Category: Theology of Religion

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

Interpreting and Responding to Religious Extremism

Interpreting and Responding to Religious Extremism

Dr Vincent Kundukulam

Vincent Kundukulam

Introduction

A new world order is emerging as globalization grows fast across the continents. Parochial identities based on ethnic and religious allegiances get strengthened in the nations. The indigenous religions claim more role in the process of nation building. This paves the way for unhealthy combinations of politics and religion. Jama-a-at Islami, Hindutva and Sects are some examples of such fallout in Islam, Hinduism and Christianity.  It is surprising that most of these groups define themselves against secularism and they strive to put up theocracies in the nations.

What is the nature of these religious groups having political ambitions? Why do they distance themselves from secularism? Has Christianity the potential to triumph over the mayhem created by fanatic organizations? Will the religious crusade usher in a new moral order? These are some complex questions that brood over us coming to this concluding paper. To deal with them all in this article will be a very ambitious project. However we shall make an attempt to understand why the religious activists attack secularism and what forms of disrupted ideologies the above mentioned groups belong to. A Christian response to the phenomenon of religious terrorism and practical measures to resist extremism will be also in order. As a pre-requisite, we begin with explaining the concepts of fundamentalism, fanaticism and communalism, the ideologies which manipulate religious sentiments of people for political ends.

1. Types of Religious Extremism

1.1 Religious fundamentalism

The origin of the term fundamentalism dates back to the last phase of the 19th century in USA. It is Cutis Lee Laws, a Baptist from North America, who seems to have used it for the first time. In the editorial of The Watchman Examiner, a New York weekly, on 1st July 1920 he coined this word to designate those who were blindly attached to the great fundamentals of Christian faith and vehemently opposed to modern interpretations of the Bible[1]. In the following period, the fundamentalists were distinguished by the aggressive efforts to impose their creed upon the public and on denominational schools in USA. They insisted upon the obligatory prayer before classes, the reading of the Bible and divine service in colleges and universities. Those who did not share the conservative faith were removed from the churches and educational institutions and state legislatures were under pressure to pass laws prohibiting teaching 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]. In short, fundamentalists advocate extreme loyalty to the basic tenets and activities as they were laid down by the founding ‘fathers’ or Scriptures of religions and they want to go back to what they regard as the purer standards of bygone days.

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 men. 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

In the original sense, 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 effusive 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. Thus communalism is understood as an ideology that is opposed to secularism in India.[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 beliefs and interests are different but also antagonistic to those of other communities[7].

Macro level and micro level factors contribute to the growth of communalism, says Asghar Ali Engineer. By macro level factor he means the communalist ideology itself which grows due to the economic inequality. When one individual or one section of the society makes economic development the rest of the same class of people will be succumbed to certain type of insecurity and inferiority feelings against the rich. The elites of the weaker sections, in their effort to compete with the rich, collect the support of the majority community against them by infusing religious sentiments to the rest of the society. The micro level factors are the local conflicts which are emerged out of vicious propaganda created by the communalists. For example, in the religiously sensitive areas a rumour regarding the slaughter of a cow before the mosque will be plenty to bring about inter-religious riot[8].

1.4 Ethnocentric Nationalism

It was only from the end of the eighteenth century that nationalism received the sense in which it is in use today. Hans Kohn defines nationalism as a state of mind, in which the supreme loyalty of the individual is felt to be due the nation-state. Every nation possesses certain objective factors distinguishing them from other nationalities like common descent, language, territory, political entity, customs and traditions, or religion. Though the blend of these objective elements may vary from nation to nation, Kohn opines that the most essential and common element of nationalism is the living and active corporate will of the people[9]. .

Antony D. Smith, who wrote Theories of Nationalism, divides nationalism into two kinds: ethnocentric and polycentric.  The polycentric nationalism recognizes different cultural and power centers which in an attitude of mutual dialogue and enrichment share their power and ideals for the common good of the nation. Smith considers only this broader type of nationalism as worth to be called nationalism. The ethnocentric nationalism gives emphasis on the cultural and religious heritage of one ethnic group to the extent of imposing it on all those who live in the surroundings. This is a narrower kind of nationalism because it assumes an emotional character which easily becomes aggressive and thrives on the negation of other ethnic groups. It rises to the extreme forms of passionate hostility to all alien manifestations[10].

