The Anti-Intellectual Heritage of the Pretamata: Celsus

After a short series of personal anecdotes, we are back on track to serious content. However, in the spirit of the last four articles, it would be perhaps pertinent to begin this article with two incidents, separate in time and space, but springing from the same source of a poisonous ignorance that many fall victim to. The first incident occurred when I was studying at primary school. I had been deeply interested in the social behavior of, and the biological and chemical defenses used in the wars by, the ants. When I was 11, I had acquired a second-hand, rare copy of a book named, “The Ant People”, written by the poet, actor and intellectual of Deutschland, Hanns Heinz Ewers. Given that it was written by a non-specialist in the early twentieth century, its language lacks scientific rigor. However, the observations in it were found by me to be verifiable by recent sources to a large extent. In any case, this book played a major part during my early years which were marked by a strong sense of intellectual curiosity. In the context of a class discussion, when I was 12 and in my final year at primary school, I had casually remarked about communication between ants, based on what I had read and expressed my awe at the greatness of nature.

To my utter disappointment and anger, as I still keenly recall the play of emotions in my head, the teacher poured cold water as she told me that I should express my awe at God’s creation and not nature! I was not against theistic notions per se (at least at that point of time as a child of 12) but was angered by the fact that any discussion is suppressed by the invocation of “God”. But I left it at that, not willing to argue further to my detriment. A similar incident occurred in my third year at secondary school when I was 15. Though I was not directly involved, I was nonetheless shocked when the Biology teacher asserted that Darwin was a vānara for stating his theory of manuṣyodvikāsa! She went on to cite the Pretāgama as pramāṇa to “prove” that man was created and did not evolve from monkeys. These two incidents occurred at two separate schools, divided by a span of three years. In the earlier school, the teacher was a middle-aged Indian; and in the later it was a Vṛddha Cīnastrī. But it stemmed from the same source, an infection by Pretamata that ruins the intellect and has the potency to render all education useless. Of course, I intuited this early, but only fully grasped its gravity and complexity in recent years and here; I shall attempt to briefly sketch an outline regarding the intrinsic features of the Pretamata and the Pretāgama that make it a system attractive to those who are alpa-buddhi.

A thing to note is that Hindus need to engage the advances of the Pretamata, not with rhetoric but with reason. In this, their intellectual arsenal is scarcely equipped. The case against Pretamata cannot be built merely on the crowning achievements of the natural sciences as one would like. As exemplified in the above anecdotal recollections, many educated people buy into the absurdity that is Pretamata. Hence, stupidity itself has taken on a more sophisticated form and the response has to evince an equal degree of sophistication. To that end, educate Hindus should spend their time acquainting themselves with disciplines such as history, psychology, archaeology and literary criticism, as well as the best and brightest thinkers in these fields; for herein lies the Brahmāstra and Pāśupatāstra to annihilate the spread of Pretamata in Bhāratam. (It is a pity that one can hardly find any significant sign of Hindu interest in literary criticism, even on a casual level let alone on an academic scale)

The anti-intellectual heritage of this religion is apparent right from the early days of its existence when Tertullian, (A Pretamata “Thinker”; we know, it is an oxymoron) writes in the seventh chapter of his work, De praescriptione haereticorum (The Prescription Against Heretics), and is worth quoting to the extent we have done so below:

 “These are “the doctrines” of men and “of demons” produced for itching ears of the spirit of this world’s wisdom: this, the Lord called “foolishness,” and “chose the foolish things of the world” to confound even philosophy itself. For (philosophy) it is which is the material of the world’s wisdom, the rash interpreter of the nature and the dispensation of God. Indeed heresies are themselves instigated by philosophy…These are “the doctrines” of men and “of demons” produced for itching ears of the spirit of this world’s wisdom: this, the Lord called “foolishness,” and “chose the foolish things of the world” to confound even philosophy itself. For (philosophy) it is which is the material of the world’s wisdom, the rash interpreter of the nature and the dispensation of God. Indeed heresies are themselves instigated by philosophy.

Whence spring those “fables and endless genealogies,” and “unprofitable questions,” and “words which spread like a cancer?” From all these, when the apostle would restrain us, he expressly names philosophy as that which he would have us be on our guard against. Writing to the Colossians, he says, “See that no one beguiles you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, and contrary to the wisdom of the Holy Ghost.” He had been at Athens, and had in his interviews (with its philosophers) become acquainted with that human wisdom which pretends to know the truth, whilst it only corrupts it, and is itself divided into its own manifold heresies, by the variety of its mutually repugnant sects. What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What concord is there between the Academy and the Church? What between heretics and Christians? Our instruction comes from “the porch of Solomon”, who had himself taught that “the Lord should be sought in simplicity of heart.”

You may read this anti-intellectual diatribe in its entirety here.

Note the disdain against philosophy and intellectual centres like Athens. At this point, the intellectually ill-equipped Hindu, still believing in the alleged “equality of religions”, might enquire, “It is unfair to impugn an entire religion because of a particular thinker. We must judge it based on its scriptures.”

