collection of hauma hamiddha's scattered posts

Archive for September, 2012

German Christian in Dialogue with Balinese on Ramayana’s Historicity

This is not a post by Hauma Hamiddha but something I found interesting nonetheless, so sharing it:

In the contemporary era we can see a great deal of continuity between modern conceptions of religion and the Christian understanding of religio. Both tend to place a great deal of emphasis upon a faithful (sic) adherence to doctrine as indicative of religious allegiance, upon sacred texts as of central importance to religious communities and to questions of truth and falsity as of paramount importance to the religious adherent or ‘believer’. The Christian interest in the truth and falsity of religion is distinctive in this aspect and the emphasis it places upon the importance of the historicity of the gospel story and the falsity of pagan mythologies. This is in sharp contrast to the pagan Roman approach, which does not project a dichotomy between myth and history onto the category of religio. It would seem that this characteristically Christian approach to religion is also a source of perplexity for those who remain culturally uninfluenced by it. German writer Bichsel relates the following conversation between himself and a young Balinese Hindu.

A young Balinese became my primary teacher. One day I asked him if he believed that the history of Prince Rama – one of the holy books of the Hindus – is true.
Without hesitation, he answered it with “Yes”.
“So you believe that the Prince Rama lived somewhere and somewhen?”
“I do not know if he lived”, he said.
“Then it is a story?”
“Yes, it is a story.”
“Then someone wrote this story – I mean: a human being wrote it?”
“Certainly some human being wrote it”, he said.
“Then some human being could have also invented it”, I answered and felt triumphant, when I thought that I had convinced him.
But he said: “It is quite possible that somebody invented this story. But true it is, in any case.”
“Then it is the case that Prince Rama did not live on this earth?”
“What is it that you want to know?” he asked. “Do you want to know whether the story is true, or merely whether it occurred?”
“The Christians believe that their God Jesus Christ was also on earth”, I said, “In the New Testament, it has been described by human beings. But the Christians believe that this is the descrip¬tion of the reality. Their God was also really on Earth.”
My Balinese friend thought it over and said: “I had been already so informed. I do not understand why it is important that your God was on earth, but it does strike me that the Europeans are not pious. Is that correct?”
“Yes, it is”, I said.

The above story is interesting precisely because it representes a dialogue between two different cultures. Both speakers have different conceptions of what it mean to say that their religion is ‘true’. The German interviewer understands truth in terms of historical actuality. For a story to be true it must have actually happened. His Indonesian teacher, however, seems to conceive of truth more in terms of whether or not the story has truthful insights within it. Questions of historical authenticity in this sense are irrelevant to the question of truth. Indeed the final question of the Balinese teacher suggests that for him the truth of a story is something to do with the practical question of the ethical behavior of those who believe in it. A true story it would seem is one which promotes an authentic and ethical lifestyle. This approach seems to have much more in common with the Roman uses of religio and traditio and suggests that the Christian understanding of these terms is a peculiar feature that is perhaps only to be found in the Judaeo-Christian and Islamic traditions.

Source: Orientalism and Religion: Post-Colonial Theory, India and “The Mystic East” By Richard King, pp. 39-40.

Tag Cloud