LITURGY AND INCULTURATION

LITURGY AND INCULTURATION

Dr Antony Nariculam

 Antony Nariculam

 

The universality of the Church makes it imperative that the Church and her liturgy are inculturated. God became man to save humankind. This saving mystery in Christ must be presented to the whole world in a manner that is understood by the people of a given place.

There was a period in history when some Christian theologians considered the ‘Christian culture’ as a universal monoculture. For them this Christian culture was ‘normative’. But in course of time, the empirical approach in philosophy and sociology began to affirm pluralism in culture. Slowly these theologians had to admit a multicultural world which led to the realization that universality does not necessarily mean uniformity.

One of the greatest achievements of Vatican II and the subsequent magisterial teachings is the openness the Church has towards the wider world with its religions and cultures. This ‘cultural opening’ was initially received with great enthusiasm. But later, due to a variety of reasons, it came to be looked upon with suspicion and diffidence.

Vatican II, which allowed vernacularisation in the liturgy, was aware of the variety of cultures. Hence it suggested that provision be made in the revision of the liturgical books “for legitimate variations and adaptations to different groups, regions and peoples, especially in the mission countries”.[1] This view is theologically supported by another statement of the same document: “The liturgy is made up of unchangeable elements divinely instituted, and of elements subject to change. These latter not only may be changed, with the passage of time, if they have suffered from the intrusion of anything out of harmony with the inner nature of the liturgy or have become less suitable” (SC 21).

Pope John Paul II, establishing the Pontifical Council for Culture on 20 May 1982, said that the synthesis between culture and faith is not just a demand of culture, but is also of faith. A faith which does not become culture is a faith which has not been fully received, not thoroughly thought through, not fully lived out.[2] In fact, there is never a cultureless Christianity and never yet a fully Christian culture.

On 19 November 1969, during the course of a General Audience, Pope Paul VI said: ‘The rite and the relative rubric are not in themselves dogmatic definitions. Their theological qualification may vary in differing degrees according to the liturgical context to which they refer. They are gestures and terms relating to a religious action – experienced and living – of an indescribable mystery of divine presence, not always expressed in a univocal way’.[3] This vision he already had as Cardinal John Baptist Montini when he stated on the floor of Vatican II that ‘Liturgy is for man and not man for liturgy’.[4]

This article is an attempt to point out how important is culture to express the Christian faith through liturgical celebrations.

  1. What is Liturgy?

 

The rule of prayer is the rule of faith. Liturgy is the celebration of our faith. It is a response of man (the ‘ascending’ man) to the ‘descending’ God who comes to save humankind. Being a response of man, it has to be a fully ‘human’ act. No human act can be dissociated from his/her culture and life situations. Here we should remember that the liturgical celebrations are not only celebrations of our faith in God and our relationship with Him. It is also a celebration of our lives and the relation among human beings, not excluding the realities of the created world. Thus the ‘verticality’ with God cannot be separated from the ‘horizontality’ with our fellow-beings.

One of the most important acts by which the Holy Spirit reminds the Church about the message of Christ is the liturgical celebration because it is the memorial (anamnesis) of the Lord. It is an expression of faith. So much so, history tells us that there was no recitation of the Creed during the celebration of the liturgy since the whole liturgy is an expression of faith. The Creed was reserved to baptism as an immediate preparation for it.

Liturgy, though an expression of faith, is not simply an act of worship. The New Testament worship, as we understand from the Letter to the Hebrews, is not merely a ritual act. In fact, Christ abolished all rituals and replaced them with symbols (Heb 10:5-10). The rituals are very often conventional, and they can be performed even ‘impersonally’, whereas the symbols are used between living persons as a means of communication. The language of the new worship inaugurated by Christ is a symbolic one in which the body is very much involved.[5] Human beings normally require bodily expressions to actively participate in the celebration of the mysteries of Christ through worship. The signs and symbols are the ordinary means to have this participatory experience.

Speaking about active participation in the liturgy, Vatican II states that it should be “conscious, active and fruitful’ (SC 14). In order to achieve this goal, choice of appropriate symbols that emerge from the cultural context of the people is a must. The transformation of the sacramental celebrations, as a “means of grace” rather than as an act of faith by means of signs and symbols, has led to a distortion of the understanding of the liturgy itself. Therefore, we need to rediscover their meaning and value for the man of today.

  1. What is Inculturation?

 

From a Christian point of view, inculturation means a dialogue between the gospel message and a culture. This message is not fully independent of a culture. In fact, the gospel message is not simply an idea or a dogma. It is the message about a person – the person of Jesus Christ himself. It is Christ who is coming into dialogue with cultures. Thus inculturation is a response to the call of Christ. It is a gradual transformation that has to take place in the community through individuals. No individual can impose it upon the community. The individuals can only act as agents of this transformation.

Thomas Groome describes inculturation as “a dialectical encounter between Christian faith and a particular culture in which the culture is affirmed, challenged, and transformed towards God’s reign, and in which Christian faith is likewise affirmed, challenged, and enriched by this unique instance of its realization”.[6] This description is based on the thesis that the Christian inculturation is a dialectical encounter between an already cultured version of Christian faith and another culture that is either new to Christianity or has aspects not yet explicitly permeated by it.

He further observes that for a meaningful application of the principles of inculturation one should be convinced of the following facts:

(i)                 There is never a cultureless Christianity or a faithless culture. That is, wherever the Christian faith is implanted, it has always taken elements from the local culture to grow, and that God’s saving presence is already planted in every culture.

(ii)               The ‘story’ and ‘vision’ of Christian faith continues to unfold throughout history. The Christian faith is a living tradition, and its vitality demands that it incarnates in every cultural and historical context.

(iii)             Each cultural expression of Christian faith should be profoundly unique, while remaining bonded in essential unity with all other expressions. ‘Unity in diversity’ should be the motto of the process of inculturation. No cultural expression should be detrimental to the essential unity of faith.

(iv)             The values of God’s reign should be reflected in the very process of inculturation. Inculturation should not be at the expense of the values of God’s kingdom in this world – that of love, peace , justice, freedom, integrity of God’s creation etc.[7]1

One of the greatest insights of Vatican II on inculturation is found in Ad Gentes 22: ‘In imitation of the plan of Incarnation, the young Churches, rooted in Christ and built upon the foundation of the apostles, take to themselves, in a wonderful exchange, all the riches of the nations which were given to Christ as an inheritance’. In the past the Christians in general thought that they had a ‘finished product’ by way of ecclesiastical structures, including the liturgy. But, Ad Gentes 21 notes that the lay people must give expression to the ‘meaning of life’ given to them in baptism ‘in the social and cultural framework of their own homeland according to their own national traditions… They must develop it in accordance with modern conditions, and finally perfect in Christ’. Therefore, openness towards cultures, traditions, customs etc. is a sine qua non if we really wish to make the Church and her worship relevant for the modern era. That is why the Vatican II decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches, while insisting on the need of returning to the sources and ancient practices, wishes that they are adapted to the needs of different times and places (OE 2).

Incarnation is one of the most important theological bases of inculturation. It is a redemptive incarnation. Christ became similar to us in all things but sin. Through his death and resurrection he redeemed the humankind. This leads to the conclusion that inculturation “recognizes the presence of evil in the world, the reality of sin and its imprints, forces and consequences in all realities of the world and human life”.[8] Any element taken from the cultures should be made to pass through the redemptive death and resurrection of Christ. In other words, the yardstick to judge the appropriateness of inculturation is the mystery of Christ. Consequently, inculturation has a double task: of liberating the cultures from sin, evil and error, and of giving them a true Christian meaning, orientation and fulfilment. Thus inculturation calls for a prophetical critique and a Christian interpretation. It calls for “dying and rising” on the part of the Church for new flowers and new fruits.

In this process of inculturation, it is not sufficient that we make the Christian formulae intelligible to the peoples of various cultures. Rather, it implies a genuine experience of Christ in every culture through authentic signs and symbols taken from the culture concerned.

  1. What is Liturgical Inculturation?

 

To speak about the need of inculturation in liturgy is to repeat the obvious. Nobody seems to have any objection to its relevance and the need though there are apprehensions with regard to how to go about it and how far we can go with it. The renewal and updating of liturgy practically means inculturation in the same.

The Pan-Asian Consultation on Inculturation and Liturgy made the following statement after their meeting in 1995. “All Asian countries struggle with the issue of inculturation. Our sharing revealed that liturgical developments in Asia have consisted mainly

in the translation of the typical editions of the Roman liturgical books in the wake of Vatican II. This has, by and large, marked the first phase of inculturation. The translation of liturgical texts composed in another time and culture is an extremely difficult task. The transplantation of signs and symbols is even more difficult. Even supposedly universal signs and symbols, when transplanted into another culture, often hide or even distort the very mysteries they are meant to convey. No universal model can speak with equal clarity and force throughout the world. Moreover, no Christian community can become creative in language and symbol system that is basically alien to it. Unless the Word of God becomes flesh in our cultures, the soul of Asia will remain untouched”.[9]

What is liturgical inculturation? A. Shorter defines inculturation as “the on-going dialogue between faith and culture or cultures. More fully, it is the creative and dynamic relationship between the Christian message and a culture or cultures”.[10] And then he makes three observations about inculturation. First, it is an on-going process, and hence even the so-called ‘Christian’ nations need to undergo inculturation. In other words, it should not be confined to the newly evangelized missions. Second, the Christian faith transcends all cultures. At the same time, it cannot exist except in a cultural form. Third, there is need of a reciprocal and critical interaction between the Christian faith and culture.[11]These observations are of prime importance when we deal with the whole question of liturgical inculturation.

The issue of liturgical inculturartion is primarily an ecclesiological one. It cannot be understood and practised separate from the life of the Church in all its aspects. One reason for the relative failure of liturgical inculturation is the inadequate understanding of the liturgy as a vertical celebration in a numinous sphere unrelated to the real life situations of the celebrating community. There is a close relationship between a ritual and the community that enacts it. Ritual, in fact, is a symbolic expression of the structure of the society.

What are the areas of inculturation in the Church? There is no area of the Church that does not need inculturation. The liturgical inculturation should not be reduced to the exclusive sphere of worship. But, of course, one needs to fix priorities.

To worship God is a fundamental need of a religious minded person. It affects the core of his/her religiosity. It is a personal, deep experience of the human soul. Being persons with senses, they require visible signs and symbols to express this experience. This visible expression becomes meaningful and communicative only when it is understood by the generality of the people. Hence it is imperative that it is expressed through the symbols of the people of the place.

The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy underlines this dimension of the culture in relation to the liturgy in the following words: “Even in the liturgy the Church does not wish to impose a rigid uniformity in matters which do not involve the faith or the good of the whole community. Rather she does respect and foster the qualities and talents of the various races and nations… She sometimes even admits such things into the liturgy itself, provided they harmonize with its true and authentic spirit” (SC 37). The Council is also in favour of allowing ‘legitimate variations and adaptations to different groups, regions and peoples, especially in mission countries’ (SC 38). Conscious of its absolute need, the Council also notes that ‘in some places and circumstances however an even more radical adaptation of the liturgy is needed’ though it entails ‘greater difficulties’ (SC 39).

Liturgy is the expression of the experience of the risen Lord manifested in various cultural forms. One and the same experience is expressed by different peoples in different historical and geographical contexts. In this manifestation there are universal and unchangeable, as well as particular and changeable, elements. The universal elements are celebrated by a particular community in a particular place. The unchangeable truths are celebrated with changeable elements. And, the Divine is celebrated by human beings.  This is something marvellous in the universal Church. A successful liturgical inculturation depends upon striking a balance between these elements.

Jesus did not hand over to us a ‘prototype’ of liturgy, but an experience. Since this experience is linked with cultural manifestations, its expressions vary. This variety, however, is not to be determined by laws and regulations, but from the cultural experiences of a living community of a given place. Therefore, liturgical inculturation is defined as “a process of inserting texts and rites of the liturgy into the framework of the local culture”.[12]

In order to attain this goal, it is not enough that we merely adapt some cultural elements into the institutionalized form of Christianity. Rather, “we need to undergo a process of symbiosis by which our faith becomes an experience in the context and expresses itself in a symbol system that is capable of communicating this experience to others”.[13] Hence the liturgical inculturation is not simply a matter of discovering adequate cultural symbols to express the content of faith and worship, but is a question of ecclesiology and a pastoral methodology.

Regarding a practical methodology of liturgical inculturation  A.Chupungco suggests a three-step process. It consists of Dynamic Equivalence, Creative Assimilation and Organic Progression.[14]

Dynamic Equivalence is practically an adaptation of the editio typica. Though some creativity is involved in this process, it is dependent on the typical editions of the liturgical books. Creative Assimilation is a methodology used in the Patristic era. The giving of a cup of milk and honey in the baptismal Mass, renouncing Satan looking towards the West and making the profession of faith turning towards the East, the celebration of Epiphany on 6th January and Christmas on 25th December are examples. In Organic Progression comes the question of ‘new forms’ in worship which are unknown till then. Though they are ‘new’, they have to respect the principle of “organic growth”.[15]

Vatican II has identified certain areas of the liturgy where this process needs to be undertaken. Besides SC 37-40, which we have referred to above, the document mentions also the Christian initiation rites (SC 65), the rite of Marriage (SC 77), the liturgical music (SC119) and the liturgical art (SC 123).

In this process, the sacramentals, especially the blessings, have a special place as most of them are closely related to the day to day life of the people. Though there are sacramentals that have some sort of a universal character, mostly they are attached to the culture and the customs of the people. Therefore SC 39 names them among the liturgical books wherein the Conferences of Bishops have a free hand to make adaptations.

  1. Local Church: The Venue of Inculturation

 

The Church being the sacrament of Christ is the visible manifestation of Christ. The institutional Church which is localized must have a visible expression congenial to the community of the people. The Church becomes authentically local in so far as she bears the imprint of the place and the people where she lives. “The Church becomes Church when it is incarnated in a place and this localization is called the local Church”.[16]

We know from history that liturgy developed in the local Churches resulting in liturgical diversities. Only later they began to be unified, a phenomenon more prevalent in the Western liturgy. In the East, maintaining the unity of faith, liturgies continued to flourish in diversity. As the decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches notes, the universal Church is made up of the faithful who are organically united in the Holy Spirit by the same faith, the same sacraments and the same government. But they combine into different groups which are held together by their hierarchy and so form individual Churches keeping their own particular liturgy, spirituality and discipline (OE 2-3). From this it is clear that the liturgical celebration is not a ‘universal act’. It is always an action of the community of faithful ‘here and now’. That is why the Eastern Churches are very particular about insisting on the universal Church as a ‘Communion of Individual Churches’. As Pope Paul VI notes, the universal Church is in practice incarnate in the individual Churches that are heirs of a cultural patrimony, of a vision of the Word of God, of an historical part of a particular historical substratum.[17] It responds to the deep aspiration of peoples and human communities to find their own identity ever more clearly.[18] One of the important characteristics of an individual Church is the manner in which it expresses its faith in worship form.

A local Christian community is not a ‘fraction’ of the universal Church. Every worshipping community manifests the full mystery of the Church. This manifestation is based on its social, cultural and religious milieu, and hence appropriate signs and symbols congenial to the people are to be employed. History of the Churches – both in the West and in the East – gives evidence to this fact. The existence of the liturgies according to the Roman Rite, the Ambrosian Rite, the Spanish Rite, and later the Indian Rite, the Philippino Rite, the Congolese Rite etc. are examples. The five liturgical families – Alexandrian, Antiochian, Byzantine, East Syrian and Armenian – with 22 individual Churches bear ample witness to it in the East. Even within an individual Church there can be diverse liturgical expressions according to the culture, place and the context of the people as we see in the Western and Eastern ecclesiastical traditions.

  1. Liturgical Inculturation: An Historical Review

 

Inculturation is essentially an historical phenomenon, and the history of the Church is practically a history of inculturation.

When we examine the history of the Roman liturgy, we find that the so-called “classical period” (5th – 8th centuries) was a time of ‘classical’ inculturation too. It was a period of liturgical creativity with original composition of liturgical texts for the people of the time. The Popes like Gelasius, Leo the Great and Gregory the Great have contributed their insights for its growth. In the 8th century, as the Church spread to Franco-Germanic world, it underwent another type of liturgical inculturation.  Liturgy was transformed from its Roman simplicity and sobriety to a charming, dramatic and colourful one to suit the temperament of the Franco-Germanic people.

The first half of the first millennium was a period of intense inculturation in liturgy. Some examples will clarify this point.[19]

  • Though Christianity was in close relationship with the Jewish religious tradition, when it required the liturgical vestments the West adopted the festive attire of the Greco-Roman world and the East that of the Byzantine Empire.
  • From the Jews she inherited the Bema – a platform for reading from the Torah – for the proclamation from the Bible.
  • The morning and evening holocaust of the Jews appears in the form of morning and evening prayers in the Christian tradition.
  • The language used in the liturgy was the language of the people.
  • The apophatic (negative –  Neti, neti of the Indian tradition) approach towards God’s name (YHWH: I am who am) without a positive affirmation is adopted from the Jewish understanding of God as IN-visible, IN-comprehensible, IN-expressible, UN-fathomable etc.
  • The Christian litanic prayers are an imitation of the Roman manner of prayers.
  • The liturgical gestures like kissing the altar, the prostrations, the use of incense and the candles, etc are taken from the non-Christian practice.
  • The prayer turning to the East has its roots in the Sun-cult of the pagans.
  • The Christian tradition of fasting on Wednesday and Friday was influenced by the Tuesday and Thursday fasts of the Jews.
  • The pre-Christian mystery cults have influenced the Christian practice of exorcism, the imposition of hands and the anointing.
  • The architecture of the ancient churches followed that of the Roman basilicas’.
  • The “May they rest in peace” (R.I.P) in the funeral rites has its origin in the pre-Christian Roman funeral acclamation.
  • The feast of Transfiguration on 6th August is related to the Jewish commemoration of Moses’ transfiguration on Mount Sinai.
  • The feast of Epiphany on 6th January recalls another ‘epiphany’ (manifestation) of a ruler to a province of his kingdom.
  • The feast of Christmas on 25th December is inspired by the birth of the Invincible Sun-god.
  • The feast of the “Cathedra” of St. Peter is in imitation of the anniversary of the Roman emperor’s assumption of office.
  • The feast of martyrs, saints, etc originated from the pre-Christian practice of venerating the tombs of the dead.

In the later period of the Church too we have luminous examples of inculturation. The history of the St. Thomas Christians of India before the 16th century is a classical example of how the Christians could find themselves completely at home in the Indian culture. In their social and religious practices, and worshipping customs they were very much like their non-Christian neighbours.[20]

The Chinese experimentation of Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) with the cult of the familial dead that was administered with prostrations, the burning of incense and the offering of food at their tombs was condemned as superstitious practices. Roberto Nobili’s (1577-1656) attempts with Indian culture were frowned upon by his confreres, and later they had to be abandoned. Even during this period, we come across some silver lining by way of official sanction in favour of liturgical inculturation. Thus in 1615 Pope Paul V allowed the Chinese to use the Chinese language in the liturgy though this permission was withdrawn in 1661 due to the objections of the missionaries themselves. In 1659 Propaganda Fide wrote a letter asking the missionaries not to make attempts to persuade the people of the mission lands to change their rites, customs and ways, provided they are not very manifestly contrary to religion and morals.[21]

  1. Challenges of Inculturation

 

One of the notable limitations of liturgical inculturation is the non-permanent nature of culture. Given culture’s susceptibility to change, the product of any attempt at inculturation is bound to be an unstable mixture. Therefore at no time can we have a complete and perfectly inculturated liturgy. It is a continuous search and a constant struggle. Only a genuine local Church can cope with the ever new demands of the changing culture.

All religions carry with them some cultural expression. Christianity, for example, has many semitic elements. For some people these cultural expressions are part and parcel of their religion, and any change in them is considered a threat to their religious experience. In other words, the cultural expressions are equated with religion itself. This is nothing short of religious fundamentalism.

In the process of liturgical inculturation a crucial factor should be borne in mind. Faith transcends all cultures. Faith in Christ can even purify and transform cultures. Therefore some hold that the duty of the Christian faith is to purify the cultures and make them ‘Christian’. As a matter of fact, culture is not good or bad, holy or sinful. Human choices make them bad or sinful. In this perspective, the Christian inculturation can also mean a purification of the sinful culture through the intervention of the Christian faith. At the same time, we should also remember that the mysteries we celebrate in the liturgy transcend all cultures though the expressions of the mysteries and the people’s response to it in the liturgy are culturally conditioned. Here the role of culture in relation to worship needs to be properly understood. “Christian worship should not end up being a mere ingredient of the local culture, nor should culture be reduced to an ancillary role. The process of interaction and mutual assimilation brings progress to both; it does not cause mutual extinction”.[22]

Conclusion

Pope Paul VI once warned that evangelization would lose much of its force and effectiveness “if it does not take into consideration the actual people to whom it is addressed, if it does not use their language, their signs and symbols, if it does not answer the questions they ask, and if it does not have an impact on their concrete life”.[23] Among them the signs and symbols employed in the liturgy are of great relevance because “the religious symbols have the power to render the real more real. They induce faith, conviction, commitment because they act upon the creative power of the human intellect and galvanize the will towards action… No religion can exercise this power if its symbols are not inseparable from those of culture”.[24]

However, we need to make a distinction between inculturation and ‘culturalism’. A religion, when it assumes various external forms by way of inculturation, should not lose its essential identity. If it loses its identity, it is no more inculturation, but ‘culturalism’, that is, absolutization of culture. Besides, the Christian religion cannot take cultural symbols of a place if they are inseparably associated with the religious faith of another religion.

There is the need to evolve a liturgy which speaks for itself, and which requires not much commentary. Therefore, clerically inspired and clerically managed inculturation is likely to fail. Inculturation is a way of life. It is an on-going search. Failures are possible. But they should not deter us from continuing our search. As Pope Benedict XVI rightly remarks, the abuses that have occurred in the process of inculturation  should not “detract from this clear principle , which must be upheld in accordance with the real needs of the Church as she lives and celebrates the one mystery of Christ in a variety of cultural situations”.[25]


[1] Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, SC 38

[2] L’Osservatore Romano, 28 June 1982, p.1-8

[3] Jacob Manathodath, Culture, Dialogue and the Church, Intercultural Publication, New Delhi 1990, p.141.

[4] J.Manathodath, Culture, Dialogue and the Church, p.139

[5] Paul Puthanangady, Challenges of Cultures and Religions in Asia to Christian Liturgy, in Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conference – Office of Education and Student Chaplaincy, Asian Worship in Spirit and Truth, Madras 1995, p.11

[6] “Inculturation: How to Proceed in a Pastoral Context”, Concilium 2(1994) 120-133. Here p.122

[7] “Inculturation: How to Proceed in a Pastoral Context”, p.122-129

[8] D.S.Amalorpavadass, Inculturation is not Hinduisation but Christianization, NBCLC Bangalore 1981, p.7

[9] FABC-OESC, Asian Worship in Spirit and Truth, p.201-202

[10] Aylward Shorter, Toward a Theology of Inculturation, Geoffrey Chapman  London 1988, p.11

[11] Toward a Theology of Inculturation, p.11-13

[12] Abscar Chupungco, Liturgical Inculturation: Sacramentals, Religiosity and Catechesis, The Liturgical Press Collegeville:MN 1992, p.30

[13] P.Puthanangady, Challenges of Cultures and Religions in Asia to Christian Liturgy, p.4

[14] A.Chupungco, Liturgical Inculturaion: Sacramentality, Religiosity and Catechesis, p.37-51

[15] SC 23, OE 2. Antony Nariculam, The Holy See, The Syro-Malabar Bishops’ Conference and the Syro-Malabar Bishops’ Synod on the Inculturation of the Syro-Malabar Liturgy: A Study, in Bosco Puthur (ed.), Inculturation and the Syro-Malabar Church, LRC Publications Kochi 2005, p.66-68

[16] D.S. Amalorpavadass, Gospel and Culture, NBCLC Bangalore 1978, p.22

[17] Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi (1975) 62

[18] Evangelii Nuntiandi, 63

[19] Julian Saldanha, Inculturation, St.Paul Publication Bombay 1985, p.25-28

[20] For details see Antony Nariculam, “Evagelization and Inculturation Eastern Church’s Perspective”, Ishvani Documentation and Mission Digest, January-April 2000, p.95-108

[21] Referred to in Cyprian Illickamuri, Inculturation and Liturgy, in Antony Nariculam (ed.), Inculturation and Liturgy, Star Publications  Alwaye 1992, p.85

[22] A.Chupungco, Liturgical Inculturation: Sacramentals, Religiosity and Catechesis, p.29

[23] Evangelii Nuntiandi, 63

[24] A.Shorter, Toward a Theology of Inculturation, p.41

[25] Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis (2007) 54

MUSIC IN LITURGY: Liturgical Music in the Syro-Malabar Church

MUSIC IN LITURGY

ILA MEETING, NBCLC Bangalore, 26-28 October 2007

 

Liturgical Music in the Syro-Malabar Church [*]

Dr Antony Nariculam

  1. Introduction

 

 The development of the Syro-Malabar liturgy and its musical tradition has a long history. It has had Syriac, Indian and Western influences. Its history is spread over five stages.

1.1  Stage One: The first stage is the earliest period of Christianity on the coast of Malabar ( Ist to 4th century). We do not have any concrete evidence as to the shape of the liturgical period during this period.

1.2  Stage Two: With the arrival of the Syrian merchant Thomas of Knai in the 4th century begins the second stage – the period of Syriac liturgical tradition, and consequently also of the Syriac musical tradition. In course of time, the Syriac hymns practically became the liturgical music of the Syro-Malabar Church. However, history shows that the Syro-Malabarians were not simply imitating the Syriac music as it was practised among the Syrians. Rather, they made adaptations in pronouncing the words as well as in the tunes. For example, the Arabic influence on the Syriac hymns did not affect the Syro-Malabar manner of singing. Therefore, many opine that the Syro-Malabar musical tradition without Arabic influence is more archaic and original.  Another example is the Trinitarian conclusion of the hymns (Glory be to the Father and to the Son… Subha Laha…). It has a Syro-Malabar nuance not found in the Syriac music. Singing “Glory to God in the highest” at the beginning of the holy Mass too has its special features. The Syro-Malabarians sing it three times, each time raising the voice a little higher. Before the elevation and at the end of incensing, the Syro-Malabar priests used to sing Barekmor…Barekmor…Barekmor (= Bless O Lord) in a devotional melody, something not found in the Syriac tradition. It is also interesting to note that there was a slight difference in the tunes of the Divine Office used by the Carmelites (CMI) and by the diocesan priests.

1.3  Stage Three: The third stage is the period of Western influence that begins after the arrival of the Portuguese missionaries in the 16th century. Consequent upon the Latinization of the Syro-Malabar liturgy, the liturgical music too began to take new shapes. One of its results was the use of the Gregorian chant. One example is the final blessing of the holy Mass sung in the tune of  Vere dignum est justum est salutare. However, the general policy was to give Syriac tunes to the Latin hymns after translating them into Syriac. Thus the hymns of the Eucharistic benediction like Pange lingua, Tantum ergo Sacramentum, Panem de caelo, and Oremus were rendered into Syriac tunes. Another Syriac tune was that of Lak Alaha (Te Deum). Some of the psalms and orations of the burial service of the Latin Rite also were rendered into Syriac tunes. These new tunes were not imported from outside. They were creative additions by the Syro-Malabar musicians.

1.4  Stage Four:  The fourth stage begins after the erection of the Syro-Malabar hierarchy in 1923. Since then there were serious attempts to sing the Syriac hymns in a systematic and scientific way. Fr. Saldhana SJ helped the Church to publish a Syriac hymnal in 1937 with musical notations. Its title in Malayalam was “Malayala Suriani Keerthanamalika” (= Syriac Hymnal in Malayalam). Later in 1954 it was modified and enlarged by Fr. Mathew Vadakkel and Fr. Aurelius OCD , and this hymnal was published by St. Joseph Seminary, Alwaye. Its title was “Kerala Kaldaya Suriani Reethile Thirukkarmageethangal” (= Hymns for the Sacred Rites of the Kerala Chaldean-Syriac Rite). As the preface of the book clarifies, one of the aims of the hymnal is to help the choir in singing the Syriac hymns correctly. It gives notations for the portions to be sung by the celebrant. It omitted the Latin tunes that were in vogue in singing certain prayers (eg. Final blessing) of the holy Mass.

1.5  Stage Five: The fifth stage is the period after Vatican II. The liturgical reforms of Vatican II led to renewed attempts to revise the liturgical hymns. Even before the reform movement took proper steps to revise the hymns, the hymns of the Divine Office (published in three volumes in 1886-87 for the Chaldean Catholic Church, and in 1938 for the Syro-Malabar Church) were published with notations in 1967. Its author was Heinrick Hussman, and its title was “Die Melodien des Chaldaischen Breviers Commune” (= The melodies of the Chaldean Breviary).