The above study shows that all forms of extremism contain some sort of exclusive attitude, which provokes in the adepts violent attitude towards their opponents. If for the religious fundamentalists the enemy is progressive thinkers within their own religion, adepts of other religions are the targets of religious fanatics. The religious communalists are not, in fact, serious about the religion. Their interest is mainly economic and political. The concern of ethnocentric nationalists is primarily religious-cultural. However, all forms of religious extremists manipulate the religious sentiments of people for their vested interests. When everything is in a flux and nothing seems to be stable and permanent, people feel 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 illiterate hope that attachment to the fundamentalist interpretation of sacred texts and exclusion of the ‘other’ will resolve their contemporary problems. But their aspirations will ever remain unfulfilled.

2. Interpreting the forms of extremism

The above attempt to explain the political ideologies was to help us understand the different religious extremist movements that were studied in the previous papers. In those articles the authors were referring to concepts like fundamentalism, fanaticism, religious nationalism, communalism, fascism, chauvinism, etc. to explain the character of those movements. To define exactly the nature of Jama-at Islami, Hindutva and Christian Sects is above the scope of this small paper. Therefore we will make an attempt to state their affinity with the extremist ideologies we studied in the first section of this article.

2.1 Jama-at-Islami (JAI) [11] The Jama-at-Islami seems to be a representative of the movements that are originated in the third world countries against colonialism and secularism. This hypothesis can be verified if we study the context in which it is born and the manner in which it grows at present. Syed Maulana Abu Ala Maududi founded this movement in Pakistan in the year 1941 to capture freedom from the British.  Even after obtaining independence in 1947 it continues to oppose the secular culture which is identified as the culture of colonialists.

The JAI has also got some similarity with fundamentalism as it holds on unchangeably the conservative doctrines of Islam. It demands from the Muslims a total surrender to the Din, never trying to alter any element of it. According to JAI Islam alone is the solution to the problems that not only the Muslims but also the whole world encounters.  The thinking that only Islam is right and whatever else is menial points also to the fanatic potential inherent in JAI.

The fanatic leaning of JAI can grow into theocratic forms had it captures political power. The final goal of JAI is the establishment of the Caliphates, the states governed by the Sharia. JAI believes that Hizbullah – the party of God – can only meet the political economic and religious aspirations of humans. ‘There is only one path and that path is Caliph’s rule based on Sharia’ is the slogan of JAI.

2.2 Christian Sects[12]: The new sects that are emerging among the Christians in India are in their structure and nature very similar to fundamentalist movements.  Similar to its awakening in USA at the end of 19th century, the sects of the contemporary era –  ‘Spirit in Jesus’  and ‘Church of Eternity’ – assert themselves in opposition to the scientific and contextual interpretations of Bible. The advocates these sects believe in the inadequacy of modern biblical hermeneutics in dealing with the spiritual needs of laity and makes irrational claims regarding life after death. The funny side of it is that they criticise vehemently the Catholic hierarchy in the guise of safeguarding Christian revelation, but they themselves are highly defensive in style and demand unquestionable submission and obedience from the part of their followers.

2.3 Hindutva:[13] To determine the nature of the Hindutva movements is a Herculean task because, being an umbrella organization, each of its wings has its own sensibilities. The RSS, the founding father of Sangh Parivar associations, pretends to involve more in cultural activities, the BJP in politics, the VHP in religious field, and so on. However we can find out certain unity among them since they all imbibe energy from the same Hindutva ideology.

