Epigraph: And no burdened soul can bear the burden of another; and if a heavily laden soul call another to bear its load, naught of it shall be carried by the other, even though he be a kinsman. Thou canst warn only those who fear their Lord in secret and observe Prayer. And whoso purifies himself, purifies himself only to his own advantage; and to Allah shall be the return. (Al Quran 35:19)
Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times
The Pope gave a detailed interview recently. It was conducted by the Rev. Antonio Spadaro, editor of La Civilta Cattolica, a Jesuit journal based in Rome, over three meetings this August at Francis’ apartment in Rome.
In a remarkable 12,000 word interview to mark six months in the church’s top job, Francis said he was resolved to reform the church.
According to CNN, to begin the interview, Spadoro bluntly asks, ”Who is Jorge Mario Bergolio?” – Francis’s name before he was elected pope.
“I am a sinner,” the pope answers. “This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.”
CNN reported that the pope didn’t mention any particular sins, and Catholic theology holds that all humans are sinners, a consequence of Adam and Eve’s original transgression. Still, a pope describing himself foremost as “sinner” is striking.
The Pope’s stress on humility is worth while, but his use of the word, “sinner,” as his main description, raises important doctrinal issues. It opens a Pandora box around the issues of Baptism, Original Sin and lack of efficacy of the Seven Sacraments.
One wonders why the Pope had to confess to the whole world, when he could have just had a private confession with a priest of his choosing!
Sacrament of Penance or Confession is one of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church. By this sacrament Christians are freed from sins committed after Baptism. The Sacrament of Penance is considered the normal way to be absolved from mortal sins which, it is believed, would otherwise condemn a person to Hell.
May be the Pope took care of Confession. If so, any sins between Confession and Baptism are ‘forgiven.’
But, was he baptized and may be that is where the deficiency lies!
But, what is Baptism?
It is said that a priest baptized Fred and dipped his head in water three times.
After the third time, the priest said: “You are now baptized. You are a new creation; your old creation is gone. Your new name is David.”
David went back home and headed straight for the fridge.
He took a Budweiser beer bottle, dipped it in water three times and said: “you are now a new creation; your old one is gone. Your new name is “Orange juice.”
But, seriously, even though it is is a joke, it is a very poignant pointer to the concept of Baptism, which flows into the Original Sin and other sins and how these concepts may be a hindrance in our moral and spiritual development.
Why do we need the ritual of Baptism?
According to the conventional Christian teaching, the Original Sin or the Fall of Adam introduced death, suffering and sin in our world.
The opening book of the Bible, Genesis tells us the story of the Fall in the third chapter.
Unto the woman he (God) said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee. (Genesis 3:16)
The Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed was accepted as the basis of Catholic faith; the canon of Old and New Testament books was definitely fixed; tradition was accepted as a source of faith; the Latin Vulgate was declared adequate for doctrinal proofs; the number of sacraments was fixed at seven; and the nature and consequences of original sin were defined.
The doctrine of Original Sin is the prerequisite for the Christian understanding of the meaning of Jesus’ crucifixion and atonement.
May be the Pope is alluding to the Original Sin by using his own example?
Despite the importance of the Original Sin for understanding Jesus’ sacrifice, according to Encyclopedia Britannica, the doctrine of Original Sin has been minimized since the European Enlightenment.
The reason, why it has been minimized is perhaps in the enlightened Europe there is greater awareness that doctrine of Original Sin is counter intuitive and against scientific realities.
But, first let us use Encyclopedia Britannica to define the doctrine for us:
Original sin, in Christian doctrine, the condition or state of sin into which each human being is born; also, the origin (i.e., the cause, or source) of this state. Traditionally, the origin has been ascribed to the sin of the first man, Adam, who disobeyed God in eating the forbidden fruit (of knowledge of good and evil) and, in consequence, transmitted his sin and guilt by heredity to his descendants.