2. After 1960

The late 1960s and early 1970s were a period of creativity in the Syro-Malabar liturgy and its hymns. The All India Seminar held at NBCLC, Bangalore, in 1969 gave a new impetus to this movement. Even before that, vernacularisation in the liturgy had led to the publication of the funeral services and the office for the dead in Malayalam (1967). Though the lyrics were in Malayalam, the tunes continued to be Syriac. The Syriac tunes of the Divine Office too were unaffected by the new tunes that began to emerge after Vatican II.

During this period, Cardinal Joseph Parecattil, a pioneer and visionary of the Syro-Malabar liturgical movement, helped to establish a musical academy called “Kalabhavan” under the directorship of a gifted musician Fr. Abel CMI. He produced a number of records and cassettes, composed in South Indian  ragas and talas, with the assistance of  a Karnatic musician K.K.Antony Master. Besides many popular devotional songs, they produced a number of hymns for liturgical and paraliturgical services. Thus a solemn sung Syro-Malabar Mass was published in 1971 that was widely acclaimed by the community, and it was enthusiastically used in the Syro-Malabar churches. Other hymns were of Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter and Christmas.

3.  Sung Mass since 1986

 

When the restored text of the holy Mass was introduced in 1986, almost all of its hymns were in Syriac tunes. But when it was revised in 1989, two more tunes were added to the hymns. One of them was more in line with Indian melodies, while the other employed modern music with long preludes and interludes. The 1989 compositions made use of many ragas like Sankarabharanam, Anandabhairavi, Kalyani etc., and talas like Aditalam, Rupakatalam etc.

Besides these three sets of hymns for the holy Mass, there were also individual attempts to produce new albums with new music.

4. Karnatic Solemn Sung Mass

 

Fr.Paul Poovathinkal CMI has produced an album of Syro-Malabar sung Mass based on pure Karnatic ragas. He has used the musical forms such as Kirthans, Bhajans, Hymns and Chanting in it.

5.  Sacraments

 

The hymns composed for the sacraments in 1970s, especially those of marriage, were widely acclaimed by the faithful. The new hymns were not following the Syriac musical style. Instead, they employed scales of modern music, including the Western.

The restored and revised texts of the sacraments published in 2005 have newly composed hymns for Baptism, Confirmation and Marriage. They are in the format of ragas and talas of Karnatic and Hindustani music.

6.  Holy Week Liturgy

 

The Holy Week liturgical hymns, especially of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, were produced by Fr. Abel CMI and K.K. Antony Master in 1970s, departing from the Syriac style. They used Karnatic ragas and talas. Some of these hymns like Thalathil Vellameduthu (= Taking water in a bowl) on Maundy Thursday, and Gagultha Malayilninnu (= From mount Golgotha) on Good Friday have made deep imprints on the hearts and minds of the faithful. However, the hymns of Palm Sunday, Holy Saturday and Easter as a whole have not made such lasting impressions.

7.  Christmas Liturgy

 

Though a couple of hymns are composed for Christmas night using Karnatic ragas and talas, they are not wholeheartedly received unlike the hymns of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.

8.  Divine Office 

 

One of the liturgical texts that continue to use Syriac tunes is the Divine Office. However, the Divine Office prepared by Fr. Abel CMI, smaller in size compared to the official one, has introduced Karnatic ragas and talas along with the traditional Syriac tunes.

9. Funeral Services

 

Though modern trends have invaded the Syro-Malabar liturgical music, they have not in any way affected the Syriac tunes of the Requiem Mass and the funeral services. The clergy and the people wholeheartedly welcome them, and it seems that they would reject any attempt to substitute them with modern tunes since the Syriac tunes have become part and parcel of their funeral services. So much so, the Syriac tunes are called “tunes for the services for the dead”!

When Fr. Abel CMI composed the Malayalm hymns from Syriac liturgical texts in the 1960s, he slightly changed some of the rhythmic patterns of Syriac chants, and used Karnatic talas. An example is the tune of Kambel Maran sung in the office for the dead. The original Syriac tune with a lot of grace notes and modulations, but without a tala frame, was restructured with a simple melody using Rupaka talam.

 

10.  Various Musical Forms found in the Syro-Malabar Liturgy

As of today, we can see a combination of different musical styles in the Syro-Malabar liturgy. Among them we find Karnatic and Western music along with Syriac melodies. Unfortunately, the non-devotional musical style of the modern era too has made inroads into the liturgical music of the Syro-Malabar Church. At present we may identify the following styles:

10.1 Antiphonal Singing:  The antiphonal singing is a traditional Syriac style popularised by St. Ephrem already in the 3rd century. Therefore, the ‘hymns’ are called “Onitha” (plural Oniatha) in Syriac. These are hymns to be sung always in two groups alternating the stanzas. Each stanza is preceded by a refrain.

10.2 Chanting:  It is another musical form in the Syro-Malabar liturgical music. The doxologies and refrains are chanted. Chanting style is applicable, to a certain extent, to the whole of the liturgical prayers also.

10.3Hymns:  This is a musical form developed by St. Ephrem in the East. Hymn is “a song in praise of God”. It is slightly different from the South Indian Kirthans. In a hymn we find different stanzas with the same melodic texturing.

10.4 Bhajans: In the post-Vatican period, especially after the All India Seminar in 1969, the Syro-Malabar Church did make various attempts to introduce Bhajans in their liturgy. The Syro-Malabar holy Mass “according to the Indian Rite” prepared by Dharmaram College, Bangalore, and “Bharatheeya Pooja” by Cardinal Joseph Parecattil, Ernakulam, employed many Bhajans and Slokas. Some of the Syro-Malabar dioceses outside Kerala too introduced Bhajans in their liturgical music. The Syro-Malabar Divine Office in Hindi has many Bhajans. In course of time, a number of Bhajans and Namajapas have been composed and used in liturgical and paraliturgical services.

10.5 Kirthans:  This musical form, prevalent in the devotional singing, is used also in the liturgy. It focuses on Bhaktibhava.

 

10.6  Modern Style: This is a modified form of hymns and kirthans using musical preludes and interludes as background music with the help of orchestration. Initially this style began as a help to the vocalist. But today it has invaded the melodic and devotional simplicity of the liturgical hymns.

 

11.  The Choir and the Musical Instruments

A traditional Syro-Malabar church choir had five members. Their instruments were violin, harmonium, drum and triangle. However, after the arrival of the Portuguese missionaries, some Syro-Malabar churches had pedestal harmonium, and even pipe organs. The drum is known by its Portuguese name tambor and the triangle is called thiriamkol, a Portuguese (triangulo) flavoured Malayalam word. Violin is known as fiddle or Rebec.

12. The Eastern Liturgical Music

In the Eastern tradition, the musical instruments have little importance compared to the voice of the people. Some Eastern Churches like the Russian and the Greek who continue to keep up the original spirit of the Eastern liturgical music, have very little dependence on the musical instruments. The Eastern policy is to minimize the use of the instruments. They are to be employed just to help the congregation to sing better, and with devotion and ease. Therefore, the present trend in the Syro-Malabar Church, the ‘filmy orchestral performance’, is completely alien to the  Eastern ethos.

13.  The Musical Style proper to the Syro-Malabar Church

 

By use of almost 1600 years, the Syriac liturgical music has become the hallmark of the Syro-Malabar sacred music. It continues to be used to the great satisfaction of the clergy and the people in the Requiem Mass and funeral services. The same is kept up also in the Divine Office. The Syriac music in the Syro-Malabar Church can be compared to the Gregorian music in the Latin Church. Therefore, despite various  attempts at inculturation of music, the Syriac melodies continue to enjoy a place of honour in the Syro-Malabar musical tradition.

14.  Common Musical Heritage of the Latin Church and the Syro-Malabar Church

 

Though there are Malayalam liturgical hymns characteristic of the Latin and Syro-Malabar Churches in Kerala, there are also hymns that have now become common heritage of these Churches during the Eucharistic celebration. These are sung mainly at the entrance procession, offertory, sanctus, holy communion and dismissal. Some of them have lasting impression on the faithful of these Churches because of their devotional and melodious nature, and they continue to be sung on ordinary days as well as on solemn occasions.

15.  Rethinking about the Syro-Malabar Liturgical Music

 

In the recent past, a number of church choirs mushroomed, and they literally began to invade the Church music introducing hymns, tunes and instruments that are not always conducive to the prayerful atmosphere during the liturgical celebration. Thus the Church music practically became a ‘stage performance’ with all modern gadgets, and the solo singing became widespread. Though ordinary parish celebrations continue to enjoy the simplicity of the hymns and tunes, the solemn occasions like church feasts, marriages and such other celebrations have become a venue of filmy orchestration. Despite the interventions of the Church authorities to stop this tendency, they do not seem to have made great impact on these choirs. Complaints from various quarters have been pouring in to control this trend. Finally, the Syro-Malabar Liturgical Research Centre under the auspices of the Synod of Bishops conducted a seminar on Syro-Malabar Liturgical Music in July 2005, and made proposals to the Synod requesting it to take concrete steps to remedy the situation. The Syro-Malabar Central Liturgical Committee consisting of representatives from all the Syro-Malabar dioceses also requested the Synod to take effective steps in this regard. Some of the bishops did send circulars to the parishes and institutions to correct the drawbacks. But, things did not improve as desired.

The Synod of Bishops held in August 2006 decided to send a circular letter to all the parishes and institutions of the Church, and to give instructions to the departments concerned of the dioceses to take necessary steps to rectify the defective manner of singing in the liturgy. Accordingly, the Major Archbishop, Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil, wrote a common Pastoral Letter in December 2006. Referring to the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of Vatican II, Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the exhortations of the Popes, especially Pius X, Pius XII, John Paul II, and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Major Archbishop requested all concerned to take immediate steps to make the sacred music really “sacred”, avoiding the lyrics, tunes and instruments not conducive to the prayerful and recollected atmosphere in the church. He requested them to give prominence to the voice of the people than to the choir members and the instruments. He reminded the members of the choir that they should realize that they are doing a “ministry” in the Church to help people to pray better.

16.  Decisions of the Synod regarding Sacred Music

 

The Synod of Bishops held in August 2006 discussed the various aspects of church music, and decided to publish certain guidelines to the whole Church. Among them we find the following:

  • A Hymnal to be published under the auspices of the Syro-Malabar Commission for Liturgy.
  • Only approved hymns may be sung during the liturgy.
  • Community singing should be fostered. People should be trained to sing as a community.
  • Recorded hymns should not be used in the liturgy.
  • There should be training for the church choirs under the auspices of the dioceses.
  • Along with poetic quality, the liturgical hymns should have sound theological basis.
  • There should be model choirs in every diocese.
  • The traditional Syriac melodies should be preserved. At the same time, Karnatic and Hindustani tunes should have their rightful place in the liturgical music.
  • In seminaries and formation houses of the religious, sacred music should form part of the official curriculum.
  • The Research Centre of the Syro-Malabar Church should start a Documentation Centre collecting all the musical styles of the past and the present for future study and research.

It is encouraging that some dioceses have already published hymnals to be used in the holy Mass. Steps have been taken by some dioceses to train the choir members of the parishes to sing liturgical hymns shortening the preludes and interludes, and to foster community singing.

17. Conclusion

 

The Syro-Malabar liturgical music is in a process of change and growth. The spread of this Church to various parts of the world – USA, Canada, Latin America, Europe, Africa etc. -, besides the various States of North India, definitely obliges her to adapt the liturgical music to the culture of the place. Though the traditional musical style is Syriac, in the present multicultural and global context, she cannot remain unaffected by the influences of different musical styles. Therefore, she must be open to the changing situations. However, every change should be in view of raising the hearts and minds of the people to the Lord who has come and who is to come.

                                                                                                      Fr.Antony Nariculam

                                                                                                      Pontifical Seminary

                                                                                                      Alwaye 683 102

                                                                              antonynariculam@yahoo.co.in

                                                             ************


[*] I am indebted to Fr.Jacob Vellian, an expert in Syriac liturgical music, for the analysis of the Syro-Malabar Syriac musical tradition, and Fr.Paul Poovathinkal CMI, a Ph.D holder in Indian music from Madras University, for the analysis of the present adapted hymns and chants of the Syro-Malabar liturgy. I have taken many findings from the papers they presented at the seminar on “Liturgical Music of the Syro-Malabar Church” conducted by the Syro-Malabar Liturgical Research Centre in July 2005. Their papers were entitled “Syriac Liturgical Music of the Syro-Malabar Church” and “The Influence of Karnatic Music on the Liturgical Music of the Syro-Malabar Church”.

Unitive Pluralism: An Answer to Religious Extremism

Unitive Pluralism: An Answer to Religious Extremism

Dr Vincent Kundukulam
Dr Vincent Kundukulam

Vincent Kundukulam

The greater danger in the religious world today is that the believers, in fear or pride, cling to their own religion and refuse to learn from the stranger. A world of strangers is a world of enemies. In a world of so many differing opinions some of the more unsecured take refuge in their own religions as the sole source of Truth and that leads them to hold extreme positions towards others. Religious extremism takes various shapes, mainly that of fundamentalism, fanaticism, and communalism, according to the different cultural political and economic contexts. This paper tries to analyse these phenomenon, to determine the role of religion in their formation, to expose anti-extremist potential inherent in religions, and to propose unitive pluralism as the efficient means to counter the religious extremisms.

1. Religious extremist ideologies

1.1 Religious fundamentalism

The origin of the term fundamentalism dates back to the last phase of the 19th century in USA. It was mainly a deliberate reaction to the liberal interpretation of the Bible made in with the new exegetical methods. The traditionalists perceived it as an attempt to water down the essentials of revelation. The term fundamentalist seems to have been used for the first time by Cutis Lee Laws, a Baptist from North America in the editorial of a New York weekly The Watchman Examiner (on 1st July 1920).  It designated those who were blindly attached to the great fundamentals of Christian faith and vehemently opposed to modern interpretations of the Bible[1]. It was characterized by the aggressive efforts to impose its creed upon the public and on denominational schools of the country. It insisted upon the obligatory prayer before classes, the reading of the Bible and divine service in colleges and universities. It removed from the churches and educational institutions those who did not share the conservative faith. It induced state legislatures to pass laws prohibiting the theory of evolution[2]

Fundamentalism has cut across Christian world and has become one of the most obvious characteristics of almost all the institutionalized religions of the world. The fundamentalists are always certain of what they say. Their value system is non-negotiable. To argue that there could be a plurality of ideas which could be equally valid is for them sacrilege. Another feature is the moral fervor with which they speak. They are convinced of having God’s authority to do what they will. They supply literalist interpretations of the Scriptures, which legitimate the exclusion of the other. They consider the progressive thinkers as creatures of devil and they don’t mind in using violence against them[3]

1.2 Religious fanaticism

Fanaticism is the anglicized form of a word, which in ancient times was used of priests supposed to be inspired by divinity. By the sixteenth century this original meaning expanded to include forms of noisy madness having no religious basis. In the seventeenth century immoderate adherents of the sects in England were called fanatics. Gradually this term denoted blind zeal in any cause whether religious social or political.

A thorough study of the various forms of fanaticism shows that it has three important components. The most obvious among them is extreme narrowness and rigidity of temper. It is impossible for the fanatics to learn anything that would dislodge their fixed idea. The end which they select as supreme and the path they follow to arrive at that end are never open to question. Another character of fanatics is their unyielding determination to make the fixed idea of triumph over others. They are men of fiction and fiery missionaries. A fanatic may intertwine himself with political parties and social forces in the destiny of the religious struggle. Another trait no less characteristic to fanaticism is callousness to pain. The fanatics become insensitive to human suffering to the point of cruelty. Its extreme narrowness of sin, inflexibility and brutal disregard of other values make fanaticism a deeply disruptive force in the society. Whether it arises out of religion, politics or class struggle, the fanatic regards himself as specially chosen for the purpose. According to analysts, neurological abnormality, unhappy environmental conditions and strong ambition contribute to the growth of fanatic culture in an individual[4].

1.3 Religious communalism

What is communalism? To commune means feel as one with somebody or some group. Communal in the positive sense is commitment for the well being of the community. It becomes communal in the negative sense when one discriminates others on account of immoderate attachment to one’s own community. As Rasheedhudin Khan has rightly observed, in India, religious communalism has taken the shape of narrow and blind devotion to one’s own religious community for acquiring political and economic benefits. In that sense communalism is opposed to secularism and nationalism.[5]

Though communalists play with religion, in fact, religion is not the fundamental cause of communal conflicts. As Louis Dumont remarks, religion becomes here a mere appearance. People are not really concerned about the substance of religion. Religious communalism is the affirmation of the religious community as a political group. What appears to be clash of religions is really clash of interests of a small group. It neither represents religion nor patriotism; it represents vested interests of the communal leaders.[6] There are various stages in the growth of religious communalism. First a feeling is promoted that the people of the same religion have not only common religious beliefs but also common economic political and cultural interests. In the second stage it emphasizes that the political, economic and social interests of one religious community are different from those of other religious communities. In the third stage people are made to believe that not only their differences are different but also antagonistic to those of other communities[7].

The above explanation shows that all forms of extremism contain some sort of exclusive attitude, which provokes violent attitude in the adepts towards their opponents. If for the fundamentalists the enemy is progressive thinkers of their own religion, believers of other religions are the targets of religious fanatics. The religious communalists are not, in fact, serious about the religion. Their interest is only economic and political. However, whatever be the form of religious extremism all of them manipulate directly or indirectly the sentiments of believers to achieve their vested interests. This leads us to ask a very prominent question regarding the nature of religion: is extremism innate to religion?

2. Are religions prone to extremist ideologies?

When we study the history of religions we come across several incidents where the religious leaders made pejorative remarks despising other religions as enemies. Crusades are best examples in the history of Christianity. When Islam conquered much of Christian territories and holy places in Europe, Popes instigated the Christians to fight against Muslims. Pope Urban II’s appeal for war is very famous: “I beseech and exhort you – and it is not I but God who beseeches and exhorts you as heralds of Christ – both poor and rich, to make haste to drive that vile breed from the regions inhabited by our brethren, and to bring timely aid to the worshippers of Christ. I speak to those here present, I will proclaim it to the absent, but it is Christ who commands …If those who go thither lose their lives on land or sea during the journey, or in battle against the pagans, their sins will at once be forgiven[8].”

The destruction of Babri Masjid at Ayodhya on 6th December 1992 brought into light the fanatic potential of the Hindutva forces in India. The worldwide dismay and outrange caused by Taliban’s edict of 26th February 2001 ordering the demolition of the Bamiyan Buddhas raised a host of questions of fanatic nature. The supreme Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar was quoted as saying: ‘I ask Afghans and the worlds Muslims to use their sound wisdom… Do you prefer to be a breaker of idols or a seller of idols? Is it appropriate to be influenced by the propaganda of the infidels?’[9]. September 11th attack on the World Trade Centre in 2001 reiterated the religious grounds of terrorism on universal level.

In the light of the above-mentioned inglorious stories allied to religions some opine that violence is native to religions. As evidence, they point out the martial metaphors in the Scriptures. The Hebrew Bible contains military exploits of great kings. The great epics Ramayana and the Mahabharata are tales of unending conflict and military intrigue. The ideas of Salvation Army in Christianity, Dal Khalsa in Sikhism, notion of Jihad in Islam, etc. denote images of warfare. According to them, religion is an order restoring institution and therefore it would allow struggle for the order to be restored.  Whenever the religious activists feel commissioned to protect the good from the satanic forces they may draw on violent means. In the Sri Lankan conflict the militant bhikkhus state that the people there live in dukkha, in an immoral world. The conflict is between dhamma and adhamma: order and disorder, religion and irreligion. That means, religions may give moral sanction to violence for the cause of bringing order in the world[10].

From childhood onwards we are taught that religions are effective instruments to establish peace and harmony among people. If this is true how can they employ violence even for a just cause? In this regard it is worth to mention the distinction made by the sociologists and anthropologists about religion. The social scientists make a difference between religion as faith and religion as an identity. Religion as faith has largely a spiritual function and religion as identity acquires political overtones[11]. As social institution religion is mot merely a set of revelations. It includes also dogmas and laws, which are the results of the interpretations made on the revealed texts in view of adapting them to the particular context of the believers. Consequently, due to the influence of believers having extremist tendencies, some scriptural interpretations may have extremist slant. In brief, religion as faith is not pro-violent whereas religion as identity, which includes the doctrines and the practices of the believers, is vulnerable to violence.

If religions, as social institutions, are exposed to the danger of extremism, building up a peaceful society will ever remain utopist unless creative measures are taken to curb the excessive interpretations of Scriptures. How to protect the revealed texts from disruptive interpretations? The best remedy is religions themselves. Religions as faith possess by nature anti-extremist elements. The inner dynamism of religions consists in generating universal and pluralistic values, which will create solidarity and equality in the society. This is possible because religions, by their origin, are liberative. All the major religions extol the value of self-sacrificing love, non-violence, solidarity of mankind, justice, reverence for life, truthfulness, etc. In order that religions become creative forces in building up the world their social engagements must be subdued to these ethical values. The social involvement of religions has to be modeled in accordance with the principle of unitive pluralism, the crux religions stands for.

To maintain religions as catalyst forces in nurturing diversity and justice in the human culture is not a over ambitious project because religions, as M. Juergensmeyer has rightly observed, provide images capable of conquering violence. In rituals, violence is symbolically transformed. Christ’s crucified image induces Christians to sabotage violence. In the Sikh tradition the two edged sword is an example of domestication of violence. Islamic mystics have come out to speak of the true jihad as the one to take place within each person[12]. The following reflections on unitive pluralism will show how extremism can be checked by the faith content in the religions.

3. Unitive Pluralism

Pluralism follows the logic that one is manifested in the many. The universe of meaning has no center. Truth is relative and mutable according to the different human experiences. Pluralism refers to a situation in which a variety of thought patterns, world-views or explanations of reality coexist with out any one of these having gained hegemony over others[13]. It invites us to believe that I do not exhaust the truth nor am I its center but only one of its poles. There are others. Reality is essentially pluriform. Without others we cannot exist and function in the world.

Religious pluralism is the view that different, or even contradictory, forms of religious beliefs and behavior could or even should co-exist[14]. Surprisingly we observe that our friends following a totally different path from our own, and sometimes apparently contradictory one, lead a happy and virtuous life. The fact of religious pluralism pushes us toward the profound insight that there is no one and only way to salvation. But does it mean that the diverse religions have to put off their specificities? Never. Religious pluralism is empowered with a potential for greater unity.

The world religions can move towards a more pervasive unity through better relationships with each other. They can become one precisely by remaining the many. This movement towards interconnectedness of religions is called unitive pluralism[15]. It does not aim at absolute or monistic oneness. It is not to be confused with the old rationalistic idea of “one world religion”. It is not also syncretism, which boils away all the historical differences; nor is it imperialism where one religion absorbs all others. Nor is it a lazy tolerance that let religions go in their own self-satisfied ways. Rather unitive pluralism is a unity in which each religion although loosing some of its individualism will intensify its personality. Each religion will retain its own distinctiveness but this will develop and take on new depths by relating to other religions in mutual dependence. To have a better grasp of unitive pluralism we will see its theoretical underpinnings, which are developed by Ernst Troeltsch (1865-1923), Arnold Toynbee (1889-1975), and Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961).

4. Pioneers of unitive pluralism[16]

4.1 Ernst Troeltsch, professor of philosophy and theology at the Universities of Bonn, Heidelberg and Berlin, was among the first to recognize the reality of religious and historical pluralism. Troeltsch was dissatisfied with the concept of revelation according to which God had been swooping down from heaven and intervening into history at particular spots. Such a vision gave God the image of a father who dispenses more parental love to some children than to others. In place of such an intervening God Troeltsch argued for metaphysics of immanent transcendence. God is coterminous with history. History is the march of God through the world.

The human spirit gives imposing testimony to the immanence of God within our very being. The religions of the world are the concrete manifestations of the universal revelation at work within all humankind. Although the Absolute is manifest in all of history, no historical manifestation of the Absolute can be absolute. That would contradict the nature of the Absolute and nature of the historical. That means all religions, as bearers of the divine are relative and limited. There can be no absolute religion. No religion can claim to be the full and final realization of the Divine.

4.2 Arnold Toynbee began his analysis of the nature of religion by urging a distinction between the essential counsels and nonessential propositions. From the study of seven major religions he evinced the following common characteristics. a) The universe is ultimately mysterious. b) The meaning of the universe is to be found in an Absolute Reality, which is not to be identified with it. c) Humanity seeks to experience and be in harmony with this truth. d) The way to live this harmony is to get rid of innate self-centeredness.

According to Toynbee, Since God wills to draw all people to salvation, naturally God has to realize this project according to the different contexts, time and cultures and this accounts for differences among religions. Since the same God of love is behind all religions, deep down they are same. Differences are accidental, cultural and time-conditioned. They are different paths leading to the same goal. Behind these accidentals there is common essence. A religion has constantly to be on guard against identifying the nonessentials with the essentials. He compares it with peeling an onion. You might go on peeling an onion till you find that you had peeled away the heart as well as the skin. If however because of this risk you refrain from trying to peel your onion you will never have an onion to eat.

4.3 Carl Gustav Jung came to see the image of God as an ingredient necessary for psychological health. According to Jung we humans are animated by something more than what we are expressly aware of. Below and in vital connection with our consciousness there is what has come to be called the unconscious and subconscious. This unknown part contains our true selves. According to Jung the reality of the unconscious represents the mysterious, the supernatural element in us. One of the most reliable pathways into the supra-rational darkness of the unconscious is the archetype. The archetypes could be decoded by symbols and myths. The archetypes are common to all religions but symbols and myths will be different, dependent on the varying cultural historical contexts.

From the discoveries of the unconscious and the presence of God within it Jung drew conclusions concerning the nature of the established religions, their differences and similarities. For Jung revelation is an unveiling of the depths of the individual and collective unconscious. It is the experience of God speaking from within, essentially the same within for all human beings. The differing dogmas and doctrines are attempts to give symbolic expression to this essentially ineffable experience. For him it is altogether inconceivable that there could be any definite figure capable of expressing archetypal indefiniteness.

The above discussion on pluralism from historical, phenomenological and psychological angles leads us to the following conclusions: a) in all religions there is an experience of a reality that transcends human conception b) that reality is conceived in a plurality of ways both within and outside the religion c) due to our limitations and our need to commit ourselves to a particular experience of transcendence, our concrete experience will function as in an absolute way d) unless we penetrate ever further into our own particular experience of transcendence through self-critical dialogue we may fall into the danger of extremism.

5. Scriptural basis for the unitive pluralism

A careful analysis of the scriptures from the perspective of pluralism and universalism reveal to us the interconnectedness of religions, the thrust for unitive pluralism.

5.1 Hinduism: Hinduism, as understood through Brahmanic tradition and Upanishads, focuses on knowledge of the inner spirit and its realization. This inward search has brought Hindus to the belief that there is one divine reality and that it can manifest in different forms. In the Rig Veda there is evidence of conflict between many groups – Aryan, Dravidian and Aboriginal – but there is also a resolution that absorbs the good aspects of each. This resolution is “ekam Sat vipra bhahudha vadanti : The real is one, the learned call it by various names, Agni, Yama, Matarisvan. (Rig Veda 1, 164, 46) The Upanishads gave further development to the same view stating that Brahman is one and that the different deities are His manifestations. Consequently the Hindu sees the different sects within and outside Hinduism as manifestations of the same divine reality. Denominations like Vaishnavism and Saivism, and various darsanas including conceptions from atheistic to pantheistic, to deistic, to monistic, and to mystical are incorporated in it.

Hindu concept of God is like looking at a piece of sculpture from different angles. The whole form can be grasped only when the sculpture has been looked at from different perspectives: front, the back, and the sides. Although each of these views is different from the others and although some aspects of what is seen and described from different angles may seem incompatible, these reports can together give us a reliable overall view of the sculpture. More aspects of the divine we can perceive the more complete our understanding of God will be[17]. The expressions in Hindu prayers and hymns like Vasudaiva kudumbakam, Atmavat Sarva Bhoodhani, Sarve Bhavandu Sukina, Loka Samasta Sukino Bhavandhu, also point to the spirit of universalism inherent in Hindu religion.

5. 2 Islam: The Muslim attitude towards other religions is derived from Muhammad’s teachings, from the Quran, and from its approved commentaries. Though the Quran is the complete and full revelation of the one divine Book for Muslims, they recognize a foundational unity underlying all religions. The earlier part of Quran mentions different prophets speaking to different people. “Say: We believe in God and that which is revealed to us; in what was revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the tribes; to Moses and Jesus and the other prophets by their Lord. We make no distinction among any of them, and to God we have surrendered ourselves” (2, 136). The messages spoken to them come from a single source called as the “Mother of the Book” (43, 4; 13, 39) and the “Hidden Book” (56, 78). There is no nation wherein a messenger has not come (35, 24). Therefore a Muslim has to respect the sacred works of all religions.