A careful analysis of the activities of the Parivar movements indicates that Hindutva is more linked with communalism or ethnocentric nationalism than with any other political system. Like communalism Hindutva is founded on the false identity that there is only one culture in India that is Hindu.  This monolithic identity is an invented one because any unbiased social scientist will concede to the fact that India is conglomeration of races, castes, jatis and languages, each having its own cultural identity.  The Sangh Parivar constructs this fake identity in order that the upper caste Hindus can, with the support of majority of the backward classes and the tribals, maintain their political and economic hegemony in the country. Hindutva cannot in any way be identified with the genuine nationalism, as its proponents claim, because from its origin onwards, its main interest is in imposing the religious and cultural hegemony of the upper caste Hindus over the Muslims, Christians, tribals and Dalits of the country.  Thus Hindutva is very much akin to ethnocentric nationalism or to the religious communalism.

3. Secularism and religion, mutually antagonistic?

Our investigation into the Islamic, Hindu and Christian varieties of extremism have shown us that most of them are in conflict with the secularism. Why does it happen so? Mark Juergensmeyer has thoroughly examined the matter and he gives the following reasons.

The main reason for the rivalry between secularism and religion seems to be the structural similarity. Both include doctrine, myth, ethics, ritual, experience and social organization. Both function to provide an overreaching framework of moral order. Religions try to maintain order in the daily life in accordance with the unchanging divine order. Secularism also attempts to work as ideology of the order. During French revolution, the ideologists built up a science of ideas based on the theories of Francis Bacon, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Rene Descartes. In doing so they were formulating a code of conduct, which can replace religion. Thus secularism and religions are parallel in fulfilling their tasks and hence they become potentially rivals.

Another reason for the rejection of secular nationalism by the religious nationalists is that the latter considers the secularists accountable for the moral decline of the people. The secularists consider reason alone as sufficient for finding the truth. Religious nationalists despise this notion. For them, secular nationalism, as it condemns religion and faith, is fundamentally bereft of spiritual values. Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka mention that the people there are indulged in gambling, slaughtering animals for meat and drinking alcohol due to the influence of Western secularism.

Religious extremists oppose secularism also for its colonial background. Secularism was grown in the West as a reaction to the monopoly of Church over the social and political spheres. But it slowly borrowed the salient features of Christianity in an attempt to become competitive to religious values. Thus it has specifically a Christian basis. As a result, the secularism is interpreted as a part of a plot to perpetuate colonialism in indigenous countries.

We can not hope that the religious activists and secularists will come to an accord in the immediate future. They are mutually afraid of being marginalized by the other. There may ultimately have no true convergence between religious and secular political ideologies. On the ideological plane the cold war may persist. But we can envisage a situation in which both secular and religious aspirations of the people are respected. Religion has a role to play in defining the value system of the state. The same way secularists can curb religion from extremist temptations. Even in the West where religion was shunted to the periphery the States assimilated some aspects of religion into the national consensus. Hence we have to sort out the aspects of religious nationalism, which we must oppose and those aspects we can co-exist with.

Among the values, which we cannot live with religious extremism include dictatorship, tendency to satanize secularism, potential to become intolerant and violent. Aspects of religious nationalism, which we can live with, are appreciation of tradition, insistence on morality, etc. There is a third category of factors, which we cannot live with easily but we have to learn to co-exist with. One is the religious nationalist’s insistence on divine justification for human laws. If divine justification motivates people to obey just laws we may agree that they are good. Another element that is to be negotiated is the exaltation of communitarian values over the individual one. Religious nationalists cherish group loyalties over individual rights and personal achievements[14].

4. Christian approach to extremism

The two factors that constitute extremism, as we have seen earlier, are exclusive attitude and recourse to violence. Consequently Christian approach towards extremism can be inferred from Jesus’ attitude towards the gentiles, the people who aggressively reacted to him and those who advocated violence. The Church teachings on non-Christians and violence will reveal to us the actual standpoint of the Church on extremism.

4.1 Jesus’ attitude towards pagans: The God whom Jesus preached is a God who offers his love to all without any restriction. Even though Jesus was born as a member of Jewish community he honored 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 drank water from the Samarian woman (Jn 4, 7).

