Sunday, September 23, 2012

Suns of God : Introduction

The Introduction is short on facts. Of course, the idea in general is not to provide the reader with facts at this point, but explain where the book will take us. Acharya does use it for one other purpose: reading this chapter is likely to make the reader somewhat hostile to religion.

Whereas this is a reasonable stance - religions have undoubtedly done more than their fair share of damage to mankind. However, starting out a reasoned investigation into the historical roots of religion with such an emotional pleading is unlikely to lead to rational conclusions - some readers will be more willing to swallow fabrication, exaggeration and distortion when induced into such a state of mind.

The introduction also serves to justify her shoddy methodology.
When it comes to religion, alternative perspectives are considered highly suspect and are subject to intense scrutiny, held up to impossible standards of proof, while the accepted paradigm is lightly handled and can pass with little or no evidence at all. [...] Moreover, when doing investigative research into religion, dating back thousands of years, one must use a variety of sources, ancient and modern. If one uses works too modern, the hue and cry is for "primary sources!" If one uses material "too old," the criticism is that it is "outdated." Hence, the religious scholar is put in a double bind, while the critical fanatic is never satisfied. In such a picky environment, it is a wonder anything important is ever written or read.
The "outdated" argument becomes specious when it is understood that the work of more "modern" authors is nonetheless based on those who proceeded. To become a scholar one must study as much as is possible; obvious,y whatever one is studying must have come before. The current studies are based on the past studies. No modern writer can possible be called a scholar if he or she has not studied the works of the past; hence, he or she is using what detractors would call "outdated" material. [1, pp 8-9]
 There is an important omission in here: old material can be obsolete because it has been studied, and found wanting. A lot of the scholarship in comparative religion of the late 19th and early 20th century has been found wanting in exactly that manner. We know most of the scholars of that time subscribed to notions of societal evolution where religion, etc, was expected to develop towards something much like Christianity over time - animism gives way to polytheism, polytheism to monolatry, monolatry to monotheism, and some even thought monotheism naturally would be superseded by monotheism with trinitarianism. Assuming many facts like these, the study of both ancient and contemporary religion reached some conclusions that since have been found very flawed.
The problem of early comparative religion, really, was that if you set out looking for something that is essentially like Christianity, you will interpret what you find as though it is essentially like Christianity. The early scholars of comparative religion only really had experience with Christianity of different kinds, occasionally a bit of Judaism (but not really - as the Judaism you find described in early western scholarship of the time is more like protestant-era projections of their exaggerated view of Catholicism onto the Pharisees), and occasionally Islam, whose similarities to Christianity are rather natural.

So, the "model" for religion these scholars worked with basically took a description of Christianity, left some blanks, and went to find what word they should fill out the blanks with - replace Christ by Buddha, Krishna, etc, and you get Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.

Further, she tends to use sources that are not of an academical kind. Polemical works that lack in methodology, facts and all things scholarly.

Similar problems appear wherever she makes claims of a linguistic nature. The linguists of old were more willing to claim things about languages that few linguists today would:
The Sanscrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is of a wonderful structure; more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either. [2]
No such claims would be made by any linguist since, say, 1950-1960, but in 19th and even early 20th century linguistics, scholarship had not quite been separated from prejudice and misguided aesthetics as it is today. Yet, she is willing to accept mistaken, outdated ideas by people even less knowledgeable about language than the linguists of the 19th century.

This irrational excuse for outdated sources should by itself be enough to relegate the book on the junkpile.

Much of what has survived the ages literarily is due to the practice of quoting. Hence, as was the case with The Christ Conspiracy, this book, Suns of God, is "quote heavy" for a number of significant reasons. ... Also, providing originals leaves no room for "interpretation," and many of these writers are so concise and pithy as to be nearly impossible to paraphrase. [1, 10]
"Interpretation" still is possible, as there are sufficient examples of quote-mining in her oeuvre.

