CROSSING THE THRESHOLD OF IGNORANCE
Comments On John Paul II's Crossing the Threshold of Hope
New York: Alfred A. Knof, 1994
by Trần Chung Ngọc
University of Wisconsin - Madison
LTS: Năm 1994, Nhà Xuất Bản Alfred A. Knopf ở New York phát hành cuốn Crossing The Threshold of Hope, nội dung là những câu hỏi của nhà báo Ý Vittorio Messori, một giáo dân Công giáo, và những câu trả lời của Giáo hoàng John Paul II. Có tất cả 34 câu hỏi ngắn và các câu trả lời của Giáo hoàng đã hình thành một cuốn sách dày hơn 200 trang. Phân tích kỹ những câu trả lời của Giáo hoàng, chúng ta thấy Ngài giảng đạo của Ngài chứ không phải là trả lời thẳng vào câu hỏi, vì Ngài thường viện dẫn Kinh Thánh để giảng đạo, kể cả những điều mà thế giới ngày nay xếp vào loại mê tín hoang đường, làm như tất cả những gì viết trong Kinh Thánh đều là những chân lý mạc khải, không thể sai lầm. Cuốn sách trên được một số giáo dân Việt Nam: Tiến sĩ Trần Mỹ Duyệt, Cựu Thẩm Phán Nguyễn Cần, Kỹ sư Trần Văn Trí, và Giáo sư Trần Văn Nhượng, cùng đóng góp dịch ra tiếng Việt. Tên sách là Bước Qua Ngưỡng Cửa Hi Vọng, và được nhà xuất bản Thăng Tiến phát hành năm 1995.
Nếu cuốn sách chỉ nói về những đức tin trong Công giáo thì chẳng có mấy người ngoại đạo quan tâm. Nhưng trong cuốn sách, Giáo hoàng John Paul II đã có những nhận định sai lầm và tiêu cực về Mohammed và Hồi giáo, về Đức Phật và Phật giáo. Do đó cuốn sách đã gây nên những phê bình phản đối trên khắp thế giới. Về Phật Giáo, trong khi có một số ý kiến phản đối những nhận định sai lầm cố ý của Giáo hoàng về Phật giáo, hầu hết từ những cá nhân, thì tổ chức Giao Điểm ở Cali đã lên tiếng kêu gọi sự đóng góp của giới trí thức Việt Nam để hình thành một cuốn mang tên Đối Thoại Với Giáo Hoàng Gioan-Phao-Lồ II Nhân Đọc Cuốn Bước Qua Ngưỡng Cửa Hy Vọng. Kết quả là có 18 tác giả ở khắp nơi trên thế giới: Mỹ, Pháp, Úc, Đan Mạch, Việt Nam, đáp ứng viết bài, và cuốn Đối Thoại… đã ra mắt độc giả vào tháng 6 năm 1995, cùng đã được gửi đến Tòa Thánh Vatican. Trong số các tác giả trên có cả sự đóng góp của người Công giáo.
Cuốn Đối Thoại đã được độc giả hoan nghênh và đánh giá cao cho nên chỉ hai tháng sau khi ấn bản đầu tiên phát hành vào tháng 6, 1995, đến tháng 8, 1995 đã phải in lại ấn bản hai, rồi đến năm 2000 lại phải in lại lần nữa để có thế đáp ứng sự đòi hỏi của độc giả.
Năm 1997, Giao Điểm lại xuất bản cuốn Đối Thoại bằng tiếng Anh: Dialogue With Pope John Paul II: A Vietnamese Buddhist Critique of The Pope’s Crossing The Threshold of Hope, với tám tác giả chọn lọc trong cuốn bằng tiếng Việt.
Sachhiem xin các bạn đọc giới thiệu cùng các bạn trẻ đọc tiếng Anh bài của Gs Trần Chung Ngọc trong bản tiếng Anh này. Bài dài 66 trang trong cuốn sách, từ trang 1 đến trang 66, gồm có phần Tài liệu Tham Khảo ở cuối. Đọc bài của Gs Trần Chung Ngọc chúng ta thấy ông nghiên cứu các vấn đề rất kỹ kèm theo dẫn chứng từ những tài liệu gốc, cùng những lý luận rất chặt chẽ. Đây là bài duy nhất mà Gs Trần Chung Ngọc ghi học vị PhD của mình và đại học xuất thân: University of Wisconsin – Madison (SH).
Lời tựa cho kỳ đăng tháng 6, 2009.
Bài này được viết trước khi Giáo hoàng John Paul II xưng thú 7 núi tội ác của Công giáo trước thế giới vào ngày 12.3.2000, chưa có những tác phẩm về Ki Tô Giáo của Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel C. Dennet, Richard Dawkins v..v…, do đó có những chi tiết chưa được bàn đến. Cũng chưa có những vụ Giáo hoàng chính thức công nhận thuyết Big Bang về nguồn gốc vũ trụ, thuyết Tiến Hóa về nguồn gốc con người, và phủ nhận sự hiện hữu của Thiên Đường và Hỏa Ngục. Cho nên, so với bộ kiến thức ngày nay thì bài này có đôi phần thiếu sót. Nhưng những thiếu sót này đã được bổ túc trong những bài viết đăng trên giaodiemonline.com và sachhiem.net qua vài thí dụ sau đây:
● Trong cuốn Bước Qua Ngưỡng Cửa Hi Vọng, sau khi viết sai lầm về mục đích và phương pháp tu tập trong Phật Giáo, Giáo hoàng đặt câu hỏi: “Chúng ta có thể tới gần God trong con đường này không? Điều này không được nói tới trong sự “giác ngộ” mà Đức Phật truyền đạt.” [Do we draw near to God in this way? This is not mentioned in the “enlightenment” conveyed by Buddha.] Ngài không cho độc giả biết God của Ngài là cái gì và tại sao chúng ta lại phải tới gần God của Ngài? Nhưng với những tài liệu nghiên cứu mới thì nay chúng ta đã biết God của Ngài là cái gì.
● Trong cuốn “The God Delusion”, First Mariner Books, New York, 2008, mở đầu Chương 2, trang 51, về “Giả Thuyết Về Thiên Chúa” [The God Hypothesis], tác giả Richard Dawkins viết:
Không cần phải bàn cãi gì nữa, Thiên Chúa trong Cựu Ước là nhân vật xấu xa đáng ghét nhất trong mọi chuyện giả tưởng: ghen tuông đố kỵ và hãnh diện vì thế; một kẻ nhỏ nhen lặt vặt, bất công, có tính đồng bóng tự cho là có quyền năng và bất khoan dung; một kẻ hay trả thù; một kẻ khát máu diệt dân tộc khác; một kẻ ghét phái nữ, sợ đồng giống luyến ái, kỳ thị chủng tộc, giết hại trẻ con, chủ trương diệt chủng, dạy cha mẹ giết con cái, độc hại như bệnh dịch, có bệnh tâm thần hoang tưởng về quyền lực, của cải, và toàn năng [megalomaniacal], thích thú trong sự đau đớn và những trò tàn ác, bạo dâm [sadomasochistic], là kẻ hiếp đáp ác ôn thất thường.
[The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.]
Nhận định này đã được chứng minh đầy đủ trong bài “Đây! Thiên Chúa Của Những Người Theo Đạo Thiên Chúa” [http://www.sachhiem.net/TCNtg/ TCN64.php] và đặt cho chúng ta một câu hỏi: Một God như trên có đáng để cho chúng ta tới gần không?
● Một thí dụ khác, trong cuốn Bước Qua Ngưỡng Cửa Hi Vọng, khi được hỏi “Tại sao nhân loại cần được cứu rỗi?” thì Giáo hoàng “trả lời” bằng cách viện dẫn một câu trong Tân Ước, John 3:16: “Thiên Chúa quá thương yêu thế gian đến nỗi ban Con duy nhất của Ngài (nghĩa là Giê-su), để những ai tin vào Người (Giê-su) sẽ không bị luận phạt, nhưng được sống đời đời.”. Ngài cũng không cho độc giả biết người Con duy nhất của Thiên Chúa là như thế nào. Nhưng gần đây, dựa trên những tài liệu mới, tôi đã chứng minh trong bài http://giaodiemonline.com/2009/03/god.htm, “Đây!! Chúa Giê-su Của Những Người Theo Đạo Giê-su”, đưa ra những nhận định về Giê-su của một số học giả ờ trong cũng như ở ngoài Ki Tô Giáo, dựa trên những gì viết về Giê-su trong Tân Ước như sau:
Giám Mục John Shelby Spong: "Có nhiều bằng chứng trong Thánh Kinh chứng tỏ Giê-su ở Nazareth là con người thiển cận, đầy thù hận, và ngay cả đạo đức giả"
Jim Walker : Có nhiều đoạn trong các Phúc Âm trong Tân Ước, Giê-su được mô tả như là một con người đầy hận thù, xấu xa, bất khoan dung, và đạo đức giả.
Học Giả Ki-Tô Russell Shorto: Các học giả đã biết rõ sự thật từ nhiều thập niên nay – rằng Giê-su chẳng gì khác hơn là một người thường sống với một ảo tưởng – họ đã dạy điều này cho nhiều thế hệ các linh mục và mục sư. Nhưng những vị này vẫn giữ kín không cho đám con chiên biết vì sợ gây ra những phản ứng xúc động dữ dội trong đám tín đồ. Do đó, những người còn sống trong bóng tối là những tín đồ Ki Tô bình thường.
Với những tài liệu nghiên cứu mới về Thiên Chúa và Con Thiên Chúa, chúng ta thấy rõ Giáo hoàng John Paul II là một người Trung Cổ với những niềm tin của thời Trung Cổ qua những gì Ngài viết trong cuốn Bước Qua Ngưỡng Cửa Hi Vọng. Ngài cho rằng lịch sử loài người chỉ bắt đầu từ khi Giê-su sinh ra cho nên đã viện dẫn một câu hoàn toàn vô nghĩa trong Tân Ước, John 3:16, vì câu đó, “tin vào Giê-su thì sẽ không bị luận phạt, nhưng được sống đời đời”, chỉ có thể áp dụng cho những người sinh sau Giê-su, trong khi lịch sử nhân loại đã có từ nhiều trăm ngàn năm nếu không muốn nói là cả triệu năm trước khi Giê-su sinh ra đời. Ngài cũng cho rằng nhân loại cần tới gần một Thiên Chúa có 16 thuộc tính không lấy gì làm đẹp đẽ đáng ca ngợi như trên, và cần đến sự cứu rỗi hay sợ sự luận phạt của một người thường, sống với một ảo tưởng, và có những cá tính như đầy hận thù, xấu xa, bất khoan dung, và đạo đức giả? như Giê-su.
Đặc điểm bài viết là sự phân tích về những nguyên nhân khiến cho Giáo hoàng John Paul II phải hạ thấp các tôn giáo khác như Hồi giáo và Phật giáo, đồng thời nhắc lại những tín lý đã lỗi thời để giữ tín đồ trước những sự khủng khoảng của giáo hội Công giáo về sự suy giảm quyền lực của Giáo hoàng và Giáo hội, về số linh mục và giáo dân bỏ đạo, về sự suy thoái của Công giáo ở khắp nơi trên thế giới, và nhất là trước sự phát triển mạnh mẽ của Phật Giáo và Hồi Giáo trong thế giới Tây phương. Cho nên, dù viết cách đây đã trên 10 năm, bài này vẫn không bị lỗi thời và vẫn còn giá trị nghiên cứu trí thức đối với những ai muốn tìm hiểu về đạo Công giáo. Đây là một bài viết bằng tiếng Mỹ, có thể thích hợp với giới trẻ ngại đọc tiếng Việt. (TCN)
Giao Điểm magazine has invited me to participate in this "Dialogue with Pope John Paul II..." It was indeed an honor for me. After thinking seriously about this invitation, I accepted. The famous Catholic theologian Hans Kung once said: "There is no peace in the world if there is no peace between religions, and there is no peace between religions if there is no dialogue betweeen religions."