The doctrine has its basis in the Bible. Although the human condition (suffering, death, and a universal tendency toward sin) is accounted for by the story of the Fall of Adam in the early chapters of the book of Genesis, the Hebrew Scriptures say nothing about the transmission of hereditary sin to the entire human race. In the Gospels also there are no more than allusions to the notion of the Fall of Man and universal sin. The main scriptural affirmation of the doctrine is found in the writings of St. Paul and particularly in Romans 5:12–19, a difficult passage in which Paul establishes a parallelism between Adam and Christ, stating that whereas sin and death entered the world through Adam, grace and eternal life have come in greater abundance through Christ.
To know its counter-intuitive nature one need go no further than the fact that it is hard for those who believe in a loving God, Who is more loving than our fathers and mothers, to assume that He will condemn a whole race for thousands of generations for the sin or offence of one person or a couple.
For its anti-scientific nature, let me suggest a book by the Founding President of the Cornell University, Andrew Dickson White. He published his book, A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, in 1896. You can read one of the relevant chapters online in alislam.org and the book is available in archive.org.
What has been the traditional remedy for Original Sin. We are told that Jesus died for our sins. One wonders, if Jesus died for our sins, never mind the lesser beings, why is the Pope still a sinner?
We are further told that to benefit from Jesus’ atonement, we need to be baptized. This is why children who died before baptism were sent to Limbo rather than heaven, but, in the last decade or two the Limbo is in Limbo.
About Saint Augustine, whose influence in the Catholic Church is second to none other than Jesus himself and Saint. Paul, Encyclopedia Britannica has the following to say:
Augustine was enrolled as a pre-baptismal candidate in the Christian church as a young child, and at various points in his life he considered baptism but deferred out of prudence. (In that age, before the prevalence of infant baptism, it was common for baptism to be delayed until the hour of death and then used to wash away a lifetime of sins.)
There are differences in views about the effect of Baptism for a Christian. Some Christian groups assert Baptism is a requirement for salvation and a Sacrament, and speak of “baptismal regeneration“. Its importance may be understood by an informed knowledge of their interpretation of the most fundamental and basic meaning of the “Mystical Body of Christ” as found in the New Testament. This view is shared by the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions, and by Churches formed early during the Protestant Reformation such as Lutheran and Anglican. For example, Martin Luther said:
To put it most simply, the power, effect, benefit, fruit, and purpose of Baptism is to save. No one is baptized in order to become a prince, but as the words say, to “be saved”. To be saved, we know, is nothing else than to be delivered from sin, death, and the devil and to enter into the kingdom of Christ and live with him forever. —Luther’s Large Catechism, 1529
So, Baptism is supposed to deliver us from sin probably make us sinless. But, if Baptism has not worked in a given situation, should it be repeated, to take away the sins? Does the Pope’s confession of being a sinner, suggest that he will be baptized again, assuming he was baptized in his younger years?
He has shown his openness and liberal side in many ways. Would he be open to be baptized by a Muslim, who may recite a few verses from the Holy Quran and the Holy Bible, as he pours water over the Pontiff? Would he rather go through, one of the other seven sacraments of confession and confess his sins to a Muslim journalist, like myself in a confidential email or go public taking out a full page Ad in New York Times, confessing to the collective conscience of 7 billion fellow humans?
The fact of the matter is that the recipe to be free from sin is not some supernatural phenomenon, which cannot be be observed or demonstrated.
The panacea is genuine repentance with honest intention not to repeat the mistake or the sin.
I propose to introduce two small booklets by the Founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, the Messiah, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani.
In these booklets, the reader will find an adequate presentation of the Islamic view of how to be free from sin and refutation of the Christian dogma about atonement.
The Messiah, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani, may peace be upon him, writes that man is by his very nature averse to things he believes to be harmful, and if he commits sin it is only because he does not truly believe in the existence of God and in the Day of Reckoning. Had he possessed the same certainty about the accountability of sin, as he does, for instance, about the harmfulness of a poison or a snake, he would never even think of transgressing Divine commandments.
The Messiah also argues that a true religion must be judged by its ability to lead its followers to certainty about the existence of God. The holy author makes a detailed comparison between Islam and other major religions, and concludes that Islam alone can lead man to perfect awareness and, consequently, to freedom from sin.
