Eunuchs for the Kingdom

An Indian guru is alleged to have somehow persuaded some 400 men to have themselves castrated in order to be closer to God. I am not sure exactly how that was supposed to work out, perhaps some variation of Jesus’s admonition in Matthew 18:8-9.

If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.

Anyway, I read about this sacrifice in this article in the Independent.

A man has been accused of encouraging hundreds of followers to be castrated in a promise for them to become closer to God.

Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, an Indian pop-star and telepreacher with a reported wealth of more than $50 million, is being investigated after he allegedly manipulated around 400 men to get their testicles removed – according to India Today.

One of his former followers who underwent castration seven years ago – named Hans Raj Chauhan – is one of the few to break the silence to speak out against him and the group.

“[The victims] were told that only those who get castrated will be able to meet God,” said Chauhan’s lawyer, Navkiran Singh, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Chauhan, 35, filed a petition against the guru in 2012 and the Central Bureau of Investigation has started looking into claims dating back as far back as 2000 in preparation of charges of grievous bodily harm. However many followers are believed to be in fear of speaking out.

I wonder if he underwent the procedure.

I wonder if he underwent the procedure.

The practice of castrating oneself of religious purposes seems rather extreme, yet this sort of thing has been around for long time. One of the earliest of these castration cults of which we have records are the Galli, priests of the Phrygian goddess Cybele and her consort Attis. Cybele was a mother goddess associated with fertility who was worshiped throughout Asia Minor. Cybele’s cult spread into Greece and Rome, where shewas identified with the goddesses Demeter, Gaea, and, strangely, Artemis. The worshipers of Artemis (or Diana) of the Ephesians who gave Paul such trouble in Acts chapter 19 were actually worshipers of Cybele. Cybele’s consort Attis, was a god of vegetation. Like many such gods, Attis’s mythological story was that of a god who died and then was reborn, symbolizing the death of winter and the rebirth of spring. In Attis’s case, he was also castrated before being killed. His priests, the Galli, would castrate themselves in emulation of their god. On a certain day in spring, initiates would work themselves into a frenzy with dancing and celebrations, and probably alcohol and mutilate themselves. Afterwards, they would dress in women’s clothes and lived as women, begging and telling fortunes for a living, much like the Hijras in India.

cybeleattis

Although Christians preferred a celibate priesthood and many early Church Fathers had an ambiguous view of sexuality, Christianity has never endorsed religious castration. There were some Byzantine clergymen who were eunuchs, and even at least one Patriarch of Constantinople. This was because, under the Byzantine system of Caesaropapism the higher clergy were as much government officials as religious leaders and the Byzantine Emperors believed that eunuchs were safer to employ since they were not able to overthrow the Emperor and establish a dynasty. The Church Father Origen was reputed to have had himself castrated and this was held against him. In the Western Roman Catholic Church, eunuchs were generally not allowed to join the clergy. Perhaps it was felt that castration was cheating.

There were some Christian sects that did encourage or require castration for membership, citing Matthew 18:8-9 above and Matthew 19:12.

12 For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.

One of these sects was the Valesians, founded by an Arab named Valens in the second century. They believed not only in self-castration, but attacked and castrated travelers. More recently there were the Skoptsy of Czarist Russia. This sect was founded in the eighteenth century by two Russian peasants Andrei Ivanov and Kondratti Selivanov. These two taught sexual desire was the root of all evil and resorted to mutilation to end any temptation to commit sin. Male adherents were completely castrated while females had their breasts removed as well as undergoing female circumcision. Despite fierce persecution by the Czarist authorities, the numbers of the Skoptsy grew to around 100,000 followers by the twentieth century. The Soviets were more systematic in their attempts to eradicate the cult and it is believed that the Skoptsy have been eliminated.

Boston Corbett was another man who took the two verses in Matthew more literally than Jesus intended. Corbett lived in the United States in the nineteenth century and was most famous as the man who killed John Wilkes Booth. He had worked as a hatter in his early years and it is likely that the mercury compounds used by the hatters of the time affected his mental health. He became very religious to the point of fanaticism after the death of his wife and child and prayed and proselytized while working as a hatter. He served in the Union army during the Civil War and frequently was disciplined for his eccentric and disruptive behavior. In 1858, Corbett castrated himself with a pair of shears and then went to dinner and a prayer meeting before seeking medical attention.

Boston Corbett

Boston Corbett

There was also the Heaven’s Gate Cult. These were not Christians but a UFO cult. They believed an alien spaceship was hiding in the tail of Comet Hale Bopp in 1997 and committed mass suicide in order to be beamed up. According to some reports, several male members of the cult, including the founder Marshall Applewhite, had had themselves castrated.

Marshall Applewhite

Marshall Applewhite

I don’t suppose it is much consolation to the men whom Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh persuaded to be castrated, that their sacrifice is part of a long tradition of becoming eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven, but perhaps they should feel somewhat lucky that the operation that they underwent was at least done in a modern hospital with the aid of anesthesia and antiseptics. Most of the men throughout history who were castrated suffered extreme pain and a good chance of death or permanent disability as a result of infection. It passes comprehension that any great number of men would be willing to suffer and risk so much, no matter how devout, but maybe they felt whatever reward in this life or the next that they would receive from their god was worth it.

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