Therefore, I believe a dialogue between religions is necessary, especially when the Catholic Church, after the Vatican Council II, in 1965, decided to promote ecumenism, and to open itself for dialogue with non-Christian religions. However, instead of "reviewing" John Paul II's Crossing the Threshold of Hope, that is, commenting on "how" he wrote that book, I was interested in doing some research on "why" he wrote that book. I believe that was the core issue. Therefore, the following analysis is focused primarily on the "why" and just a little on the "how." And, I must thank Pope John Paul II for giving me an opportunity to do a somewhat in-depth research on the history of the Roman Catholic Church, and as a result, to have gained a better understanding of it.
This analysis is based on documents and facts and not on rhetoric, and those facts will be taken primarily from the work of the best Catholic authorities: archbishops, bishops, priests, theologians and Catholic scholars. However, it is possible that there may well be Catholics who still believe in the infallibility of the Pope, that the Pope is the Vicar of Christ, and who therefore, probably kneel whenever the Pope appears on TV. This article is not for them, because they will find in this analysis some painful truths that do not correspond to what they have heard in their churches for so many years: that the Roman Catholic Church is the wisest and most virtuous one in the world, that it is a champion in serving the poor, and that the Church has always been an avant-garde in the promotion of free speech and human rights. However, for others, especially for those who are open-minded and who have a minimum respect for intellectual honesty, this analysis may provide some food for conscientious thought. And, in the end, they may have some concrete ideas about the motive behind the writing of the book Crossing the Threshold of Hope.
First of all, from the standpoint of a Vietnamese-American lay Buddhist, I believe a dialogue with John Paul II is rather unrealistic. Such dialogue cannot be realized for two main reasons.
1. John Paul II is the spiritual leader of millions of followers. He is in the highest position in the Catholic world. He sits on thrones and has to devote his entire effort and time to serve the poor, as taught by Jesus Christ. It is unlikely that he has time and/or is willing to lower himself to have a dialogue with a number of unknown lay Buddhists who dare to comment on his divinely-inspired book.
2. It is impossible to have a dialogue with a Pope who still believes in his medieval powers, still believes that the so-called Catholic truth is the only truth in this pluralistic world and therefore still tries to impose it on the rest of the world.
Although it is very unlikely that we will have a dialogue with John Paul II, if we want to make some comments on his book Crossing the Threshold of Hope, then we should, because this is one of our basic rights in this free world. We should try to understand his motive for writing this book. Once we understand his motive, our understanding and compassion will lead to forgiveness, and we will be able to detach ourselves from everything he has written about Buddha and Buddhism.
This analysis is necessarily long, unfortunately, but by no means exhaustive. Due to the nature of the analysis and for the sake of completeness, the use of a large number of documents is necessary to substantiate the main points in the analysis.
First, I will review briefly what John Paul II has written about Buddha and Buddhism, then I shall go directly to some remarks on his book by some scholars, Catholic and non-Catholic , and finally I shall develop those remarks for a deeper understanding of them.
On page 43, John Paul II writes about Buddha as follows:
"Buddha is right when he does not see the possibility of human salvation in creation, but he is wrong when, for that reason, he denies that creation has any value for humanity."
and, on pages 85-86 he writes about Buddhism:
"The Buddhist doctrine of Salvation constitutes the central point, or rather the only point, of this system. Nevertheless, both the Buddhist tradition and the methods deriving from it have an almost exclusively negative soteriology. The "enlightenment" experienced by Buddha comes down to the conviction that the world is bad, that it is the source of evil and of suffering for man. To liberate oneself from this evil, one must free oneself from this world, necessitating a break with the ties that join us to external reality - ties existing in our human nature, in our psyche, in our bodies. The more we are liberated from these ties, the more we become indifferent to what is in the world, and the more we are freed from suffering, from the evil that has its source in the world.
Do we draw near to God in this way? This is not mentioned in the "enlightenment" conveyed by Buddha. Buddhism is in large measure an "atheistic" system. We do not free ourselves from evil through the good which comes from God; we liberate ourselves only through detachment from the world, which is bad. The fullness of such a detachment is not union with God, but what is called Nirvana, a state of perfect indifference with regard to the world. To save oneself means, above all, to free oneself from evil by becoming indifferent to the world which is the source of evil. This is the culmination of the spiritual process."
It is obvious that John Paul II has deliberately used a number of terms peculiar to Catholicism such as "salvation" and "soteriology" which either have different meanings or no meaning at all in Buddhism. It is well known worldwide that Buddhism is a religion of Enlightenment and not a religion of Salvation. The difference between those two kinds of religion is crucial. I will come back to this later. Salvation, if this word has any meaning at all in Buddhism, it must be understood as self-salvation, that is, salvation without a savior. This is clearly understood in Buddha's last words before He entered the Inconceivable Nirvana: "Strive diligently for your own salvation".
So, salvation in Buddhism means "liberation from ignorance, awakening to the truth of things by one's own effort" and not "salvation from sin through a savior". Likewise, the word "soteriology" means "the division of Theology which treats the mission and work of Christ as a Redeemer" ("Catholic Word Book", Catholic Information Service, Knights of Columbus, New Haven, Connecticut), therefore, it didn't even exist before Christ. It has no meaning at all in Buddhism, because Buddhism already existed more than 500 years before Christ was born.
However, Pope John Paul II deliberately labeled Buddhism as a religion that has a "negative soteriology", and then he asked a completely meaningless question, at least to the Buddhists: "Do we draw near to God in this way? This is not mentioned in the "enlightenment" conveyed by Buddha."
More than 500 years before Jesus Christ was born, Buddha had already attained complete enlightenment. He showed the human race a way to repeat His spiritual experience through great strength and great compassion, following the Boddhisattva Way, breaking through ignorance by right understanding and awakening to the truth of things. Therefore, the concept of salvation in an outside being, whoever he is, is incompatible with the Buddhist teachings. In a Buddhist mind, the concept of an outside God doesn't exist, and so who needs to be drawn near to a non-existent God? We all know that "enlightenment" is a state of mind which is unthinkable, indescribable and beyond any notion of duality: Saints and common people are all the same; God, if there is any, and Devil are not different, so what use is it "to draw near to God," when one is enlightened? But, I have no intention to explain Buddhism in this article, my concern is about the Pope's remarks regarding Buddha and Buddhism, so, let me first quote a few comments on his book by some scholars and priests.
A member of the Federation of Buddhist Organizations in Sri Lanka, Nalin de Silva, said the Pope's remarks were malicious and appeared to be a reaction to the recent spread of Buddhism and Islam in Europe. "He is trying to defend his faith," de Silva said, "Islam and Buddhism are the main challenges to Christianity."
Rev. Ken Tanaka, a professor at the institute for Buddhist Studies in Berkeley, said it is clear that the pope "hasn't done his homework" and presents "a very simplistic view of Buddhism. "Essentially, Buddhism is about becoming detached from greed, hatred and ignorance - not from the world," Tanaka said. "That's how one awakens to a higher level of awareness."
Rev. Thomas Hand, a Catholic priest, said he wished the pope "were able to speak about Buddhism from experience. You can't speak about anything as obviously profound as Buddhism without getting into it."
Rev. Alan Senauke, a Zen priest and coordinator of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, said the pope's comments on Buddhism were little more than "setting up straw men, then knocking them down. "Whether through ignorance or intention, it is a serious misrepresentation of what Buddhism is all about".
Lama Ole Nydahl, a teacher affiliated with the Kamtsang Choling, U.S.A., part of a Tibetan Buddhist sect, was not surprised with the pope's comments. "How could a man like him possibly agree with a religion like Buddhism, which takes people beyond dualism and produces a healthy relationship with their bodies and minds?" he asked.
Let us take a close look at the above comments. It is obvious that Rev. Ken Tanaka, Thomas Hand, and Alan Saunake made the same point: The Pope indeed has a poor background in Buddhism, and therefore, he seriously misrepresented Buddhism. But the most important point is revealed in the comments of Nalin de Silva and Lama Ole Nydahl: The intellectual level of the Pope is inappropriate for an understanding of the profound teachings of Buddhism, and the pope's remarks on Buddhism were malicious, as he is trying to defend the waning faith of his followers around the world. In the following, I'll try to analyze the implications in Nalin de Silva and Lama Ole Nydahl's comments.
In fact, if we read the book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, carefully, we will recognize right away that, besides a number of gratuitous affirmations about the Catholic faith and dogmas, the book has two principal purposes:
- To put down other religious traditions by deliberately making malicious remarks about them, based totally on one-sided, arrogant Catholic teachings, and to discourage the Catholic flock from being impressed by and attracted to the teachings of other religions, especially the teaching of true love, true compassion, and self-salvation of Sakyamuni Buddha.
- To make an effort to consolidate the authority of the pope, the Vatican, and the Catholic clergy to maintain the tradition of "keeping the Catholic flock in a pyramid structure." This model structure will be clarified by Penny Lernoux in a later paragraph.
With the above purposes, the pope has quoted selective parts in the Bible, and reminds his flock with a number of dogmas that he considers them as divine truths. He knows very well that his followers rarely read the Bible, much less the history of the Catholic Church, and are therefore, unaware of the many mistakes and contradictions in the Bible, the pagan origin of the Bible, and are ignorant about what the Catholic Church has done to the human race in the last 2000 years. He slandered the founders of other religions, talked about the 'Enlightenment' of Buddha even though he has no experience of it, and glorified Jesus Christ as "absolutely unique". That's why Rev. Thomas Hand, a Catholic priest, said he whished the pope "were able to speak about Buddhism from experience," and Zen Master Thích Nhất Hạnh has commented on this arrogance in his new book Living Buddha, Living Christ, but I would like to reserve this comment for the conclusion of this article.
Now, let us try to analyze the motive behind the writing of the book Crossing the Threshold of Hope. I believe the pope had two major concerns that compelled him to write the above book.
THE FIRST CONCERN that bothered the pope was the decline and falling trend of the Catholic religion in general, and of the authority of the Church and of the pope in particular, all around the world, and especially in the West. This is reflected in the number of his trips, mostly to Third World countries, where he tries to consolidate his authority and the faith of his followers, through his skill of acting, both as a spiritual leader and as an actor, but primarily as an actor. He admitted to J. Michener of their PBS series in 1977, "I trained for the stage as a young man. Yes, I wanted to be an actor." Therefore, we Vietnamese were not surprised when he tried to speak a few Vietnamese words to excite his Vietnamese followers in some of the audiences he granted to the Vietnamese Catholics overseas. This type of special acting has its own purpose, but we should not understand it as an expression of love toward the Vietnamese people. This point will be clarified later.
If we believe in the principle of "cause and effect", we can see that the decline and falling trend of the Catholic Church have many causes. In the following, I will only cite just a few principal ones.
The First and most important Cause for the decline of the Roman Catholic Church is clearly explained in the following remarks of Malachi Martin in his book, The Keys of This Blood:
"In most European countries, secularism has already triumphed completely. In that region, organized religions - Catholic, Protestant and Jewish - are regarded as alike in their insistence to absolutes. They are considered to have little or nothing to contribute, therefore, to the current political, economic and cultural life of Western European countries...
The author also quoted an American scholar:
“The Pope is well aware that, in the next century, Catholicism will survive only in Third World countries. Catholicism has always flourished only in poor population of low educational quality. The sophisticated West can take Catholicism's narrowness no longer. The Pope realizes that."
Who else but Malachi Martin, a former Jesuit, an eminent Catholic theologian, an expert on the Catholic Church, and former professor at the Vatican's Pontifical Biblical Institute, could possibly know the Catholic Church better? In fact, about 70% of Catholics in the world are now residents in South America, Latin America, Africa, and the Philipinnes. The level of economic development and the level of education of these peoples are well known. Therefore, we are not surprised when most of the pope's travels were concentrated on Third World countries, where the pope can vaguely apologize to these people for all the crimes the Catholic Church has done to them in the past. He asked them to forget the past, forget all the misfortunes that the Catholic Church had brought to their countries, and to forget the imposition upon them of a narrow, arrogant and oppressive Western culture known as the Christian culture. These astute apologies should be understood as follows:
"Sorry, in the name of our God, we enslaved you. Sorry, we killed you. Sorry, we destroyed your cultures and traditions. Sorry, we divided and messed up your peoples. Just forgive us and forget all this. You can trust us now."