The inclusive Islamic attitude towards others is seen in their concept of creation too. According to Koran all are God’s creatures and all are children of the same parents: “Men, We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you might get to know one another. The noblest of you in God’s sight is he who is most righteous” (49,13). Islam is often criticized of making conversions by force. But the Koran teachings are against compelling people to embrace the faith. “Say: This is the truth from your Lord. Let him who will, believe in it, and him who will, deny it (18, 29). “Your duty is only to give warning: you are not their keeper” (88, 21-22). The Muhammad’s concept of Jihad has often been misunderstood. The primary definition of Jihad is struggling or striving. Islamic scholars identify four kinds of jihad a) jihad of heart: spiritual striving b) jihad of the hand: work c) jihad of the tongue: preaching d) jihad of the sword. The recourse to holy war developed as a response to idolatry[18].

It seems that Muhammad advocated the love of other religions not only in words but also in deeds. Once, a few Christians from Najran came to meet him in Medina. During the conversation there arrived the time for Christians to recite prayers. Then prophet arranged the space for the Christians to pray in the same mosque. The respect for other religions is also seen in the counsel of Babar to Humayun: ‘India is a land of different religions. You must be grateful for that. If Allah gives you power you should not show any favoritism. Don’t kill the cows, which may hurt the feelings of the Hindus. Don’t destroy the temples and places of worship’[19]

5. 3 Christianity: The Jewish self-consciousness of being the chosen people of God (Deut 7, 6) and Jesus’ statements about his relationship to God (Jn 17, 22) certainly seem to have influenced Christians to assert a unique status for the Christianity.  But the Bible contains elements that encourage an open attitude towards the other religions. The book of Genesis tells that God created man in His own image and likeness (Gen 1, 26-27). According to this vision, not only Jews Christians and Muslims but also the whole humanity possess God’s image. Whoever lives according to the voice of his conscience is doing the will of the Creator.

Jesus turned against the exclusive attitudes of Jews. He transgressed the purity laws with quite astonishing freedom. He broke the Sabbath (Mk 2, 23-28) touched lepers (Mk 1, 41) and dined with religious outcasts (Mk 2, 15-17). He said that nothing outside a man could defile him but the things, which come out of men, are what defile him (Mk 7, 15). Jesus not only fought against the exclusivism in Jewish religion but also he inculcated inclusive outlook among his disciples.  He invited men to love God by loving neighbors and even the enemies (Lk 6, 35-36). His experience of God as Abbha allowed him to see all human beings as brothers and sisters. Thus Jesus gave us common platform of love where all religions can meet and work together for the growth of God’s reign in this world.

Jesus expressed his openness towards other religions by respecting believers of other religions. Seeing the faith of the Roman centurion Jesus said: “Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 8, 10-11). Jesus praised the Canaanite woman’s faith (Mt 15, 28) and projected a Samaritan as model to practice the love of neighbor (Lk 10, 25-37). He did not hesitate to drink water from the Samarian woman, which was forbidden at that time (Jn 4, 7). He encouraged an exorcist who casts out demons in his name even though he did not join his company (Mk 9, 38-40). He said that all those who help the needy would be saved at the final day without enquiring into their religious affiliations (Mt, 25, 31-46)[20]

Our search into the pluralistic trends in great religious traditions has exposed the ant-extremist potential in religions. Now in the next and the concluding part of this paper we will propose certain measures to counteract the immoderate radicalism and to strengthen the culture of pluralism and unity among the believers.

6. Some concrete steps to strengthen the unitive pluralism

Learn about the noble values of all religions: Ignorance about other religions is a great hurdle in the path of communal harmony. The UNESCO Constitution begins by saying. “As wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that defense for peace must be constructed.” If this remains true the culture of unity and diversity must be instilled in the people educating in them the noble values of all religions. Monolithic religious education becomes a divisive factor in the already divided world. We have to pursue a methodology of education, which helps the people so to understand their own religious traditions as to affirm and celebrate the significance of other religions. Religions, in and through all their academic and cultural institutions, can cultivate human and religious values in the minds of pupils. Initiation to inter-religious prayer gatherings and readings from different Scriptures is to be multiplied all over the country.

Promotion of Inter-religious fellowships: Some movements in India have taken up inter-religious friendship as their special task. The Dharma Bharati National Institute, began on 16th July 1993 at Indore, is such a NGO. The goal of Dharma Bharati is to educate the youth in values of love, fraternity, justice, peace, sharing, tolerance and respect against the ethnic quarrels and communal tensions. For the personal transformation of the individuals are given the five paths. a) Say a prayer a day for peace according to one’s own religious tradition b) Skip a meal a week to express solidarity with the hungry and contribute the savings to the needy c) Do a good deed a day without any selfish motive to develop loving concern for the nation d) Honour parents, teachers and all human beings 5) Respect earth and save its resources[21]. Collaborating with such organizations the believers could be trained to work at the grass-root level for the cause of unitive pluralism.

Readiness to relativize the possessed truth: Every religion has something unique to contribute for the welfare of the world. But at the same time we must accept with all humility that each religion has only a limited and partial understanding of the Truth. Those who believe that their religion possesses the full truth are like the blinds that went to see an elephant. Hereby we do not question the specificity of any religion. We simply acknowledge the historical contingence of revealed truths. Hence no religion can make exclusive claim over the grace of God. All are like beggars standing with their begging bowls in front of God.

Avoid the false universalism: The efforts to strengthen unitive pluralism run the risk of a false universalism, which would obliterate the identities of different faiths. Any contact begins in the appreciation of difference. Ignoring differences invariably leads to the domination of the weak by the stronger. It is not leveling out of differences that we will achieve the new wholeness. We need an existential encounter among different traditions and the mutual transformation that occurs as a result. Pluralistic spirituality presupposes the attitude of letting the opposites co-exist. Thus the particular experience of truth may be enlarged and deepened so as to open new experiences of religious truth. Therefore let us not keep silence over the disjunctions, disunities, distances and dissonances that pervade human society at the religio-socio-economic-political levels in the name of interfaith bonhomie.

Virtue of interdependence: The virtues of interdependence transcend the barrier of caste, creed, race, colour, language and nationality. It can be built up through mutual trust. An atmosphere of understanding one another, not in religious or caste terms but as human beings with same needs, aspirations and obligations is to be created. Ways of worship and objects of worship may be differed, style of life may be varied, language may be different, but these are only the outward manifestations, which need not erode the basic trust in one another as human beings. Peace which is result of trust among the people can prosper only when social interdependence becomes a way of life of the people.[22]

Counter-cultural and political formation: Compared to the activities of communal forces, the resistance put up by the religions is very less now. Today the religious and cultural leaders don’t come forward exposing the failure of police and the bureaucracy during communal violence. Using art forms – painting, music, street plays – have been a method successfully experimented in this sphere.  The cultural forums at the village levers can employ these methods to disaffiliate society from the logic of communalism. The counter cultural formation has to be done also through mass media. Disseminating teachings, stories, legends and myths from different religious traditions would instill in the people universal love and respect for the other. Mere cultural response will not be sufficient if not followed up with more substantive moves on the political front to check the wave of communalism.  Solution would be an extensive campaign sponsored by all those sections of civil society, who believe in non-communal politics.

Conclusion

Mankind is today in the midst of one of the greatest cries in history. Despite the fact that the great scientific inventions liberated us from servitude to nature, we seem to suffer from a type of religious neurosis. We need a moral and spiritual therapy, which would heal the human mind.

From the genes of our animal ancestors, we humans have inherited aggression toward outsiders and loyalties toward our own kin. This was essential for the survival and development of the most viable genotypes. Today however as biological evolution has given rise to cultural evolution and as cultural evolution has advanced from kinship to interdependence of nations, the conditions for survival have changed. Now cultures and nations will survive not by aggression and dominance but by cooperation. Therefore if we wish to survive as a human species on this planet the best way is to understand ourselves first as world citizens and then only in terms of our religious, ethnic and linguistic identities. Humanity desperately requires that the world religions work to realize this objective[23].

The best medicine that the religions can apply in this situation is to develop a spirituality of religions that are cured of provincialism and advocating values of unitive pluralism. The religious leaders must turn their energies to fashioning new ways of understanding their own religions. There should be cultural forums in every village to isolate those who mix religion with political and economic interests. Common defense of human rights, joint endeavors for development, sharing of spiritual exercises, etc., will increase mutual confidence and cooperation among the followers of various religions.

Let us conclude recalling a small anecdote. Once a group of pilgrims went to ascend the mountain. They could not see its summit because they were making their way up through clouds, but after a long time they climbed to heights above the clouds and stood on the upper reaches of their mountain under a clear sky. Then they could see to their surprise that there were other mountains and that there were pilgrims on them concealed beneath the clouds. Then the pilgrims tried to communicate saying halloo! halloo!


[1] P. Lathuiliere, Le fondamentalisme catholique, Cerf, Paris, 1995, pp. 15-19.

[2] H.R. Niebuhr, Encyclopedia of Social Sciences, vol. 6, p. 526.

[3] GPD, Economic Political Weekly, September 29, 2001, p. 3668.

[4] M. C. Otto, Fanaticism, Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, vol. 5, pp. 90-91.

[5] R. Khan, South Asian Portents, India Nation-State and Communalism, G. S. Balla (ed.), 1989, pp. 40-42.

[6] L. Dumont, Nationalism and Communalism, Contribution to Indian Sociology, VII, 1964, pp. 45-47.

[7] B. Chandra, Communalism in Modern India, New Delhi, Vani Educational Books, 1984, pp. 1-4.

[8] P. Regine, The Crusades, London, 1962, pp. 23-24.

[9] R. Hensman, Economic and Political Weekly, June 9 2001, p. 2031.

[10] M. Juergensmeyer, Religious Nationalism Confronts the Secular State, Delhi, 1993, pp. 157-164.

[11] A. A. Engineer, Economic and Political Weekly, October 20, 2001.

[12] M. Juergensmeyer, Religious Nationalism Confronts the Secular State, p. 159.

[13] H. W. Pluralism, Theological Dictionary of Fundamental Theology, Latourelle R and Fisichella R., New York: Cross Roads, 1994, p. 783.

[14] K. Koyama, A Theological Reflection on Religious Pluralism, The Ecumenical Review 51, 1999, p. 165.

[15] P. F. Knitter, No Other Name? New York: Orbis Books, 1995, p. 9.

[16]  P. F. Knitter, No Other Name?,  pp. 23-26; 37-40; 55-61.

[17] H. Coward, Pluralism: Challenge to World Religions, New York, Orbis Books, pp. 64-65.

[18] H. Coward, Pluralism: Challenge to World Religions, p. 46.

[19] T. V. Muhammadali, Bahumatha Sauhredam Islamil, Matyhavum Chintayum, vol. 82, no. 2, 2002, pp. 41-43.

[20] Soares-Prabhu, Biblical Themes for a Contextual Theology Today, pp. 178-179.

[21] V. Alengaden (ed.), Education for the Third Millennium, 2000, pp. 210-213.

[22] S. K. Parmar, Inter-religious Co-operation for Peace and Value Education: Response to Consumerism and Communalism, Peace and Values Education, K. P. Joseph [ed.], 30-33.

[23] P. Gyger, The religions and the birth of a new humanity, Pluralism and the Religions, J. D’Arcy May (ed.), Cassell, 1988, pp. 90- 93.

Notes

[1] P. Lathuiliere, Le fondamentalisme catholique, Cerf, Paris, 1995, pp. 15-19.

[2] H.R. Niebuhr, Encyclopedia of Social Sciences, vol. 6, p. 526.

[3] GPD, Economic Political Weekly, September 29, 2001, p. 3668.

[4] M. C. Otto, Fanaticism, Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, vol. 5, pp. 90-91.

[5] R. Khan, South Asian Portents, India Nation-State and Communalism, G. S. Balla (ed.), 1989, pp. 40-42.

[6] L. Dumont, Nationalism and Communalism, Contribution to Indian Sociology, VII, 1964, pp. 45-47.

[7] B. Chandra, Communalism in Modern India, New Delhi, Vani Educational Books, 1984, pp. 1-4.

[8] P. Regine, The Crusades, London, 1962, pp. 23-24.

[9] R. Hensman, Economic and Political Weekly, June 9 2001, p. 2031.

[10] M. Juergensmeyer, Religious Nationalism Confronts the Secular State, Delhi, 1993, pp. 157-164.

[11] A. A. Engineer, Economic and Political Weekly, October 20, 2001.

[12] M. Juergensmeyer, Religious Nationalism Confronts the Secular State, p. 159.

[13] H. W. Pluralism, Theological Dictionary of Fundamental Theology, Latourelle R and Fisichella R., New York: Cross Roads, 1994, p. 783.

[14] K. Koyama, A Theological Reflection on Religious Pluralism, The Ecumenical Review 51, 1999, p. 165.

[15] P. F. Knitter, No Other Name? New York: Orbis Books, 1995, p. 9.

[16]  P. F. Knitter, No Other Name?,  pp. 23-26; 37-40; 55-61.

[17] H. Coward, Pluralism: Challenge to World Religions, New York, Orbis Books, pp. 64-65.

[18] H. Coward, Pluralism: Challenge to World Religions, p. 46.

[19] T. V. Muhammadali, Bahumatha Sauhredam Islamil, Matyhavum Chintayum, vol. 82, no. 2, 2002, pp. 41-43.

[20] Soares-Prabhu, Biblical Themes for a Contextual Theology Today, pp. 178-179.

[21] V. Alengaden (ed.), Education for the Third Millennium, 2000, pp. 210-213.

[22] S. K. Parmar, Inter-religious Co-operation for Peace and Value Education: Response to Consumerism and Communalism, Peace and Values Education, K. P. Joseph [ed.], 30-33.

[23] P. Gyger, The religions and the birth of a new humanity, Pluralism and the Religions, J. D’Arcy May (ed.), Cassell, 1988, pp. 90- 93.

Social Involvement of Syro-Malabar Church: A Historical-Critical Analysis

Social Involvement of Syro-Malabar Church

(A Historical-Critical Analysis)

Kundukulam Vincent

Introduction

All religious segments play a significant role in shaping the vision and character of the national civilization. They influence the national life through spirituality, ethics, culture and social involvement. The Syrian Christians, though a minority, have been playing a pertinent role in shaping the social life of Kerala from the early days. Jawaharlal Nehru has rightly mentioned it in 1946 by saying: ‘Indian Christians are part and parcel of the Indian people. Their traditions go back 1500 years and more and they form one of the many enriching elements in the country’s cultural and spiritual life’. On the occasion of the Silver Jubilee Celebration of Paurastya Vidyapitham, an Institute renowned for its commitment to the Oriental studies, it is quite opportune to look into the Syro-Malabar Church’s social involvement, an essential factor for her theological reflection.

The study on the social involvement of Syrian Catholics is challenging mainly for three reasons. Primarily the majority of sources at our disposal do not enable us to reconstruct concretely the particular story of the Syro-Malabar Church’s social involvement. There is ample literature on the contribution of Kerala Christians to the nation building but few documents directly deal with Syrian Catholics’ unique role in this process. Secondly, we lack reliable sources about their social involvement. Much literature exists regarding their history. There are only a few authors who sociologically analyzed their involvement in the society. Hence our search is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Yet, we can glean some data that suggest trends of social impact of Syrians from what is generally told about the Christians in Kerala.

 Thirdly, when we go through the literature concerning the Christian involvement in the society we come across people belonging to different denominations in Christianity including Latin Catholics, Non-Catholic Churches and others. By the very fact that some Syrian Catholics were involved in a social intervention will it be considered as a Syrian intervention? On what basis we determine the Syrian aspect in a social involvement? In the same way the community based identity is practically insignificant with regard to some areas of life. For example what does it mean in saying that Syrian Christians have made outstanding contribution to politics on account of the fact that A.K. Antony is by birth a Syrian? Above all, will it not be communal to identify an involvement on the basis of race or rite? This problem cannot be solved here as it is beyond the scope of this paper. Therefore for the time being we will avoid mentioning the contribution by way of individuals and movements where the Syrian identity does not have any special emphasis.

Let me briefly explain the limits of the following exposition:  (1): We are trying to engage with the role and history of Syrian Catholics living only in Kerala. As we know, at present, thousands of Syrians live outside Kerala and a good number of them are settled abroad. Unfortunately we don’t have records about the social roles played by them in their respective regions. (2). Again we are constrained to focus our attention only to certain periods in the history of the Syrian Christians. Their history is crowded with incidents of various genres, protracting through twenty centuries, which we can in no way expound in this short paper. Therefore we concentrate on two periods of their life: a) from the early beginnings of Christian era to the arrival of Portuguese missionaries; b) from the end of 19th century to the formation of Kerala state in 1956.  (3). We have to precise also the types of social involvement of the Syrians we deal with. The role played by a community is determined in terms of several factors: culture, economy, politics, education, literature, media, etc.  Since the faith experience of Syrian Catholics in their cultural context is already studied in another paper we would like to concentrate more on their economic, political and social involvement.

This paper has a critical function. Our intention is not merely to assemble some data regarding the social involvement of Syrians. If not assessed with scientific tools history becomes a decayed story. In the academic world social involvement is the concern of social sciences and hence we will examine our corpus with the instruments of social sciences. Thus, this paper is a search into the political and social involvement of Syrians Catholics in ancient and modern periods of their history in Kerala and a critical assessment of their contribution in the light of theories of nationalism and communalism.

The procedure of the study is as follows. There will be three parts in the paper. At first, we will investigate the social stature the Syrians enjoyed until the arrival of the Portuguese. The second part will be about the social and political interferences done by the Syrians at the end of the 19th century and in the first half of the 20th century, a period marked by growing political consciousness in Kerala. Finally we will put in perspective the findings of the first two parts and interpret the nature of Syrian social involvement.

Part 1:  From the Early centuries to the arrival of Portuguese

Christianity was introduced in Kerala three centuries before it became the established religion in Rome. The Syrian Christian population, comprised of immigrants from Asia Minor and the inhabitants of the land developed into a powerful community because of their investment in the field of trade and commerce. What helps us to pinpoint their position in the early centuries of Christian era are four Copper Plates, which deal with the privileges granted by the Hindu monarchs to the Christians settled in Quilon and Cranganore. The earlier document is a grant given to Thomas Cana in 372; the second dated 774 offered to Iravan Kortan, chief of the Christians of Cranganore; the third and fourth both dated 849 and addressed as Teresapalli to the local Church at Quilon by Ayyan Atikal Tiruvatikal[1].

Genevieve Lemercinier and Francois Houtart in their work on the ‘Genesis and Institutionalization of Indian Catholicism’ after analyzing the rights conferred to the Syrians make a few important conclusions. The social position of Syrians was largely determined by their function in the mercantile economy. They had monopoly over commercial transactions: foreign trade in spices, salt, sugar and oil. By the title of manigranam the group had the right to deal in all kinds of trade goods. In addition, they could collect the customs duties on commercial transactions[2].

The Syrians were also predominant in the areas of agriculture and warfare. They excelled in the production of pepper, a coveted commodity in the pre-industrial European markets. ‘Thomas Christians maintained a high standard in the art of war’ testifies historian Edward Gibbon. They were finest soldiers and this persuaded the kings to respect them and to protect their rights and privileges[3]. The greater the number of Christians a king had in the army, the more his neighbors respected him. Hindu monarchs constructed churches for Christians and endowed them with tax free lands in order to secure their military service.[4]

The kings accorded three types of grants to the Syrians: a) symbols of the integration of the group into the cosmic universe:  the right to erect a pandal on the occasion of wedding and setting up a pillar before their houses; b) symbols recognizing the status of the leader of the group: right to speak in the assemblies, to use a carpet and a palanquin and to employ sandalwood paste; c) symbols carrying privileges to the whole group: the right to wear festal attire, the right to build a wall around their houses, etc[5].

The mercantile economy gained for the Syrian group an enviable stature because it was central to the social structure of Kerala of that age. It was the mercantile money, which enabled the whole system to function without any danger to the interests of the various dominant groups of the society. Due to the lack of experience in the trade and the inability to engage commercial transactions with the foreigners the Hindus failed to play role of intermediaries between the foreigners and the Kings[6]. What made it easy for Christians to step into such a privileges position might be also the absence of a vaishya caste in the Kerala society of the time.

Needless to affirm that the Syrians were well integrated into the culture of mainstream castes in Kerala. There were a number of ceremonies derived from the local social practices like the Yogam or Church assembly at the local as well as general level. They had close ties with the aristocrat class namely Nayars. Until 16th century marriages took place between them. The lower casts had to keep rules of untouchability towards Christians[7]. The chiefs of Christians enjoyed the same privileges as were enjoyed by Hindu feudal landlords[8]. The Christians were noted for their courteous manners. They kept high morality in business dealings. Unlike the Hindu women, the Christian women were fully dressed, covering the upper part of their body. The Syrians wore practically the same ornaments as the Hindus. The vast majority among them were vegetarians and as a class was not addicted to drink during this period. The fact that the rulers of the time like the Cochin Raja and the chiefs of Vadakkumkur, Thekkumkur and Ambalapuzha helped the progress of Christianity in their kingdoms by donating lands for the erection of churches shows that they had an esteem position in the state[9]. It is said that at that epoch a word by a Christian was as good as signing an official stamped paper[10].

The Syrians seems to have played an impressive role also in the field of education. Hindu educational institutions were the guarded preserve of a few elite Hindus, but Christians opened them to all. At the close of the 15th century when the Portuguese arrived in Kerala there were schools conducted both by Hindus and Christians. Children irrespective of religious affiliations attended these schools. This is evident from relevant decrees adopted by the Synod of Diamper requiring the removal of shrines kept in schools run by Christian teachers for the worship of Hindu children and according permission to Christian children to attend schools run by Hindu teachers without showing any religious reverence to idols[11].

The Syrians accepted the caste system as they were reckoned among the high castes, on par with the Nairs, writes Cardinal Tisserant, in the light of decrees of the Diamper Synod. This Synod forbids the Syrians from the practices like purification of vessels, touched by the members of the low castes (decree 3), piercing the ears like the Nairs (decree 17), etc. The Council blames the women for omitting to attend any service during the forty days (Session IX, decree 5)[12] Mathias Mundadan interprets the oneness of Syrians with their social-cultural milieu as an expression of implicit way of living the incarnational approach of inculturation, in the model of Christ who assumed everything human and redeemed all social and cultural values[13].

Part 2. The closing decades of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century

The Syrian Christians, though a petit minority, played vigorous role in the struggle for freedom at the national level. In the historic Salt March to Dandi on the sea set out on 12 March 1930, 78 members of the Sabarmati Ashram accompanied Mahatma Gandhi. Among these disciples of Gandhi was Thevarthundiyil Titus, a member of a Thomas Christian Family in Travancore. He was taking care of the Ashram diary[14].

Coming to Kerala, at the end of the 19th century there was widespread resentment among the educated classes against the Government’s policy of importing Tamil Brahmins to hold the most important posts in the public service even when persons with similar qualifications were available inside the State. Their resentment found expression in the ‘Malayali Memorial’ submitted to the Maharaja on 1 January 1891. Among the 10, 028 petitioners who called the attention of Maharaja to the exclusion of the educated natives from higher grades of the public service and asked to provide fair quota of government appointments, there was considerable number of Christians[15]. Nidhirikkal Manikathanar and Cyriac Nidhiri played a leading role along with C.V. Raman Pillai and K.P. Kesava Menon[16].

The Christians actively participated in the Nivarthana (abstention) movement, which was a joint venture against the Nairs by the Ezhavas, Muslims and a section of the Christian community claiming representation in the Legislature in proportion to their numerical strength. They formed an organization known as Samyukta Rashtriya Samiti (Joint Political Congress) of which at the top was Syrian Christians like T. M. Varghese, N. V. Joseph, Joseph Chazhikkatu, A.C. Kuriakose, A.O. Joseph, etc.[17] The Travancore government was entrusted to the people as the result of the deliberations made by the then Congress leaders including Syrians like T. M. Varghese, A. J. John,  P.T. Chacko, Thariathu Kunjithomman and K.M. Chandy. The resolution on Responsible Government presented by T. M. Varghese in the Sri Moolam Assembly is described as historic. As E.M. Kovoor notes, T.M. Varghese, one of the leading heads of Travancore state Congress from its inception on February 23, 1938 was a person who sacrificed most and struggled most for establishing Responsible Government in the State. The women who joined the agitation for the freedom of Travancore came mainly from Thomas Christian community.  The heroic resistance of the Catholic Bishop Mar James Kalassery of Changanachery Diocese against the attempt of Travancore government (1945) to bring Christian Primary school system under its control is another hallmark in the fight of the Christians for the freedom in education[18].

In the field of education, the Syrian schools and colleges have been expression of social justice and equality. Quality and discipline remained always as the hallmarks of their institutions. Among the Syrian pioneers of education Fr. Chavara Kuriakose Elias, the co-founder of Carmelites of Mary Immaculate (CMI) deserves special mention. He started religious houses, seminaries and institutes for secular education, printing and publication[19].  He popularized the idea that there should be a school along with the church. With a revolutionary insight he started pallikuudams for pulayas when only high caste people had the right to study. He founded a Sanskrit school at Mannanam and taught lower caste students along with the Brahmin students. He introduced Uchakanji (midday meal) in schools so that students were attracted to schools. For that he popularized the custom of pidiyari (a handful of rice set apart every day for the poor)[20]. Thus the Syrian educational institutions, as others in this field, worked untiringly for the eradication of injustices, social evils and taboos.

In the field of media, Nazarani Deepika, which was launched on 15th April 1887, deserves our special attention. It was begun to represent the atrocities, injustices and cruelties meted out to the poor folk before the court of rulers and ministers, and to voice the grievances of the mass like a faithful messenger. It has succeeded to pass on to the 21st century making it the oldest existing Malayalam Newspaper.  Deepika provided chance to many leader-writers and columnists of the different religious sections in Kerala. Deepika fought from the very beginning against social evils like caste system and untouchability and gave impetus to the social movements like Malayalee Memorial and Nivarthana movement and freedom struggle of Travancore. It took up causes of opening the temples to all Hindus[21].

The service of the Syrians in the field of agriculture cannot be left unstated. Land has always remained a weakness for the Syrian Christians. They proved a thrill of their own in tilling the soil and sowing the seeds and reaping the harvest. They demonstrated an inimitable sense of adventure in going the mountains and forests, fighting the wild animals, resisting the hostile weather and climate and taking to their strides all hardships on the way. The health care services rendered by the Syrians, as it can be said about other Christian institutions alike, is the embodiment of preferential option for the poor. Hospitals, clinics, rehabilitation centers, mental health care centers, leprosy cure centers, orphanages, destitute homes and care centers for HIV patients are to be mentioned in this respect. Among the veteran leaders of the Syrian community we don’t ignore the first woman High court Judge Anna Chandy, first woman Chief Engineer P.K. Thressia, Chevaliar Joseph Thaliath, Kattakkayam Cherian Mappila, Sr. Mary Baninja, all eminent personalities[22] in the public life of Kerala.

Part 3 Critical Appraisal of Social Involvement of the Syrians

We have briefly stated the contributions of Syrian Catholics in the economic, social and political fields.  Our remaining task is to study critically the Syrian interactions in Kerala applying scientific tools of research.  The two ideologies with which we can analyse the impact of social involvement of the Syrians in our state are nationalism and communalism. Let us see now whether their involvements go par with either nationalism or communalism?

Hans Khon defines nationalism as the state of mind in which the supreme loyalty of the individual is felt to be due to the nation-state. The essential element of nationalism is the living and active corporate will[23]. A.D. Smith distinguishes two types of nationalism: ethnocentric and polycentric. The advocates of ethnocentric nationalism are very adamant in preserving the cultural and religious heritage of their own group and in imposing them on other ethnic groups. On the other hand, polycentric nationalists recognize that other groups do have noble ideas and structures and they assimilate them for the common good of the society. There are three essential elements in the polycentric nationalism. They are collective autonomy, collective individuality and pluralism. According to Smith the polycentric nationalism only merits the title of nationalism for it only stands for the common well being of a nation[24].

In India, the equivalent of ethnocentric nationalism is communalism.  In our political scenario communalism is a negative concept. One becomes communal when he or she discriminates others on account of immoderate attachment to one’s own community. As Rasheedhudin Khan has rightly observed, religious communalism has taken the shape of narrow and blind devotion to one’s own religious community for acquiring political and economic benefits. In that sense communalism is opposed to secularism and nationalism.[25] Though communalists play with religion, in fact, religion is not the fundamental cause of communal conflicts. As Louis Dumont, a French sociologist, remarks religion becomes here a mere appearance. People are not really concerned about the substance of religion. Religious communalism is the affirmation of the religious community as a political group. What appears to be clash of religions is really clash of interests of a small group. [26]

The political and economic undercurrents of religious communalism are thoroughly examined by the Indian sociologist Asghar Ali Engineer. One of the macro-factors promoting communal tension in the society is the uneven development of the economy. The upper classes of the less-developed community feel a strong sense of rivalry vis-à-vis their counterparts in the developed community.  In such a situation, in order to win the support of masses of one’s community, the grievances are formulated in terms of the ethos, including religious ethos[27]. A recent example for economic basis of religious communalism is the joint venture done by the leaders of the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (SNDP) and the Nair Service Society (NSS) to form a grand political Hindu alliance against minorities in Kerala. There is a widely held perception that Muslims and Christians possess more political and economic clout than their numbers would warrant.  A study on the economic scenario of Kerala shows that the 82.5 per cent of Non Resident Keralites (NRK) during the period 1998-2002 are in the Gulf countries. Out of these, 49.5 per cent were Muslims and 31.5 percent Christians. The Hindu share is only 19 %.[28] “The accumulated money amongst the minorities is mostly invested in land. A little over sixty percent of available cultivable land in Kerala is in the possession of Christians and the Muslims are fast acquiring the urban land and properties to the envy and dismay of other communities. In the field of education, the Muslim and Christian communities together manage 223 arts and science colleges, whereas Hindu jatis all together possess only 42 colleges.[29]

In the light of above analysis we have to examine whether the social interactions of the Syrian Catholics project nationalist or communalist tendencies? I would say that they were rather communalist in the economic and political spheres whereas nationalist in the field of education and social service. The behaviour pattern of Syrians towards the lower casts until the coming of Portuguese was certainly guided by communal spirit and not by any Christian principle. I seriously doubt whether the Syrian insertion into the higher castes can be interpreted as an incarnational model of inculturation? Likewise, to my mind, many a struggle that the Syrian elites led in the beginning of the 20th century to compute the number of posts their members held in the government cannot be whitewashed as freedom struggles[30].  In saying so I don’t put the whole blame on the Syrian Christians. They performed exactly as other communities of the age. The history of modern Kerala became partially the history of communalism because the political parties in their turn used also the ideology of communalism to divide the community affiliations and gain electoral support from the different groups within the same religious community[31].