4.2 Jesus’ approach to enemies: At the time of Jesus Jews believed that the expected Messiah would take revenge on the pagans for not joining them and adoring Yahweh. But Jesus in his inaugural speech removed the idea of vengeance from the eschatological expectation. When he read the passage from Isaiah in the Synagogue of Nazareth he left out the words like “the day of vengeance of our God” (Is 61, 2) i.e. punishing the Gentiles and the lawless for the wrong done to the law-abiding Jews. When disciples asked Jesus to destroy Samaritans who did not receive them on the way to Jerusalem Jesus rebuked them (Lk 9, 51-56).

Contrary to the practice of his epoch, Jesus enforces the disciples to love the enemies. The antithesis on non retaliation that we have in Mt 5, 38-48 and parallels urges the followers to opt out of the process of revenge through violence. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus not only prohibits violence but also demand that brutality and force be met with abounding goodness. He uses the example of God’s care for all creatures to challenge us to avoid restricting love only to those who can benefit us or already love us[15]. During the arrest of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane when one of the disciples takes his sword and strike the slave of the high priest Jesus rebukes him. Luke adds then that Jesus heals the slave by touching. By refusing to call upon his Father’s twelve legions of angels Jesus avoids doing what a magician might promise. Jesus behaves here not like a brigand. He is exemplifying the attitude of forgiveness and compassion towards those who hate him and thus proves himself faithful to the will of his Father[16].

4.3 Cleansing of the Temple: Jesus’ act of cleansing the temple (Mk 11, 15-19) is often quoted by the extremists to legitimize violent way of reacting to the opponents. But the exegetical study does not authorize us to make such an interpretation. Jesus went to the Jerusalem temple for the celebration of the Passover. According to John’s gospel, Jesus drove out with a whip of cords those selling in animals, scattered the coins and overturned the tables of the money changers. Jesus got angry because for him temple is not merely a building where people gather but it is the house of his Father[17].

A few scholars like Schnackenburg opine that this act is to be understood in a messianic sense. John narrates this event to show how the prophecies about the Messiah are fulfilled in Jesus. ‘And there shall no longer be traders in the house of the Lord of hosts on that day’ (Zech 14, 21b). ‘Zeal for your house has consumed me’ (Ps 68 (69), 10). By referring to the purification of the temple John shows that the Messianic prophecies are accomplished in Christ[18].

Another set of exegetes view this act as symbolic. This act which expresses the zeal of Jesus for the house of God cost him his life. In fact, by cleansing the temple, he is pointing to how he will purify his own body and make it the abode of his Father. As says R. E. Brown, the cleansing of the temple is a prelude to the reconstruction of the sanctuary i.e. Jesus’ own body.  Jews will destroy Jesus but he will shortly afterwards rise up anew[19]. In short, according to Johannine Christology cleansing of the temple is a symbol of Jesus’ own death and resurrection and institution of His body as the real sanctuary where the Father is present to the humanity.

4. 4 Jesus’ lack of enthusiasm to serve the Gentiles: One who objectively examines Jesus’ attitude towards pagans can not ignore his unwillingness to work among the gentiles. Jesus preached exclusively to the Jews. He limited his ministry mainly to the hill-country of Galilee and to the northern coast of the Lake of Gennesaret, regions populated by the Israelites. He seems to have avoided deliberately cities populated by Hellenists like Galillee, Sephoris and Tiberias. The only gentiles territories seem to have been visited by Jesus are Tyre and Sidon (Mk 7, 24-31) and Caesarea Philippi (Mk 8, 27). Even in those journeys his interest might have been the descendants of northern Israelites who had settled there[20]. ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel’ (Mt 15, 24). In the same manner Jesus limited the ministry of his apostles also to the Jews. Before sending the apostles on their mission Christ warned them against going into the ways of the gentiles and into the city of Samaritans (Mt 10, 5-6).

To understand this, we have to look into the theology behind Matthew’s gospel. In post-70 Judaism (after the destruction of Jerusalem), under the leadership of Johannan ben Zakkai, the Pharisees at Jamnia became hostile to the Christians. Anyone who confessed Jesus as messiah was excluded from Synagogue (Jn 9, 22). Christianity was declared an atheistic heresy and Jews were prohibited from associating with the Christians. Jewish Christians found themselves as an isolated group. It caused confusion, tension and conflict in the community. Gentile mission would have never succeeded until they learned to manage these issues. There were enough problems already within Jewish Christians and so they did not like to cause further issues going beyond its boundaries for a period of time. Some opine that His counsel not to go to the Samaritans was to make easy the mission among Jews who considered it below their dignity to be taught by men who mixed with the gentiles and Samaritans.