This is especially true with regard to the Vietnamese Catholics overseas, where he "stirred up" the illusion of a vision of replacing the communist regime by a Catholic regime similar to that in Poland where 90% of the population is Catholic. He did this while ignoring the fact that over 90% of Vietnamese are non-Catholics, and that the Vietnamese people still have a vivid memory of the role played by the Vietnamese Catholics in the invasion of the French colonialists, in the 100 years under the French domination, in the war for independence against the French comeback in the 1940-50s, and in the 9 years under the totalitarian Catholic regime of Ngô Đình Diệm in the South. He has no hope in the more advanced, civilized countries where his followers directly confront him with their opinions on the Church's outdated dogmas that are against their time and incompatible with their social realities.
Malachi Martin didn't make his remarks lightly. In fact, many scholars and Catholic priests agree with him on two major points in his remarks: The Catholic religion no longer appeals to the Western mind, and the Catholic Church will survive only in Third World countries, i.e., in countries where large numbers of people live in poverty and receive little or no education. Let us review some of them.
Henri Guillemin, a practicing Catholic and well known French scholar, wrote in his recent book, Malheureuse Église:
"This Church, which now collapses, is ruled by a pontiff of medieval type who, even if he improved his technique, can do nothing more, in my opinion, to prevent it from disappearing, practically and pretty fast, during the third millennium, at least under its "Roman" form, a Church which, for its two "great sacraments", has recourse to magic."
(Translated from French: "Cette Église, qui aujourd'hui s'effondre, est régie par un pontife de type médiéval qui, même s'il amendait sa technique, ne peut plus rien, à mon sens, pour empêcher de disparaitre, pratiquement et assez vite, au cours du troisieøme millénaire, du moins sous sa forme "romaine", une Église qui, pour ses deux "grands sacrements", recours à la magie.)
Maximilian F. Russer, a Catholic, a former Trappist Monk, and a profound theologian in his own right, wrote in his book, Authority in the Roman Catholic Church:
"With Hans Kung, I must agree that "the paradigm of Constantinian-Byzantine imperial church in which church and state harmonized only too well and thought that they themselves could realize the kingdom of God on earth" must go!
And I must also agree with Dr. Kung's assessment that "the model of medieval papal church in which a theocratic ruler thought he could exercise absolute control over both the apostolic churches of the East and the churches of the West, indeed, over the consciences of all people, and even be able to dictate morality to secular governments - a pope-fixated church that even today still thinks it can defend its medieval powers with authoritarian decrees, disciplinary sanctions, and political strategies," must die!"
Avro Manhattan, the British author whose expertise in the Catholic Church has made him famous with his best sellers The Vatican 's Holocaust, Vietnam: Why Did We Go? etc.. wrote in his Catholic Imperialism and World Freedom:
"That most formidable breeder of monsters, the Catholic Church, will be made to tumble with the greatest ignominy of all by the tide of her past misdeeds recoiling upon her, as irresistible as the waters of the great flood. The blood of the unjustly slain, which has flowed like an ever-widening river through the somber valleys of history, has already run too deep for man to suffer any longer the earth to be empurpled with it anew.
The fixed star of the Catholic Church shall fall from the sky of the West with thunder. For the bell of destiny, which has tolled for all tyrants, verily is about to toll also for her."
The following paragraph in Penny Lernoux's Cry of the People will clarify what I have mentioned before about the pyramid structure of the institutional Catholic Church in the world and at the same time will support Martin's second point:
"In the beginning, Latin-American society was constructed like a pyramid, with a few Europeans settlers enjoying all the privileges of empire and a mass of Indians, blacks, and half-castes having no rights at all. The pyramid survived because the mass at the bottom was repeatedly told that it was stupid, lazy, and inferior. Foreign missionaries helped drum these ideas into the native's heads by claiming that it was God's will that they should be poor and ignorant. As the Archbishop of Lima told his Indians: "Poverty is the most certain road to felicity." Any Indian or African who had the temerity to doubt such wisdom by rebelling against the system was promptly put to death...The Catholic Church must accept a lot of the blame for this situation. Like the conquistadors, most of the European missionaries who came to Latin-America saw themselves as bearers of cultures vastly superior to those of the natives. The missionaries were less interested in integrating the Indians and Africans than on subjugating them to the European religious structures. Little attempt was made to understand or appreciate the cultural heritage of the people, and most of the missionaries remained a group apart, European colonists on the American continent, right up to the 20th century. Although the mass of the people accepted the white man's God, either under physical duress or because he seemed more powerful than their own Gods, they never assimilated the ideas of Christianity.
Blinded by their own cultural limitations, the missionaries never saw how superficial was the religious conversion."
Looking back at the works of the European missionaries in Vietnam in the 19th century and up to early 20th century, a very familiar picture appears in my mind, and I can't help but feel proud to be a Vietnamese because Vietnam was able to preserve almost intact its culture and traditions, and rejected the white man's God in spite of nearly one hundred years under the French domination during which the missionaries, and later on the Ngô Đình Diệm's dictatorial Catholic government, had tried their best and with all their power to Christianize Vietnam.
Now, let me quote a few more remarks about the same subjects written by some scholars and Catholic priests:
In Freedom's Foe - The Vatican, Adrian Pigott wrote:
"Roman Catholics are often genuinely surprised to find that they are frequently regarded with suspicion by their fellow-citizens. They do not seem to realize that, if they elect to march in the papal army, they must expect to receive the consequences. Their Generals (the bishops) and their Commander-in-Chief (the pope), concentrate upon the welfare of the Vatican rather upon the welfare of mankind. No wonder that Romanists are unpopular with progressive and intelligent people; they cannot become first-class citizens owing to their dual allegiance...It is unfair to blame individual Roman Catholic for being (unconsciously) detrimental to human progress. They have been brought up in what Dr. Barnado called "The thick darkness of Romanism"...Illiteracy is always prevalent in Romanist countries - to enable Priestcraft to flourish."
Father Joseph McCabe, a Catholic priest for some twenty years, wrote in his book Rome Puts a Blight on Culture as follows:
"The Church of Rome puts a blight on culture and intellect. There is no other possible explanation of the facts. Of adolescent and adult Catholics about one-half are illiterate, as I will show in the next chapter, and half the remaining have only that paltry degree of literacy which makes their creed or opinion of no particular interest. The cultural value of the remainder you can judge by the number of distinguished men who emerge from the body...
All of which points infallibly to the conclusion that the Church itself is responsible. One of those fine-nature writers who are always trying to say a good word for Catholicism, which they never study, asks all sweetly reasonable folk to see that mental concern about religion must help to develop the mind and promote thinking. We might admit this on one condition: that the man or woman does really think about religion by reading both sides and conscientiously weighing their arguments. That is just what the Roman Church uses its heaviest weapons to prevent. The Catholic book is a holy book: the critical book is a "bad" book and is on the same level as the kind of book you cannot buy openly.
If we are agreed that democracy is the ideal political form, we agree also to teach all people to think critically and inquire without restriction as the only way to get it to work satisfactorily. The law of the Catholic Church is just the opposite. You must not inquire outside your own creed and you must not think critically even within its range."
Father McCabe wrote a whole chapter on Rome Loves the Poor Illiterate, analyzing the influence of Roman Catholicism on several cultures, using many statistics in several parts of the world and concluded:
"Rome loves the illiterate. They are so easily persuaded to burn "heretics" and kiss bogus relics."
In his famous book Crime and Immorality in the Catholic Church, Father Emmett McLoughlin related his own experience as follows:
"It is my contention and my sincere conviction, from my experience in the Catholic educational system, my life of 15 years in the priesthood, and 13 years of constant observation and intense study since leaving the Church, that its influence on all civilization has been far more evil than of good. Intellectually, the Church of Rome has done its best to strangle the human mind and stifle mental initiative. It must do this if it is to survive. No thinking, intelligent, historically studious person, especially a freedom-loving American, can become or remain a Roman Catholic."
Dr. J. C. Cleary, a graduate from Harvard University, majoring in Linguistics and Oriental Civilization, wrote in his article Buddhism and The Modern Vietnamese, Giao Điểm magazine, #8 :
"The Vietnamese will no doubt be surprised when they find out that, to the Westerners with progressive mind, it is Catholicism that is a bunch of outdated myths, superstitions, and meaningless rituals. Westerners know very well that, not many knowledgeable people still believe in Catholicism. All those who have some knowledge about European history know that, the Roman Catholic Church has done everything in its power to oppose the development of Science and people's new way of living and thinking. In America today, the fanatic Catholics are the first who fight against the new traditions and the scientific world.
Therefore, in the Western mind, Catholicism is inseparable from an outdated traditional doctrine, a regret of the past. In the West, the majority of Catholic devotees are the least educated, from lower classes and lower economical levels, who have nothing else to expect." (Translated from Vietnamese)
And, regarding the proselytization in Vietnam, about 100 years ago, the Governor General of Indochina, J. L. de Lanessan, wrote in his book Les Missions et leur Protectorat, quoted by Patrick J.N. Tuck in French Catholic Missionaries and the Politics of Imperialism in Vietnam, 1857-1914, as follows:
"In fact during the two centuries and more that the Catholic Missions have been operating in China and the Indochinese peninsula they have probably not converted more than ten scholars in all. The entire educated and governing class of the population has evaded their proselytes. In general Catholic missionaries only recruit from among the lowest classes, and mainly among those who, for various reasons have been rejected by Annamese society."
The above documents are only a small sample from the vast amount of literature about the Catholic Church, readily available in public and university libraries. These documents prove that the remarks of the theologian Malachi Martin are accurate. And now, we should be able to understand why the Vatican opposed the Population Summit in Egypt in September 1994. The motives for opposition were not in the moral conscience but rather in the prospective number of followers in the Third World and in the vision of imposing the Vatican's authority on the poor mass, transforming that authority into a political force in the world. Throughout its history, the Vatican never cared for the poor. Its primary concern was and still is to accumulate wealth at the expense of the poor mass. Just look at the wealth of the Church and we will know where the truth lies in its professed missions of serving the poor.
Peter de Rosa, a former archbishop, remarked in his book, Vicars of Christ:
"Those who dress in purple silk, live in palaces, sit on thrones - it is not easy for them to act as servants of the servants of God or to represent the Poor Man of Nazareth to the poor and starving of the world."
In the underdeveloped poor countries, population growth without control will lead to millions of human beings, mostly infants, dying of malnutrition, diseases etc... Who is responsible for this? Does the Vatican care about this? Let's read B.S. Rajneesh in his book, Priests & Politicians: The Mafia of the Soul:
"The pope goes on traveling around the world preaching that birth control is against God; that any method of preventing the birth of a child is anti-God - particularly in the countries of the East where people are so poor, and they are going to become poorer everyday. But the pope's interest is not that man should live comfortably, without hunger.
And, you will be surprised to know that on one hand, the pope goes on talking against birth control methods; and on the other, the Vatican has a hidden factory where they make birth control pills - because it is good business; it brings millions of dollars.
You call such people religious?
...And his interest in birth control is really to increase the population. Whatever consequences happen to people is not the problem. If people are poor and hungry, they can be easily converted to Christianity, particularly into the Catholic church. Their schools, their hospitals, their orphanages are nothing but factories for converting people into Catholics.
...The popes don't seem to be interested in saving humanity. Their basic interest is how to get more and more people into their religion, because that is going to be their power. It is pure politics."