Conclusion

As a concluding note I would like to make the following suggestions. 1) The Syrian Christians couldn’t be accused of communalism in the field of education and social service until the formation of Kerala state. 2) What we said about the past cannot be applied uncritically for our times. We may need to do a sole searching criticism to deliver us from both falling into self-absolution and self-pitying. 3) The threat of communalism whether on the basis of religion or caste is eroding the social fabric of society in many overt and covert conflicts. How efficient are our institutions to fight out this evil? 4) This paper is limited by reading the past from a sociological perspective. Biblical and theological evaluation can throw further light on these comments, which is beyond the scope of present exposition. Let this exercise become an eye-opener in the pursuit of Syro-Malabar Church to carry out her mission in the third millennium on the basis of gospel.

Mangalapuzha Seminary

P.B. No:1, Alwaye 683102

23/01/07


[1] Fancois  Houtart & Genvieve Lemercinier, Genesis and Institutionalization of the Indian Catholicism, Universite Catholique de Louvain, 1981, Chapter 1

[2] Ibid.,

[3] George Thomas, Christianity and the Modern Indian Civilization, Indian Christian Directory, Rashtradeepika, Kottayam, 2000, p. 70.

[4] C.V. Cherian, Kerala-Empowerment through Enlightenment, Indian Christian Directory, p. 132.

[5] Fancois  Houtart & Genvieve Lemercinier, Genesis and Institutionalization of the Indian Catholicism, Universite Catholique de Louvain, 1981, Chapter 1

[6] Ibid.,

[7] R. Deliege, Inde, Dictionnaire d’Histoire et de Geographie Ecclesiastiques, Paris, p. 990.

[8] A. Sreedhara Menon, Social and Cultural History of Kerala, pp. 49-51.

[9] A. Sreedhara Menon, A Survey of Kerala History, Madras, 1991, p. 228-229

[10] Cyriac Thomas, Christian Involvement in the Building up of the Nation, Christian Contribution to Nation Building, S. Ponnumuthan (ed.), POC, 2004, p. 67.

[11] C.V. Cherian, Kerala-Empowerment through Enlightenment, Indian Christian Directory, p. 130.

[12] Cardinal E. Tisserant, Eastern Christianity, pp. 164-165.

[13] A.M. Mundadan, St. Thomas and St. Thomas Christians, Indian Christian Directory, p. 55.

[14] George Thomas, The Christians and the Freedom Movement, Indian Christian Directory, p. 65.

[15] A. Sreedhara Menon, A Survey of Kerala History, pp. 300-301.

[16] Pala K. M. Mathew, The Role of Christians in India’s Freedom Struggle, Christian Contribution to Nation Building, p. 30.

[17] A. Sreedhara Menon, A Survey of Kerala History,  pp. 302-303

[18] George Thomas, The Christians and the Freedom Movement, Indian Christian Directory, p. 67; Pala K. M. Mathew, The Role of Christians in India’s Freedom Struggle, Christian Contribution to Nation Building, p. 32.

[19] G. Menacherry, Christian Saints and Sages of India, Indian Christian Directory, p. 76.

[20] Antony Kalliath, Paths of Contextualizing Indian Spirituality, Christian Contribution to Nation Building, p. 206.

[21] Thomas A. Aykara, The Deepika, Indian Christian Directory, pp. 90-92.

[22] Cyriac Thomas, Christian Involvement in the Building up of the Nation, Christian Contribution to Nation Building, p. 68.

[23] H. Khon, Nationalism: Its Meaning and History, Florida, 1982, pp. 9-10.

[24] A.D. Smith, Theories of Nationalism, London, 1971, pp. 158-163; 170-171.

[25] R. Khan, South Asian Portents, India Nation-State and Communalism, G.S. Balla [ed.], 1989, 40-42

[26] L. Dumont, Nationalism and Communalism, Contribution to Indian Sociology, VII, 1964, 45-47.

[27] A.A. Engineer, A theory of communal riots, Seminar, November 1983, 15

[28] Economic Times, May 19, 2003.

[29] Organizer, September 26, 2004

[30] For a detailed study of the subject refer George Mathew,  Communal Road to A Secular Kerala, New Delhi, 1989, chapter three.

[31] For a detailed study read P.M. Mammen, Communalism VS Communism, Minerva Associates, Calcutta, 1981, pp. 183-190

Religion, Violence and Civil Society

Religion, Violence and Civil Society

Dr Vincent Kundukulam

 

Vincent Kundukulam

 

 

 

 

Introduction

 

From the genes of our animal ancestors, we humans have inherited loyalties toward our own kin and aggression toward outsiders. This was essential for the survival and development of the most viable genotypes. Today however as biological evolution has given rise to cultural evolution and as cultural evolution has advanced from kinship to interdependence of nations, the conditions for survival have changed. Now cultures and nations will survive not by aggression and dominance but by cooperation. But unfortunately we are heading into an epoch of unlimited violence and terror. South Asia is at the centre of conflict and could suffer the most from it.

This short paper is an humble attempt to expose the underpinnings and undercurrents of religious violence, which affect adversely the preservation of civil society in India. It has four sections. After making some preliminary remarks on the key terms of this paper – religion, violence and civil society – we will reflect upon the psychological and sociological aspects of religious violence. Secondly we will discuss the role of religion in violence. Third section is a review of civil society in India, which is actually sickened by erosion of secular public institutions and silence of the majority against the minority that involves in violence. Lastly, we will make a few suggestions to counter the insane marriage between religion and violence in India.

1. Clarification of terms

Religion: Among the numberless definitions that have been suggested to religion, those that have been most frequently adopted for working purposes are that of E.B. Tylor, J. G. Frazer and F. Schleiermacher. They define religion as a conciliation of powers superior to man, which is believed to direct and control the course of nature and of human life. Religion stands for the pattern of beliefs and practices through which men communicate with or hope to gain experience of that which lies behind the world of their ordinary experience. Typically it focuses on an Ultimate or Absolute, thought of by some believers as God[1]

Sociologists and anthropologists are not satisfied with the above-mentioned formalistic and experiential type of definitions. To them religion is never an abstract set of ideas, values or experiences developed apart from the total cultural matrix. Religion is only partly studied if it is not seen as part of a longer social order. Sociologists perceive religion as a social institution related to the structure and processes of human societies and which reflects and affects the stratification systems in society, political and economic processes, levels of integration and conflict and the course of social change[2]. In this essay since we assess the impact of religious violence on the formation of civil society we will deal with religion from the sociological and anthropological perspectives.

 

Violence: The word violence makes us think of acts of destruction; how one is made the object of physical abuse. It is exertion of any physical force considered with reference to its effect on another than the agent. An expanded definition of violence can be found in the Latin root, violare meaning to violate. Whatever violates another in the sense of infringing upon or abusing the other, whether physical harm involved or not, can be understood as an act of violence.[3] We understand here the meaning of violence in terms of its Latin context which embraces all sorts of violations done against another.

Civil society: Understanding civil society through definitions is a difficult task because definitions make sense only if the subject concerned is a repeated phenomenon before our eyes. Civil society is not an institution which survives permanently. It emerges at special moments of history, when the conscious members of society perceive a gap between the social aspiration of the people and the opportunities given to them by the State. In Europe, civil society expressed the views of Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau who envisaged a society founded essentially upon the liberty and equality of men. When the citizen is denied his rights, the elites engage in debates and discussions for a new order and these discourses give shape to the form of the civil society. Thus civil society is here seen as an intermediate institution between the individuals and the State, which grants liberty, equality and fraternity to all citizens when the government seems to fail in exercising the liberating mission of the Constitution.[4]

2. Psycho-social backdrop of religious violence

 

2.1 Myths, Rituals and Cultural Unconscious

The constituent elements of  culture are symbols, myths and rituals. Myths, especially founding myths tell us that we are a unique group in the world with a particular destiny. Myths are the memory bank for people as they tell us of past defeats and victories. It is through myths that we are raised above the ordinary things of life; they give us powerful visions of what can be and the energy to do what must be done to realize them. Little wonder that people are prepared to act violently against those who dare to question or suppress their myths. Nor is it surprising if people are tempted to violence when their myths disintegrate or cease to be operative in life. Myths recounting former defeats can arise in people the desire to revenge the humiliation. When a people experiences disintegration they feel the urge to rediscover and relive their creation myth.

The function of rituals is to impose, strengthen and reaffirm conformity to the status quo as desired by leaders of a particular society. The national flag is such a powerful symbol of national identity that its raising carries considerable ritual importance especially in times of national tragedy. Following the terrorist assaults on the US in 2001 the whole country was aflutter with flags; tiny flags were attached even to baby carriages. Their display was a ritual of defiance and reaffirmation of the identity signifying that Americans would not be coerced into submission. Ritual can be a powerful way also to degrade people. For example the parade of those who were taken in hostage at the American Embassy in Iran in 1979 through the streets of Teheran symbolized the humiliation of American nation.

Cultures through their myths and symbols have an innate tendency to create feelings like ‘us and them’. This happens by subscribing most often unconsciously to rooms of purity and pollution. The fear of pollution defines and protects the boundaries of group.   Groups see their own cultures as clean or pure and others as dirty or impure and therefore to be eliminated. The Islamic fundamentalists regard Western civilization as polluting force to be kept at a distance or destroyed. Hitler considered that Jews endangered the purity of Aryans and so had to be eliminated.

Walter Wink speaks of the Myth of ‘redemptive violence’ in Western society. By this he means that violence is necessary for a society’s continued existence. Violence is presented as something that solves conflict. Even the threat of violence is able to stop aggressors. Violence is redemptive in the sense that it restores the society to a state of peace and justice[5].

In short, to disintegrate one’s myths is equal to destroy ones self itself. Groups will therefore resort to violence when their cultural symbols or rituals are attacked. They will try to regain their lost identity by way of promoting violence in and through the celebration of its myths and rituals.

2.2 Communal Identity and Violence

There are three processes that interact in the perpetuated construction of communal identities. First, there are everyday practices of neighborliness often marked by discrete stereotypes in the communities about the other. In India today, the relatively limited interaction across the communities is worsened by a relative separation of economic activities. The interaction of Hindus with Muslims is more and more limited on account of the widespread stereotypes they have concerning the dirtiness and food habits of Muslims. The stereotype that works among Muslims against Hindus is that of their cowardice and lack of firmness. Hindus are weak and afraid. And they dare to fight only in group whereas Muslims are brave, know how to fight, and never give up even when the enemy is outnumbered[6].

Second factor that forms the communal identity is the narratives, rumors and experiences of riots which perceive the other as the source of absolute evil and brutality.  Wandering stories are recycled again and again (about gang rape, poisoning of food and water, decapitations, etc.) during riots. The proliferation of these narratives demonizes the other community and suspends the normal parameters of honour and humanity.

The third dimension of the complex reproduction of communal violence is the organization and dissemination of an inferior political identity. In India, among Muslims the modes of identification of self and community seem to be organized around a fatalistic acceptance of being caught in a marginalized position In India. Whereas, in the case of Hindus, the display of discipline and power at Friday Namaz in the Muslim world evokes in them a sense of fear and fascination[7].

The fundamental reason behind the formation of inferior identity is lack of self esteem, self respect and self discipline. The image of the strong and lustful other is always characterized by fascination. The communities always fantasize about the special ways in which the other enjoys life, ultimately revealing to themselves ways in which they could also have more fun in life. The inability to control the self, to discipline one’s enjoyment, and to unfold fully one’s own enjoyment as part of the country produce self hatred and a sense of castration. The community feels to be weak sinful and unfulfilled. The only way to remedy this is destroying the other whose very presence weakens the manliness of the community[8].

During religious festivals thousands of frustrated young men seek to organize their enjoyment by nosily occupying and domesticating public spaces that are normally seen as neutral ground in and around streets, temples and mosques. To attack homes and shops, to burn, to kill and to loot become a way of shedding their own perceived humiliation and a way of restoring masculinity[9].

If brief, violence is stitched into the very process of overcoming the lived inferiority of a community and affirming its masculinity before others.

2.3 Injustice

To characterize violence / terrorism only as the result of a clash of cultures would be unrealistic. A thorough study of the roots of violence calls our attention to the economic underpinnings of the issue. It seems that terrorism emerges fundamentally from the unbalanced distribution of material wealth and democratic rights. When the institutions of governance are not able to assure people prosperity, dignity and liberty it leads to animosity towards the authority. The victims then resort to violence in pursuit of political objectives.[10]

This leads us to the fact that the basic form of violence is injustice. It does not necessarily do any physical harm, yet it is a violation of personhood. It is the institutionalized destruction of human possibilities. It is present whenever the structures of society act so as to depersonalize people by making them objects rather than subjects. When the injustice of society becomes too oppressive it takes the course of revolt. Violence as revolt is directed against the status quo, against those who have the power and are responsible for injustice. Unless and until we get at the root of injustice we will be dealing in only a superficial way with the problem of violence.[11]

We have been trying to grasp the phenomenon of violence from psychological and sociological angles. The above study about the formation and expression of violent culture, communal identities and injustice is taking us to another factor contributing to violence namely religion. The question that has to be answered now is whether violence is intrinsic to religion? Why people accuse religion as responsible for violence?

3. Violence Prone in religions?

When we study the history of religions we come across several incidents where the religious leaders despise other religions as enemies. Crusades are best examples in the history of Christianity. Pope Urban II’s speech was proficient to instigate violence: “I beseech and exhort you – and it is not I but God who beseeches and exhorts you as heralds of Christ – both poor and rich, to make haste to drive that vile breed from the regions inhabited by our brethren, and to bring timely aid to the worshippers of Christ. I speak to those here present, I will proclaim it to the absent, but it is Christ who commands …If those who go thither lose their lives on land or sea during the journey, or in battle against the pagans, their sins will at once be forgiven; … What can I say more? On one side there will be poor wretches, on the other the truly rich; there the enemies of God, here his friends. Pledge yourself without delay.[12]

The justification offered for demolition of the Bamiyan Buddhas on 26th February 2001 was that these graven images offended the religious sentiments of Taliban. Their supreme leader Mullah Mohammed Omar was quoted as saying: ‘I ask Afghans and the worlds Muslims to use their sound wisdom… Do you prefer to be a breaker of idols or a seller of idols? Is it appropriate to be influenced by the propaganda of the infidels? The mode of expressions that President Bush employed over the September 11th terrorist activity also had an extremist slang. He posed the entire problem not in terms of secular international politics but rather as problem of faith. Bush gave the proposed military operation a code name, ‘Infinite Justice’. The reference was again to the belief that only the Lord can bestow infinite justice. America sees itself as the Lord of the universe. It was not president George speaking but rather St. George speaking[13].

In the light of the above-mentioned inglorious stories, can we conclude that violence is native to religions? The answer depends on how we comprehend religions. The social scientists make a difference between religion as faith and religion as an identity. Religion as faith has largely a spiritual function and religion as identity acquires political overtones[14]. As social institution religion is mot merely a set of revelations. It includes also dogmas and laws, which are the results of the interpretations made on the revealed texts to meet the cultural social and sometimes even the political aspirations of the believers. Consequently, some scriptural texts and their interpretations may have extremist slant. Thus  religion as identity is vulnerable to violence.

As evidence, we see the martial metaphors in the Scriptures. The Hebrew Bible contains military exploits of great kings. The great epics Ramayana and the Mahabharata are tales of unending conflict and military intrigue. The ideas of Salvation Army in Christianity, Dal Khalsa in Sikhism, notion of Jihad in Islam, etc. denote images of warfare. These martial metaphors show that religion is an order restoring institution. The institutionalized religions would allow struggle for the order to be restored.  Whenever the religious activists feel commissioned to protect the good from the satanic forces they may draw on violent means. In the Sri Lankan conflict the militant bhikkhus state that the people there live in dukkha, in an immoral world. The conflict is between dhamma and adhamma: order and disorder, religion and irreligion. That means, religions may give moral sanction to violence for the cause of bringing order in the world[15].

If religions, as social institutions, are exposed to the danger of extremism, building up a peaceful society will remain utopist unless creative measures are taken to curb the excessive interpretations of Scriptures. How to protect the revealed texts from disruptive interpretations? The best remedy is religions themselves. Religions as faith possess by nature anti-extremist potentials. The inner dynamism of religions consists in generating universal and pluralistic values, which create solidarity and equality in the society. This is possible because religions, by their origin, are liberative. All the major religions extol the value of self-sacrificing love, non-violence, solidarity of mankind, justice, reverence for life, truthfulness, etc. This is not a over ambitious project because religions, as M. Juergensmeyer has rightly observed, provide images capable of conquering violence too. In rituals, violence is symbolically transformed. Christ’s crucified image induces Christians to sabotage violence. In the Sikh tradition the two edged sword is an example of domestication of violence. Islamic mystics have come out to speak of the true jihad as the one to take place within each person[16].

4. The Collapse of Civil Society in India

Two and half months of continuing violence in Gujarat (2002) and the recent attacks against Christians in Orissa have raised a series of questions regarding the strength of secular fabric of our nation. What surprised most the secular thinkers in both these incidents was that in the face of violence there were not many who could exercise moral authority and rescue the dialogical space. How did it happen? One reason is the erosion of secular culture from Gujarat which gave birth to the sage of non-violence.

4.1 The erosion of Secular Public Institution

In Gujarat, after Gandhi’s death, the void left by him had been immediately sought to be filled by the voluntary sector. The secular movements and NGOs engaged to create lively hood, to defend the human rights, and to solve the issue of Dalits, Adivasis and women in the state. But the race for globalization changed the cultural and political aspirations of the people. The Green and white revolution together with the industrialization got grip of political and social power. The combined effort of the new emerging class – politicians, bureaucrats, business men – found the Gandhian culture as a hindrance in the march towards global economy. The eagerness for money, power and success got over the Gandhian principles of ahimsa, inter-religious fellowship and dignity of human person. It was this morally disintegrated Gujarat that became the laboratory for politics based on collective communal Hindu identity[17]. Violence became a legitimate form of political and cultural intervention in Gujarat. Gandhi’s memory and legacy came to be museumised.

To blame religion alone for horrors of the kind perpetuated in Gujarat would be unscientific and unjust. The accelerating erosion of our public institution the apathy of the judges and the death of professionalism in the civil services are matters of far more concern than the inroads of religion into nation’s politics. Whatever you do religion will affect politics, at times even dominate it particularly in this country. No constitution can effectively fence off our country’s politics form religious prejudice. We have to recognize the failure of leadership and the breakdown of our public institutions in the country specially the civil services.

As Harsh Mander has rightly observed it was the duty of public services in Gujarat to assure that the law and order be kept fearlessly and impartially. If even one higher official had acted courageously in Ahmadabad, there would have been enough police forces and army to halt the violence. He writes: ‘I have heard senior officials blame the communalism of the police constabulary for their connivance in the violence. The same forces have been known to act with impartiality and courage when lead by officers of integrity’[18].

4.2 Violence of Silent Majority

 

In our country after every major communal riot the well wishing citizens reiterate the old cliché – the majority of Indians are secular minded and they believe in living together in peaceful harmony. We interpret the riots as misdeals perpetrated by a gang of criminals only in the pay of unscrupulous politicians in league with a handful of fanatic religious groups. To defend the wishful image of tolerant majority we pick up any news   that describe in some isolated incident a single brave Hindu individual or family saving a Muslim neighbour or vice-versa.

While admiring such courage, needless to say that exception do not always make the rule. We refuse to accept that the silence of the majority provide the social sanction for outbreak of violence. The holocausts in Gujarat and Orissa show that the majority is no longer silent. When the gangsters went on looting and burning the properties of minorities it was not out of fear that the silent majority kept silence. They had loyalty and sympathy for the attackers. We have to admit the stark fact that much tilt has taken place in the mind of Indians during the last decades.

The silent support of the majority in favour of violence is partly due to the antediluvian and communal attitudes of religious leaders. The statements and the customs they dictate during tensed situations accentuate divisive feelings in the minds of believers. It is in this environment that the war-cries like jehad and dharmayuga get easily upper hand among the people.[19]

5. Some concrete steps to counter religious violence

Mankind is today in the midst of one of the greatest cries in history. Despite the fact that the great scientific inventions liberated us from servitude to nature, we seem to suffer from a type of religious neurosis. We need a moral and spiritual therapy, which would heal the human mind. The best medicine would be a new spirituality of religions and the following ones may be some of its constituents.

Propagate noble values of all religions: Ignorance about other religions is a great hurdle in the path of communal harmony. The UNESCO Constitution begins by saying. “As wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that defense for peace must be constructed.” If this remains true the culture of unity and diversity must be instilled in the people educating in them the noble values of all religions. We have to pursue a methodology of education, which helps the people so to understand their own religious traditions as to affirm and celebrate the significance of other religions. Religions, in and through all their academic and cultural institutions, can cultivate human and religious values in the minds of pupils. Initiation to inter-religious prayer gatherings and readings from different Scriptures are to be multiplied all over the country.

Virtue of Interdependence: Every religion has something unique to contribute for the welfare of the world. For example, Islamic life is known for prayerfulness and fellowship, Hindu-Bahai mind for universal vision, Sikh-Buddhist-Jain heart for Courage Compassion and Non-Violence, Parsi intellect for initiative and creativity, Jewish will for strict adherence to law, and Christian spirit for forgiveness and self-sacrifice. But at the same time we know that religions have influenced each other, helped each other and enriched each other in developing their specific virtues. For example, Christianity received from Babylonia the idea of God as the maker of heaven and earth, from Persia the dualism of Satan and God, from Egypt last judgment, from Phrygia the worship of the Great Mother, from Greece and Rome the idea of universal law.[20]

If so, it is naïve to harp on exclusiveness and assert one’s superiority either in belief, or in tradition or in culture. The virtues of interdependence transcend the barrier of caste, creed, race, colour, language and nationality. It can be built up through mutual trust. An atmosphere of understanding one another, not in religious or caste terms but as human beings with same needs, aspirations and obligations is to be created. Ways of worship and objects of worship may be differed, style of life may be varied, language may be different, but these are only the outward manifestations, which need not erode the basic trust in one another as human beings. Peace which is result of trust among the people can prosper only when social interdependence becomes a way of life of the people.[21]

Counter-cultural and political formation: Compared to the activities of communal forces, the resistance put up by the religions is very less now. Today the religious and cultural leaders don’t come forward exposing the failure of police and the bureaucracy during communal violence. Using art forms – painting, music, street plays – have been a method successfully experimented in this sphere.  The cultural forums at the village levers can employ these methods to disaffiliate society from the logic of communalism. The counter cultural formation has to be done also through mass media. Disseminating teachings, stories, legends and myths from different religious traditions would instill in the people universal love and respect for the other. Mere cultural response will not be sufficient if not followed up with more substantive moves on the political front to check the wave of violence.  Solution would be an extensive campaign sponsored by all those sections of civil society, who believe in non-communal politics.

Overcome structural injustice: Violence cannot be checked by maintaining an unjust status quo which is in the advantage of the powerful. Let us avoid situations where a section of people gets so alienated and start believing that violence is the only means to get justice. The way to avert physical violence in our society is to overcome structural violence. What prevents believers from fighting for the justice is the false conception they have regarding religion. Many think that the task of the religious community is to avoid conflict and to reconcile; it should not divide but unite; it should not be a centre of agitation but a source of peace, and so on. This concern is right. But its antithesis is false. Much that passes for the reconciliation is phony reconciliation, covering up conflict rather than confronting it honestly. To stand on the side of justice will make many people unhappy; particularly those who benefit from the structures of injustice and to be on the side of justice will thereby create conflict.

St. Joseph Pontifical Institute

Mangalapuzha, Aluva

e-mail: kundu1962@yahoo.co.in


[1] Encyclopedia Americana, vol.23, USA: Grolier Incorporated, 1988, p. 359.

[2] The New Encyclopedia Britannica, vol. 15, Chicago, 1980, p. 604.

[3] R.M. Brown, Religion and Violence, Philadelphia: the Westminster press, 1973, pp 6-7.

[4] N. Abercrombie, S. Hill & B. S. Turner, Dictionary of Sociology, England: Penguin Books, 1994, p. 56; S. Dasgupta, Civil Society Through Clear Eyes, Economic and Political weekly, vol.35, no.40, September 30, 2000, pp 3614-3615.

[5] G. A. Arbuckle, Violence Society and the Church, Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2004, pp. 12-17; 31

[6] S. Kakar, The Colours of Violence, New Delhi: Penguine Books, 1995, pp. 160-168.

[7] T.B.Hansen, The Saffron Wave, New delhi, Oxford university press, 1999, pp. 207-209.

[8] S. Zizek, For They Know Not What They Do, London: Verso, 1992, p. 200.

[9] A. Feldman, Formation of Violence, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991, pp. 78-81.

[10] Editorial, Terrorism: Eliminating The Sources, Economic and Political Weekly, vol.36, no.28, September 22, 2001, p. 3569.

[11] R.M. Brown, Religion and Violence, Philadelphia: the Westminster press, 1973, pp 9-13.

[12] P. Regine, The Crusades, London, 1962, pp. 23-24.

[13] GPD, Everyone a Fundamentalist?, Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 36, no. 39, September 29, 2001, pp. 3668-3669.

[14] A.A. Engineer, September 11: Many Messages, Economic and Political Weekly, vol.36, no.42,October 20, 2001, pp.3982-3983.

[15] M. Juergensmeyer, Religious Nationalism Confronts the Secular State, Delhi, 1993, pp. 157-164.

[16] M. Juergensmeyer, Religious Nationalism Confronts the Secular State, Oxford University Press,, 1993, p. 159.

[17] T. Suhrud, No Room for Dialogue, Economic and political weekly, vol.37, no.11, march 16, 2002, pp.1011-1012.

[18] J. B. D’ Souza, Politics, Religion and Our Ailing Public Institutions, Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 37, no. 19, May 11, 2002, pp. 1779-1780.

[19] S. Banerjee, When the silent majority backs a violent minority,  Economic and Political weekly, vol.37, no.13, March 30, 2002, pp. 1183-84.

[20] S. Radhakrishnan, The Present Crisis of Faith, 51-58.

[21] S. K. Parmar, Inter-religious Co-operation for Peace and Value Education: Response to Consumerism and Communalism, Peace and Values Education, K. P. Joseph [ed.], 30-33.

Reception of Inter-religious Dialogue in India

Reception of Inter-religious Dialogue in India

Dr Vincent Kundukulam

Vincent Kundukulam

 

 

To assess the reception of the Second Vatican Council by the Indian Church with regard to inter-religious dialogue is a complex exercise for many reasons. First of all, the initiatives for dialogue vary from place to place on account of different local factors. Besides, the fact of reception is not uniform in theological and practical realms. To take stock of the dialogical scenario in India is also difficult due to the lack of serious research already done on this topic. Nevertheless, this task is indispensable if we want to carry on the achievements of the Council to the present day. This paper is a humble attempt to inquire into the perspectives and practices that are emerged in Indian Church in the sphere of dialogue after the Council.

We will commence by clarifying the key terms of this article – reception and dialogue.  Secondly, we will resume the basic intuitions as regards Church’s attitude towards Non-Christians in the documents of Lumen gentium, Gaudium et spes, Ad gentes and Nostra aetate. Next section will be an illustration and evaluation of the theology and practice of dialogue in India. This will follow the problems and challenges that the mission of dialogue confronts in our country. In conclusion we will make some proposals to keep at the orientations of Council about dialogue in India.

1) Clarification of terms

Reception: The concept of ‘reception’ raises before us a certain number of questions: Is reception purely a human endeavor? Do humans need divine assistance to follow the teachings of Church? Does reception point to merely a democratic process that looks for majority’s consensus? Can we reduce reception to the passive acceptance of a hierarchical position by a local Church? Who is ultimately responsible for reception – theologians, faithful or hierarchy? When is the process of reception completed:  by mere acceptance of a document or by implementing its suggestions?

