon where their faith lies.