The Second Cause for the decline of the Catholic Church is the movement for independent national Churches. These movements that have fought for the liberation of the local churches from the indoctrination and authoritarian structure of the Vatican, are growing larger and larger. These movements started many centuries ago and culminated in the movement of "liberation theology" which took place in Latin America in the 1960s, and then spread to Africa and Asia. In the history of the Catholic Church, since the 17th century, many national Catholic Churches have refuted the powers of the Pope. Gallicanism in France is a movement of the French clergy which asked for limiting the authority of the Pope and for the autonomy of regional churches. French Gallicanism was a national church which acknowledged the pope but denied papal infallibility and central authority. In 1790, although over eighty percent of the French population were Catholics, French National Assembly rejected a proposal that made Catholicism a national religion.
In The Papacy and the Modern World, Karl Otmar von Aretin wrote that:
"The emergence of national churches was the problem threatening the spirituality of the popes in the eighteenth century. In Rome nothing met with such relentlessly thorough opposition as the 19th-century national-church tendencies, while to this day liberalism is seen by Rome as the greatest enemy of the Catholic Church."
And, in Father Emmett McLoughlin's book, Crime and Immorality In The Catholic Church, there is a chapter entitled, "What Catholicism Has Done To Catholics", where he wrote:
"Luther's Reformation in the 16th-century was merely the successful climax of centuries of struggle of sincere millions who disagreed as much with the morals of Rome as they did with its doctrine. If the soil were not ripe for revolt, the Reformation movement of Lutherans.. and others could not have spread so rapidly through the most progressive nations of Europe. All of these peoples were Roman Catholics rejecting the crime and immorality of Rome, its pope and its clergy.
It is more than a coincidence that the Christian peoples that rejected Rome became and still are the most moral and law-abiding in the world. Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Denmark, Finland, England, Scotland and Switzerland..they have learned to rely on God and their own will power, and not on confession, purgatory, indulgences, rosaries, medals and the like."
And, Paul Blanshard wrote the following in his book, American Freedom and Catholic Power, to suggest that the American Catholic Church should be independent from the Vatican:
"It is important, therefore, to distinguish between the American Catholic people and their Roman-controlled priests. The Catholic people of the United States fight and die for the same concept of freedom as do other true Americans; they believe in the same fundamental ideals of democracy. If they controlled their own Church, the Catholic problem would soon disappear because, in the atmosphere of American freedom, they would adjust their Church's policies to American realities.
Unfortunately, the Catholic people of the United States are not citizens but "subjects" in their own religious commonwealth. The secular as well as the religious policies of their Church are made in Rome by an organization that is alien in spirit and control. The American Catholic people themselves have no representatives of their own choosing either in their own local hierarchy or in the Roman high command; and they are compelled by the very nature of their Church's authoritarian structure to accept nonreligious as well as religious policies that have been imposed upon them from abroad."
Paul Blanshard published his book in 1950 and since then, the ideal for an independent American Church picked up more and more momentum among the American Catholic communities. In reality, the American Catholics practically defy almost all the Pope's decrees and encyclicals by simply ignoring them. And on more than one occasion, they even confronted the Pope with questions relating to the incompatibility of the Pope's moral laws with their everyday social lives.
This is reflected in the statistics on the opinions of the American Catholic population regarding recent Vatican encyclicals. For example, the encyclical Humanae Vitae condemned all artificial birth-control methods. But, according to a survey conducted 10 years later by the sociologist-priest Andrew Greeley of the University of Chicago, 87% of American Catholics disagreed with the encyclical. Another survey by Newsweek, published in November 1993, showed that 59 % favor gay rights, and even 47 % favor abortion rights.
In fact, in America as in Europe, Catholics are no longer docile subjects of the Vatican. Not only do they simply ignore the Vatican's authority in several encyclicals, but they also openly protest against the Vatican's injustice in dealing with the freedom of expression of their leaders. This is exemplified in two cases in America where the Vatican tried to silence the voices of dissent within the American Church, the case of Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen of Seattle and the case of Father Charles Curran at the Catholic University of America, and two cases in Europe where the Vatican tried to punish those theologians who disagreed with the Church teachings and/or theology: the case of the German theologian Hans Kung and the case of the Dutch theologian Edward Schillebeeckx, and one case in Latin America where the famous Brazilian theologian, Leonardo Boff, was silenced by the Vatican because of his highly acclaimed book Church: Charism and Power.
The above five cases of intellectual repression are worth recounting here, even only briefly:
1. The case of Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen:
In September 1986, Archbishop Raymond G. Hunthausen of Seattle was ordered by the Vatican to hand over his decision-making authority to his auxiliary bishop, Donal Wuert, because the Vatican did not agree with his views on moral and social issues. When Archbishop Hunthausen announced this order, the Seattle Catholics reacted and protested. 252 of his 280 priests, i.e., 90%, supported him. A petition with more than 13,000 signatures from the Seattle Catholics protested this act of repression and urged the Vatican to restore his full authority. The Canon Law Society of America expressed its concern to the national bishops' conference and to the Vatican, and voted 173 to 53 to question whether the Vatican's order to relieve Hunthausen from his authority conformed with canon law. In May 1987, the Vatican announced that Archbishop Hunthausen's full authority would be restored.
2. The case of Father Charles E. Curran:
Father Charles E. Curran was an assistant professor at the Catholic University of America, teaching moral theology. In April 1967 he was fired. The University administration, being loyal to and under the pressure of the Vatican, gave no reason for his dismissal, but there is no doubt that his unorthodox views on birth control did not agree with the Vatican teaching. Father Curran has the support of his students and especially that of his colleagues on the faculty, who voted 400 to 18 to discontinue classes until he was reinstated. The boycott closed down the university for three days. The Administration announced that Father Curran would be re-hired and be promoted to associate professor.
3. The case of the German theologian Hans Kung:
From his writings, Hans Kung pointed out that from the New Testament we can see that Jesus himself did not found a Church, the Roman Church was a movement which over the course of time took on increasingly institutional forms. He questioned papal infallibility, proving that it has no basis in Scripture and that it is built on an inadequate concept of truth.
So, in December 1979, the Vatican declared that Hans Kung, professor at Tubingen University, one of the most famous universities in Germany, “in his writings has departed from the integral truth of Catholic faith, and therefore can no longer be considered a Catholic theologian nor function as such in a teaching role.”
The protest against Vatican’s suppression of professor Hans Kung was strong, world-wide. Hans Kung himself received more than 5,000 letters of support. Organizations were formed “for the rights of Catholics”, for the recognition of such rights by the Vatican. Not all of the protestors agreed with Kung’s opinions, however they conceived that he had the right to express his views as a Catholic theologian without having his fundamental right violated. Kung was removed from the Catholic faculty of theology at Tubingen, but he remains as director of the Institute of Ecumenical Research.
4. The case of the Dutch theologian Edward Schillebeeckx:
The Dutch theologian Edward Schillebeeckx, professor at Nijmegen in Holland, published his first Jesus book, “Jesus An Experiment in Christology”, in 1974. The major points of disagreement with the Vatican teaching concerned the divinity of Christ, his awareness of being the Son of God, and the objective reality of his resurrection. Schillebeeckx realized that the religious environment in which the New Testament originated is so different from ours today. He raised the question: “we do not live in a cultural-religious tradition that expects a messiah, or a mysterious celestial son of man; or an approaching end of the world” as taught clearly in the Bible by Jesus himself. He went as far as “Today, Science and Technology are widely looked on as a source of salvation for mankind, and non-Christian religions of worldwide repute offer alternative routes.”
Because of this book, in December 1979, he was grilled at the Vatican on charges of deviationism in Christology. This act of repression raised a storm of protest from Catholic and non-Catholic theologians, university faculties, priests, nuns and lay people in Europe and the America. A petition with more than 60,000 signatures collected by a group of Amsterdam theological students was hand-carried to the Vatican.
And, in September 1982, Schillebeeckx was awarded the National Erasmus Prize for Theology. This showed clearly an act of defiance of the Dutch government with regard to the Vatican authority.
5. The case of the Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff:
Leonardo Boff, the eminent Brazilian theologian, had published a book entitled “Church: Charism and Power” which was highly acclaimed all over the world. He not only believes that the Church must be a Church of the poor, but he also criticizes the totalitarian structure of the Vatican, and most interestingly, he raises the issue of human rights within the Church. For that reason and for that reason only, the Vatican tried to “silence” Father Boff.
In May 1985, the Vatican ordered Father Boff to begin immediately and unspecified period of time of “obedient silence” to allow him time for “serious reflection.” He was told to give up his duties as editor of the Revista Eclesiastics Brasileira, the most influential theological journal in Brazil, and not to teach and publish.
As the announcement of the silencing was widely reported in the press, Father Boff became instantly famous. His picture appeared in newspapers and magazines all over the world. At the monastery he was residing, he received daily many letters, cards and telegrams of support. Catholic groups all over the world protested Rome about what some called the rebirth of the Inquisition. Ten Brazilian Catholic bishops publicly criticized the Vatican’s treatment of Boff. Even some Protestant religious bodies issue statements of support for Boff. Labor unions organized public demonstrations protesting the silencing. T-shirts and posters appeared for sale in Brazil picturing Boff with his mouth gagged.
A little less than a year later, the Vatican lifted the silencing.
“L’affaire Boff” was reported and analyzed in detail in the book The Silencing of Leonardo Boff. The Vatican and the Future of World Christianity by Dr. Harvey Cox, a Victor S. Thomas Professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School.
The 5 cases of intellectual repression illustrated above show the totalitarian character of the Roman Catholic Church, and from these we can see clearly that the Vatican's policy of silencing dissidents in the Catholic Church failed in every case because of the reactions of the progressive Catholics around the world. This also shows that the Vatican no longer has the power to enforce its authority upon the regional churches, unless some regional church, such as the Vietnamese Catholic Church, voluntarily and completely submits to the Vatican. Indeed, the Vietnamese Catholic Church has been proved to be a very docile one. I wonder how long it will take the Vietnamese Catholic Church to realize the true nature of the Roman Catholic Church, and therefore, to realize the importance of an integral and independent national church in Vietnam if it doesn't want to be alienated from the rest of the Vietnamese people as it has always been in the past.
The violation of human rights in the Catholic Church is unknown to most of the ignorant Catholic mass at the bottom of the pyramid-like structure of the church. The Catholic mass still believes their church is a champion of human rights without knowing that historically, the Catholic Church was and still is an organization that has violated human rights the most in the world.
Ironically, Father Emmett McLoughlin also wrote in his book Letters To An Ex-Priest:
"...The centuries-old mistress of "tyranny over the mind of man," (i.e., the Catholic Church) clothed now in the robe of Ecumenical Brotherhood, protected by the slogan of "tolerance," seduces the rulers in high places, poses learnedly in academic hall, and shares Protestant pulpits as she grows stronger - in money, in political power, in the illusion of numbers.
Every ex-priest knows the Church system's seductiveness, its duplicity, its totalitarianism, its chameleon-like ability to wear the color of democracy in America and the blackness of the swastika in Germany. He knows that it seeks not the salvation of souls, but the enslavement of minds; not the rewards of heavenly glory, but the accumulation of earthy power. Not the eternal treasures in heaven where thieves cannot steal, but the passing gold of every nation on earth - of each nation as it attains its zenith."
The Boff case took place in the midst of the decade on “Liberation Theology”. Therefore, I would like to analyze the subject of "Liberation Theology", recently one of several major concerns of the Vatican.
We already know that Liberation Theology was a national movement that took place in Latin America in the 1960s and then spread to Africa and Asia. The theology of liberation takes its name from an economic and sociological analysis of the Latin American context. According to Latin American liberation theologian Gustavo Gutieùrrez in his "Contestation in the Church", the situation of Latin America today is no less abominable than it was in the beginning:
"The Church in Latin America was born alienated. It has not, from the start and despite some valiant efforts to the contrary, been the master of its own destiny. Decisions were taken outside the subcontinent. After the wars of independence of the last century, a sort of ecclesiastical "colonial treaty" was established. Latin America was to supply "the raw materials": the faithful, the Marian cult, and popular devotions; Rome and the Churches of the Northern hemisphere were to supply "manufactured goods": studies of Latin-American affairs, pastoral directives, clerical education, the right to name bishops - and even supply them - money for works and missions. In other words, the general dependent situation of Latin America is just as real in Church affairs."