On page 12, a subheading "Ancient Cultural Commonality" introduces an idea she develops later on. She starts by quoting Lord Kingsborough by proxy of Dr. Inman - tertiary sources just are the best, aren't they? The main point she brings forth is the presence of religious traits very much like Catholicism and Judaism in Nahua civilization. Now, it is unlikely she has perused any 20th century linguistic works on the Uto-Aztecan languages, as "Mexican" has not really been used as a term for any of them since the 19th century.
However, close scrutiny reveals that the Mexican culture could not have come from either Jews or Christians, and represents an earlier, pre-Christian and pre-Judaic tradition. For one thing, although the languages of Hebrew and Mexican possess many similarities, there is no evidence in Central America of any example of Hebrew writing, which indicates that these cultures emerged from the same root, separated before the development of the alphabet. [1, p. 14]

No. The similarities that exist between Hebrew and Mexican are rather typical of languages that share certain basic properties - such as VSO word order - that is, in a relatively unmarked sentence, the verb goes first, followed by the subject and then by the object. VSO order is shared by about 8% of the world's languages or so. (There are six possible such orders, SVO and SOV dominate by a rather large margin - so much so that the three possible orders where the object goes before the subject together have less than 8% between them.)[3] A remarkable typological fact is that certain basic properties of a language tend to cause other properties to appear. Since Acharya does not provide any source for her claim for similarity, I have to assume she means typological similarities, as I know of no regular correspondences.

Regular correspondences have been accepted as the only really sufficient method to show that two languages are related. This means that it has to be possible to construct a set of words, which by one set of changes produce a relatively large number of the words of one of the languages, and by another set produces the words of another. For more than two languages to be related, such a set of words has to be possible to construct for all of them - oftentimes, there'll be intermediate nodes for a subset of the languages. Of course, words will have been lost in the different languages, and some irregularities will creep in, but by and large, regular changes need to be demonstrated. Of course, over time, the meanings of words can change, and that is a less regular process, but even so, some kind of realistic changes have to be shown.

To claim that the Semitic (to which Hebrew belongs, a language family that is solidly reconstructed, and to which belongs several middle-east languages as well as some north African ones) languages and the Uto-Aztecan (to which Nahuatl, and a number of languages in Mexico and the US belong) are related would require some backing up. And if this backing only provided typological evidence, well, then we should have to accept that the Celtic languages at some point magically became related to the Semitic and Uto-aztecan languages after centuries of not having been related to them. A scenario any historical linguist worth his salt will reject - and not in order to prop up a Christian conspiracy, but because this is what science tells him.

I realize the methodology and ideas in use in linguistics might be unfamiliar to the average reader, and if there is interest, I may clarify these things further.

Furthermore, she makes up some stuff about how the St Thomas Christians of India weren't even Christians until the Catholic church forced them to be. A good study of sources could be in place. A good starting point  can be found in Philip Jenkins' The Lost History of Christianity. A review of the quality of the work can be found at Armarium Magnus.

Further claims of similarities of words show a complete ignorance of historical linguistics, assuming that an Indian word "tamas" (or somesuch) would be related to an Egyptian "Thamauz". Egyptian is a Semitic language, Sanskrit is Indo-European. Meanwhile, she repeatedly makes claims of Christian-like cultus in both the Americas and Asia - and I am left to wonder whether her sources simply are of the kind I described earlier in this post: looking for Christianity, they fill in the blanks in a way reminiscent of Christianity, since their model for what a religion is Christianity in the first place.

Some of the criticism of the veracity of the Bible is fairly spot-on, though, but the hyperbole regarding how important her research is downright feels overpowering.

[1] Acharya S, Suns of God Krishna, Buddha and Christ Unveiled (2004)
[2] Sir William Jones,


  1. Looks like Acharya S doesn't quite get the meaning of "Primary sources".

  2. Primary sources provide first-hand testimony or direct evidence concerning a topic under investigation. They are created by witnesses or recorders who experienced the events or conditions being documented. Often these sources are created at the time when the events or conditions are occurring, but primary sources can also include autobiographies, memoirs, and oral histories recorded later. Primary sources are characterized by their content, regardless of whether they are available in original format, in microfilm/microfiche, in digital format, or in published format. Primary sources can be found in nearly all of Yale's twenty-two libraries as well as at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, the Yale Center for British Art, and the Yale Art Gallery. See the “Tools for Discovery” page for tips on identifying materials relevant to your research.

    Would you like to argue with Yale University or do you people claim to know more than them?