To discuss the above mentioned questions is beyond the scope of this article. Therefore,  I remain here with the stance taken by Evelyn Monteiro, who after studying this point summarizes the following: ‘A document can be said to have been received at the outset if it is faithful to Christian experience and is in continuity with the tradition of the Church. Secondly, reception is not merely a juridical determination, either of authority or on the part of the faithful; as Lumen gentium no: 12 remind us, ‘the whole Church is involved in grasping the Christian truth’. Thirdly the reception will occur only when the document is sensitive to the demands of current Christian situation. Finally, reception does not confer validity to a universal document; rather acknowledges its worth for the local Church and thus imparts certain credibility to the statement[1].  We will therefore understand reception in this article in an integral sense i.e. loyalty to the magisterium which is to be derived through the process of dialogue where the entire people of God in a local Church expresses their sensus fidelium in a responsible way under the help of the Holy Spirit.

Dialogue: Dialogue has become inevitable for peaceful co-existence in the contemporary world. For Church, dialogue is not a strategy of co-existence but a constituent of her identity. She is originated from God’s initiative to dialogue with the humanity. Jose Kuttianimattathil, in his book, ‘The practice and theology of inter-religious dialogue’ has proposed a description of inter-religious dialogue, which I think, is fitting for our understanding of dialogue in this discussion. ‘It may be described as all positive and constructive inter-religious relations, be it through living and working together, study and discussions, witness and sharing in depth, prayer and contemplation, etc. by religiously committed individuals and communities of one religious tradition with those of other faiths, which are directed at mutual enrichment and commitment to joint-action for the integral liberation of people, in obedience to truth and respect for freedom’[2].

2) Insights of the Council regarding Dialogue

In the Second Vatican Council, Lumen gentium, Gaudum et spes, Ad gentes and Nostra aetate are the main documents which enclose orientations for inter-religious dialogue.

The prime concept that promotes dialogue in these documents is unity of the human race: ‘All men stem from one stock and share in a common destiny, God. God’s providence, goodness and saving designs extend to all humans’ (NA 1). Consequently even those who have not received the gospel are related to the People of God. The plan of salvation includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Moslems… Nor is God remote from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, since he gives to all men life and breadth and all things (Acts 17, 25-28). Those who seek God with a sincere heart, and try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation. Whatever good or truth is found amongst them is considered by the Church to be a preparation for the Gospel. (LG 16) The humble and preserving investigator of the secrets of nature is also led by the hand of God. In any case believers, no matter what their religion, have always recognized the voice and the revelation of God in the languages of creatures. (GS 36)

Another point in the Council that boosted the dialogue initiatives is the rediscovery of the role of the Holy Spirit in the world. Without doubt, the Holy Spirit was at work in the world before Christ was glorified (AG 4). The activity of the Holy Spirit is not restricted to the Catholic Church; He directs the course of time and renews the face of the earth (GS 26). Consequently, Church understood herself as a worldwide reality than merely a Europe-centered religion. As Spirit is active in the religious traditions of the world, it is proper that Church enters into dialogue with them in order to recognize the riches of God present in them and realize God’s plan on earth.

Council fathers stressed also God’s universal salvific plan. All men, including those who do not possess an explicit knowledge of God, are exposed to the presence of the saving grace of Christ because the whole humankind is called by the grace of God to salvation (LG 13,16). God wills all men be saved (I Tim 2,4). ‘Since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the paschal mystery (GS 22). The Spirit reaches the depth of everything and that the Spirit blows where it pleases (Jn 3, 8).

In the light of the above-said theological stands, Council observed that other religions are not mere human enterprises. Whatever truth and grace are found among them is a sort of secret presence of God. Therefore the Fathers advised the faithful ‘to reject nothing of what is true and holy in these religions’. They affirmed that Church keeps a high regard for the manner of life and conduct, the precepts and doctrine which, although differing in many ways from her teaching, nevertheless, often reflect a ray of truth which enlightens all men (NA 2). They encouraged the faithful to collaborate with other believers. ‘The Church, therefore, urges her sons to enter with prudence and charity into discussion and collaboration with members of other religions.  Let Christians, while witnessing to their own faith acknowledge, preserve and encourage the spiritual and moral truths found among non-Christians, also their social life and culture’ (NA 2). The Sacred Council begs Christian faithful to conduct themselves well among the Gentiles and if possible, depends on them, to be at peace with them and thus be true sons of the Father who is in heaven (NA 5). In brief, Council refused the old exclusive adage – Outside Church no salvation -and recognized positive values in other religions.

3) Areas of reception

Dialogue with other religious cultures is not truly a post Vatican reality in India. Since the very beginning, Christians, in particular the St. Thomas Christians in Kerala, kept friendly relation with the surrounding religions. But Council’s position is decisive in the sense that the universal Church officially encouraged dialogue with other faith traditions.

3.1 Theological reception

The positive attitude of the Council towards other faiths enhanced Indian theologians and pioneers of dialogue to elaborate a theology of dialogue proper to their contexts.  In 1989, the CBCI Commission for Dialogue and Ecumenism brought out the ‘Guidelines for Inter-religious Dialogue’, a unique text that explains the raison d’etre and dynamism of dialogue-ministry.

According to this document, ‘dialogue is both an attitude and an activity of committed followers of various religions who agree to meet and accept one another and work together for common ideals in an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust. They do not meet in superficial manner leaving aside their religious convictions. Rather they reach out for each other from the very core of their respective faiths, for they are confident that not only what they have in common but also those things in which they differ can provide a motive for coming together’. The Commission elaborates also the attitudes for genuine dialogue. They are prayer, commitment to faith, willingness to change, truthfulness, honesty, humility, spirit of forgiveness, knowledge of the other and sense of justice. The dangers to be avoided in the mission of dialogue are unwillingness to accept other as different, attitude of suspicion, desire to score a point over the other, syncretism and indifferentism[3].

The theology of dialogue developed in India can be traced also from the statements of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Annual Meetings of the Indian Theological Association. These meetings define dialogue ‘as a mode of being and a way of life. It is a sharing and a process of mutual enrichment. Like all realities dialogue also contains a paradox: commitment to one’s own ideals and acceptance of others. Genuine dialogue implies that the partners respect one another and learn from one another. Hence there can be no dialogue without accepting the equality of partners’[4].  In order to conduct dialogue meaningfully, says the Indian theologians, ‘we should be aware of the limitations of our own faith-experience. While holding to the specificity of faith we have to transcend the limits of the same in order to experience the ineffable mystery of God. We thus recognize ourselves as pilgrims in Christ to that fullness of truth which is beyond all claims of expression and possession. No religion can exist in isolation; nay more, a religion that is not open to the other becomes irreligious. In a pluralistic society to be religious is to be inter-religious’[5].

The advocates of dialogue in India elaborated also frameworks that would facilitate reading of non-Christian Scriptures and participation in their worship. Under the leadership of D.S. Amalorpavadass, a Research Seminar on Non-Biblical Scriptures was organized at Nagpur in 1975 and the proposals of this Conference became the torchlight for the Catholics in using other Scriptures. The prominent reason they emphasized was Holy Spirit’s active presence outside the confines of Church. Thanks to the works of the Spirit other Scriptures reflect genuine religious experiences of those people. Reading the Non-Christian scriptures the Christians will be better equipped for a more profound sharing with the members of other religions. It will help them discover the universal will of God expressed in other faith traditions. [6]

3.2 Reception via Praxis

Envisaging mission as being a leaven in the world, the supporters of dialogue began ashrams and centers in various parts of the country to promote interaction among the believers of religions. The main activities of such centers are the following.

Monthly meetings: Most of the dialogue centers conducted ordinary meetings in which believers from all religions participated. These meetings begin by a prayer. It comprises lighting the Indian lamp, chanting devotional songs, readings from the Sacred Scriptures, lectures on special themes, discussion of the participants, sharing a small meal, etc.

Seminars: Once in a while, the dialogue groups host seminars where the scholars from different religions are invited to make systematic presentation on a chosen theme and that is followed by discussion in the group.

Experience Sharing: Some hardly arrange dialogue meetings. They feel that sharing of experiences are more fruitful than the arranged dialogues. Fr. Bede Griffiths writes: ‘It is one thing to know about a particular religion by reading and discussion but it is another thing to know a person. After all there is no such thing as Hinduism; there are only Hindus each living and experiencing his religion in a different way. There is no such thing as Christianity; there are only Christian men and women, living out their faith from day to day. Dialogue teaches one not to encounter an abstract doctrine but to discover the living reality of religion[7]. X. Irudayaraj who has been pioneering the dialogue sessions in St. Paul’s Seminary Tiruchy expresses the same view:  ‘As secretary to the meetings I used to worry choosing themes for dialogue. But now I see that the ‘themes present themselves’ as we focus on sharing and praying together and I have come to realize that dialogue consists more in silent togetherness than in verbal exchange[8].

 

Celebration of festivals: The festal gatherings not only build up inter-religious friendship but also help people to get acquainted with the spiritual meaning of the rituals and customs of other religions and strengthen their own personal spiritual lives.

Common Pilgrimage: The interfaith groups go to places of pilgrimage once in a year. This includes also visiting religious institutions of the participants. Such visits help the members remove the doubts and misunderstandings regarding other believers and get in touch with the worship of their co-religionists.

Co-operation in the social field: Common activities by members of different religions are a form of inter-religious dialogue. Certain dialogue units undertake public services in view of nation-building. Some others take up a wide range of issues pertaining to human rights and freedom of the backward people in the country. The activists of dialogue engage also in exorcizing the demons of casteism, regionalism and communalism. Through these sorts of action-oriented programs people come to know about the liberative drive of religions and stick on to religions to solve the issues of life.

Inculturation: The process of inculturation got momentum immediately after the Council. The liturgy began to be celebrated in the vernacular languages. In many places churches and chapels were constructed in Indian style. Indian music, bhajans and dance were introduced into liturgy.  Oil lamps replaced candles and arati took the place of the thurible in worship. Priests, religious and seminarians became interested in studying Indian spirituality and yoga. Christian ashrams sprang up in different corners of the country.  But these days, a sort of frozenness is installed in indigenization, partly due to the disciplinary guidelines from different ecclesial corners.

 

Live-together Sessions: The live-in programmes are those in which members of different religions come together for some days of staying together. They are arranged in quiet and beautiful places. During these days the participants meditate, sing, eat and conduct sat-sang as one community. Dialogue goes to the deepest level when the members live together in proximity for days through prayer, contemplation, cooking and eating, discussion and cultural activities.

Through these various types of practical dialogue participants get the conviction that all religions are willed by God in his mysterious economy of salvation. They are meant by God to throw light on one another, enrich one another and stimulate one another in seeking Him and serving the humanity.

4) Evaluation of the reception

Though it is difficult to determine exactly the status of inter-religious dialogue in India in the existing paradigms of theology of religions – ecclesio-centrism, christo-centrism, theo-centrism, and soterio-centrism[9] – we will make a random classification in order to have a bird’s-eye view on the situation of dialogue ministry in Indian Church. The following comments are not based on any scientific study but in the light of my experiences with those who are involved in dialogue under different capacities in India.

Starting from above, majority of the bishops in India attest the positive and open attitude of the Council towards other religions. Since pluralism has become an irreversible fact of today’s culture they come out to recognize in public other religions as ways of salvation to their respective believers. This position is closer to the theology of salvific grace, a position held by Karl Rahner. But when the ecclesial authorities speak within the board of Christians they may be content with the theology of accomplishment i.e. all religions are natural religions and Christianity is the supernatural religion.

There may be only a least minority in the hierarchy who, in both private and public circles, attribute to other religions an authentic salvific value. While holding firm on the unique mediatorship of Christ they may consider gods of other religions as co-mediations of salvation for the world.   Such bishops don’t express satisfaction vis-à-vis the ‘going-back attitude’ of the recent official documents regarding dialogue. They are deeply sad about the ghetto culture that is getting momentum among the Catholics today. The following comment made by Bishop Patrick D’Souza, Bishop of Varanasi, on Dominus Iesus is an instance. While holding on to what the Church teaches in this document he asks, ‘if there is not a different way telling that Jesus is the only Saviour?’ Can we affirm quantity about God? Is there a way that is not offensive in defending the particularity of Jesus to the Indians? Any true dialogue to be possible the partners must be open to learn from each other. We must not claim to have fully the whole truth. Such a claim will not only be a sign of foolish arrogance, but also a denial of the pilgrim character of the Church. A Christian can respect other faiths without surrendering his/her commitment to the central declaration of the Scripture. The oldest as well as the briefest confession of faith in the NT is Jesus is the Lord; He is the way, the Truth and the Life. It is different from saying that Jesus is the only Saviour.[10].

Among the theologians and activists who thrive after inter-religious dialogue a major section will hold on some of the intuitions related to either theo-centric and soterio-centric attitudes while being at the same time faithful to inclusive Christo-centrism. They are not happy while Magisterium imposes in a unilateral way its documents on the local Churches. Paul Puthenangady remarks: ‘We all believe that the local Church is not a branch of the universal Church. Every local Church is fully Church on its own right, in communion with the Universal Church. If this is true universal magisterium need not be a one-way traffic. The local Churches have the duty and right to contribute effectively in the formulation the universal magisterium. Magisterium is more a communication leading to communion than an instruction following the style of a teacher-pupil relationship’[11].

Coming to the laity, they are not very much worried about the dogmatic formulations regarding dialogue. What matters them is the praxis of dialogue. The relation of the Christians towards other believers in India depends on various factors. Among them we will mention only two here. a) The antiquity, numerical strength, and economic status of Christians in a region: For example, where Christians are numerically weak they go for healthy relationship with others while in areas where Christians have considerable strength they are reluctant for cultural integration. Since they can stand on their own legs, they will not be ready to make any sacrifice for the sake of dialogue. b) Christian involvement in dialogue may vary also according to the forms of dialogue. Laity feels at ease with the ‘dialogue of life’ and the ‘dialogue of action’ if the Hindus in the region are not averse to such initiatives. But they are not very much disposed to the dialogue of prayer. Joining other believers in worship seems to be disastrous for their faith because reverence shown to Hindu deities is equal to idolatry for them.

5) Problems and Challenges

a) Though the official documents of the Council encouraged the ministry of dialogue the Catholics in the mainstream have not fully accepted it. Even now, the mission is confined to the traditional forms of apostolate such as education, social service, medical care, etc. It is difficult for them to shift from the institutional services to the people oriented ministry. They consider dialogue a waste of time. Some ask: What have you achieved in all these years? To the traditional Catholics mission must lead to tangible results such as baptism and consolidation of the visible structure of the Church.

b) Another block in the way of dialogue is the fear of the Catholics. They fear that appreciation for other faiths and joining their celebrations may dilute or betray the Christian faith. They see in this ministry a danger of syncretism. A handful of Christians consider the Hindu spiritual exercise like Yoga, as diabolic’. Felix Machado, who had been in charge of the dialogue mission at Mumbai and now bishop, writes: ‘The suspicion comes from the people of my own religious community as well as from other religions. The people of my religious tradition either want me to dialogue with the intention of propagating religion or they think that dialogue is compromising the revelation of God. It is obvious that I cannot enter into dialogue with the hidden agenda of propagating my religious tradition on others. That would simply not be dialogue[12].

c) Another challenge that comes up in the path of dialogue is the manner in which we Christians articulate the uniqueness of Jesus. Dialogue presupposes that no one claims to have the fullness of truth and that the partners accept each other as equals. Any hint of superiority will disturb the process of dialogue. As regards the doctrine of the uniqueness of Christ I have heard Hindus saying: Why can’t you accept Christ also as one saviour? Swami Siddhinathananda referring to Vivekananda’s speech in the Parliament of Religions which was held in Chicago 1893 says: ‘All are God’s children and all have equal right to the Father’s love and legacy. God is neither Hindu, nor Christian nor Muslim. There is no wall or fence in heaven. God is not sectarian or doctrinaire. He will respond to any call from any one in any place and in any language, if it is sincere and earnest. This has been the approach of the religions of Indian origin[13].

d) Ministry of dialogue faces challenge also from the staunched Hindus who look at the dialogue initiatives as a new tactic for conversion. Sr. Vandana Mathaji who have done the dialogue pilgrimage from 1971 onwards in different places like Christa Prem Seva Ashram in Pune, in Rishikesh, in the Himalayas and in the West refers to a question that is often raised by Hindus: Why should Christians who for all these years have been happy to follow Christ suddenly bend over backwards to take on Indian names, bhajans, kirtans, japa, Bharat Natyam and Hindu gestures? Is this so-called inculturation a new stunt for conversion? – the old wolf in a new sheepskin?.[14]

6) Concluding remarks

Problems are many in the path of dialogue. But we cannot abandon this mission for it is one of the essential constituents of evangelization today. In this concluding part, I would like to make two suggestions, which may strengthen the mission of dialogue.

a) The basic requirement for the success of inter-religious initiatives of the Church is to have Catholics with genuine spirituality. Spirituality is the only uniting factor in the world. Anything without God creates division. Wealth, power and fame are making people more self-centered and competitive. The mission of dialogue will flourish only that day when the number of the faithful interested in spiritual quest augments. People with spiritual outlook will never question about the usefulness of dialogue. Gispert Sauch writes: ‘What profit do I obtain from the experience of dialogue? The main fruit is that we are enabled to love more deeply believers of other faiths. We know them precisely in that by which they are different from us. The mystery of dialogue is that in accepting and affirming difference we come closer to people. Our experiences of dialogue lead us to the very mystery of God. We become aware of the incomprehensible mystery that surrounds us and in which all exist. Even when we confess that fullness of God dwells in Christ still He remains a mystery. In the experience of our inability to speak adequately about God and in the realization that others too experience the same inadequacy we are drawn deeper into that silence which is deepest form of adoration we can offer to God’[15].

b) Another necessary element for the betterment of dialogue ministry is that Christians recognize the identity other faiths. If Christians perceive themselves as superior to other ways of salvation it will endanger the spirit of inter-religious fellowship. Accepting in others only that which is Christian and rejecting the rest is equal to denying their alterity. The participants have to constantly purify the motives behind dialogue initiatives. Christians must recognize in other revelations some irreducible elements which is unknown to Christianity. This does not mean that those who engage in dialogue cannot take up a definite stand regarding their own faith. Commitment to one’s own faith is not an obstacle to dialogue if the person is ready to award the same right to others.  What endangers dialogue is the triumphant attitude saying: ours is the only true religion and others are false.

Any religion without dialogue has the potential danger of alienation. And alienation breeds non-communication and non-communication leads to communalism. In dialogue, partners are called to be at the service of God who transcends all religions. Pope John Paul II said, ‘Dialogue is a sign of the hope that religions of the world are becoming more aware of their shared responsibility for the well-being of the human family[16]’. As Bernard Ugeux says, ‘to turn towards the believer of another religion with respect to learn how to understand him and to discover the values that make him live is to reproduce concretely the attitude that Jesus-Christ always sought to promote in his encounter with people’[17].


[1] E. Monteiro, The theological and ecclesiological concept of reception in the tradition of the Church, Paper presented in Bishops – Theologians Colloquium, held from 26th  to 28th November 2003, at NBCLC Bangalore.

[2] Jose Kuttianimattathil, Practice and Theology of Inter-religious Dialogue, Bangalore: Kristu Jyothi Publications, 1998, p. 592.

[3] CBCI Commission for Dialogue and Ecumenism, Guidelines for Inter-religious Dialogue, New Delhi: CBCI Centre, 1989, nos: 31, 40-55.

[4] Statement of Indian Theological Association, Twelfth Annual Meeting, December 28-31, 1988, Towards Theology of Religions: An Indian Christian Perspective, Religious Pluralism, K. Pathil (ed.), Delhi: ISPCK, 1991, p. 331.

[5] Statement of the Indian Theological Association, Thirteenth Annual Meeting, December 28-31, 1989, Towards an Indian Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism, , Religious Pluralism, K. Pathil (ed.), , Delhi: ISPCK, 1991, pp. 343 – 348.

[6] Sharing Worship, Final Statement of the Interdisciplinary Research Seminar 20-25 January 1988, Bangalore: NBCLC, 1988, pp. 21-22

[7] B. Griffiths, My Reflections, Inter-faith Dialogue in Tiruchirapalli, Madras: Aikkiya Alayam, 1978, p. 139.

[8] X. Irudayaraj, My Experience, Inter-faith Dialogue in Tiruchirapalli,  Madras: Aikkiya Alayam, 1978, p. 146-147.

[9] Eclessio-centrists think that outside Church there is no salvation; the Christo-centrists see Jesus as the only source of salvation; for the Theo-centrists God is the centre of salvation and for the Soterio-centrists no matter who saves; what matters is whether people are saved from oppression.

[10] P. D’Souza, A Brief Reflection, Paper presented in the Bishops – Theologians Colloquium, held from 26th  to 28th November 2003, at NBCLC Bangalore.

[11] P. Puthanangady, Reception of universal magisterium in the local Church from the perspective of inculturation, Paper presented in the Bishops – Theologians Colloquium, held from 26th  to 28th November 2003, at NBCLC Bangalore.

[12] Felix Machado, My Dialogue Pilgrimage, Pilgrims of Dialogue, A. Pushparajan (ed.), Munnar: Sangam Dialogue Centre, 199, p. 181.

[13] S. Siddhinathananda, Dialogue, Pilgrims of Dialogue, op. cit., p. 81.

[14] Vandana Mathaji, Ongoing learning to dialogue: Some Experiences and Reflections, Pilgrims of Dialogue, op. cit., pp. 87-88.

[15] Gispert Sauch, Dialogue and Life, Pilgrims of Dialogue, op. cit., p. 118.

[16] Dialogue with the World Religions, Origins, 29/24, Nov. 25, 1999, p. 398.

[17] Bernard Ugeux, Reflections on the Inter-religious dialogue 40 years after Nostra aetate, ‘Vatican II A Gift and a Task: International Colloquium to mark the 40th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’ 18-20 November 2005, Jnana-Deepa Vidhyapeeth, Pune,

Conversion in the Hindutva Context

Conversion in the Hindutva Context

Dr Vincent Kundukulam

Vincent Kundukulam

Introduction

The history of religions is a history of religious conversions and reconversions. Conversion from one religion to another has always been an issue of friction when it brings the individual in conflict with the family, neighbour and society. Today the issue of conversion has become very crucial in India because here every convert represent a vote transferred from one party to another. Church, which is called to read the signs of time and to witness Gospel in the model of incarnation, has to take seriously the challenges raised by conversion in India. This paper aims at understanding the phenomenon of conversion in the Hindutva context and searching the elements for a theology of conversion, which is adapted to the Indian context. We will begin with exposing the Hindutva perspectives on change of religion. Secondly, a few reflections regarding the social cultural legal and theological implications of conversions will be in order.  We will conclude by discussing the viability of belonging in multiple ways to the Church, without necessarily becoming its visible member.

 

1. Preliminary Notions

 

Conversion: The term conversion has several connotations as it has been looked at from different angles. To some it is a change from one religion to another, to others a divine act in a person’s life, or a psychological experience, a radical change in individual behaviour or a cultural change in a community. In this paper, we understand conversion in a holistic sense: as the radical changes that happen to an individual or a group in behaviour and culture, including religious affiliation.

Hindutva: This is a name given by V. D. Savarkar (1883-1966) to denote the interpretation of Hindu dharma, that he has developed in his work: Hindutva – Who is a Hindu? Kesav Baliram Hedgewar (1889-1940), who founded the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in 1925, had a great admiration for Savarkar and accepted Savarkar’s philosophy as the ideology of the RSS. M. S. Golwalkar (1906-1973), the successor of Hedgewar, modified and structured the visions of Savarkar regarding Hindu nation and Hindu culture and the stature of Non-Hindus in India. His philosophy is mainly elaborated in his two books We or Our Natiobhood Defined and Bunch of Thoughts. The RSS, the father organization of the Hindu extreme movements today, sees that its more than fifty affiliates grow faithfully in the spirit of Hindutva. Hindutva is thus not a finished ideology. It is in the process of fabrication through the strategy of syncretism (V. Kundukulam, RSS Enthu Engottu?, pp. 91-92).

2. Hindutva perspective

Ishanand Vempeny begins his book on conversion with the following sarcastic note: ‘If when a Pakistani politician gets up in the morning the first thought that comes to his mind is of Kashmir and if when a Chinese politician gets up the first thought is of Tibet, the first thought for a member of the Sangh Parivar would be conversion’ (Conversion: National debate or Dialogue?, p. 9). This is rather true because even a moderate Swayamsevak like Vajpayee raised the question of conversion in 1999 while Sangh Parivar forces attacked Christian missions and missionaries in Gujarat. But it is worth to know why does conversion become an obsession for the Sangh Parivar. There exist different tendencies in RSS towards conversion (V. Kundukulam, RSSum Christava Sabhayum, pp. 31-40). Some are vehemently against it while some others permit it with conditions.

Conversions with conditions: a) Conversion can be allowed if the person concerned has a thorough knowledge of both the religion he has been practising and the religion, which he goes to embrace. The term “matham” (religion) means opinion in the Indian context. Formation of an opinion is mainly an intellectual activity and it has to be achieved after sufficient reflection.

b) Individual conversion can be permitted but not the mass conversion. The right to change the religion is an individual one. In case of mass conversion an individual is not capable of exercising his personal freedom.

c) Conversion due to ignorance, allurement and force are to be condemned. The Sangh complains that the missionaries manipulate the ignorance of the poor illiterates: ‘The missionaries put the statues of tribal gods into a pot full of water and those statues are drowned. Then they put the cross made out of bamboo, into the same pot. When the cross lies on the surface of water they say “Christ is more powerful than the tribal gods”. The illiterate tribals get converted to Christianity’ (Janmabhumi, 10 march 1999).

Absolute opposition to conversion: Main reasons are the following. a) Conversion from one religion to another is against the very nature of religion. Religion is that which indicates the way to God. If all religions lead man to the same God why should one change his religion? Conversion is incomprehensible for religious man. (D. N. Mishra, The RSS- Myth and Reality, pp. 118-121)

b) Bharat has sufficient religions adapted to its culture and hence needs no further religions: ‘Indians are already religious. There are various religions here to take care of their needs. Even the tribals, who do not have institutionalized religions, are leading a virtuous life and in that sense they are religious. There is no need of converting them into another religion.’  (Interview done by the author with R. R. Mishra, President of Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram in Surguja, MP, January 1994).

c) Conversion creates conflicts in the society. When Christians claim superiority of their religion and earns adherents from other religions the latter feel sorry for having lost their followers. This gives rise to the conflicts among religions. To maintain peace in a multi religious country like India conversion must be forbidden (V. Kundukulam, Les mouvements nationalists hindous et leur attitudes a l’egard des Chretiens, Eglise d’Asies, June 1995, p.19). More than the above said reasons what make the Sangh Parivar turn against Christian conversion are cultural and political factors.

d) Conversion from Hinduism to Christianity creates cultural alienation or ‘deculturisation’ of the converted people. When one becomes the member of a Church, he leaves aside Hindu customs and rituals and often he commences to tarnish the Hindu gods and practices. Arun Shourie in the introduction to Harvesting Our Souls writes: ‘The conversion of even an individual causes grave disruption. His family is torn apart. Tensions erupt in the community. This is all the more so because after converting him the converts make the person do and say things that grievously offend the original community of the person. The individual is led to not just repudiate but denounce gods and rituals in which he has grown up, to do things which are forbidden in his original religion or community – for instance, to eat flesh which is prohibited’ (Harvesting Our Souls, pp. 1-2).

e) The major issue is that conversion has political consequences. In democracy number counts: number means power, number means money and number means various other desired ends. If conversion is allowed it will reduce the Hindu strength in the country. Deoras, the Sarsanghchalak of RSS (1973-1994) explains it with the example of Kerala: ‘Today there are 25 percent Christians and 20 percent Muslims in Kerala. That is why their votes become important, very important during elections. There are two major political groups – the Congress and the Communists. Both of these groups have to compromise because of these vote-banks’ (Country’s Unity a Must, p. 12). The separatism is increasing in other Christian majority states like Nagaland, Missoram, etc. and so the conversions must be stopped. In the words of Golwalkar, the one who laid ideological basis of RSS, conversion subverts loyalty. ‘Conversion of Hindus into other religions is nothing but making him succumb to divided loyalty in place of having undivided and absolute loyalty to nation. It is dangerous to the security of the nation and the country’ (Bunch of Thoughts, p. 225).

The Hindutva claims may raise the following questions in our mind. Even though knowledge has an important place in the pursuit of truth, can we restrict the discovery of truth to mere intellectual search? Man is a social being. A group of people, which was living under oppression may reflect together about their oppressed state and may take collectively a serious step in the path of religious and social liberation. If that is the case how can one forbid mass conversion? Each religion has its own doctrine, rituals, dogmas, and belief system. One religion may be more appealing to one than the other. But does it mean that one religion is superior to the other? Is it not rather right to say that a particular path is more conducive to an individual than the other? Is it Christian to insist upon conversion as a legitimate way of exercising religious freedom when it causes social tensions and inter-religious conflicts in a country? The Church, called to do her mission receiving inspiration from the mystery of incarnation, is bound by these challenges in witnessing the gospel.