The above statement was confirmed by Clauss Bussmann, professor of theology at the University of Duisburg in Germany, who wrote in his book, Who Do You Say? Jesus Christ in Latin American Theology:
"..One thing is certain. The story of the Latin-American Indian from 1492 to the present is mostly one of suffering. The Indians have been economically exploited, culturally destroyed and Europeanized, and raped in matters of religion."
It is obvious that once that situation began to surface as a state of dependency, "liberation" became the order of the day. It is also obvious that the Latin American Church, dictated by Rome, would not be able to serve its poor people efficiently, the people who have been exploited for centuries. This is true, wherever there is a regional Catholic Church, not only in Latin America, but also in Africa and Asia. The reason is simple, if a regional Church is dominated and dictated by Rome, it does not have any self-identity, and by that very fact, it cannot be said to exist independently within its own cultural spheres of which the Vatican knows nothing. Therefore, it is incapable of fulfilling its own mission: to serve its own followers.
In summary, Liberation Theology is nothing but a declaration of cultural and intellectual independence. There are many reasons for the emergence of the Liberation Theology. Here I will cite the main ones:
1. From its first appearance in the New World, the Catholic Church was part of the overall enterprise of conquest and colonization of the native people by Spain and Portugal and the imposition of colonial rule.
2. The Catholic Church always sided with the local Government and the rich.
3. The Catholic Church says one thing but practices another thing. The Bible says to serve the poor but the Church always searches for lands and money. This is accurately described by Desmond Tutu, the priest who won the Peace Nobel Prize in 1984: "We have our lands and they came with their Bible. We believed in them and we pray with the Bible in our hands and our eyes closed. When we open our eyes, we have the Bible and they have our lands."
4. The Catholic Church is an authoritarian institution. That's why:
"Liberation theology is a critique of the activity of the Church and of Christians from the angle of the poor. It also paid special attention to the Church with strong anti-authority and anti-institution spirit. The poor, nonwhites, and women are finding new meaning in Christian faith as well as revealing the shortcomings of interpretation made by Western males." (Phillip Berryman, “Liberation Theology”)
And, in A Vision of Hope: The Churches and Change in Latin America, Trevor Beeson & Jenny Pearce wrote:
"..It is not "a new theology" which has been discovered, but "a new way of doing theology" in the Latin America context, - in the context, that is, of the struggle for liberation. The primary fact is a growing number of Christians all over the continent have engaged themselves in the struggle for the political, social, economic, cultural and spiritual liberation of their people."
In the Liberation Theology movement we can find those eminent theologians such as Gustavo Gutieùrrez, Juan Luis Segundo, Leonardo Boff etc.. and those who made a substantial contribution to the Vatican Council II such as Karl Rahner, Edward Schillebeeckx, Hans Kung.
In summary, the emergence of the "National Church" movement and the "Liberation Theology" movement was able to develop worldwide because of the following reasons: There is no reason that the peoples in Latin America, in Central America, in Africa, and in Asia have to accept the power and authority of the Vatican, and to accept its interpretation of the Bible of some Western white males. If we read the history of the Catholic Church, the history of the popes, the history of the crusades and Inquisition, and with the knowledge that it took 359 years for the Vatican to admit its wrongs in the case of Gallileo Gallilei, then a few important questions must be taken into consideration:
Is it true that the popes and those cardinals, archbishops, and etc.., who reigned in the Vatican are more intelligent and more virtuous than the rest of the people in the world? In the past, the Catholic Church has made many mistakes, and committed many crimes, so, what is the point of blindly following the teachings of the Church? Every culture is different. There is no reason that the cultures of Latin America, Central America, Africa, and Asia have to duplicate the Western Christian culture. To accept dependence on Western Christian culture, under any form, is to show a mentality of a slave, a lack of self-confidence of the natives who, because of ignorance, put their church above their nation, and by that very fact, betrayed their nation. The idea of democracy developing in the Third World countries, must be applied in the religious life as well as in the socio-political domain.
The above progressive ideas above, indeed threatened the power and authority of the Catholic institutional church, that is why the pope is trying to reverse this trend of thinking to save his wordly power.
It is unfortunate that, while in more advanced and civilized countries, people have already recognized the true nature of the Roman Catholic Church, and therefore have been fighting for their cultural and intellectual independence. In a number of underdeveloped countries, the ignorant Catholic masses still believe in the infallibiblity of the pope, still believe that the pope and the church have the God-given exclusive right to interpret the Bible and the power to excommunicate their followers. They still believe that a direct communion with Christ is impossible and one has to go through an intermediary such as the pope or the Vatican. They still believe that the pope is the Vicar of Christ, therefore, he holds all the tickets to heaven. Because of such superstitious belief, they willingly and totally submit their body and soul to the Vatican. The following remark describes accurately this sad situation:
"But Rome has a lot to offer, too. Rome does provide a refuge for the countless millions who are unable to think for themselves, to take on the burdens of personal responsibility." (Louis Baldwin, “The Pope and the Mavericks”.)
The Third Cause for the decline of the Roman Catholic Church is that more and more Catholic priests and lay Catholics are leaving the Church, especially in Europe and in North America. If one reads the statistics given out by the Church, one finds some impressive numbers, because the Church only counts those who have been baptized and not those who have left the Church. The Catholic Church maintains that "once a Catholic, always a Catholic" and those who left will eventually come back.
However, the result from several researches based on scientific methods: gathering data, analyzing the data, then making projections for the future, indeed have caused a great concern to the pope and to those Catholic leaders in the Vatican about this exodus.
For example, the book, Full Pews and Empty Altars is the result of six years of research, from 1984 to 1990, by two sociologists, professors Richard Schoenherr and Lawrence Young at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, in which the authors warned the Catholic Church that
"The shortage of priests in the US is crumbling the foundation of the Roman Catholic Church."
and projected that from 1966 to the year 2005, the number of priests will drop 40%, from 35,000 to 21,000. This research was commissioned in 1984, ironically, by the US Catholic Conference and funded by a grant from the Lilly Endowment, part of Lilly Pharmaceutical. But in 1990, when the authors announced the results of their research to the US bishops, the final funding was cut off. The reason? Cardinal Archbishop Roger Mahony of Los Angeles said at the time:
"We are disciples of Jesus Christ, we live by God's grace, and our future is shaped by God's design for his Church - not by sociologists."
With that kind of mind-set, how can science possibly be reconciled with blind faith?
In fact, the above result of research revealed nothing new, because the problem of priests leaving the Church has become more and more serious since then. The Pope is aware of this and he is trying to reverse this trend primarily through recruitment and prayer.
In the book Shattered Vows: Priests Who Leave, David Rice, a Dominican priest travelled 38,000 miles to interview a large number of Catholic priests who have left the Church, wrote:
"100,000 Roman Catholic priests have walked out in the last 20 years - more than one every two hours. Almost half of all American priests will leave - most often, to marry - before the 25th anniversary of their ordination. The Vatican won't talk about this exodus, yet it is the most grievous crisis to face the Church since the Protestant Reformation."
The fourth cause for the decline of the Roman Catholic Church is the image of the Church which has been gravely damaged by many scandals all over the world. It is well known that the Vatican signed some concordats with Hitler and Mussolini and sided with them as reported in the following accounts:
"To help Mussolini in his political difficulties, in 1923 the new Pope dissolved all the various Roman Catholic political parties.. Thus the curious partnership between two ambitious Italians enabled the formation of the first Facist state - largely due to Vatican patronage and support.
By 1930 Mussolini (now firmly established) showed his thanks by returning favors to the Pope. Under the Concordat - Vast sums of money were given to the Pope. Roman Catholicism was declared the State Religion. Only textbooks approved by the Church could be used in schools. Privileges for priests were extended. "Catholic Action" (the new propaganda machine of the Vatican) was recognized. Very soon the immoral alliance had resulted in Italy in the abolition of such items of Civilization as: Free Speech, Honest Education, Liberalism, Democracy, The Free Press.
In the mean time, in Germany, another intolerant Romanist, Adolf Hitler, had launched out into similar indecencies, receiving valuable Vatican support." (Adrian Pigott, Ibid.)
The following is in a figure caption in "The Godfathers" by Chick Publications:
"Like Italy, German signed a concordat with Vatican in Rome, 1933. Signing the concordat is Cardinal Pacelli (later to become Pope Pius XII). By 1933 he was the Vatican Secretary of State. Second from left (in the figure caption) is Franz Von Papen, a sinister Nazi and devout Roman Catholic who was Hitler's ace diplomat and the Vatican agent in helping to bring Hitler in power."
And, after World War II, the Vatican smuggled out thousands of Nazis war criminals, using such charity organizations as the Caritas and Red Cross to provide the criminals with false passports to resettle them in Argentina, Austria, and even in America.
ABC Prime Time reported in May 1994 that the Vatican's "Ratlines" smuggled out Hitler's killers, one of them butchered 335 civilians in one day, including women and children.
In the business of finance, the Vatican connection with the Mafia is of no surprise to anyone:
"And on the subject of the green, it's now of no secret that the papacy has financially benefited from its ties to the Italian Mafia, as documented in several books. It even led to the poisoning of John Paul I and the indictment of Archbishop Paul Marcinkus." (Mark Pitsch in "The Daily Cardinal", Sep. 15, 1987)
"Archbishop Paul Marcinkus was the head of the Vatican Bank. This is the man who was running all the Mafia heroin money through the bank. In 1982 Archbishop Marcinkus was involved in a huge financial scandal after an Italian bank collapsed..
A warrant for the arrest of the Archbishop had been issued, but the Vatican is a separate government - just eight square miles - and the Italian government has no power to interfere in the Vatican. And the Pope was hiding the man inside the Vatican; the arrest warrant was waiting outside." (Rajneesh, B.S., Ibid.)
All of these scandals have seriously tarnished the image of the Roman Catholic Church all over the world. The world now realizes that the Roman Catholic Church is primarily a political, economic institution rather than a religious one.
This is exactly what Paul Hofmann wrote in his book O Vatican: A Slightly Wicked View of the Holy See:
"When outsiders first come into contact with the Vatican they are struck by how much attention it pays to administrative, bureaucratic, legal, and political business, and how relatively little it seems to care for transcendental matters. This should explain why the reader will find plenty of mundane material in these pages rather than descriptions of the Vatican's spiritual life. It may seem as though I am reporting on one of the multi-national corporations or the United Nations. But the Vatican is a complex business."
I have no intention to go into more detail with the above scandals. Readers who are interested in the above topics should consult the following books to have a more complete picture of the Roman Catholic Church: The Vatican's Holocaust by Avro Manhattan, Genocide in Satellite Croatia, 1941-1945 by Edmond Paris, The Vatican Empire by Nino Lo Bello, The Vatican Connection by Richard Hammer, Priests and Politicians: The Mafia of the Soul by B.S.Rajneesh, and Unholy Trinity: How The Vatican's Nazi Networks Betrayed Western Intelligence to the Soviets by Mark Aarons & John Loftus, Rich Church, Poor Church by Malachi Martin, and The Vatican Billions by Avro Manhattan.
Besides the above scandals, the most recent and damaging scandals have involved the physical and sexual abuse of orphans in some orphanages, and the molestation of children by quite an impressive number of priests. ABC Prime Time reported the "1.2 billion law suit" concerning the immoral abuses of orphans in an orphanage in Canada where the "gray nuns" (nuns who wear gray clothes) mistreated some of the orphans to death, and deliberately disabled a number of them. For example, the nuns would pierce their ear drums, to receive $2.5 per day from the Government for each disabled child instead of $0.75 for each normal child. And most recently, the movie The Boys of St. Vincent, based on a true story in the book Unholy Orders: Tragedy at Mount Cashel by Michael Harris, exposed the physical and sexual abuses of young orphans in the orphanage of St. Jones in Newfoundland, Canada and the cover up by the regional Church. But the most serious problem the Church is facing now is about a large number of its priests who sexually abused young girls and boys in their parishes. And, the more damaging effect is, instead of finding a way to protect the followers, the Church has made every effort to cover up the abusive priests to save the Church image.
