Monday, January 09, 2006

A Question of Jesus Christ!

“What profit has not that fable of Christ brought us!”

~ Pope Leo X
Luigi Cascioli was a former priest who left the faith to become a militant atheist. He wrote a book called 'The Fable of Christ', perhaps taking the title from that frank admission by Pope Leo X.

Most of us think we know what the word fable means, but the reality is that it carries several meanings, which staunch Christians may perceive as an OK (a story of the supernatural or extraordinary person) to a discrete academic neutral (a short tale to teach a moral) to an insult (an untruth, lie or a falsehood).

But as Cascioli is a militant atheist, we may guess quite safely that he would have the last in mind. A Catholic priest, Father Enrico Righi, was so annoyed with the blasphemous book that he denounced Cascioli in his parish newsletter for daring to even question Christ’s historical existence.

Ironically, both Cascioli and Father Righi were actually from the same town and even went to the same seminary school when they were teenagers.

I reckon Cascioli was looking for a fight, maybe to prove a point or to pursue his hobbyhorse, so he launched legal proceedings against the padre 3 years ago. He accused the Catholic priest of 'Abuso di Credulita Popolare' meaning 'Abuse of Popular Belief', designated an offence in Italy to protect people against being swindled or conned.

His second accusation was 'Sostituzione di Persona' or ‘impersonation’, also another offence under the Italian penal code. What 'impersonation' was Cascioli referring to? Well, he said that early Christian writers confused Jesus with John of Gamala, an anti-Roman Jewish insurgent in first-century Palestine. Actually KTemoc has also read of a militant insurgent, who was crucified by the Romans.

But the judge in Viterbo, north of Rome, refused to take the case. Mate, we are talking a place near Rome, the heartland of Catholic Christianity, so I don’t really blame the Roman Catholic judge for rejecting the suit. But does that remind you readers of some other judges?

Cascioli appealed against the judge’s decision, and what happened next, you may be sure, is unlikely to happen in Malaysia. The Court of Appeal ruled Cascioli has a reasonable case for his accusation that Father Righi was ‘abusing popular credulity’.

It told the Vitero judge to stop behaving like the Malaysian judges in avoiding difficult and sensitive cases such as the recent M Moorthy case, and that he bloody well get on with his judiciary duties without fear or favour.

OK, I have to admit the appeal judge(s) didn’t say it in the exact form I’ve presented in the preceding paragraph. I just thought I’d ‘jazz it up a wee bit’ to give it an analogous Malaysian context.

So the judge in Vitero has set a preliminary hearing for the end of this month and ordered Father Righi to appear in court to, get this, prove that Jesus Christ existed.

Jeeeeez and forgive my blasphemic swearing, but what did Cascioli say that has led to this situation in the heartland of Christianity?

Well, it seems that Cascioli's argument is that, apart from the Gospel accounts which Christians took purely on faith, there is no reliable evidence that Jesus lived and died in first-century Palestine.

He submitted that, leaving aside the Bible which to him has no historical truth anyway, all claims for the existence of Jesus came from authors who lived way after the time of the hypothetical Jesus [yes, he used the word ‘hypothetical’]. Therefore they weren’t reliable witnesses.

For example, the Roman historians Tacitus and Suetonius who mentioned a ‘Christus’ or ‘Chrestus’ in their writings did that (the mentioning) long after the life of the purported Jesus, and thus were relying on hearsay.

Father Righi argued - rather poorly I'm afraid - that there was overwhelming testimony to Christ's existence in both religious and secular texts. Cascioli would easily destroy his arguments by pointing out that the priest's references are in the first instance, documents of faith without credible factual evidence, while in the second, as Cascioli had already averred, mere hearsay.

But the padre insisted stubbornly that whatever, millions believed in Christ as both man and Son of God for 2000 years. I think that’s not fact but faith, which in the general case, would be blind.

He stated: "If Cascioli does not see the sun in the sky at midday, he cannot sue me because I see it and he does not."

Father Righi's analogy has been a poor attempt at drawing an inapproriate comparison between the visual sighting of a local star, which existence is a scientific fact, and that of an emotional or spiritual belief in a being whose existence is yet to be substantially proven, thus making the existence of the being, as Cascioli averred, a ‘fable’.

But Cascioli gave the priest a chance - he said he would withdraw his legal action if Father Righi came up with irrefutable proof of Christ's existence by the end of the month.

Irrefutable proof? C’mon Cascioli, you’re mean. However, Cascioli has admitted that in Roman Catholic Italy, his odds of winning would be next to zilch. He joked "It would take a miracle to win."

The Vatican has also taken a leaf out of the Malaysian authorities' SOP (standard operating procedures) by keeping mum over the whole affair.

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