3. Socio-cultural concerns

Although conversion is primarily a matter of individual’s religious life we cannot deal with it as a supernatural phenomenon because it has profound social implications. For Harijans, it has been a weapon to fight against the illegitimate oppression inflicted upon them in the name of social stratification. They use it also to improve their social status. Analysis of Meenakshipuram mass conversion, which took place in Tamil Nadu (1980), shows that the change of religion has been for more solidarity and equality. Muslim community is not a casteless community. It is also divided on the basis of economic status. But the treatment they get in Islam is much better than that they receive from Hindu community. There is no discrimination against them in the places of worship and outside (Y. Antony Raj, Social Impact of Conversion, pp. 27-32).

              Coming to the situation of converted Christians they feel abandoned by the Christians, by the Hindus and by the government. From the moment a Hindu becomes a member of non-Hindu religion the Hindus consider him as an outcaste. As Saldanha says, it is the horizontal dimension that creates problems. Each religious community in India has its own personal laws. Conversion leads to a change of one’s personal laws and social belongingness. The Hindu personal laws alienate thoroughly the converts from their family and society. For example, the Hindu Succession Act of 1956 section 26 affirms that the children of the converted people are excluded from their family patrimony. The convert has to choose then between the loyalty to Christ and that of the Hindu community. (J. Saldhanha, Conversion and Indian Civil Law, pp. 11-13)

              The conversion brings in such a social rupture because for Hindus, religion is first and foremost a way of life rather than the adoration of a particular God. Saldanha after studying the definition of the term Hindu and the 170 court judgments in the past hundred years in India concludes that Hinduism is primarily a samaj dharma, which refers to the civil customs and to the national and social behavior pattern. Even though Hinduism maintains eclecticism in its theology and unlimited liberty for personal faith, its social codes are very rigid (J. Saldanha, Conversion Without Change of Community, Indian Missiological Review 4 (1986), pp. 247-248). Consequently, for the Hindus, the change of religion equals to change of society and it is a treacherous activity.

              To avoid such a brutal social rupture Staffner thinks of a way out according to which the converts can continue to be the members of the Hindu society and at the same time of the Church. To him, it is possible because both religions are not mutually exclusive. Hinduism is primarily a Samaj dharma whereas Christianity a sadhana dharma. Christianity does not demand any special code from the part of Christians. Thus two religions are not incompatible but complementary (H. Staffner, Jesus Christ and the Hindu Community, pp. 89-90).

Staffner’s solution seems to be apparently good. But when we examine it closely it seems to be too naïve. Hinduism is tolerant, but it skeptically views those gods who question its structure. On the part of Christians, even though they respect the local cultures, they cannot be entirely faithful to Samaj dharma of Hindus, which is based on caste system. In fact to be religious and to be social are not two entirely different factors; they are intrinsically related (V. Kundukulam, Conversion and Evangelization, Indian Theological Studies 38, 2nd June 2001, p. 207)

4. Legal Implications

Since Independence, many attempts were made to curtail the right to convert which was enshrined in the Constitution. In 1954, a Member of Parliament introduced into the Lok Sabha the “Indian Converts Bill” but an overwhelming majority rejected it. Later, two important anti-conversion bills were enacted: Orissa Freedom of Religion Act (1967) and the Madhya Pradesh Dharma Swatantrya Adhiniyam (1968). According to these bills, “No person shall convert or attempt to convert, either directly or otherwise, any person from one religious faith to another by the use of force or by inducement or by any fraudulent means nor shall any person abet any such conversion. The terms like force, fraud and allurement are defined with the following meaning. Force shall include a show of force or a threat of injury of any kind including threat of divine displeasure or social excommunication. Fraud shall include misrepresentation or any other fraudulent contrivance. Inducement shall include the offer of any gift or gratification, either in cash or in kind, and the grant of any benefit, either pecuniary or otherwise  (S 2/b-d) (M.P. Raju, Religious Conversion: Legal Implications, pp. 89-91)

On 17 January 1977, a five-member bench of the Supreme Court upheld laws of Orissa and Madhya Pradesh and denied that article 25 grants fundamental right to convert persons to one’s own religion. According to this judgment the article grants the right to transmit or spread one’s religion by a deposition of its tenets. It guarantees the freedom of conscience to every citizen, and not merely to the followers of one particular religion. What is freedom for one is freedom for the other, in equal measure and there can, therefore, be no such thing as a fundamental right to convert any person to one’s own religion. Later the Arunachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act was passed in 1978.

Shri O.P. Tyagi introduced in the Parliament a private Bill, “Freedom of Religion” on 22 December 1978 preventing Christian conversions for the whole of India by use of force, inducement or fraud. According to this Bill, the penalty for converting a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe is imprisonment to the extent of two years and a fine up to five thousand rupees. Any charitable act done in the perseverance or benefiting members of any other religious community resulting in a change of religion could be construed as coming within the ambit of this Bill. Under this bill the responsibility for any conversion will be fixed on the one who performs the ceremony by which a person is converted. The clause requiring registration of conversion with the District Magistrate will expose converts to harassment. (M.P. Raju, Religious Conversion: Legal Implications, p. 52-61)

It is true that the fundamental right to propagate religion is subject to public order and morality. Nobody has the right to convert a person to another religion without his free will. But everybody knows that conversion is the necessary concomitant of an effective preaching. How to strike a balance between the freedom of A to convince B of his views and the freedom of B not to be influenced by A in the pursuit of truth? Can a democratic government rule out the possible change of a person from one political party to another due to the propaganda of the former?

I think that the growing resistance from the part of the Hindus to conversion is to be understood against the background in which article 25 of the Constitution was formulated. In fact, many members in the Constituent Assembly had opposed the right to convert while finalizing the article in 1949. At the end they conceded as a bargain to the minority communities for their not insisting upon separate electorates. There was no genuine conviction concerning this aspect of religious freedom. How long Christians will go on defending the right to convert if the Supreme Court and the general will of the Hindus stand against it?

5. Theological Perceptions

Until the Second Vatican Council, the conversion centered mission work was virulent among missionaries because they thought that mission was incomplete without conversion. But the new trends in ecclesiology and missiology changed their views on conversion.

Lumen Gentium describes Church not as a societal entity on par with other societal structures like the state, but as the mystery of God’s presence in the world, like a sacrament, sign, and instrument of God among people. In this perspective Church is not the Kingdom of God. She is on earth the seed and beginning of that Kingdom (LG 5), She can be a credible sacrament only when she displays to the world the glimmer of God’s reign – reconciliation, peace and new life.

There happened change also in missiology. The Council considered mission not as secondary to the being of Church. It is no more a fringe activity of a established Church. The medium is the message. What we are and what we do is equally important as what we say. As Christ is a missionary of God, Church is community of missionary people. When she becomes the salt, light, servant and yeast of the world and when she pilgrims like a church with others rather than the church for others, she becomes really missionary. (D. Bosch, Transforming Mission, pp. 372-377)

Until the Council, Jesus’ missionary mandate to the disciples (Mt 28, 19-20) was explained as the foundation of mission. But Ad Gentes presented the mission of God as the basis of mission. The Church has its origin in the mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit. The mission of the Church flows from the love of God the Father (AG 2). As God the Father sent the Son and the Spirit, the triune God sends the Church into the world. The primary purpose of the mission can therefore not simply saving souls through baptism but witnessing God’s love in the world. Mission is divinization of the society. Consequently missionaries took distance from the evangelizing works solely aimed at the expansion of the Church. Incarnation became the model of mission. The preaching ceased to be one-way traffic. As Jesus got incarnated in the cultural patterns of humanity, they began to assimilate whatever is good from the life of the addressee before presenting to them the Gospel.

So far we were looking at the issue of conversion in India from different angles. If we take seriously the arguments of Gandhi and those of Sangh Parivar, the socio-political repercussions of conversion, and the changing perceptions in ecclesiology and missiology, I think, we cannot escape envisaging new ways of being the Church in India. I don’t mean here to discuss different forms of missionary activities namely inculturation, dialogue, liberation of dalits, women empowerment, developmental programmes, etc.  We must rather capture the golden opportunity the non-baptized believers of Jesus offer us to renew the Church. We must reflect on how to incorporate the Christ-lovers into the visible Church so as to give an external expression to their mysterious bond with the invisible Church. Several forums of national stature have taken up this question in the past. We will have an over-view of their suggestions.

6. Different modes of Conversion

Follow Christ without baptism: A few Indian thinkers like Ram Mohan Roy pondered over the possibility of a conversion without baptism. They refused to become the members of the Church because they saw the Church’s doctrinal systems as distortions of the Gospel. They want to accept Christ and his teaching without ceasing to be Hindus or not undergoing baptism, which is a trans-community movement. (J. Mattam, ‘Indian Attempts towards a Solution to the Problems of Conversion’, Mission and Conversion, A Reappraisal, pp. 110-116)

Accept Baptism without socio-cultural change: Another group of people were ready to accept baptism but not to entail a break from their original culture and community. For example K.C. Sen and Brahmabandha Upadhyaya received baptism but were highly critical of the organized Church and of its foreignness. Most of them held that Hinduism is a Samaj dharma, which is open to various sadhana dharma. Therefore the converted can be Christian by faith and Hindu by culture.

Fellowship of baptized and unbaptized believers: N. V. Tilak, the well-known poet, a follower of the Bhakti tradition, scholar and convert from the Chitpavan Brahmin community attempted to introduce the idea of God’s Darbar. God’s darbar was like a brotherhood assembly for baptized and unbaptised believers in Christ to come together to enjoy the fellowship of one another as disciples of Christ. (B.S. Thavare, ‘Trends in the theology of conversion in India’, Conversion in a Pluralistic Context, pp. 57-58)

Augustine Kanjamala considering the current socio-political, cultural and religious situation proposes an alternative model of mission with the following focuses: a) Proclaiming as well as working for the realization of the Kingdom of God is the goal of evangelization; b) mission is also aimed at the conversion of the heart of the missionary according to the values of Jesus; c) The influence of the mission of the Church in India must exceed the numerical strength. By providing a Christian vision of life, world and society, the Christian mission will continue to influence the rest of the Indian society. (A. Kanjamala, New Evangelization 2000 and India, pp. 399-400)

According to Amaladoss it is wise to leave the manner of responding to the word of God to the person called. On account of the cultural, political and social reasons the conversion of all may not involve a call to membership in the Church-community. God’s call may be heard through a variety of mediations. It is unfortunate that the mystery of conversion is reduced in popular speech to the sociological sphere of changing allegiance between religions. Today its focus becomes not turning to God but joining a particular group with exclusive claims. God’s call to conversion is multi-faceted. God calls everyone to be converted to the Kingdom, that is to say, to respond to God’s offer of love and life by building up a community of freedom, fellowship and justice. But God calls someone to be witnesses in deed and some others in word. Both are trying to realize God’s plan for the world in Jesus. Yet, for Amaladoss, the second vocation is at the service of the first (M. Amaladoss, ‘The Kingdom, Mission and Conversion’, Mission and Conversion, A Reappraisal, pp. 43-47).

Samartha invites us to review the pertinence of the term mission itself.  To him, the word mission perhaps should be avoided. This is not to hide in any way the genuine Christian intention, but to remove a term that has become a threat to others and a hindrance to open relationships. Witness is a better term. Witnessing to the Lordship of Christ cannot be a mere verbal proclamation to the world at large. It has to be concrete and particular in the living context of relationships. It is not just a statement to be accepted, but also a confession to be made at the end, not the beginning of an experience (S. Samartha, The Lordship of Jesus Christ and Religious Pluralism, p. 34).

We may not agree with all the above-mentioned modes of conversion. But they all point to the fact that the non-Christians may belong to Christ and His Church in multiple ways. It is important for any convert to be part of the Church, where they can be exposed to Christian teaching, love and growth in the body of Christ. But at the same time Church must be sensitive to their agony.

7. The agony of Christ-lovers

I would like to call your attention to the Christlovers, who follow Jesus in words and deeds and like to join the Church but postpone baptism to a later period for various social reasons. There are hundreds of them in several dioceses of the country. Many of them live in between two religions. They belong neither to their own religious community nor to the visible Church. They accept the dogmas of the Catholic faith. They lead an authentically Christian life. Their faith is genuine. What they lack is an explicit manifestation of their faith by the reception of baptism.

The main problem faced by the non-baptized Hindu followers of Christ is social ostracism. As soon as they abandon Hindu customs and follow Christian faith there occurs a break with their relatives and with the caste group to which they belong. Listen to the testimony given by a convert, 45 years old Padmavati, an house-wife belonging to Ezhava caste at Wadakanchery, near Thrissur: “Hindus do not allow us to draw water from their wells. They even forbid us to walk through their land. The greatest difficulty is with the funeral. They don’t allow cremation at home. They fear that the ghost of the dead will trouble them since necessary rituals were not performed for the burial. We don’t get support also from the Christians. Priests neither come to our house for funeral ceremonies nor permit us to bury the dead in Christian cemeteries. Once we tried to bury some one near to our house without doing any rituals. Then the Hindus blocked the funeral. The RSS leaders came to the house, removed the statues of Christ, restored the Hindu ones and made the burial according to Hindu custom. Thus that family refused Jesus for the sake of burial”.

Should not the Church take some urgent steps to keep these believers in Christ and not to lose them? In the early Church what the apostles denounced was the idol worship (Acts 14). These believers have rejected the Hindu gods. They adore Jesus as the son of God. They participate actively in the Church activities including liturgical celebrations. Once a week they fast and help the needy. They have an ardent faith in Eucharist. Listen to Saraswati: “When the Christians return after the communion and take back their seats I sit close to them and pray that the power of Jesus emanating in their body also pass through mine. I sit among them like the lady suffering from hemorrhages who wants to get cured touching the cloak of Jesus (Mt 9, 20-22)”. What Archbishop L.T. Picachy said in the Synod of Bishops  in 1974 is worth mentioning here: “The incentive for the renewal may come from the people outside the institutional Church, many of them are a source of edification to us: it can happen that we are called through them to turn to God more than they through us” (Indian Missiological Review, 1 (1979), p. 31).

It will always be the case that there will be people who are inspired by Christ and would anonymously follow him, without becoming part of the Church. Can a missionary be content with such a situation? Does the Church fulfill her missionary duty by simply introducing non-Christians into the values of the Kingdom? St. Paul leaves the harvest to the time that God has preplanned. ‘I planted, Apolos watered but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything but only God who gives the growth’ (1 Cor 3, 6-7).

Redemptoris missio says in no: 10 ‘Even though the social and cultural contexts do not permit these believers to enter into the Church, the grace of Christ is made accessible to them in a mysterious way through the Church’. Dialogue and Proclamation, no. 76 says: ‘In those situations where, for political or other reasons, the proclamation is practically impossible the Church already accomplishes her mission not only by her presence and witness but also by her activities and commitment for the human integral development and dialogue’. Dominus Iesus endorses such a possibility: “For those who are not formally and visibly members of the Church, salvation in Christ is accessible by virtue of a grace which, while having a mysterious relationship to the Church, does not make them formally part of the Church, but enlightens them in a way which is accommodated to their spiritual and material situation (DI 20). For the Indian Christians, who live amidst other believers, to be religious means to be inter-religious. Church has to become a community of communities cutting across all castes, races, religions and languages in India.

Conclusion

The mass conversions have fanned communal flame in India. In this context, missions centered on conversion would be a counter-witness to the Gospel. Before hastily making use of any means and methods that suits us for our way of evangelization, we must understand the context of people and the situations they are in. Conversion without membership of the Church may be difficult for those who wish to serve as true Christians in this world. At the same time it is necessary for the missionaries to respect the mysterious ways in which Christ keeps non-Christians tied to the mystery of the Church. Our life style should become a fifth gospel exhibiting the values and fruits of the Spirit. As we draw strength from the four gospels, let those who want to be genuinely converted be drawn by our lives as Christians. In conclusion, let us remember the words of Snyder: “Kingdom people seek first the Kingdom of God and its justice; church people often put church work above concerns of justice, mercy and truth. Church people think about how to get people into the Church; Kingdom people think about how to get the Church into the world. Church people worry that the world might change the church; Kingdom people work to see the church change the world” (H. Snyder, Liberating the Church, p. 378).

St. Joseph Pontifical Seminary                                                                         December 2007

Mangalapuzha

Selected Bibliography

Documents of the Second Vatican Council

Redemptoris Missio

Dialogue and Proclamation

Anderson Gerald H. & Stransky Thomas F. (eds.), Christ’s Lordship and Religious Pluralism, New York: Orbis, 1981.

Antony Raj Y., Social Impact of Conversion, Delhi: ISPCK, 2001.

Bosch D., Transforming Mission, New York: Orbis, 1991.

Deoras B.D., Country’s Unity A Must, New Delhi: Suruchi Prakashan, 1985.

Golwalkar M.S., Bunch of Thoughts, Bangalore: Jagarana Prakashan, 1980.

Kavunkal J. & F. Krangkhuma (eds.), Bible and Mission In India Today, Bombay: St Pauls, 1993.

Krickwin C. Marak & Plamthodathil S. Jacob (eds.), Conversion in a Pluralistic Context, Delhi: ISPCK, 2000.

Kundukulam V., RSS Enthu Engottu? (Malayalam), Ernakulam: St. Pauls, 1998.

Kundukulam V., RSSum Chraistava Sabhayum (Malayalam), Alwaye: S.H. League, 2000.

Mattam J. & Kim S. (eds.), Mission and Conversion A Reappraisal, Mumbai: St. Pauls, 1996.

Mishra D.N., The RSS – Myth and Reality, New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House, 1980.

Raju M. P., Religious Conversion: Legal Implications, Delhi: Media House, 1999.

Saldhanha J., Conversion and Indian Civil Law, Bangalore: TPI, 1981.

Shourie A., Harvesting our Souls, New Delhi: ASA, 2000.

Snyder H., Liberating the Church, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1983.

Staffner H., Jesus Christ and the Hindu Community, Gujarat: GSP, 1988.

Vempeny I, Conversion: National Debate or Dialogue? Gujarat: GSP, 1999.

Hindutva Understanding of Saffronisation

 Hindutva Understanding of Saffronisation

[Paper presented in the symposium jointly convened by

Church History Association of India and the Pontifical Institute, Alwaye]

Dr Vincent Kundukulam

2 November 2002

Vincent Kundukulam

Introduction

In the first session, listening to Dr. K.N. Panikkar, I am sure that we have deepened our understanding of saffronisation, its implications, and its far-reaching consequences for Indian society.

The topic that I deal with in this second session is ‘Hindutva understanding of Saffronisation’. Even though some call me an RSS-priest, I don’t stand amidst you now as their spokesman and I cannot be so. Neither the RSS would accept that. Still, if I prefer to speak on their behalf today that is because; it would give us a different outlook on saffronisation and it might stimulate a fruitful discussion on the topic.

I have divided my paper into three parts. At first we would see the Hindutva perspectives on Indian History, Education and Aryan Invasion. In the second part we would stipulate the reasons, which force RSS to proceed with the project of saffronisation in spite of the resistance emerging from various corners of the nation.  In the third part, I would make a brief critical evaluation of the Hindutva agenda behind saffronisation.

At the outset, let us recall that Sangh Parivar does not like the terms like saffronisation and talibanization. K.R. Malkani, one of the Hindutva ideologists, asks why should anybody be allergic to saffron? Saffron is a sacred color. It is the essence and symbol of Indian culture.  It represents sacrifice, asceticism, strength and purity. According to Dina Nath Batra, national general secretary of Vidhya Bharati, if the opponents mean the effort to bring the moral values of Indian culture in education by saffronisation, then government welcomes it. But to attribute a fanatic meaning to this term is an assault made on Hindu religion. (Organizer, 16 December 2001, 7)

The leaders of Hindutva call the process of rewriting history as de-colonization.  In the words of N.S. Rajaram, one of the contemporary intellectuals of Hindutva, saffronisation is nothing but correcting the colonial distortions and fabrications. (Saffronisation or de-colonization? Organizer, 2 September 2001) In this paper, however I make use of the term saffronisation because it is the key term of our discussion.

Now may I present before you the deliberations of Sangh Parivar on history of India, Aryan Invasion theory and Educational system. I don’t take any standpoint in this part, which I feel is necessary for the objectivity of our study.

Part 1 Hindutva perspectives on Saffronisation

1 History of India

We are taught in schools that India rose as a nation only in 1947 and its principal founders are Gandhi and Nehru. Before the colonization period India was just a confused mass of local kingdoms with no national consistency. But the advocates of Hindutva hold the view that India was a nation from time immemorial. For them the history of India can be traced from the Hindu texts like Vedas, Puranas and Itihasas. (The need for a new Indic School of Thought, Organizer, 10 June 2001)

According to Golwalkar the origin of Hindus is unknown to the scholars of history. Hindus are anadi, without beginning. To define Hindu people is difficult just as we cannot define God. Golwalkar writes in Bunch of Thoughts:

“We existed when there was no necessity for any name … We built a great civilization, a great culture and a unique social order. We had brought into actual life almost everything that was beneficial to mankind. Then the rest of humanity were just bipeds and so no distinctive name was given to us. When different faiths arose in foreign lands and those alien faiths came into contact with us the necessity for naming us was felt. And then given to us the name Hindus associated with river Sindhu’. (M.S. Golwalkar, Bunch of Thoughts, 1980, 73-74)

K.S. Sudarshan, the present Sarsanghchalak of RSS, referring to atharvaveda, places the origin of Hindu Rashtra at the moment of God’s creation.

“This glorious, powerful nation was born out of the strict penance done by the sages for the welfare of the world. Hence let us bow before this goddess, our motherland.” (K.S. Sudarshan, Why Hindu Rashtra?. 11-12).

In fact, for RSS ‘Hindus were one nation with one motherland long before the West had learnt to eat roast meat instead of raw. It was the Britishners, who, to achieve their ulterior motive, set afloat all mischievous notions regarding India’. (M.S. Golwalkar, Bunch of Thoughts, 1980, 109). According to Sangh Parivar Hindus were not only the first people but also the best people. The VHP claims that prior to the coming of the Muslims and the British, the Hindus did not know how to speak lies and there was no theft in Bharat. Bharat was a pure and holy land. (Hindu Vishva 33-34, quoted by C.V. Mathew, Saffron Mission, 1999, 210)

            The territory ruled by Aryans in the past was bigger than the present India. It comprised of the present Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Burma. The influence of India had spread as far as Vietnam and even Indonesia. Bharat at that epoch is compared to a woman whose head is Himalayas, dipping her arms at Iran in the West and at Singapore in the East, with Sri Lanka as a lotus petal offered at her sacred feet. (M.S. Golwalkar, Bunch of Thoughts, 1980, 111). Explaining the tremendous Hindu influence of the past P.N Oak, write in a VHP monthly called Hindu Vishva, as follows:

The whole world was Hindu in the beginning. Many of the prominent non-Hindu shrines of today were at those period Hindu temples. The Dome of the Rock and the near by AL Aksa Mosque in Jerusalem were Krishna temples; St. Paul’s in London was a Krishna Mandir; Notre Dame in Paris was a Durga temple; Kaaba in Mecca was a Vishnu temple. Later they were proselytized as Christian and Muslim. (Forgotten temples, Hindu Vishva, 49-57, 64 cf. C.V. Mathew, Saffron Mission, 1999, 209-210)

2. Aryan invasion theory

Historians tell us that Aryans are alien forces, which came from Iran and infiltrated into India around 1500 B.C. The Hindutva leaders vigorously attack this theory saying that the British formulated it with vested interests. According to them, the British version of Indology is not based on the primary sources. The proposal of Aryan invasion theory was a historical accident. In 1784 Sir William Jones an English jurist of East India Company began to study Sanskrit for the better understanding of the legal and political traditions of India. In course of research he was struck by the extraordinary similarities between Sanskrit and ancient European languages like Latin and Greek. To account for this similarity some scholars postulated that the ancestors of Indians and Europeans might have once lived together in the same region and spoken the same language. Scholars called it Aryan language and their homeland was located between Germany and Turkestan. It is in this background that Aryans are illustrated as a people who migrated to India from the Middle East. Max Muller later assigned a date of 1500 BC for the composition of the Rig Veda, the oldest member of the Vedic corpus. (N.S. Rajaram, Historical divine: Archeology and Literature, 3 February 2002)

But the nationalist historians claim that excavations done in the cities of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro (Punjab and Sindh) disapprove the European postulations. The archeological remains of the Indus valley civilization dated from 3100 BC to 1900 BC represent the culture described in Vedic literature. The secular historians reject the Vedic identity of Harappan civilization with ulterior motives. They insist that Harappans were a pre-Vedic people who were defeated by the invading Aryans and were forced to migrate en masse to South India, later known to be Dravidians. It was a device to keep intact the Aryan invasion theory. (N.S. Rajaram, Historical divine: Archeology and Literature, 3 February 2002)

Hindutva intellectuals note that the archeologists have not found any evidence of invasion or warfare enough to account for the uprooting of Harappan civilization. Whereas, the decline of Harappan civilization could be attributed to natural causes like drying up of vital river systems. It is known that there took place a severe 300 year drought between 2200-1900 BC which might have exterminated the Harappans. They claim that the theory of Harappans as Dravidians is also false. The earliest examples of South Indian writings use a version of the Brahmi script, which originated in North India. If the present day Dravidians were descendants of the Harappans why did they borrow a Brahmi script closer to Aryan origin? Harappans were a literate people and they might have had their own script. Can one rationally imagine that while Harappans migrated to the South’ they did not take up their script and that they adopted an Aryan script after 1000 years? To RSS the similarity between ancient Dravidian script and Brahmi of north is good enough to prove the relationship between Harappan and Vedic culture. (N.S. Rajaram, Historical divine: Archeology and Literature, 3 February 2002)

In the light of these reasons RSS propagate that the Aryans were not a race but tribes, speaking Sanskrit or related languages. Aryans called themselves Aryans to distinguish their cultural traits from others. There was intermingling among the tribes. According to the RSS there were Dravidian rishies among the composers of the Rig Vedas. (M.R. Mallya, Marxists maneuvered to mould History, 20 January 2002)  In the book, ‘Aryans who are they?’ Shriram Sathe stresses that the original meaning of the term Aryan was ‘a well-cultured man’. The British and Christian Missionaries called Brahmins as Aryans in order to increase communal spirit among the Hindu sects and thus facilitate colonial rule in India. The propaganda that people speaking languages of north and that of south is also a tactic to divide Indian population into two Aryan-Dravidian clans. (1991, 13-27)

3. Education

            Hindutva leaders find various drawbacks in the present education programme. Progress of a nation depends up on the education system based on patriotism. The youngsters should have love and respect for motherland and those great noble men who strived for protecting and strengthening her culture. But the British education system crushed down the self-respect of Indians. Our children are never taught what our forefathers did. Even after Independence the same system of education is being continued without any change. That is why we don’t find self-esteem and valor among our youth. The talented youngsters are leaving for foreign countries. (N.S Rajaram, National Security is Paramount, Organizer, 4 November 2001)

            Another drawback of our education system is that it is information oriented and it does not help the building up of character. Information oriented education produce engineers, doctors, scientists, lawyers, bureaucrats, industrialists, etc.  who fulfill our material needs. But it does not form professionals with character. It happened due to the infiltration of the communists into the academic institutions and media since the time of Nehru who had leftist leanings. They purged of all aspects that would arouse Hindu ethos in the minds of youth. In the name of progressiveness they gave the Indian literature and art a leftist hue. They sidelined nationalist thought process by branding it as obscurantist, reactionary and fundamentalist. Consequently an authentic Indian worldview coming out of its culture is hard to be found in Indian education. (N.S Rajaram, National Security is Paramount, Organizer, 4 November 2001)

            National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) decided to modernize education by upholding these forgotten values of Indian civilization. J.S. Rajput, the director of NCERT states that the revised curriculum was prepared in accordance with the guidelines given by the education policy documents of 1986 and 1992. Government was merely implementing the recommendations of the parliamentary sub committee, headed by Congress leader S.B. Chavan. This committee had recommended introducing the basic of all religions to the school students. Young immature minds should be exposed not only to Harry Potter, Enid Blyton and Superman but also to the great stories from the lives of Rama, Krishna, Guru Gobind Singh, Hazrat Mohammed Saheb, Bhagawan Mahavir, Jesus Christ and other religious leaders. That would certainly provide a great understanding of India as a nation and its diversities to the children. NCERT has only put into practice the education about religions. (A. Raja, NCERT on the right path, Organizer 13 May 2001 & S. Khosla, Saffronisation: What is wrong with it?  Organiser, 9 September 2001)

Sangh Parivar argue that NCERT have deleted in the new textbooks, only those parts, which were repulsive to the sentiments of Sikhs, Jats, Buddhists, and Jains. A student of history in BA and MA may enjoy the freedom to be acquainted with variety of interpretations possible for a historical event. But that should not be the case for higher secondary schools. To drive this point home, they ask. Mahatma Gandhi at one stage of his life decided to sleep in the nude with one of his ashramite girls who was also in the nude. He did not make a secret of it. So he wrote about it in Harijan as he was testing his brahmacharya. Should this be mentioned in the history textbook for tenth standard students to provide them a contemporary version of Gandhiji’s character? Mahatma’s experiments with brahmacharya cannot be a fit subject for the edification of fifteen-year-old children. RSS believe that the higher secondary students need not be exposed to different views for a critical appreciation of history. (MV. Kamath, Organizer, 16 December 2001)

            Sangh Parivar accuses secular brigades and Christians of their vested interests in opposing saffronisation. The secularists always look to white skinned experts as authority as they have been formed by them.  They are afraid that nationalist version of history would shake their place in the nation. (N.S Rajaram, National Security is Paramount, Organizer, 4 November 2001) Christians command wealth and influence out of proportion in education and media. The westerners had given away valuable properties to the Christians in the best Indian cities. Even now the Christians perceive themselves as part of Europe. They want to continue the proxy colonialism through the control of education. The bishops and priests handle the educational institutions. It is to protect their wealth that they blackmail nationalist reforms. (Organizer 01/07/01)

Part 2 Understanding Hindutva concerns

We have seen the main thoughts of Hindutva with regard to Indian History, Aryan invasion theory and Education. Now in this second part we are making an attempt to understand them from their own perspective. As you know, much of our thoughts are shaped by our past experience. This is true not only of individual but also of society. If Hindutva has a stubborn attitude in rewriting history it might have its non-digested past.