The book A Gospel of Shame: Children, Sex Abuse and the Catholic Church by Elinor Burkett and Frank Bruni describes the following:
"The book uses interviews with victims to examine children's unique vulnerability to priests and with priests abusers to explore their dangerous isolation. It documents the failure of prosecutors, judges, psychologists and reporters to monitor bishops, who spend million of dollars to protect the church's image rather than its believers."
On the same subject, Jason Berry wrote in his book Lead Us Not Into Temptation: Catholic Priests and the Sexual Abuse of Children:
"In fact, between 1984 and 1992, 400 Catholic priests in North America have been reported for molesting children. To date, $400 million has been paid by the Church to resolve these cases. One source projects that $1 billion may be paid by century's end."
Reviewing this book, Father Andrew M. Greeley, a sociologist-priest, professor of Sociology at the University of Chicago, remarked that:
"I am familiar with many of the cases and situations about which Jason Berry writes. I can assure the reader that to the best of my knowledge his reporting is accurate and restrained, indeed if anything almost too conservative. It is my strong impression that the situation is actually much worse than it appears in this book. One will become very angry, I suspect, as one reads through its pages, not so much at the victimizers, who themselves were often if not always victims when they were children, but at Catholic leadership. Bishops have with that seems like programmed consistency tried to hide, cover up, bribe, stonewall, often they have sent back into parishes men whom they knew to be a danger of the faithful."
In fact, in Father Andrew Greeley’s research, he projected that at least 2,500 priests nationwide have victimized tens of thousands of children in the past generation (Los Angeles Times, June 15, 1993)
Jason Berry also wrote in the article Fathers: The Catholic Church has to Confront the Problem of Sexually Abusive Priests, Los Angeles Times Magazine, June 1995:
"Since the early 1980s, when the silence that surrounded the sexual abuse of children was broken, the Catholic Church has seen hundreds of its priests accused of a deed made even more horrific by their vocation. To the faithful, a priest is a Christ figure, celebrating Mass, preaching the Gospel, forgiving sins, watching over his congregation. A priest who molests a child betrays not only that child but all those who believed in the institution he represents.
And that institution, historically powerful and secretive, has until now, largely chosen to protect its own servants rather than the people they are pledged to serve, to deny that a systemic problem exists."
And, we can read the following on the front cover of the book Sex, Priests, and Power: An Anatomy of a Crisis by A. W. Richard Sipe, an ordained Catholic priest:
"From every corner of this country and from other countries around the world, reports of sexual abuse, exploitation, and outgoing sexual misconduct by Catholic priests have appeared in every major newspaper, magazine, and TV and radio talk show. What was first denied by Church officials finally turned into a deluge of overwhelming evidence played out in legal settlements and courtrooms.
Richard Sipe startled the world in 1990 with his controversial book "A Secret World: Sexuality and the Search of Celibacy" which presented evidence of sexual activity by almost 50% of the Roman Catholic priesthood.
Now, 5 years later, Richard Sipe examines the continuing sexual crisis facing the Catholic Church today. Has the storm of publicity and controversy caused the church to acknowledge any of the accusations? Will the church accept statistical evidence or alter the way it trains its clergy? How has it come to grips with reforming or retraining abusers? Has it acknowledged the spread of AIDS among its ranks? Why does the church oppress women and react with hostility and fear towards them?
"Sex, Priests, and Power" addresses these and other questions. The book substantiates its conclusions with many vivid and chilling stories of sexual abuse by clergy against children, women, and members of its own ranks.."
The four principal causes for the decline of the Roman Catholic Church analyzed above, will no doubt lead to the irreversible falling trend of Catholicism in the world. The Pope is aware of that, and by writing the book Crossing the Threshold of Hope he hopes to somewhat reverse this trend. Unfortunately, people all around the world, even in Third World countries, are becoming more and more educated, and there is no way the Church can possibly suppress the truth as it has done so often in the past. His book only confirms that the true nature of the Roman Catholic Church has not changed at all. It still dreams of imposing its teaching upon the rest of the world.
THE SECOND MAJOR CONCERN that bothered the Pope is the spread of Buddhism and Islam in Europe and America. I do not know anything about Islam, but regarding Buddhism I can see clearly its rather rapid spread throughout the West. More than thirty years ago, when I studied physics at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, the bookstores in town carried only a very limited number of Buddhist books, for example the three volumes of Zen Essays by Daisetz T. Suzuki, A Buddhist Bible by Dwight Goddard, Zen Keys by Thích Nhất Hạnh, and a limited number of works by such well known authors such as Edward Conze, Christmas Humphreys, Sir Edwin Arnold, Theodore Stcherbatsky, Alan Watts, Charles Luk, Sangharakshita, John Blofeld and Philip Kapleau. But now, I am very impressed by a very large selection of Buddhist scriptures, texts etc... available at every large bookstore. In 1993, the book The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thích Nhất Hạnh was one of the best sellers. Books on Tibetan Buddhism are also numerous, especially after the Honorable Dalai Lama was awarded the Peace Nobel Prize.
The influence of Buddhism on Western societies has been developed rapidly because of the works of the above-mentioned authors and many more. Apart from Zen Buddhism, which was introduced to the West by Daisetz Suzuki, the most recent contribution to the spread of Buddhism in the West has been by the Dalai Lama with Tibetan Buddhism and by Thích Nhất Hạnh with Engaged Buddhism combined with Mindfulness, and of course, with the assistance of many other monks and lay Buddhists.
A recent CBS's "60 Minutes" reported that there are over 2 million American Buddhists, not to mention those of Asian origin such as Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean... NBC TV Network also reported that there are about 300 Buddhist Centers in Los Angeles alone, and about 50 in Boston etc.. In the book How The Swans Came To The Lake, Rick Fields recounts the history of the development of Buddhism in America with major contributions from His Eminence the Dalai Lama, Tripitika Master Hsuan Hua from the city of "Ten Thousand Buddhas" in Talmage, California, and the late Vietnamese Zen Master Thích Thiện Ân in San Francisco and Los Angeles, and Vietnamese Zen Master Thích Nhất Hạnh teaching in several American communities.
The development and spread of Buddhism in the West were reported in Buddhism in Europe by Kosho Yamamoto, Zen Comes West by Christmas Humphreys, Buddhism and the West: The Integration of Buddhism into Western Society by Sangharakshita, Buddhism in Australia by Paul Croucher, and The Awakening of the West by Stephen Batchelor etc...
It is not my intention to advertize Buddhism. Buddhism is not for sale. It does not have any relic, holy water or indulgence for sale either. So, there is no need to advertize it. I am only reporting the facts. But, it is worth trying to understand why Buddhism has captivated the Western mind. Let me quote just a few observations:
"Wherever Buddhism has traveled during its 2500 year history it has entered into a rich and dynamic relationship with its host cultures. For Buddhism this has meant new forms of expression and communication as well as considerable differences in emphasis and approach. To its surrounding societies have come new ideals, new ideas, new ethical standards, fresh social, cultural, and artistic life - indeed, rarely anything less than radical transformation.
Now Buddhism is coming to the West, and judging from the seriousness with which many Westerners are taking to its principles and practices, there can be no doubt that history is going to repeat itself. Buddhism is about to become integrated into Western society." (Sangharakshita, Ibid.)
The following is from the book God and the New Haven Railway. And Why Neither One Is Doing Very Well by George Dennis O'Brien, professor of Philosophy and President of the University of Rochester:
"Whatever else Christianity may be, it seems on its face clearly to be a religion which preaches salvation and a savior. Before one becomes instantly bored with that idea, it is important to note that most other significant spiritual contenders not only don't preach salvation, in some cases they positively dislike it. Islam is a case in point. Islam means "surrender"; there is no God but Allah and there you are! Muslims find the Christian notion of a savior demeaning both to the saver and the saved. God can accomplish his ends for humanity without complex metaphysical gyrations, and dependence on a savior would devalue the moral independence and fortitude of the intended clients. Human folks ought to stand on their own two bare feet and get on with saving themselves.
Buddha is not a savior, he is the Enlightened One. He has seen the truths of human life, and he offers the Noble Eightfold Path as a guide to similar enlightenment and release from suffering...
For enlightenment or morality one needs teachers, not saviors. The distinction is crucial. On the whole, religions of morality or enlightenment are much more palatable to contemporary American taste. They have two distinct advantages over the Biblical tradition. In the first place they appear to be do-it-yourself spiritualities. This conforms to an American taste for independence and self-reliance. Self-help is what we seek in the latest nonfiction remainder list. Although great teachers are valuable in these traditions, they are also dispensable, and one can be self-taught. One cannot be self-saved in the Biblical story. The second advantage of religions of enlightenment and morality is that they can dispense of most theological machinery. If there are Gods at all - and in Buddhism there appear to be none - then their role is either as helpful (but dispensable) teachers or as ideals and exemplars. The truth is in the teaching, not in the teacher-savior.
Americans like to believe they are self-made. Rugged individualistsm, hard work, and Yankee cunning have conspired to make a raw continent an everlasting "bread machine" of wealth and comfort. The preacher piously advised the New England farmer on his cultivated field: "What you and God have accomplished!" The farmer replied, "You should have seen it when only God was working the field." If this metaphor of "self-made" is truly a defining character, Americans will have no need for an outside maker or an external savior."
And, we can read the following on the back cover of the book, The Awakening of the West: The Encounter Of Buddhism and Western Culture by Stephen Batchelor:
"The "Awakening of the West" is a beautifully written history of the Encounter of Buddhism with the West during the past 2000 years - a chronicle of missed opportunities, cultural arrogance, political tragedy, and unfulfilled dreams.
Since the time of Alexander the Great, European kings and popes longed for the power to be gained through the conquest of Asia. They sent periodic streams of envoys and missionaries to establish contact with the "infidels," but the European's narrow-mindedness prevented them from learning much at all about Buddhism.
Buddhism is said to be the fastest growing religion and one of the most influential spiritual movements in the West."
In Western countries, the influence of Buddhism in general, and of the Dalai Lama in particular, especially since he received the Peace Nobel Prize, no doubt made John Paul II worried. That's why he characterized the Dalai Lama as "stirring up" interest in Buddhism outside Asia. Why John Paul II was worried about this "stirring up" is beyond my understanding.
The history of Buddhism shows that it is a peaceful religion, and in the course of more than 2500 years, Buddhism has never had to rely on swords, guns, forced conversions, and political manipulations to support its propagation in the world. Does the Pope want to keep his followers away from the tree of true knowledge? Is he afraid of some kind of crusade and/or inquisition behind the present Buddhist movement? Is it a sign of lost confidence in the Catholic teachings? If his followers are satisfied with the Catholic teachings why do they bother to take up Buddhism?
And, to keep his followers from being attracted to Buddhism, he characterized Buddhism as an atheist religion. For many decades the Catholic Church has been against the Communists, associated Communism with Atheism, brainwashed its followers that the Communist atheists are evils. This is a distortion of the facts. Dr. Madalyn O'Hair wrote that:
"Communism is a socio-economic political system. Atheism is a position taken in respect to religion. The one is completely separate from the other. One could exist without the other, and has - since Atheism has been around for thousands of years and Communism is only about 100 years old."
To label Buddhism as atheist, John Paul II exploited the hatred of Communism, as taught by the Church for so many years, hoping that his followers will hate Buddhism as they were taught to hate Communism. That's why Nalin de Silva commented that the Pope made malicious remarks about Buddhism. And, even before the emergence of Communism in the world, Robert Ingersoll already asked:
"Why should a believer in God hate an atheist? Surely the atheist has not injured God, and surely he is human, capable of joy and pain, and entitled to all the rights of man. Would it not be far better to treat this atheist, at least, as well as he treats us?"
John Paul II must know about the history of the Catholic Church, its development and expansion throughout the world. Let me review briefly the Vietnamese contact with the spread of Catholicism along with French colonialism in Vietnam to see if there is any parallel between the spread of Buddhism and that of Catholicism in the world.