Another explanation for Jesus’ reluctance to carry mission among non-Jews is that he was sharing the common Jewish belief according to which Gentiles would be brought to God through the witness of Israel once the kingdom of God was established in Israel. Salvation of the Gentiles was believed to take place at the eschatological time. The eschatological time would begin definitively only at his resurrection. Missionary work among them had to wait till the post-resurrection period. The blood of the true Passover Lamp must be shed for many (Mk 14, 24). Therefore, even while keeping an open attitude towards the Gentiles throughout the ministry, he was patiently awaiting the conversion of the Jewish people in order that through them the conversion of other races might be achieved. The service of Jesus to the Jews was a service in view of the Gentiles[21]. In short, Biblical experts do not see Jesus’ reservation to carry pastoral activity among the Jews as an example for exclusivism. Jesus’ particular actions are to be interpreted in terms of his general attitude towards the gentiles. Gospels witness clearly the universalistic attitude of Jesus.

4.5 Attitude of the Church: The fact that the Catholicism condemns extremism is evident from Church’s positive approach to the non-Christian religions of the world. The Second Vatican Council devotes a special declaration Nostra Aetate, to speak about her affinity with Judaism, Islam and other South Asian religions. Besides, Lumen Gentium, Gaudium et spes and Ad Gentes furnish elements for a positive approach to pluralism. The Instruction, Libertatis Conscientia, has expressed precisely on Church’s attitude towards violence.

Nostra Aetate understands humanity as one family and advises Christians to deal with all humans as brothers and sisters: All men form but one community. This is so because all stem from the one stock which God created to people the entire earth and also because all share in a common destiny, namely God. His providence, evident goodness, and saving designs extend to all men. (1 Tim 2, 4. NA 1). ‘The Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions. She has 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. Let Christians, while witnessing to their own faith and way of life acknowledge, preserve and encourage the spiritual and moral truths found among non-Christians, also their social life and culture’. (NA 2) ‘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)

Lumen Gentium gives a broad concept of people of God so as to comprehend in it all good minded people: ‘The plan of salvation also 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), and since the Savior wills all men be saved (I Tim 2,4). Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless 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’ (LG 16). To include in the people of God all those who do good to the world is an incentive for the Catholics to establish positive relationship with all people irrespective of caste and creed.

The Instruction Libertatis Conscientia which was published in 1986 admits armed struggle only as a last resort to put an end to the tyranny, which is gravely damaging the fundamental right of the individuals. Otherwise Church holds the following standpoint: ‘Systematic recourse to violence put forward as the necessary path to liberation has to be condemned as a destructive illusion and one that opens the way to new forms of servitude … One can never approve, whether perpetrated by established power or insurgents, crimes such as reprisals against the general population, torture, or methods of terrorism and deliberate provocation aimed at causing deaths during popular demonstration’[22]. Thus, neither the attitude of Jesus nor the attitude of Church promotes extremist tendencies to safeguard faith.

5. Means to resist religious extremism

5.1 Teach the noble values of all religions: Ignorance about other religions is a great hurdle in the path of communal harmony. Wars begin in the minds of men and therefore it is in the minds of men that defense for peace must be constructed. All religions nurture values like truth, love, non-violence, compassion, peace, service, practice of equality, fraternity, justice, etc. People are to be formed in these ideals.