First, a short quote from a booklet Fountain of Christianity, by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani:
You should also consider that it is God’s eternal and established law that He forgives in response to repentance and penitence, and hears the prayers of His righteous servants which are offered by way of intercession. But we never observe in the Divine law of nature that ‘A’ hits his own head with a stone and this cures the headache of ‘B’. We are, therefore, at a loss to understand how people can acquire inner purification through the suicide committed by the Messiah. Is there any law or philosophy which can make us understand how the Messiah’s blood could have cleansed the inner impurities of other people? Our observation is, in fact, opposed to this principle, because, until the time when the Messiah decided to commit suicide, we find an element of righteousness and godliness among the Christians. After the crucifixion, however, their carnal passions burst forth like a river which breaks its banks and inundates the land.There is no doubt that even if this suicide on the part of the Messiah was deliberate, it was quite needless. If he had, instead, spent his life in preaching and exhortation, he would have done a lot of good for God’s creation. But this act did not serve them in any way. Yes, if the Messiah had indeed come back to life after his suicide, and had ascended to heaven before the very eyes of the Jews, they would surely have believed in him. But, as things stand, the Jews, and all reasonable people, consider the Messiah’s ascension to be no more than a fable.
To read the booklet Fountain of Christianity, click here.< Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani writes in his booklet, How to be Free from Sin:
As I have often stated before, attraction forms the basis for everything that happens in the world, and the side which possesses greater conviction is able to attract others towards itself. There is every truth in the principle that a force can only be counteracted by another more powerful than itself. It is impossible for this world, which is being pulled downwards by the force of base attractions, to rise up again, unless an opposing force appears from heaven to reinforce people’s faith, and to show them that there is more substantial and lasting joy in submission to the commandments of God than in the fulfilment of carnal passions, and to convince them that transgression is worse than death. This heavenly light of conviction is granted to man through the ‘Sun’, i.e., the Imam of his age, and failure to recognize him amounts to dying a death of ignorance. The person who thinks he has no need of this true source of light is deluded, for he sets himself against the immutable laws of God. Human eyes, even though they possess a light of their own, cannot see without the sun. The sun is the source of the light which descends from heaven and illuminates the earth, and without it our eyes are as good as blind. He who attains conviction through this heavenly light is drawn towards piety, and it is natural for a struggle to ensue between the two attractions, one pulling him towards virtue and the other towards vice, one towards the East and the other towards the West. The clash is all the more ferocious when the two attractions are at their peak—as they are during times of tremendous material advancement. As the earth undergoes phenomenal progress, rest assured that spiritual preparations are also being made and an attraction has been formed in heaven to counter the earthly one.
To read the book, How to be Free from Sin, click here.
Perhaps, Baptism is like ablution of Muslims, before every prayer, to focus our attention on the sacred and the Divine. It is not only a ritual cleaning, but, also provides physical cleaning of humans and it seems that the Christians, under the spell of Saint Paul, have read, far more into Baptism than truly belongs to it. The Holy Quran says about ablution:
O ye who believe! when you stand up for Prayer, wash your faces, and your hands up to the elbows, and pass your wet hands over your heads, and wash your feet to the ankles. And if you be unclean, purify yourselves by bathing. And if you are ill or you are on a journey while unclean, or one of you comes from the privy or you have touched women, and you find not water, betake yourselves to pure dust and wipe therewith your faces and your hands. Allah desires not that He should place you in a difficulty, but He desires to purify you and to complete His favour upon you, so that you may be grateful. (Al Quran 5:7)
Perhaps, Baptism is like Shahada or ceremony of initiation in Islam. When someone becomes a Muslim from a different faith, he or she announces in a group setting:
لَا إِلٰهَ إِلَّا الله مُحَمَّدٌ رَسُولُ الله
There is no god but God, Muhammad is the messenger of God.
The Church has followed Islam gradually in many of its concepts, for example, gradual acceptance of divorce, in the last century, to name at least one.
I think that in decades and centuries to come, the Christian understanding of sin and Baptism will take on more and more of the Muslim colors. In minimizing the concept of Original Sin since Enlightenment, they are already coming closer to Islam. But, it is seldom that the Church acknowledges its source of enlightenment, but then, imitation is the best form of flattery.
Those of our Christian brothers and sisters, who want to know their future may as well read the booklets that I have linked in here.