We Vietnamese, have experienced tremendous sufferings when the European missionaries came to our country a few hundred years ago to "save" us, to make us know the "love" of the Christian God and believe in a Jewish Savior. First, they slandered Buddha, calling him a "black liar", and all other Vietnamese religions: Taoism and Confucianism (Catechism in Eight Days by Alexandre de Rhodes), then they urged us to give up our roots, to abandon our sacred tradition of worshipping our ancestors. Finally, they transformed their Vietnamese followers into religious fanatics who betrayed their country by siding with and fighting for the French colonialists under the command of their Catholic priests, all in the name of the Christian God of Love. This method of propagation of the faith was beyond the understanding of the majority of the Vietnamese population. They used to live in harmony with their three main religions: Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism. Now they encounter an alien religion which is at odds with everything they believe in. But later on, when we read about the history of the Catholic Church, about the history of the popes, about the eight Crusades, the Inquisitions, the massacre on St. Bartholomew's Eve etc.. we began to understand the true nature of the Catholic Church. And, as a result, it's not a surprise to anyone that over several centuries, including nearly one hundred years of French domination and nine years of Catholic dictatorship under Ngo Dinh Diem, during which the Catholic bishops, priests, European as well as indigenous peoples have tried their best to proselytize Vietnam, and they still could not bring the Vietnamese Catholic population to above seven percent.
Although we lost our independence for nearly one hundred years to the French, we did learn some progressive ideas from them, especially in the matter of religion. We still remember Leon Gambetta who had shouted a "cry of war":
" The clericalism, that is the enemy" (Le cléricalisme, voilà l'ennemi);
and Émile Combes, a senator who openly declared in the French Senate:
"It is not that we attack the religion but the clergy, those who want to use religion as an instrument of domination" (Ce n'est pas à la religion que nous attaquons, c'est à ses ministres, qui veulent s'en faire un instrument de domination);
and Jean Bossu who, when fighting for the democracy of the French people, had declared:
"Anti-clericalism is the fundamental basis of the democratic spirit. For us, the clericalism, that is the Church, that is Catholicism, which has always been the enemy of all liberty." (L'anticléricalisme est la base fondamentale de l'esprit démocratique. Pour nous, le cléricalisme, c'est l'Église, c'est le Catholicisme, qui a toujours été l'adversaire de toute liberteù).
The French intellectuals realized the importance of a liberal system of education, therefore they were successful in their opposition to the Catholic education and they could be able to pull their children out of the arms of the Catholic priests and at the same time, unmask the hypocrisies of the Church (Arracher l'enfant au moine, dévoiler les hypocrisies de l'Église). That's why the French Minister of Education, Charles Dupuy had openly declared:
"We declare it very frankly, it seems to us intolerable that under the cover of the liberty in education, whoever could raise the children against their country and against their time." (Nous le déclarons très franchement, il nous parait intolérable qu'à la faveur de la liberté d'enseignement, qui que ce soit puissent élever des enfants contre leur pays et contre leur temps.)
And, Victor Hugo, the great French writer of all times, stated that:
"There are only two criminals: Ceasar and Peter. Ceasar who kills, Peter who lies. The priest is, or can be convinced and sincere. Should we blame him? No. Should we fight against him. Yes." (Il n'y a que deux coupables, César et Pierre; César qui tue, Pierre qui ment..Le prêtre est, ou peut être, convaincu et sincère. Doit-on le blâmer? Non. Doit-on le combattre? Oui.)
and also this famous remark:
"The civilization, that light, can be extinguished by two modes of submersion; two invasions are dangerous to it,, the invasion of the soldiers and the invasion of the priests. The one threatens our mother, the country; the other threatens our children, the future." (La civilisation, cette lumière, peut être éteinte par deux modes de submersion; deux invasions lui sont dangereuses, l'invasion des soldats et l'invasion des prêtres. L'une menace notre mère, la patrie; l'autre menace nos enfants, l'avenir.)
So, for many centuries, the European intellectuals have known the true nature of the Roman Catholic Church, unlike the ignorant poor masses in Third World countries who still believe in the supernatural, the miraculous, the superstitious, and the impossible.
We also were able to learn from many other progressive minds such as Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Voltaire, Robert Ingersoll, Charles Bradlaugh, Bertrand Russell, just to name a few. All of them were freethinkers who fought for the freedom of thought, against the myths that enslave the mind of man. In their opinion:
"He who endeavors to control the mind by force is a tyrant, and he who submits is a slave." (Ingersoll).
Now, I would like to make a few comments on John Paul II's remarks about Buddha and Buddhism. I have no intention to go into the faith of the Catholics because I conceive that religious faith is a right of man, including blind faith and/or superstitious faith. However, it is unethical for a spiritual leader of a religion like Catholicism, based solely on his own faith and the truth he conceived from his tradition, to make malicious remarks about the founder of another religious tradition, Buddha in the case of Buddhism, and to misrepresent another religion.
Although his representative already apologized to the Buddhist Community, the harm was done, and this is a classic tactic "à la Machiavellianism" (i.e., immorality, craft and deceit are justified in pursuing and maintaining political power).
Let me first comment on his following remark about Buddha:
"Buddha is right when he does not see the possibility of human salvation in creation, but he is wrong when, for that reason, he denies that creation has any value for humanity."
It is obvious that, as professor Ken Tanaka said, the pope "hasn't done his homework". It is also obvious that, as Rev. Alan Senauke remarked, the pope's comments were little more than "setting up straw men, then knocking them down"
Why? Let's read the following in the Flower Ornament Scripture (The Avatamsaka Sutra), Book Four, "The Formation of the Worlds", translated from the Chinese by Thomas Cleary:
"Children of Buddha, if explained in brief, there are ten kinds of causes and conditions by which all oceans of worlds have been formed, are formed, and will be formed. What are the ten? They are because of the Buddhas' mystical powers, because they must be so by natural law, because of the acts of all sentient beings, because of what is realized by all enlightened beings developing omniscience, because of the roots of goodness accumulated by both enlightened beings and all sentient beings, because of the power of the vows of enlightened beings purifying lands, because enlightened beings have accomplished practical undertakings without regressing, because of the enlightened beings' freedom of pure resolve, because of the independent power flowing from the roots of goodness of all enlightened ones and the moment of enlightenment of all Buddhas, and because of the independent power of the vows of the Universal Good. This is a summary explanation of ten kinds of causes; if I were to explain in full, there would be as many as there are atoms in an ocean of worlds."
So, in the Buddhist's view of the universe, the formation of the multitude of world systems depends on many causes that encompass the law of interdependence, the law of dependent origination of all things, therefore there was no beginning, no first cause, no creator. Buddhism doesn't accept the creation theory with a God creator, therefore the question of acceptance or denial of any value of Creation to humanity is totally irrelevant, because you cannot have any concept about something non-existent. Furthermore, the concept of an ocean of world systems shows clearly that the Buddhist's view of the universe is more accurate compared to that in the Bible which, until the 17th century C.E (Common Era), still believed in an incorrect concept of a unique world system.
In fact, Creation and God Creator are myths believed by a small fraction of people in this pluralistic world. It's not a verified truth, much less a universal truth. For those who believe in those myths, creation has some value. But for those who don't believe in those myths, there will be no value whatsoever. John Paul II believes in that myth, therefore for him creation is valuable. But he cannot say that whoever doesn't believe in that myth is wrong. That is a very narrow point of view in this modern, civilized world. His statement implied that the truth he conceives is the only truth in this world, and he tries to impose that truth upon the rest of the world. It didn't work in the past, even with the support of swords, guns, forced conversions. It never will.
But, for the sake of completeness, I think it is interesting to view the creation theory in the light of science, of simple reasoning and common sense to see if it has any value at all to humanity. John Paul II wrote:
1. "When Christ speaks of the love that the Father has for the world, He merely echoes the first affirmation in the Book of Genesis which accompanies the description of creation "God saw how good it was... He found it very good" (page 56)
2. "The world that the son of man found when He became man deserved condemnation, because of the sin that had dominated all of history, beginning with the Fall of our fist parents." (page 57)
3. God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life." (page 54).
That is essentially the Creation theory that leads to the doctrine of salvation.
Now, let's see how God created the world, and what kind of love God has for the world and how good the creation was. The Bible reads, Genesis, Holy Bible, The New King James Version:
"1. In the beginning God created the heavens and earth. 2. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering the face of the waters. 3. Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light. 4. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. 5. God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. So the evening and the morning were the first day."
When was "the beginning"? Buddhism conceives that the world has no beginning, no end. And science knows nothing of a beginning. Stephen Hawking, the foremost cosmologist of our time, reported in his book A Brief History of Time:
"In 1981 my interest in questions about the origin and fate of the universe was reawakened when I attended a conference on cosmology organized by the Jesuits in the Vatican. The Catholic Church had made a bad mistake with Galileo when it tried to lay down the law on a question of science, declaring that the sun went around the earth. Now, centuries later, it had decided to invite a number of experts to advise it on cosmology. At the end of the conference the participants were granted an audience with the pope. He told us that it was all right to study the evolution of the universe after the big bang, but we should not inquire into the big bang itself because that was the moment of Creation and therefore the work of God. I was glad then he did not know the subject of the talk I had just given at the conference - the possibility that space-time was finite but had no boundary, which means that it had NO BEGINNING, NO MOMENT OF CREATION."
It is clear that the above view of the origin of the universe corresponds to that of Buddhism more than 2500 years ago. It is also clear that the pope didn't want the scientists to inquire into the big bang itself, fearing that their discovery would definitely refute, once and for all, the Christian Creation theory with a God Creator. In fact, if he accepted the big bang theory, he already denied the likelihood of the existence of a God Creator, because big bang is nothing but the explosion of an infinitely hot singularity of infinite mass.
According to Genesis the earth was made first and it was "without form and void". If we can believe the Bible as the "word of God" then God didn't even know that besides our world system there are infinite numbers of other world systems just as described in the Buddhist Flower Ornament Scripture (Avatamsaka Sutra).
The universe as we see it today is the revelation of modern science and not of God, because God didn't even know that the earth was round, that the earth revolved around the sun. That's why Giordano Bruno was toasted at the stake, Galileo was confined in his home until he died, and it took the Church 359 years to admit that it was wrong in the Galileo affair.
Furthermore, it is impossible to conceive of anything without some form. And if the earth was "without form and void" then how could it hold water so that the "spirit of God" was hovering the face of the waters? Moreover, who was there to listen to God then later reported in the Bible that "Then God said..?"
Next comes the creation of light, God divided the light from the darkness, and called the light day and the darkness, night. The sun was not yet created, and we have here evening and morning, day and night. Every school child knows that this is utterly impossible and absurd. Then, how could God divide the light from the darkness? Is darkness a part of light or just the absence of light? Those absurdities reflect the ignorance of the primitive priests who knew nothing about cosmology, physics etc... Are we all wrong for not seeing any value in these absurdities.
Now, let us go a little further into the Bible. We know that God then made Adam and Eve, and because they disobeyed God and ate the fruit from the tree of knowledge, they were cursed, by God himself and kicked out of the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve then gave birth to two sons: Cain and Abel. Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, talked his brother into going to the field and killed him...Then Cain lay with his wife and she gave birth to Enoch etc...
The question is, why did the God of Love create such an injustice that induced the murder of Abel by his brother Cain? And, who was Cain's wife? At that time, there was only one woman in the world: his mother Eve. So, Cain must have committed incest. It is quite possible, because later on in the Bible there is the story of Lot's two daughters who got their father drunk and slept with him and got pregnant by him.
Why would God create a world in which the beasts kill each other to feed themselves, with all the germs, and viruses for every disease, and especially for the human race, the first generation with disobedience (Adam), the second generation with murderer (Cain) and incest (Cain & Seth), and God found it good, very good. It is really beyond my understanding as a human being to conceive of such a notion of goodness in God. The Christian concept of goodness is a very peculiar one, maybe what I need is some kind of superblind-faith to believe in that kind of goodness.