4. Rectifying the Congress ideology of fanciful fraternity

            The Hindutva obsession of saffronisation may be seen as a step to rectify the Congress version of Indian history. RSS intellectuals are of opinion that the present version of Indian history is the result of Congress’ attempt to fabricate a composite Hindu-Muslim nationalism, which they thought would solve the Hindu-Muslim conflicts in India.

When the history of freedom movement was written, research workers were instructed not to record the incidents of violence displayed in the freedom movement. On the one hand, the Nehru government sought to convince the outside world that freedom struggle was based on Gandhian non-violence. On the other hand, in writing history Congress supposed that it would fortify Hindu-Muslim unity by omitting references to Muslim terrorism. Thus history became handmaid for Congress politics.

A statement published by the Indian History Congress of 1964 reveals the historical perspective of post-independent time.

“The historians cannot shrink their responsibility by burying their head in the false dogma of objectivity. History must not call to memory ghastly aberrations of human nature but of higher values of human life and the nobler deeds of humanity. The reason for omission is that such things bring in unhealthy trends which militate against the course of national solidarity”. (V.P. Bhatia, A Nation living on historic lies, Organizer 30, December 2001)

But this deliberate falsification of history, did not produce any positive result, says the RSS. The political goal of Hindu-Muslim unity was never achieved. On the contrary it led to a false notion of secularism. Therefore Sangh Parivar is now rewriting the history of India including the atrocities committed by Muslim invaders and the separatist tendencies shown by minority communities before independence.

5. Reaction to Marxist lobby

            The Hindutva authors remark that since the dawn of independence the Marxian historians had a stranglehold over Indian history writing because of the Nehruvian patronage. Many of the universities fell into their hands. Romila Thapar, Satish Chandra, R.S. Sharma, Bipan Chandra, our distinguished guest K.N. Panikkar, Irfan Habib are some who got upper hand in writing history. According to Sangh, these leftist historians made Indian history a sequence of invasions. They viewed India as a country of diverse cultures belonging to successive invaders, ultimately knit together by the British into a single country.

A significant part of their effort was to white wash the medieval period of Muslim rule in India. They purged history books that mention of any of the well-established fact of destruction and desecration of Hindu temples by Islamic rulers. Muslims had vandalized at several times Vijayanagar Empire after its defeat in 1565. Under Aurangzeb the Marathas had been crushed. Sikh guru was beheaded. Still the left minded historians did not treat Aurangzeb as fanatic. They refused to admit that Babar destroyed Ram Temple.

Coming to the modern period, left-oriented historians misinterpreted Shivaji and Maratha leaders. The Jatts had asserted themselves against Mughal emperors. They established kingdoms and protected people from the oppressors of Delhi. These were spontaneous uprising of the Indian people against foreign tyrannies. But Satish Sharma and others called the Jatts plunders. Shivaji and Maratha leaders were portrayed as Hindu chauvinists representing zamindari vested interests. They inducted derogatory remarks against Guru Teg Bahadur in the textbooks. Guru Bahadur was one who opposed Aurangzeb’s policy of forcible conversion. The Mughals beheaded him. RSS complains that Marxian historians make an assault of Indian civilization depending upon Persian records. (M.R. Mallya, Marxists maneuvered to mould History, 20 January 2002).

The Hindutva intellectuals have the feeling of not being listened to the above-mentioned gang of historians. Their domination has created a sense of inferiority complex among the Hindutva historians. Having BJP government at the Center, the humiliated nationalist historians are trying to impose their hegemony in Indian history. Saffronisation is part of freeing Indian history from the clutches of Marxian forces. By introducing a new version of history they want to dump the Marxist oriented books to the archives.

6. In search of founding India on Hindutva

            The whole world is at present undergoing a radical change. The old established order does not cease to be, nor does the new one come up all at once. India is not an exception to this global cultural transformation. At this transitional period, Sangh Parivar is in search of a new set of principles that would build up a prosperous Bharat.

            For Sangh Parivar, secularism cannot be the founding stone of Indian polity because it is a negative concept. All it means is the negation of any role for organized religion in the government. This is a deeply flawed vision because it denies any role for India’s spiritual tradition in national life. What defines a nation is its history and tradition. In the case of India, unfortunately this place is occupied by western culture. The important issues determining the future of Indic civilization like what Indian civilization is, when India as a nation first arose, how to reform Indian society and how India can achieve its right place in the world are yet resolved according to western parameters. (The need for a new Indic School of Thought, Organizer, 10 June 2001)

Hindutva intellectuals see that the western ideologies are failing to address the spiritual needs of humanity. They are incapable of creating a world order that transcends dogmatism or exclusivism. Western consumerism is becoming more and more rampant rendering a life of ease and immorality to the upcoming generation. Therefore India cannot lay its foundation upon western materialism. Besides, no country in the human history became great on borrowed thoughts and technologies. It is in this context that we have to understand Hindutva agenda for saffronisation in building up the nation.

Golwalkar, while discussing the essentials of building up a nation points out five elements. They are geographical territory, race, religion, culture and language. (We or Our Nationhood Defined, 1939, 39) Among them he considers cultural unity as more fundamental and enduring in welding a country into a nation. He writes:

People should have evolved a definite way of life molded by community of life-ideals, of culture, of feelings, sentiments, faith and traditions. If people thus become united in a coherent and well-ordered society having common traditions and aspirations, a common memory of the happy and unhappy experiences of their past life, common feelings of friendship and hostility and all their interests intertwined in one identical whole – then such people living as children of that particular territory may be termed as nation. (Bunch of Thoughts, 1966, 161).

The whole attempt of saffronisation is nothing but fabricating a common heritage for Indians, a monolithic understanding of India’s friends and foes, victories and failures, blessings and curses.

Nationalists rediscover and reinterpret in their own way the Indic tradition and portray Hindutva as the present ideological and practical offshoot of Sanatana Dharma. They militate for a swadeshi impression in every sphere of our national activity such as language, education, politics, economy and cultural values. That is why Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee spoke in Hindi on the historic occasion of the address by President Bill Clinton of USA to the joint session of Parliament in 2000. The Sangh justifying Prime Ministers’ choice commented that if the speech was delivered in English the entire world might have come to know that even after five decades of political freedom Bharat has not developed its national language. (Organizer, 16 April 2000)

Conclusion

In conclusion I don’t want to again synthesize my paper. My objective was to expose and understand Hindutva stand on saffronisation. I would conclude by saying that what happens in India is also to be understood in relation to the international panorama.

A clash of civilizations is occurring through out in the world today, a war of cultures at various levels in both our personal and public lives. This clash is partly due to rising historical and cultural awareness on the part of newly independent countries. The new independent countries fight for a share in global market of cultures. The western civilization continues its domination by subordinating the rest through new forms of cultural manipulation: control of the media and new information networks, control of the entertainment industry, control of educational institutions and curricula, etc. (The need for a new Indic School of Thought, Organizer, 10 June 2001).

To win over the western cultural domination the indigenous nations highlight the failures of post modernity, which is identified with the Euro-centric cultures.  Post modernity and philosophy have disclosed the fact that the cosmos would ever remain mystery for man in spite of the discoveries. Science, technology and computers are not everything. Thus disqualifying reason and science the new nations propose comforting certainties of supra-rational faiths as a solution to the problems of human life. They take refuge in religion to give the individual and the society a sense of identity with the distant past and the limitless future. The development of religio-centric nationalism in different countries especially in the Islamic ones is to be understood in this background. Saffronisation is one aspect of the growing Hindu religious nationalism.

 

4. Critical appraisal

4.1) As the proponents of Hindutva claim, had India always been a nation with its people having strong nationalistic feelings? It may be correct to say that there existed certain elements common to the life-style of people who were living in India, which might be the result of the interactions that happened in course of centuries. The interpretations given by the Brahmins to the values and traditions of social life also might have helped assimilation of culture by majority of people. But still existed big differences from caste to caste, race to race and religion to religion in the cultural patterns.

But actually speaking ancient India had never been a nation in the modern sense of the word. Today nation is understood as a systematic communitarian life with the authority centered on a government. This is entirely a new concept. Ancient India had never been politically united except during the period of Mauryan rulers (BC 325-187). (R. Kothari, Politics and the People, 19889, 481). The notion of India as a Hindu nation in the modern sense of the term might have begun only by 1920s says G. Pandey. According to him one of the primary initiative to launch the notion of Hindu rashta was taken by Swami Shradananda a leader of Aryasamaj. In his pamphlet ‘Hindu Sanghatan Saviour of the Dying Race’ he extolled Hindus to build temples all the towns here as the preliminary step in the formation of a Hindu nation. (Hindu and Others, 1993, 242-243)

It is not just merely the Sangh Parivar who misinterprets and twists history. All the nationalists have done that according to the needs of fostering unity among their adepts. Pandey observes that during the struggle for independence Indian national Congress had claimed that India had a definite geographical territory that demarcated it from other countries. It also upheld the view that India had rich tradition of being tolerant towards other cultures and ideologies. Akbar’s period was projected as testimony of the Indian ability to lead a life harmonizing various religions. They argued also that India can be economically self-reliant.

The claims of the Sangh are based merely on myths of Epics and Puranas and not on the historical facts. What is more dangerous is that they exclude the non-Hindu communities from the Hindu Rashtra in the light of mythical interpretation of the history. As K.N. Panikkar says the leaders of Hindutva divide the history of India into three periods: ancient Hindu period as the golden age, the medieval period as that of decline and the modern period as that of revival. The glorification of the ancient Indian history and the denial of medieval period is a tactic to deny the cosmopolitan nature of Indian culture, to establish that Hindutva alone is the national culture and to depict non-Hindus as the second-class citizens. (Communalism in India, 1991, 1-3)

4.2 The tribals do not agree with the Hindutva reinterpretation about the origin of Aryans. They hold the view that they are the real inhabitants of India. The statement of the spokesmen of the Indian tribals at the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations, Geneva, in August 1987 emphasized their original Indian identity: “From historical anthropological and sociological points of view we know that we are the Indigenous Tribal People of India from pre-historic times with distinct social, economic, political and territorial identities. The Aryan invaders, the Moslem dynasties and finally the British had established their colonization in India. But as Adivasis i.e. Indigenous Tribal Peoples, we will still maintain our distinct identity” (M.E. Prabhakar, Towards A Dalit Theology, 1989, 22).

4.3. As part of renovating the educational programme on the basis of Hindutva its leaders remove from the school syllabus lessons about the eminent non-Hindu pioneers and induct the ideology of Sangh Parivar in the curriculum. When BJP rose to power in UP, its educational minister Rajnath Singh included the Sangh’s interpretation of Ramjanmabhoomi issue in the school textbooks. Also the BJP government in MP tried to restructure the syllabus right from primary to University levels according to the ideals of Hindutva. Shivaji and Pratab appeared as national heroes and Aurangazeb was portrayed as a revolutionary. Even Mahatma Gandhi was not spared from their assault. Lessons about Upadhyaya and Hedgewar were included in textbooks. Special privileges are allotted to schools run by Vidhyabharati (India Today, 15 August 1992, 133-135)

Other matters

History: But the pseudo-secular historians dismiss them as mythology. They define the history of India in the light of European parameters. The westerners refuse to accept the relevance of Indian traditions not because they are wrong. It is meant to undermine the culture of Indian subcontinent and subordinate it to the West. (The need for a new Indic School of Thought, Organizer, 10 June 2001) Hindus were forming one community in India since time immemorial of which the Maurya rein (322-187 BC) and Harsha dynasty (640 AD) are latest examples.

In 3rd and 4th chapters of his famous work, We or Our Nationhood Defined Golwalkar  concludes: “National existence is entirely dependent up on the co-coordinated existence of the five elements constituting the Nation idea – Country (geographical territory) race, religion, culture and language. That is the final incontrovertible verdict of theoretical discussion and their practical application to the world conditions past and present” (39)

Education: NCERT director J.S. Rajput in his reply to Shri V.R. Krishna Iyer said that the utility, acceptability, credibility of education would not be judged only by employer and experts but also by communities. (Organiser, 13 May 2001). This appears as a genuine statement but may be deceiving in the sense that Sangh remains for Sangh Parivar the moral power om whom people have conferred their authority.

There is no mathematics as such in any Veda. All ancient mathematics is being called ‘Vedic Maths’ for the sake of convenience. So there is no point in opposing it as Hindu Mathematics.

Malkani observes that retired justice V.R. Krishna Iyer who had earlier associated himself with the critics has in a letter to the HRD Minister said: I drop my criticism of the NCERT stand”

They hate Vedic maths, Sanskrit, Yoga and Jyotish. It is impossible for them to accept that Vimanashastra of sage Bharadwaja and Raja Bhoji Paramar describe the construction of aeroplanes and that Mundakopanishad speaks of nuclear energy. Dr. Bokare compiled the economic ideas right from the days of Vedas to Kautilya in a book called Hindu economics. (N.S Rajaram, National Security is Paramount, Organizer, 4 November 2001)

Aryan invasion theory: RSS refuses Aryan invasion theory and establishes Vedic presumptions as historical. It aims at implementing a systematic programme to rationally connect Harappan archeology and Vedic literature. Hindutva leaders believe that Indian civilization dates to around 3 to 4 thousand BC. Saraswati river flew through the heart of Indus and the Rig Veda was composed here. (M.R. Mallya, Marxists manoeuvred to mould History, 20 January 2002)

To facilitate the cultural integration of tribals into the Hindu Samaj RSS evokes tribals’ loyalty to the practice of Hindu values like solidarity, honesty, hospitality, modesty, etc. The same way Sangh highlights the patriotism of tribals. The tribal armies of Bhils, Malvas and Kolis have fought against Mughals. It was Jiwa Mahala, a tribal soldier who saved the life of Shivaji in Pratapgarh hills.

The Vanavasis Kalyan Ashram has recently changed the name of Adivasis as vanavasis, in order to refute the tribal claim of being the original inhabitants of India. For RSS Vanavasis is the appropriate name to designate the tribals. (Tribals: Treasure trove of India, 1993, 1) It has also put up several means to hinduize tribals. To convince tribals of their Hindu identity Sangh Parivar shows that tribal culture goes along with the Hindu culture. For example, the tribal worship of nature is also popular among Hindus. This strategy of hinduization is evident in the words of Despande, the founder of VKA in Chattisgarh. He told me in an interview: “Through various activities we try to convince the tribals that their identity is in no way distinct from that of the Hindus. If these tribals progress in the economic sector without any nationalistic feeling they would turn to be the greatest enemies of the country. Is it right to help them progress economically without nurturing up their nationalistic feelings?”  (Tribals: Treasure trove of India, 1993, 2-14)

 

Astrology

 

Astrology is a subject difficult to believe but even more difficult to disbelieve. We scientifically admit that there is an inescapable and undoubted linkage between terrestrial bodies and celestial bodies. Sun and the moon cause tidal waves. Why can’t then we guess that these planets have some influence on life on earth? Fact is that life is full of uncertainties. Therefore man would always try to know the future.  We teach meteorology, which is not accurate any way. Why can’t then teach astrology? There are lots of cases where the predictions of astrologists have come true like the death of Patel, Maulana Azad, Nehru, etc. Regular courses in astrology would check the growth of bogus astrologers who bring a bad name to astrology. (K.R. Malkani, In Defense of Saffronisation, Organizer, 30/9/01).

Reconversion

            As part of hinduizing the non-Hindus the process of shuddhi is being implemented, the Reconversion of former Hindus who are now Muslims or Christians. The Sangh holds that the present non-Hindu Indians were once Hindus and were converted to other religions through force and deception. It alleges that conversions from Hindu fold to other religions are mainly due to inducements, persuasion and fraudulent means. Deoras, the third Sarsanghchalak has explicitly said that the Sangh would not allow conversion of Hindus to other religions any more and those who have already left Hinduism should be brought back to Hindu fold by persuasion. (Maharashtra Herald, 15 January, 1984)

Appointments

The pseudo-liberals and the secular brigade launch a vicious campaign against the appointments of professionals with an RSS background on any position of authority by the Government as if belonging to that patriotic organization is a sin of highest order. For example, they opposed the appointment of Bhishma Kumar Agnihotri as ‘Ambassador at large’ for NRIs and PIO (People of Indian Origin) and as an advisor in the Indian embassy in Washington with the personal rank of ambassador. He is the RSS chief in USA and is associated with BJP. If there is nothing wrong in appointing crypto-Communists and defeated Congress leaders to sensitive diplomatic positions, how the appointment of an eminent professor and lawyer as advisor will hurt the national interests? (Shyam Khosla, Saffronisation: What is wrong with it?  Organiser, 9/9/01)

Sanskitisation

            Even Nehru had said: “If I was asked what is the greatest treasure which India possesses and what is her greatest heritage, I would answer unhesitatingly that it is the Sanskrit language and literature and all that contains.” On 4th October 1994, Justices Kuldip Singh and Hansaria of the Supreme Court upheld the primacy of Sanskrit: “In view of the importance of Sanskrit for nurturing our cultural heritage, making of Sanskrit alone as an elective subject, while not conceding this status to Arabic and or Persian would not in any way militate against the basic tenet of secularism”. The real fear of the pseudo-secularists according to Malkani is that NCERT would strengthen Indian culture. The British were aware that all our knowledge and wisdom was hidden in Sanskrit literature.Hence they deliberately called it a dead language. But culture, which includes religion, is the soul of a nation. Every nation must protect its culture. Life is unnavigable without the mast, sail and flag of religion. (K.R. Malkani, In Defense of Saffronisation, Organizer, 30/9/01)

This is yet another epic war between Hindus and anti-Hindus, a veritable Mahabharat. As prophesied by Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi this country’s honor is surely going to shine forth one day. (K.S. Sudarshan, Organizer, march 19, 2000)

I make use of this opportunity to express my deep felt gratitude towards Dr. Panikkar for his great contributions to Indian history and to the social sciences, which were of great help for my doctoral studies. What I appreciate in Dr. Panikkar is that he rereads and interprets history not merely on the basis of written sources but also on the basis of data that he collects from different states of the country. He actively involves and cooperates with the secular minded people’s movements, visits areas of communal riots, and writes vigorously to defend secular fabric of Indian culture. Thank you very much Dr. Panikkar for your service to secularism and for your enriching deliberations.

Religious Fundamentalism – Denial of Religion

 

 Religious Fundamentalism – Denial of Religion

Dr Vincent Kundukulam

 

                                                                                    Vincent  Kundukulam

 

 

 

Introduction

A vast amount of pain and suffering was heaped on the world by the attack on the World Trade Center on 11th September 2001. No words can be adequate to condemn this event, which was directed against the innocent civilians. This tragedy has brought back into public the discussion about religious fundamentalism. Opinions are divided on the question whether religions can be held responsible for such crimes. Some believe that a true religious man cannot indulge in terrorist activities. Yet it remains a fact that these terrorists adhere to such practices, which are considered to be generally religious. This paper is an attempt to know the origin of religious fundamentalism, its general features, its particular meaning in Indian context and the factors leading to religious fundamentalism. We will also discuss the question whether fundamentalism is native to religion and see how fundamentalism can be checked with the essentials of religions.

We want to begin with a clear and simple definition of fundamentalism. But it is a very difficult task due to various reasons. First of all, one man’s fundamentalism is another person’s normality. What may seem excessive to a non-believer could be very real for a believer. Secondly, fundamentalism is a catchword for many a narrowed suggestion like conservatism, evangelicalism, sectarianism, obscurantism or bigotry. This term is often evoked in the context of fanaticism, terrorist activities and communal violence. Due to its vague and multifaceted meanings any attempt to define it creates confusion rather than clarity. Therefore what is being attempted here is an extended description of the phenomenon of religious fundamentalism.

1. Origin of fundamentalism

The origin of the term fundamentalism dates back to the last phase of the 19th century in USA. It was mainly a deliberate reaction to the general liberalism spreading in North America. The decade after the First World War was marked by the increasing degree of scientific and historical knowledge. Some clergymen and theologians attempted to interpret the Gospel and the fundamentals of faith with the scientific tools, which were developed in biblical and theological disciplines. This attempt to say something in tune with the spirit of modernism was perceived by the traditionalists as watering down the essentials of the gospel and diluting it into something easier and comforting to man’s environment. They felt that modernism built up man’s pride in himself and this would lead many to reject the help of divine grace and ignore the dependence of man on God. They were under the impression that modernism made the Church cold and dead.

In opposition to this liberal attitude, a series of books with the title The Fundamentals: A Testimony of Truth was published between the years 1909 and 1919 by evangelical and conservative theologians. The term fundamentalist seems to have been used for the first time by Cutis Lee Laws, a Baptist from North America on 1st July 1920 in the editorial of a New York weekly The Watchman Examiner. It designated those who were blindly attached to the great fundamentals of Christian faith and vehemently opposed to modern interpretations of the Bible based on new exegetical methods. (P. Lathuiliere, Le fondamentalisme catholique, Cerf, Paris, 1995, pp.15-19).

Its conservative supernaturalism was mainly expressed in five doctrines: inerrancy of the Bible; the Virgin birth of Jesus, the supernatural atonement (redemptive sacrifice through the blood of Christ), the bodily resurrection of Jesus and Jesus’ ultimate return in glory. The fundamentalists raised strong opposition against the historical interpretation of Holy Scripture, which they thought would undermine the status of the Bible as absolute and perfect symbol of the religion. This movement was characterized not only by its conservatism with regard to traditional popular Christian beliefs but also by its aggressive efforts to impose its creed upon the Churches, on the public and on denominational schools of the country. A political campaign was started in general places against the schools, which ceased to insist upon the obligatory prayer before classes, the reading of the Bible and divine service in colleges and universities. It removed from the churches and educational institutions those who did not share the conservative faith. In a number of denominational colleges the teachers were asked to subscribe to the fundamentalist creed on pain of dismissal. It induced state legislatures to pass laws prohibiting the theory of evolution. In short it refused, as it was said, to let a vociferous minority of godless men and woman bring America to the brink of ruin. (H.R. Niebuhr, Encyclopaedia of Social Sciences, vol.6, 526; S. Fuchs, The Fundamentalists, Indian Missiological Review, June 1995, 5-8.)

The growth of fundamentalism in America was closely related to the conflict between rural and urban cultures. It coincided with the depression of agricultural values after the First World War. Its popular leader was the agrarian W.J. Bryan. Modernism was identified with bourgeois culture having its strength in the cities and in the churches supported by urban middle classes. Fundamentalism flourished in those isolated communities where educational institutions were not adequately developed and culture remained static. The rural societies, which depended for their livelihood on the processes of nature and who received least profit from a rationalized culture distrusted reason and doubted the human ability to solve ultimate problems of life. (H.R. Niebuhr, 527)

The main feature of Christian fundamentalists is that they think of their own position as the only Christian position. They cannot tolerate any other Christian positions that can be contrasted with their own. They are the true Christians and those who did not share their viewpoint are not genuine Christians. They consider a non-fundamentalist as anti-evangelical. They cannot admit that different forms of service have all alike been pleasing to God. There is no value in talking of manifold ways of coming to God when God himself has made known to us the way by which he intends us to know him. To the fundamentalists, noble life, good deeds and saintly character of others do not matter because man is saved through faith and not by the goodness of any human work. In short Christian fundamentalism lived two pairs of contrasts: on the one side the contrast between the true Christian and the nominal Christian, on the other side the contrast between the more conservative theological opinions and the more liberal. (J. Barr, Fundamentalism, London, SCM Press, 1991, pp. 4-6; 12- 15)

2. Religious fundamentalism today

Fundamentalism has cut across Christian world and has become one of the most obvious characteristics of almost all the institutionalized religious traditions of the world. Israel carries out systematically terrorist attacks on the people of Palestine to deprive them of their homeland. Muslim fanatics are reported to be involved in insurgent acts of political terrorism, kidnappings and sectarian violence from Philippines to Indonesia to Thailand to Kashmir to Afghanistan to Algeria to Chechnya and Bosnia. Groups like Jama-at Islami, Lashkar Toiba, Al Qa’ida, etc., are examples of the growing fanatic tendencies in the contemporary Islam. The fundamentalist tendencies prevailed among the Hindus since time immemorial in the form of caste system and untouchability. With the advent of Sangh Parivar movements, who maneuvered the destruction of Babri Masjid on 6 December 1992, Hindus have explicitly turned against other believers in the country. To deal with the variable forms and meanings that fundamentalism acquired throughout the world is beyond the project of this paper. Therefore we limit our study to India, which will show how fundamentalism grows here along with communalism.

In India The growing religious fundamentalism in India is not necessarily the same of Christian fundamentalism of 19th century. It is both the cause as well as the effect of communalism and inter-religious conflicts in Indian society. Fundamentalism is breeding a false consciousness among the members of their respective groups. It has emerged in India as an ideology to be a succour in the game of power. Its platforms are beginning to yield political returns. The ruling elites have found phenomenon of fundamentalism quite convenient to divert the attention of people from the genuine issues and demands. They disseminate fundamentalist ideology through communal conflicts; a violent clash here and a hostile atmosphere there; a case of discrimination here and another case of blatant partiality there. In one area one group faces the threat and humiliation and in another area the other group meets the same fate. The vested politicians create vote banks manipulating such circumstances on religious base  (R. Punjabi, Mainstream, 5, January, 1991, pp.18-20)

Fundamentalists of both majority and minority communities have adopted exclusiveness to flourish in the country. Instead of making efforts to seek commonalities, which could be brought forth among various religions, they prefer the literal interpretations of scriptures and adopt antagonistic postures towards other groups. They seek guidance from the societies and persons, which have no experience of living in multi-religious societies. They marginalize the moderate religious leaders. It is important to note that fundamentalism wages a two-pronged attack. First, it annihilates physically the moderate forces within the ranks of their religious groups. Thus the moderate voices of different religious groups are getting feebler in the cacophony of the fundamentalists. Second, fundamentalism tailors the religious beliefs and adjusts the doctrines of a particular faith according to their requirements.(R. Punjabi, pp. 19-20)

The recourse to history has become a frequent technique of fundamentalists. They go back to what they regard as the purer standards of bygone days. This recourse to history helps to do with the culture of people today. This is to infuse in the marginal minds a sense of false superiority complex. This device helps them distort the perceptions of average minds and shape new stereotypes and attitudes. Due to these distorted perceptions they come to clash with those groups and cultures, which do not share these false notions. They view the other with suspicion and cynicism. It gets reflected in their behaviour patterns in the offices, in schools and in day-to-day dealings. Underneath the peaceful society, groups of people are arraigned against each other as adversaries and they get divided on the slightest provocation. (R. Punjabi, pp. 18-20)

To consolidate their hold, the fundamentalists launch pseudo-religious organizations. These groups apparently maintain their independent identity as defenders of faith but extend their support during crucial moments of political mobilization. They adopt militant postures and at times they give the impression of coming in collision with the state. It is through these groups that the ideology of fundamentalism is diffused in society. Through their mechanizations the ‘I teach them a lesson’ syndrome has become operational in Indian society. (R. Punjabi, p. 20)

Main characteristics: Here are a few major characteristics of growing fundamentalism today. a) A fundamentalist is always certain what he means by the terms he employs. His value system is non-negotiable. The Fundamentalist position is intrinsic to faith. To ask him to modify it is to ask him for something that he cannot perform. He thinks that a rigid and uncompromising position suits their interest best. He thinks that his is the best system of thought and management that is available to humankind. To argue that there could be a plurality of ideas which could be equally valid is for the fundamentalists sacrilege; b) Another feature is the moral fervor with which the fundamentalist speaks. He is certain that some people have God’s authority to do what they will because they are doing all that in the name of a higher value which is unquestionable; c) The Fundamentalists believe that those who do not believe in his value system are evil or are inspired by evil. They regard their victims no longer as human beings but as creatures of the devil. (GPD, EPW September 29, 2001, 3668) d) the Fundamentalists reconstruct a golden past through historification of legends and myths. e) The Fundamentalists support communalist leaders by supplying literal and anti-religious interpretations of the Scriptures, which legitimate the exclusion of the other. f) The Fundamentalists transform themselves into fanatic groups who become insensitive to human suffering and use violence against the fabricated enemies.