In course of these secularist pretensions, the Hindu forgets that this ridiculous anti-intellectualism has its roots directly in the Pretamata. If you analyse the above text, you would notice a good number of quotes from the Pretāgama, all from one person, Paul. Hindus, to their detriment, have ignored the study of the history of Pretamata and the key thought expressed in the Pretāgama, especially in its Uttara Bhāga, which concerns the life and teachings of the Preta. We present here a few quotes from Paul’s writings which have been the most dominant in terms of theology and socio-political impact in the Pretālayas all over the world.

1 Corinthians 1:20-25: Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

1 Corinthians 1.26-27Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise.

It is clear that Paul relishes in discrediting and condescending upon the intellectual contributions made by the world (or, in this particular context, the heathen Greeks). But even among the Jews and Greeks, said to have criticized the irrationalities and incredulities of the Pretamata, a few dull-witted plebeians embraced its “foolishness”. As Celsus points out by putting the following words in the mouth of a Jewish critic: “The converts from Judaism have forsaken the law of their fathers, in consequence of their minds being led captive by Jesus; that they have been most ridiculously deceived, and that they have become deserters to another name and to another mode of life.” (Chapter 1 of Book 2 of Contra Celsus, a work written by Origen to refute Celsus; that is the sole source of the verses from Celsus’s writings. You may read this here.)

Celsus also makes a piercing observation that tears right into the heart of the strategy that has been driving this religion’s popularity: “The following are the rules laid down by them. Let no one come to us who has been instructed, or who is wise or prudent (for such qualifications are deemed evil by us); but if there be any ignorant, or unintelligent, or uninstructed, or foolish persons, let them come with confidence. By which words, acknowledging that such individuals are worthy of their God, they manifestly show that they desire and are able to gain over only the silly, and the mean, and the stupid, with women and children.” (Chapter 44 of Book 3, one can read it here) In all fairness, we concede that Origen has indeed attempted to respond to these allegations. But that is it. It is a mere attempt. Thanks to the intellectual tradition of quoting entire passages from opponents, we have before us the arguments of Celsus as well as the response from Origen. It is up to the readers to decide for themselves, in all honesty, the superior argument.

Origen argues in chapter 45 of book 3 that there are many verses in the Pretāgama that ask God for wisdom and hence Celsus’s insinuation of Pretamata being a religion for the unschooled is unfounded. To this effect, he produces quotations from the Pūrva Bhāga, which state Solomon and David having received “wisdom” from God. One can easily note the fallacy that a particular example does not stand to disprove a general statement. Secondly, these examples, being Jewish in origin, fail to substantiate Origen’s claim. Thirdly and finally, we cannot be absolutely sure if the “wisdom” referred to in the texts, is really useful wisdom or at least a product of sceptical reflection and logical thought. One may wonder why I am spending so much time going into fine points instead of doing a “cut-and-paste” approach. Well, from personal experience, I know that there is a number of Hindus who despite being educated, suffer from naiveté. They are so comfortable with the simplistic notion that “all religions are equal” or all religions are intrinsically benevolent memes. And they readily accuse anyone with a contrary opinion, of making logical fallacies or “hate speech” or “bigotry”. This article is meant for those Hindus. To convince them with logic and evidence that the Pretamata is indeed meant for the dull-witted.

Coming back, we note the deeply anti-intellectual strand even in the Pūrva Bhāga of the Pretamata canon or what was originally, the “Yahudāgama”. For instance, note the following verses:

Psalms 34.11: “Come, you children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD.”

Psalms 111.10: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding.”

Proverbs 1.7: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”

Proverbs 3.7: “Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the LORD and turn away from evil.”

Proverbs 9.10: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”

Job 28.28: “And to man He said, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; And to depart from evil is understanding.'”

Isaiah 29.14: “Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid.”

Jeremiah 8.9: “The wise will be put to shame; they will be dismayed and trapped. Since they have rejected the word of the LORD, what kind of wisdom do they have?”

The frequency with which such anti-intelligentsia vitriol appears betrays the distrust and suspicion against rational thought that runs deep even in the Pūrva Bhāga. And before any idiot Hindu raises the “It is all about context. You have taken the verse out of context” alarm, consider this.

We had quoted a verse from Corinthians 1:20-25: “Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” Interestingly, before writing this, Paul sets up the discussion by quoting the verse we had just quoted from Isaiah: “For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’” Hence, Paul had understood the above verse from Isaiah in the same way I did, or to use a legal phrase, as “a reasonable man” would. Additionally, Corinthians was a matter of embarrassment even for Origen as he writes in Chapter 48 of Book 3 of Contra Celsus:

“But it is probable that what is written by Paul in the first Epistle to the Corinthians, as being addressed to Greeks who prided themselves greatly on their Grecian wisdom, has moved some to believe that it was not the object of the Gospel to win wise men.“

These sound like the words of a Pretavādin who grudgingly admits of the anti-intellectual thrust of the Pretamata. Perhaps, no one does a better job of clarifying this sublime and evil strategy of the Pretamata than the Preta himself, or the scribe who put the following words in the mouth of the Preta!

Luke 10.21: At that same hour Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”

Matthew 18.3: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

More could be written about the profound anti-intelligentsia the drove this religion; perhaps some other time. In this, we treated the criticisms offered by Celsus. Emperor Julian and Porphyry also produced scathing attacks on the Pretamata, which we hope to write about in due time. For now, this shall suffice.

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