The value education in and through the academic and extra-curricular activities is an efficient way to instil universal religious values in the minds of pupils. Across the country several NGOs function in this field. The Universal Solidarity Movement, one of the offshoots of Dharma Bharati (began at Indore on 16th July 1993), organizes training programmes for cabinet members (body of students formed in view of influencing fellow students), teachers, principals and parents in schools and colleges. See below some of the action plans that are adopted by the participants of such a training programme which was held in April-June at the Indore National Office. a) We shall practise the Five Paths (skip a meal a week, say a prayer a day, do a good deed a day, honour parents and respect earth) for personal transformation through out life; b) We shall plant at least five trees every year and take care of them; c) We will greet our friends, of other communities or faith, on their festivals; d) We shall never waste food items either at home or outside; e) We shall read at least five books a year; and f) We will not use intoxicants[23]. Similar grass-root level action plans are executed by various peace-making organizations all over the country and they render valuable service in defying the communal agenda of fanatic groups.

Among the adults the inter-religious amity can be fostered through exchanges at various levels. Through common prayers, meditations, discussions and celebrations we can know about the noble values akin to each religion. Every person can contribute to building unity by small gestures of daily life. Visiting the hospitals, sharing meals with neighbors on festivals, would cause decline on communal feelings.

5.2 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.[24] If so, it is naïve to harp on exclusiveness and assert one’s superiority either in belief, or in tradition or in culture. Humans can enhance the unity of mankind while remaining in many religions.

The virtue of interdependence is the little way to transcend the barrier of caste, creed, race, and language. An atmosphere of understanding one another as human beings with same needs, aspirations and obligations is to be created. Ways of worship and style of life may be varied, but these outward manifestations 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.[25]

5.3 Development: Formation of religious values alone will not keep the young generation away from extremist tendencies. Studies show that the sectarian groups find sympathizers by a large amount among the unemployed youth. The young people who migrate from remote areas to the towns are culturally alienated. Those who fail to meet with the challenges of highly mechanized world are sidelined. Such frustrated youth often find refuge in small sects where they get emotional warmth. Therefore to curtail the growth of fundamentalism one has to definitely work for employment and development.

Taking care of them is witnessing Christ’s love in a world of selfishness. In the scene of last judgment (Mt 25, 31-46) and in the parable of rich man and Lazarus (Lk 16, 19-31) Jesus refers to the compassionate concern for the dalim as the necessary condition to enter into his Kingdom. That is why Church today perceives development as a means for establishing peace: ‘Excessive economic, social and cultural inequalities danger to peace … Peace is something that is built up day after day, in the pursuit of an order intended by God, which implies a more perfect form of justice among people’[26]

5.4 Counter cultural and political formation: During the last two decades secular minded individuals used to expose the hidden agenda and strategies of communal forces and create public opinion against them. But the resistance put up by the secular forces is very less at present. Unless sustained efforts are not undertaken for the counter culture formation, our world will not be a livable planet for tomorrow. Using art forms – painting, music, street plays – is an efficient means to oppose the communal forces. The counter cultural formation has to be done also through mass media by disseminating teachings, stories, legends and myths from different religious traditions. 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 who believe in secularism.

Today man suffers from a type of religious neurosis. The best medicine to heal the poisoned psyche of humanity is the spirituality of religions advocating values 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.


[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, 40-42.

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

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

[8] A.A. Engineer, A Theory of Communal Riots, Seminar, November 1983, pp. 14-17.

[9] H. Kohn, Nationalism: Its Meaning and History, Florida: Robert E. Krieger Publishing Company, 1982, pp. 9-10.

[10] A.D. Smith, Theories of Nationalism, London: Gerald Duckworth & Company Limited, 1971, pp. 158-1163; 170-171. E.R.A. Seligman & A. Johnson, Nationalism, Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, vol. 11, London: Macmillan and Co. Ltd., p. 231.

[11] See the article written by Anto  Cheranthuruthy on Jama-at-Islami in the same issue.

[12] Read Joseph Pamplany’s article on Christian Sects in same number of Encounter.

[13] For details see the article of Devis Kavungal on the topic in this copy of Encounter

[14] M. Juergensmeyer, Religious Nationalism confronts the Secular State, Oxford University Press, 1993, pp. 15-34.

[15] D.J. Harrington, The Gospel of Mathew, Sacra Pagina, D.J. Harrington (ed.), vol. 1, The Liturgical Press, Collegeville Minnesota, 1991, p. 92.

[16] Ibid., pp. 375-377.