It is worth noting that more than one hundred years ago, Robert Ingersoll, the greatest American freethinker, or "infidel" if you wish, commented on this subject as follows:
"Is there an intelligent man or woman in the world who believes in the Garden of Eden story? If you find any man who believes it, strike his forehead and you will hear an echo. Something is for rent. Does any intelligent man now believe that god made man of dust, and woman of a rib, and put them in a garden, and put a tree in the midst of it? Was there not room outside of the garden to put his tree, if he does not want people to eat his apples?
Does anybody now believe in the story of the serpent? I pity any man or woman who, in this nineteenth century, believes in that childish fable. Why did Adam and Eve disobey? Why, they were tempted. By whom? The devil. Who made the devil? God. What did God make him for? Why did he not tell Adam and Eve about this serpent? Why did he not watch the devil, instead of watching Adam and Eve? Instead of turning them out, why did he not keep him from getting in? Why did he not have his flood first, and drown the devil, before he made a man and woman.
I defy any man to think of a more childish thing. This god, waiting around Eden - knowing all the while what would happen, then does what? Holds all of us responsible, and we were not there. Here is a representative before the constituency had been born. Before I am bound by a representative I want a chance to vote for or against him; and if I had been there, and known all the circumstances, I should have voted "No!" And yet, I am held responsible.
We are told by the Bible and by the churches that through this fall of man - "Sin and death entered the world."
According to this, just as soon as Adam and Eve had partaken of the forbidden fruit, god began to contrive ways by which he could destroy the lives of his children. He invented all the diseases - all the fevers and coughs and colds - all the pains and plagues and pestilences - all the aches and agonies, the malaria and spores; so that when we take a breath of air we admit into our lungs unseen assassins; and, fearing that some might live too long, even under such circumstances, god invented the earthquakes and volcano, the cyclone and lightning, animalcules to infest the heart and brain, so small that no eye can detect - no instrument reach. This was all owing to the disobedience of Adam and Eve.
In his infinite goodness, God invented rheumatism and gout and dyspepsia, cancers and neuralgia, and is still inventing new diseases. Not only this, but he decreed the pangs of mothers, and that by the gates of love and life should crouch the dragons of death and pain. Fearing that some might, by accident, live too long, he planted poisonous vines and herbs that look like food. He caught the serpents he had made and gave them fangs and curious organs. ingeniously devised to distill and deposit the deadly drop. He changed the nature of the beasts, that they might feed on human flesh. He cursed a world, and tainted every spring and source of joy. He poisoned every breath of air; corrupted even light, that it might bear disease on every ray; tainted every drop of blood in human veins; touched every nerve, that it might bear the double fruit of pain and joy; decreed all accidents and mistakes that maim and hurt and kill, and set the snares of life long fried, baited with present pleasures - with a moment's joy. Then and there he fore knew and foreordained all human tears. And yet all this is but the prelude, the introduction, to the infinite revenge of the good God. Increase and multiply all human grieves until the mind has reached imagination's farthest verge, then add eternity to time, and you may faintly tell, but never can conceive, the infinite horrors of this doctrine called "The Fall of Man."
To understand why, in this scientific and civilized world, the Catholic Church still teaches that horrific doctrine, let us read the following explanation of G.W.Foote in his book Bible Romances:
“The Book of Genesis is generally thought, as Professor Huxley said, to contain the beginning and end of sound science. The mythology of the Jews is held to be a divine revelation of the early history of man, and of the cosmic changes preparatory to his creation. In every Christian country the masses of the peoples are taught in childhood that God created the universe in six days and rested on the seventh. Yet every student knows this is utterly false, every man of science regards it as absurd, and the more educated clergy are beginning to explain it away. But they must retain the Creation story in some sense or other, for two very strong reasons. First, it stands at the very threshold of the Bible, and if it is a mere fiction it inevitably throws discredit on all that follows. Secondly, it is inseparably connected with the story of the Fall. Both live or perish together. And if the Fall is to be regarded as a myth, what becomes of Christianity? The Christian scheme of salvation is unintelligible without the antecedent doctrine of the Fall of Man. Without the Fall, and the ensuing curse, the Atonement is a baseless dogma, and the Incarnation, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection are gigantic mistakes.
The Creation theory, as we shall attempt to show, is incoherent, self-contradictory, and absurd. It is also discordant with the plainest truths of Science..."
So much for the Creation theory and the doctrine of the Fall of Man. Do we see any value in that theory of Creation? Now, we shall go into the dogma of "First Parents". Let's assume that the story of Adam and Eve is true, in the sense that God made Adam out of dust and Eve from one of Adam's ribs. Does this story imply that Adam and Eve are the first parents of the human race? Genetically speaking, during the last 6000 years, the age of our world according to some Bible (actually, the age of the earth is about 4.5 billion years), have we ever seen a white couple giving birth to an African child?
There are many races in the world. So, was Adam black? white? yellow? or red? Where did the different races with different languages come from? If God was a little bit more intelligent he would have made one set of parents for each race in the world. From the point of view of a Vietnamese, I cannot find any Vietnamese name in the Bible. All of them are Jewish names. Not only that, all the events in the Bible occurred in the Middle East. So, if Adam was in fact a first parent, he could be only the first parent of the Jewish race, or of some race in that region.
Why do we, Vietnamese, have to accept a Jew as our first parent knowing that it is impossible for a Jewish couple to give birth to a Vietnamese, or an Indian, or an African child? So, those Vietnamese who believe in this doctrine of first parents are indeed living in illusion, because from the above reasoning, Adam and Eve could not be the first parents of the human race as a whole. Therefore, at least for us Vietnamese, the myth of the "Fall of Man" is irrelevant, and we do not need any Savior who saves us from an immaginary sin unrelated to our race. We are not responsible for the sin, if in fact there is any, of Adam.
Interestingly enough, more than two hundred years ago, Voltaire, in his Treatise on Metaphysics, Chapter I, "On the Different Species of Men", after recounting many different species of men he has met, wrote:
"At Goa, I meet a type even more extraordinary than all those before; it is a man wearing a long black cassock, who claims he was made for instructing others. All these different men, he says, are born from the same father, and he goes on to tell me a long story. But what this animal says seems very unlikely to me. I inquire whether the negro man and a negro woman with their black wool and flattened noses, ever have white children with blond hair, aquiline noses, and blue eyes; if beardless nations have come from bearded people; or if white men and women have ever produced yellow people. I am told no, that negroes transported to Germany, for example, only have negroes, unless the Germans take it upon themselves to change the species. And it is added that no man wìth some learning has ever asserted that unmixed species might degenerate and that hardly anyone but Abbeù Dubos would have said such a foolish thing in a book entitled "Reflections On Painting and Poetry".
It seems to me then that I have fairly good grounds for believing that in this respect men are like trees; just as firs, oaks, pear trees, and apricot trees do not come from the same tree, white men with beards, negroes with wool, yellow men with manes, and men without beards do not come from the same man."
Lastly, another question comes up in my mind: Is Jesus Christ the "only son" of God as John Paul II made a big point about it several times in his book?
I am a little bit confused here, because reading the Bible, I find not one, not two, but three Jesus Christs completely different from one another.
According to Matthew 1:1-17, the genealogy of Jesus Christ is the following, from King David down:
"David, Solomon, Rehoboam, Abijah, Asa, Jehoshaphat, Jehoram, Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah, Manasseh, Amon, Josiah, Jeconiah, Shealtiel, Zerubbabel, Abiud, Eliakim, Azor, Zadok, Akim, Eliud, Eleazar, Matthan, Jacob, Joseph, Jesus." , 27 generations in total.
But, according to Luke 3:23-38 the genealogy of Jesus Christ is as follows:
"David, Nathan, Matthata, Menna, Melea, Eliakim, Jonam, Joseph, Judah, Simeon, Levi, Matthat, Jorim, Eliezer, Joshua, Er, Elmadam, Cosam, Addi, Melki, Neri, Shealtiel, Zerubbabel, Rhesa, Joanan, Joda, Josech, Semein, Matthathias, Maath, Naggai, Esli, Nahum, Amos, Matthathias, Joses, Jannai, Melki, Leci, Matthat, Eli, Joseph, Jesus." altogether 42 generations.
And, according to another account in the Bible, Jesus Christ was also the product of an illegal impregnation of an innocent girl named Mary by the Holy Ghost.
So, which one of the above was the "only Son" of God? The one in Matthew? Or the one in Luke? Or the Holy Ghost Junior? But, that is not the issue. The issue here is, two of the above stories must be wrong, because we cannot accept all the three at the same time unless we are out of our mind. This leads to the question: if the Bible has something wrong in it, and there are indeed many inaccuracies as proved by many eminent scholars, God must be wrong because the Bible is the "Word of God". And if God himself is fallible, what about Jesus Christ? and what about the pope who is the vicar of Christ? And if God can write one thing wrong, who knows? - he may have written many things wrong.
But, the above questions came from a mind capable of reasoning, and not from a faithful believer's mind. Reason and blind faith do not mix, so actually the mind of a freethinker and the mind of a no-question-asked-believer are functioning at different frequencies, it is very hard to attune them to have even some kind of resonance.
But we, Buddhists, do believe in something. We do believe in the following teaching of our Lord Buddha (Anguttara-Nikaya Sutra):
Don't believe anything on mere hearsay.
Don't believe traditions because they happen to be old and have been passed down through many generations.
Don't believe anything because people talk a lot about it.
Don't believe solely because the written testimony of some ancient wise man is shown to you.
Never believe anything that begs to be taken for granted, or because ancient precedent tempts you to regard it as true.
And don't believe anything on the mere authority of your teachers or priests.
What you should accept as true and as the guide to your life is whatever agrees with your own reason and your own experience after thorough investigation, and whatever is helpful both to your own well-being and that of other living beings.
Because of the above belief, Zen Master Thích Nhất Hạnh wrote in his new book, Living Buddha, Living Christ:
"People kill and are killed because they cling too tightly to their own beliefs and ideologies. When we believe that ours is the only faith that contains the truth, violence and suffering will surely be the result."
"...Do not think the knowledge you presently possess is changeless, absolute truth. Avoid being narrow-minded and bound to present views. Learn and practice non-attachment from views in order to be open to receive other's viewpoints"
Buddhism considers ignorance, greed and hatred as three poisons which have to be eradicated. Because of ignorance one is narrow-minded. Because of ignorance one practices intolerance. Because of ignorance one is arrogant. Because of ignorance one attaches to the concept of exclusiveness. And because of ignorance one lives in illusions.
Therefore, the first step in the practice of Buddhism is "crossing the threshold of ignorance." Aiming at “crossing the threshold of hope” while still living in the thick darkness of ignorance is an illusion, just like aiming at plucking a flower in a mirror, or grabbing the moon in the bottom of a pond. Thích Nhất Hạnh's new book, Living Buddha, Living Christ, opposes narrow-minded, arrogance, intolerance, and exclusiveness with open-minded, humility, tolerance, and inclusiveness through the concept of inter-beings. So, let me conclude my analysis with his following lesson that summarizes it all:
"John Paul II, in "Crossing the Threshold of Hope", insists that Jesus Christ is the only Son of God: "Christ is absolutely original, absolutely unique. If He were only a wise man like Socrates, if He were a "Prophet" like Mohammed, if He were "enlightened" like Buddha, without any doubt, He would not be what He is. He is the one mediator between God and humanity."
This statement does not seem to reflect the deep mystery of the oneness of the Trinity. It also does not reflect the fact that Christ is also the Son of Man. All Christians, while praying to God, address Him as Father. Of course, Christ is unique. But who is not unique? Socrates, Mohammed, the Buddha, you, and I are all unique. The idea behind the statement, however, is the notion that Christianity provides the only way of salvation and all other religious traditions are of no use. This attitude excludes dialogue and fosters religious intolerance and discrimination. IT DOES NOT HELP."
Trần Chung Ngọc, Ph.D.
University of Wisconsin - Madison
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