3. Factors leading to religious extremisms

            Incapacity to confront change: Stability was a positive value in the Middle Ages. But with the Copernican discovery people came to realize that the earth has four seasons because it orbits the sun. Change was then slowly looked upon as creative. Change became law of progress. But all are not responding positively to change. Man finds it at ease with a known trajectory than an unknown trail. Changes engender insecure feelings in him as he comes to know that many of the values, which molded his personality in the childhood, are persistently devalued. He finds it difficult to adjust to the new habits and values. He feels the foundation of his life terribly shaken.

            To escape from this fear he is in search of principles, which are permanent. He finds them in religion. For him they are the Religions, which uphold the perennial values and principles of life. All through the centuries religions have proposed and taught the fundamental answers to his quest. It is not only expedient but also necessary for man to depend upon God and religion to face squarely the distress and frustration. Religious beliefs were born as a response to man’s existential fear. The problem arises only when this attachment to religion becomes narrowed and blind. The spirit of intolerance begins when he absolutizes his experience at the expense of others.

            Inability to discover the true religion: The undue attachment to one’s own religion happens partly because of the misconception about what really religion is. Scholars of religion identify four elements in every institutionalized religion: external customary rites, myths, ideals and spiritual experience. The customs and traditions remain at the threshold of religions. The aim of religion is not to keep people in the mechanical practice of external rites but to lead them to the level of spiritual bliss. The ideals, symbolic representations and rituals must help the individual enter into the spiritual experience of the Absolute present to him in the universe and in the fellow men. But the populace often cannot reach the fourth (nth) stage of religious experience. It clings to the customs and traditions mistaking them for the absolute truth. For the common people one who marks his head with sandal is a Hindu, he who lights lamp in the church is Christian and one who recites the name of Allah is a Muslim. Those who mistake religions for external rituals and traditions take weapons to protect them. (S. Azhikode, Navayathrakal, D.C. Books, Kottayam, 2000, p.100)

            False reaction to anti-religious movements: With the advent of modern era reason became norm of truth. Secular thinkers, in their eagerness to affirm the inevitability of reason for progress, disqualified religion as superstitious. Gods were presented as man’s creation. Religions were projected as stumbling block in the path of human development. They tried to build a society where traditional religions would have no significant role to play in the cultural and political life.

The expulsion of religion from the social life had adverse effect. It created a vacuum in the mind. Man became insecure before the catastrophes that happened to him. Man understood more and more that science couldn’t give satisfactory answer to the ultimate questions of life. As a result he began to perch again in the limits of religions. Unfortunately this return journey towards religion means for some an extreme imposing of the bygone forms of religion as a solution to world-problems. They think that the reestablishment of the olden “golden age” of religions would usher in a right solution to the present problems. Such an approach is unrealistic because neither that man can rebuild his past nor that old solutions are inept to meet the problems of the present. Fundamentalists are those who are incapable of adapting religious values according to the present needs and cultural patterns.

            Move against globalization: Another important factor, which contributes to the rise of religious fundamentalism and terrorism, is the phenomenon of globalization. World is in the process of becoming one village. The cultures of the powerful nations are spreading and stretching into every nook and corner of the developing countries through television and Internet. The diverse cultures of the world merge into a monolithic culture. The negative effect of this uniformity of cultures is the disappearance of the “little traditions”. The “little cultures” exist in relation to specific regions, languages, races, geographical settings, etc. They don’t have the efficient means to resist the invasion of western culture. Their identity as well as existence is being threatened by it. Due to the fear of being removed from the earth, the regional cultures become defensive and reactionary (T. Henri, ‘La montee des extremismes religieux dans le monde’, Le Faits Religieux, J. Delumeau (ed.), Fayard, Paris, 1993: 740). Since they are unable to fight against the onslaught of an international culture they search support in traditional religions. Fundamentalists isolate texts from Scriptures and misinterpret them in view of disqualifying globalization.

Economic factors: Every society is very sensitive about the privileges, which others possess and are denied to it. Each one formulates strategies for capturing their rights. When it is difficult for a community to earn their rights through democratic and lawful means they take refuge in terrorist activities.  For example, behind the terrorist movements in Kashmir, Nagaland and Punjab are the economic interests of those states. K.N. Panickkar interprets the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center as Muslim reaction to the totalitarian policies of America in economic field. He observes that the three sites targeted by the terrorists are symbolic of American power. World Trade Center represents its economical strength, Pentagon the military power and the White House the political supremacy. The American companies collect the major share of the income of the petroleum industries in Gulf countries. The same way the Muslim countries pay a good deal of their road-tax to American companies. The attack on New York is a reaction of the Muslim fundamentalists to the economic supremacy of America. (K.N. Panikkar, ‘Matha Teevravadam – Saamoohika Manasika Maanangal’ Mathavum Chintayaum, vol. 82, no: 2, 2002, p.18)

4. Are the religions fundamentalists?

We have studied the components, features and causes of fundamentalism. The question that has to be answered now is whether fundamentalism is intrinsic to religion? Why people resort to religion for legitimizing their fundamentalist approach?

When we study the history of religions we come across several incidents where the religious leaders made divisive and pejorative remarks despising other religions as enemies. Crusades are best examples in the history of Christianity. When Islam conquered much of Christian territories and holy places in Europe, Popes instigated the Christians to fight against Muslims. Pope Urban II’s appeal for war is very famous:

“I beseech and exhort you – and it is not I but God who beseeches and exhorts you as heralds of Christ – both poor and rich, to make haste to drive that vile breed from the regions inhabited by our brethren, and to bring timely aid to the worshippers of Christ. I speak to those here present, I will proclaim it to the absent, but it is Christ who commands …If those who go thither lose their lives on land or sea during the journey, or in battle against the pagans, their sins will at once be forgiven; … What can I say more? On one side there will be poor wretches, on the other the truly rich; there the enemies of God, here his friends. Pledge yourself without delay.” (P. Regine, The Crusades, London, 1962, pp. 23-24)

The worldwide dismay and outrange caused by Taliban’s edict of 26th February 2001 ordering the demolition of the Bamiyan Buddhas raised a host of questions of fundamentalist nature. The justification offered for such an act of religious intolerance and vandalism is that these graven images offend the religious sentiments of Taliban. Their supreme leader Mullah Mohammed Omar was quoted as saying: ‘I ask Afghans and the worlds Muslims to use their sound wisdom… Do you prefer to be a breaker of idols or a seller of idols? Is it appropriate to be influenced by the propaganda of the infidels?’ On 27th April 2001, human rights activist Salim Saboowala was harassed and assaulted by the BJP activists in Mumbai and the books on Pariyar Ramasamy Naicker and BR Ambedkar, which he was selling, were confiscated on the grounds that they carried derogatory references to Hindu gods. (R. Hensman, EPW, June 9 2001, 2031)

The mode of expressions that president Bush employed over the September 11th terrorist activity may be identified as that of fundamentalist nature. He posed the entire problem not in terms of secular international politics but rather as problem of faith. Needless to say, for the Americans preaching of Christian faith is curiously combined with political involvement in the world. They are convinced that the USA has a missionary mandate to save the world from unbelief and immorality. This is also to win the support of the fundamentalist protestant sects whose financial support is decisive for the politicians. Bush gave the proposed military operation a code name, ‘Infinite Justice’. The reference was again to the belief that only the Lord can bestow infinite justice. America sees itself as the Lord of the universe. It was not president George speaking but rather St. George speaking. (GPD, EPW, September 29, 2001, 3668-3669).

In the light of the above-mentioned inglorious stories, can we conclude that fundamentalism is native to religions? The answer depends upon how we comprehend religions. Amongst the numberless definitions that have been suggested in the history of religions, those that have been most frequently adopted for working purposes are that of Tylor’s and Frazer’s. E.B Tylor suggested a simple definition: religion is the belief in spiritual being. J.G. Frazer defined religion as a conciliation of powers superior to man, which is believed to direct and control the course of nature and of human life. (Encyclopedia Britannica, vol. 19, p.103). Friedrich Schleiermacher defined religion as the feeling of absolute dependence. Religion stands for the pattern of beliefs and practices through which men communicate with or hope to gain experience of that which lies behind the world of their ordinary experience. Typically it focuses on an Ultimate or Absolute, thought of by some believers as God (Encyclopedia Americana, vol.23, p. 359)

Sociologists and anthropologists are not satisfied with the above-mentioned formalistic and experiential type of definitions. They rightly argue that religion is a social institution. Religion is never an abstract set of ideas, values or experiences developed apart from the total cultural matrix. As a social phenomenon it has to include the practices of all those who profess a certain faith regardless of whether they conform to or deviate from the teachings of the founder. If we understand religion from its social perspective, religion is to be considered as sources of peace and compassion but at the same time responsible for violence.

The interesting point here is that even while we consider religion as responsible for fundamentalism we don’t find the latter evolving from the Scriptures, but from the believers. James Barr who has done a thorough study of Christian fundamentalism argues that contrary to general belief, the core of fundamentalism resides not in the Bible but in a ‘particular kind of religion’. What is this particular kind of religion? Barr means here a particular type of religious experience the fundamentalists draw out of the Bible, which they think is a necessary consequence of the Bible. Such a religious experience controls the interpretation of the Bible within fundamentalist circles. The fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible works out as a necessary condition of the self-preservation of their religiosity. Therefore Barr writes, “fundamentalism is based on a particular kind of religious tradition, and uses the form, rather than the reality, of biblical authority to provide a shield for this tradition” ( J. Barr, 11)

Barr’s findings clearly show that fundamentalism exists not in the Scriptures, the reality or the basis of religion, but in the form i.e. the interpretation given by a group to the revealed texts. I think that to argue the contrary would be disastrous to faith. All religions recognize God as the source of the Scriptures. To consider the latter as source of fundamentalism would be making God a fundamentalist. If the Scriptures were the real root cause of violence, anyone who is genuinely practicing the scripture-based values should have been intolerant. But that is not the case. The strict and stiff observance of the Bible or the Koran or the Gita does not immediately make one enemies of other religions. For example, every devout Hindu is not necessarily a VHP activist. Therefore we have to conclude that there is no automatic passage from the Scriptures to religious fundamentalism. As Dr. S. Radhakrishnan observes, in the human mind, the primitive, the archaic, the infantile exist side by side with the civilized and the evolved. All our enemies are within. The impulses, which seduce and the flames, which burn, spring from that inner region of ignorance and error. The struggle between the life-affirming and life-denying impulses is permanent in man. (S. Radhakrishnan, The Present Crisis of Faith, Hind Pocket Books, Delhi, pp. 20-21). While believers, attracted by the political and economical interests, subdue themselves to the negative impulses they become easily prey to fundamentalism.

Yet one may ask whether some religions provide a better potential for fundamentalism since they contain also the interpretations of the Scriptures developed in course of history? In this regard it is worth recollecting the distinction made by A.A. Engineer about religion. According to him we must make a difference between religion as faith and religion as an identity. Religion as a faith has largely a spiritual function and religion as an identity acquires political overtones. (A.A. Engineer, EPW, October 20, 2201) The doctrines, laws and the code of conduct of religions are generally the outcome of interpretations made by the authorities on the revealed texts in view of adapting them to the particular context of their believers. Consequently, due to pressure from the believers or due to the influence of experts having extremist tendencies some interpretations may run the risk of fundamentalism. Any group that is violent is always in need of fanatical interpretation of religion to bind its followers together. Thus fundamentalism grows in so far as the followers use religion as an identity. Otherwise violence is not the product of religion. Religion as a faith cannot produce a fundamentalist.

Thus even though there is a communal potential in every representation of religiosity we cannot equate faith with fundamentalism. Fundamentalism originates from the believers who manipulate religion as identity for vested interests. Applying moderate and scientific tools of interpretations, which are developed in religious sciences, we can check the deviated explanations of the Scriptures. Similarly, we can purify the religions with the anti-fundamentalist potentials that are inherent in them. Following the 11 September event the leaders of the Islamic movements brought out a statement in which we read as follows: ‘we have unequivocally condemned the dastardly terrorist attack on establishments in New York and Washington. Islam upholds the sanctity of human life as the Koran declares that killing one innocent human being is like killing the entire human race. The tragedy of September 11 is a crime against humanity and Muslims all over the world mourn all the victims of the aggression as a common loss of America and of the whole world’. The main role of religion is to bind and to bring together the believers as well as to relate them to a wider and cosmic whole. The study about universalism, pluralism, love and compassion, innate to every religion, will prove that fundamentalism is denial of religion and that it can be resisted from within the religion itself.

6. Religions teach the spirit of pluralism and universalism

The Islamic attitude towards others is based on the concept of creation. According to the Koran(49,13), in spite of the different nations and cultures all are God’s creatures, all are children of the same parents. A Muslim has to believe in all the prophets, who came to this world. They have to respect the sacred works of all religions. One who does not believe in them is not a Muslim. “Say: We believe in God and that which is revealed to us; in what was revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the tribes; to Moses and Jesus and the other prophets by their Lord. We make no distinction among any of them.” (2, 136) This respect for other religion is also seen in the counsel of Babar to Humayun: ‘India is a land of different religions. You must be grateful for that. If Allah gives you power you should not show any favoritism. Don’t kill the cows, which may hurt the feelings of the Hindus…Don’t destroy the temples and places of worship….  Enrich Islam by a merciful heart and not through suppression (T.V. Muhammadali, ‘Bahumata Sauhradam Islamil’, Mathavum Chintayum, vol. 82, no: 2, 2002, pp. 41-43)

Hinduism is always known for its tolerance towards other religions. For a Hindu who holds this principle of ekam Sat vipra bhahudha vadanti doesn’t have any difficulty to accept that Allah, God the Father, or Yahweh as the different names of the same God. That is why even the materialist Charvaka is respected by the Hindu believers. One can draw a lot of other expressions in Hindu prayers and hymns like Vasudaiva kudumbakam, Atmavat Sarva Bhoodhani, Sarve Bhavandu Sukina, Loka Samasta Sukino Bhavandhu, which indicate that the universe is one family and all men are its members.

The Christian vision of the world and man is based on the theology of creation. The book of Genesis tells us that God created man in His own image and likeness. (Gen 1, 26-27). Consequently, men belonging to various religions, cultures, races, etc possess God’s image. Whoever lives according to the voice of his conscience is doing the will of the Creator.  Christian openness towards others is marked by Jesus’ respect for the believers of other religions. Even though Jesus was born as a member of Jewish community he honoured other believers in a special way. Seeing the faith of the centurion Jesus said: “Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 8, 10-11) Jesus praised the Canaanite woman’s faith “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish”. (Mt 15, 28). He projected a Samaritan as model to practice the love of neighbor (Lk 10, 25-37). He did not hesitate to drink water from the Samarian woman, which was forbidden at that time.(Jn 4, 7)

7. Religions demand the practice of love and compassion

Religion is not only the way to God, but also the way to man. It is not mere contemplation, the fight of the alone to the alone, as Plotinus said. It is also a way of active service. All religions demand the practice of love and compassion.

The Atharvaveda says: “Like-heartedness, like-mindedness, non-hostility do I create for you; do you show affection, one towards the other, as does the cow toward newborn”.

Lao Tse says, ‘we must reply to our adversary with mercy and goodness’. The Mahabharata says: Even an enemy must be afforded appropriate hospitality when he enters the house: a tree does not withhold its shade even from those who come to cut it down.

In Rock Edict XII Asoka proclaims that the faiths of others all deserve to be honoured. By honouring them one exalts one’s own faith and at the same time performs a service to the faith of others. By acting otherwise, one injures one’s own faith and also does disservice to that of others.

Hillel remarks: “What is hateful unto thee, do not do unto thy fellow”. Isiah (2, 10) made Yahweh the one God of all mankind. Amos declared that Yahweh cared nothing for ceremonial worship but for justice and righteousness. Prophet Malachi says: “Have we not all one Father? Hath not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another?”

Justin Martyr said: “All those who have lived with the Logos i.e. with the eternal divine world-reason are Christians, even if they have been taken as atheists, as Socrates and Heraclitus”. In Tertullian’s phrase, the pagan soul is naturally Christian. Nicholas of Cusa regarded all religions as different expressions of the Word of God: ‘It is you, O God, who is being sought in the various religions, in various ways and named with various names, for Thou remainest as Thou art, to all incomprehensible and inexpressible.

            The Sufis advocate the following view

                        A Church or a Temple or a Kaaba stone,

                        Koran or Bible or Martyr’s Soul,

                        All these and more my heart can tolerate,

                        Since my religion now is love alone.

A scientific study of religions and their interrelations in the past show that there is a common substratum of all religions: the unredeemed situation of man, the longing for liberation, the recognition of the Divine Reality and many ways to reach the Real are found in all religions. The concepts of Virgin birth, the death and resurrection of the redeemer God, the inspiration of the sacred scriptures, the efficacy of grace, the use of the rosary, the conception of Trinity, the kingdom of God, priesthood, monasticism, etc. are found in every religion. Religions have influenced each other, helped each other and enriched the world. For example, Christianity received from Babylonia the idea of God as the maker of heaven and earth, from Persia the dualism of Satan and God, from Egypt last judgment, from Phrygia the worship of the Great Mother, from Greece and Rome the idea of universal law. (S. Radhakrishnan, pp. 51-58)

The above study shows that it would be erroneous to assume that the mind-set, which is labelled by the word fundamentalism, is invariably connected with the essence of religion. What happens really is that at a time when everything is in a flux and nothing seems to be stable and permanent, people feel a nostalgia for the customary and routine-bound past. They make a resolute and stubborn return to a way of life in the past based on religion though for our time it may be outworn and irrelevant. The political and religious leaders having vested interests manipulate the religious minded people and transform them as inimical to other religious groups.  The illiterate hope that the irrational attachment to the fundamentalist interpretation of sacred texts and exclusion of the ‘Other’ will resolve their contemporary problems.

Conclusion

Mankind is today in the midst of one of the greatest cries in history. In spite of the fact that the great scientific inventions have liberated us from servitude to nature, we seem to suffer from a type of religious neurosis. We need a moral and spiritual therapy, which would heal the human mind. The best medicine to be applied may be the spirituality of a universal religion, a religion of awareness and love, of wisdom and compassion, of truth and love. Religions are to be cured of their provincialism and they must rediscover their resources of pluralism, universality, compassion and love. We are born and trained in certain traditions of religion. But we are not supposed to transfer the absoluteness, which belongs to the Divine Reality, to its historical formulations. We must be able to hold our particular formulation as valid without denying the other forms. This is the only one attitude consistent with faith in a Universal God. (S. Radhakrishnan, The Present Crisis of Faith, Hind Pocket Books, Delhi, pp.  24-26)

            The religious and social leaders must turn their energies to fashioning new ways of understanding their own religions so that they can play a role in promoting peace, dialogue and social justice. There should be inter-religious forums in every village to isolate those who mix religion with political and economical interests. Dialogue sessions, common defense of human rights, joint endeavours for development, sharing of spiritual exercises, etc., will increase mutual confidence and cooperation among the followers of various religions. If we don’t take this challenge of decreasing the widened gap that exists between the temple, mosque and the church, our world may become an unlivable planet. We have to live together or die together and if we are to live together we must multiply our fight against fundamentalism

 

The fate and fortune of Indian Christians

 The fate and fortune of Indian Christians

Dr Vincent Kundukulam

Since 1998, the media, both in India and abroad, reports various incidents of attacks against Christians by the Hindu communalists (word used in India for those who show extreme attachment to one’s own religion in view of making economic and political gains). Even though the SanghParivar (term used to designate the Hindu militant movements, which tries to establish a Hindu-rashtra in Bharat. The head of these movements is Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh: RSS) disqualify them as false propaganda, it remains a fact that the Christians, their institutions and missionaries often become victims of violence in the country. All those who have heard about the non-violent methods of Gandhi wonder how such atrocities can take place in a country known for tolerance. They don’t find any reason to blame the Christians for these conflicts as the latter form merely 2.34 % of the population and as they do not engage in any terrorist activities.  In this context, the social observers ask the following question: why Christians are targeted in India? This article is an attempt to understand the reasons behind Sangh Parivar’s vehement attitude towards the Christians.

First of all, we can say that targeting Christians is part of RSS’ strategy of ‘constructing against others’, which is a tactic often used by the communalist organizations to flourish rapidly. It consists in identifying the friends and enemies of a group and inviting its members to organize themselves against the imagined enemies. M.S. Golwalkar, the ideologist of Hindutva in his famous book, Bunch of Thoughts, explains about three internal threats of India. They are Muslims, Christians and Communists. The RSS and its associations have increased their support among Hindus by propagating calumnies against any of the above said enemies according to the favorable contexts in the country. One of the primary missions assigned by Dr. Hedgewar – the one who founded RSS in 1925 – to swayamsevaks (title given to the ordinary members of the RSS. It indicates those who offer voluntarily their life for the service of the nation) in the early period of the movement was the protection of Hindu pilgrims. When the Muslims once attacked the visitors to a temple at Nagpur during the festival period, the swayamsevaks made an efficient counter attack. This gave the impression to the Hindus that the RSS is an organization in their interest. The further history of RSS also shows that the consolidation of the Hindutva consciousness has won to a great extent through various social conflicts that are pre-planned by the Sangh Parivar against its enemies.

The combined effort of BJP-VHP-RSS since 1985 in favor of the construction of Ram Janma Bhoomi temple at Ayodhya, a small town in Uttarpradesh, falls in line with this strategy of uniting Hindus against minorities. As a means to consolidate the Hindu consciousness the Sangh-Parivar selected religious symbols which are dear to Hindus and Muslims. According to the Puranas the Hindus are attached to Ayodhya being the birthplace of Lord Rama. The Babri Masjid in the same town evokes for Muslims the souvenir of their glorious past in India. The Hindu communalists interpreted the presence of this Muslim institution as a shame and threat for independent India. It aroused anti-Muslim feelings among the Hindus. They conducted various yatras (processions) and pilgrimages all over the country in order to collect the bricks needed for the construction of the temple. Distribution of medals, icons, stickers and calendars of Hindu gods like Ram and that of the temple could arouse a “we-feeling” among Hindus. The broadcasting of Hindu Puranas like Ramayana and Mahabharata was also intended to forge unity among Hindus who are divided into various fragments. This way of playing with religious symbols brought grand political success for BJP in the elections. It could increase its strength in the Lokasabha from 4 in 1984 to 119 in 1991. Sangh-Parivar’s opposition to the Christian missions and the recent demand of the RSS-chief towards Christians to cut off its foreign affiliations and to construct a National Church are new forms of applying the above-explained strategy of strengthening Hindu unity against minorities. Through these controversies RSS pictures Christian community as responsible for all the problems in India and advises Hindus to be alert in watching over the activities of Christians.

It is true that RSS earns support among the Hindus by uniting them against Muslims, communists and Christians. When we study the attitude of Sangh Parivar associations to these enemies we notice that its opposition was mainly towards Muslims in the past. But since 1998 they project Christians as the main threat of the nation. Why this shift in selection of the enemy? This may be partly due to the rise of Sonia Gandhi in national politics. As Sonia took the leadership of Indian National Congress, the Hindutva movements were afraid that she might come to power at Delhi. To avoid such a probability they wanted to give a communal image to Sonia. She was presented as the convoy of Pope and the defender of Christians. They propagated that missionaries were converting massively Hindus with the support of Sonia and that if she would become the Prime Minister, India might be once again colonized by the western powers. Such propaganda got random, as Sonia is foreigner and Christian by name. To enforce their argument, on the one hand, they instigated their followers to harass the missionaries and on the other hand they put the responsibility of such crimes on the shoulders of the missionaries. They interpreted that Hindu attacks were provoked by unjust missionary activities. As a result the BJP could win the vote-bank of Hindus in Gujarat during the election of 1999.

The targeting of Christians is also due to the realization that Muslim community is a dangerous enemy to accommodate with. The destruction of Babri Masjid followed the Hindu-Muslin riots and bomb blasts in different parts of the country and thousands were killed. Since the Muslims form almost 12 % of the Indian population, enmity towards them will destroy the harmony and peace of the country, which is decisive for the economic prosperity at present time. The inter-religious conflicts will retract the foreign industrials from investing money in India. The same way Sangh Parivar knows that opposition to the Muslims in India will irritate the Gulf countries on which India depends at large for its economic growth. Daily India exports huge quantity of spices and vegetables to Gulf countries and imports the oil, which is terribly lacking here. A serious attack on Muslims will adversely affect the financial situation of India.

On the other side, RSS knows that the situation of Christians is quite different from that of Muslims. They are a petit minority here and even if they make a counter attack on Hindus, it can be easily controlled. Moreover Christians are generally non-violent people. The gospel does not promote terrorism. They have to follow the command of Jesus to love their enemy. So whenever they are persecuted they won’t retaliate. They would express their resentments through peaceful methods like processions, fasting, etc. and not through rifles and bombs. At the same time the wide spread presence of the Christians in the country and their affiliation with foreign countries make them a symbol of suspicion and fear among the Hindus. In short, targeting Christians is not at all dangerous, but is advantageous to the Sangh Parivar in bringing unity among the Hindus.

Another element, which influenced the Sangh to turn against Christians, is their conscientization work. In the beginning of this epoch, the Christian missionaries were mainly concentrating on education, health and employment. They established schools, colleges, hospitals, clinics, orphanages, small-scale industries, etc. all over the country and all Indians irrespective of casts and creed benefited out of them. Slowly the missionaries realized that such kind of social works would bring only an immediate relief to the poor. They can not change radically the poor situation of the people. The unjust social set up produce millions of poor every year in India. Unless and until these evil structures are destroyed India will remain always as a poor nation. They felt the need of educating the downtrodden classes about the evil structures. In these endeavor they were influenced by the notion of human rights which is one of the basic moral principle of the human society today. They were also influenced by the liberation theology i.e. theology originated in Latin American countries and later spread all over the world according to which Christianity has to be primarily a liberative force in the society since Christ was the liberator of the poor. The missionaries left the huge institutions and went to the poor villages, where they lived with the people and fought with them against the injustice.

These fights against unjust structures turned to be an attack on the high caste Hindus in the particular situation of India. In the northern states of the country a few landlords possess the land and the majority of the people are peasants. These peasants have to depend upon the landlords for their livelihood. They are condemned to work for the whole lifetime as slaves for minimum salary. The missionaries educated the untouchables and the low casts to oppose the system of the bonded labors. The children started going to the missionary schools. The missionaries opened evening schools also for the adults. The self-help programs, which worked as cooperative banks, gave certain autonomy to the villagers in the economical field.  The poor stopped borrowing money from the high casts. Today they demand just salary for their work. They are slowly becoming a self-sufficient community. As the result of the conscientization work of the missionaries, the high casts are obliged to share their political and social rights with the poor. They are annoyed with this new social set up for which the missionaries are highly responsible. Since they can not accuse the missionaries for their liberative works, they misinterpret their service as a new method of proselytization. The missionary attacks are nothing but the reaction of the rich landlords towards the efforts that are taken by the Church to develop the poor people in India.

The above reflections lead us to a further question: how should the Christians respond to the growing Hindu communalism? The scope of this article does not permit us to deal in detail this important issue. We can state merely a few guidelines in this regard. Hindu communalism is a very complex phenomenon having multiple causes and faces and so the Christians should also adopt diverse strategies to face it.

RSS is primarly a reaction of the Hindu intellegentia against the humiliation it underwent during the period of colonization. Christians are responsible to a certain extent for creating a wounded psyche among the Hindus and so they have to understand Hindu feelings with great sympathy. An approach of dialogue will be useful in this respect.

At the same time there are extremists among the Hindutvawadis who keep a hidden agenda against Christians. They apply different methods systematically and strategically to weaken the Christian strength in India. Christians must be vigilant towards these types of movements. Basing on the fundamental human rights and the freedom granted in the Indian Constitution, they have to struggle for the maintenance of religious freedom in the country.

Among the Sangh Parivar one can also find people who have nothing to do with the religion. They have merely economic and political motives. They refer to religion only to gain power and money. They manipulate the illiterate and poor Indians by inculcating in them religious animosity against the minorities. Christians must fight against the communalists in alliance with the secular political and social organizations.

In this fight against Hindu communalists Christian can not adopt violent methods because it is alien to Christian message. The same way they have to take care not to give the impression that all Hindus are communalists. The majority of Hindus is still secular in India. Only 24 % of the people vote for the BJP. Christians may try to get the support of the tolerant Hindus and thus they can isolate the communalists in the society.

Finally the challenge of Hindutva gives to Christians an occasion for self-examination. The Spirit of the Lord who is at work in this world may speak to Christians also through their enemies. Hindu communalists can also play a prophetic role in India. Oh Indian Catholics of Houston please pray so that Christians in India be able to improve the quality of their witness by accepting positively the criticisms made by the RSS.

November 2000                                              Vincent Kundukulam,                                                                                                            Mangalapuzha Seminary,

Aluva, Kerala 683103