[17] F.J. Moloney, The Gospel of John, Sacra Pagina, D.J. Harrington (ed.), The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota, 1998, pp. 75-80.

[18] R. Schnackenburg, The Gospel According to John, vol. 1, New York: The Seabury Press, 1980, pp. 343-357.

[19] R.E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament, New York: Doubleday, 1997, pp. 340-341.

[20] L. Legrand, Mission in the Bible, Pune: Ishvani Publications, 1992, pp. 48-50.

[21] J. Kuttianimattathil, Jesus-Christ, Unique and Universal, Bangalore: KJ Publications, 1990, pp. 66-67.

[22] Congregation for the doctrine of the faith, Instruction Libertatis Conscientia, 22 March 1986, AAS 79 (1987) no: 76.79.

[23] Charter of Action Plan by the Student Leaders, Renaissance, vol. 16, no:3, May-June 2008, Indore, p. 2.

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

[25] 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.

[26] Paul VI, Populorum Progressio, AAS 59 (1967), no: 50.

Dominus Jesus and Mission

Dominus Jesus and Mission

Dr Vincent Kundukulam

Dr Vincent Kundukulam

Vincent Kundukulam

 No other Vatican document has produced so many storms in the recent past like Dominus Iesus,(DI), a Declaration prepared by the Office of the Congregation for Doctrine of Faith (CDF) and by the Pope John Paul II and published on 6 August 2000.  There ensued many discussions about DI in the form of study seminars and symposiums and through the publication of books, theological journals and popular magazines both inside and outside the Catholic Church. The conservative groups in different religions and Christian denominations came out with severe criticisms against it. Among the Indian catholic theological journals, Jeevadhara brought out a special issue in May 2001, a collection of reactions from theologians representing various continents. We are not in a position to examine this voluminous literature and that is not our objective too. Our aim is to understand the concerns of Dominus Jesus from a missiological perspective and the reasons for which it is known as a polemic document.

 1. Nature of the Document

 The Declaration Dominus Jesus besides the introduction and conclusion contains six small chapters and is spread in 23 numbers. Compared to other Vatican teachings like Redemptoris Missio or Fides et Ratio which have 92 and 108 paragraphs respectively, DI is not a very big document. It does not contribute any new insight regarding the uniqueness of Christ or unicity of Church. It reiterates only what has been taught in previous magisterial documents about this subject. Then naturally one may ask why does it create so much uproar.

A look into sources of this Letter gives us a glimpse on the nature of the document. Apparently this heavily documented Declaration is largely based on the open perspectives of Second Vatican Council. For, among the 102 citations 42 belongs to Second Vatican Council and 30 are taken from the encyclicals of John Paul II. But a close scrutiny of these citations shows that the drafter is very much selective in his references. He has chosen mainly the orthodox statements, which reinforce the primacy of Christ, Church and mission and seldom refers to the passages of inclusive and integrating order. The 7 citations from Ancient Councils and 5 from CCC add to its exclusive language.

 2. Purpose of the Declaration

The objective of the document, as made explicit in its beginning, is to recall to bishops, theologians and the faithful certain indispensable elements of Christian doctrine which would help them develop answers consistent with the content of faith and refute erroneous or ambiguous positions regarding faith (no: 3). This intention is again repeated in the last number: “Faced with certain problematic and even erroneous propositions, theological reflection is called to reconfirm the Church’s faith and to give reasons for her hope in a way that is convincing and effective” (no: 23).

 What are the erroneous doctrines that the document refer to? Mainly, these are propositions originating from relativism. DI rules out the mentality of indifferentism, which leads to the belief that Jesus is one of the manifestations of God and that one religion is as good as another. It takes extreme care to defend the uniqueness of Christ and unicity of Church. But a cautious reading of the Letter will show that these Christological and ecclesiological concerns are led by another objective namely to rejuvenate missionary preaching and baptism. The propositions coming from relativist ideologies had cast shadows of doubts regarding the need of missionary proclamation.

This missiological concern is very clear from the document, which laments that inspite of two thousand years of missionary efforts the mission still remains far from complete. DI cites St. Paul crying, “woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel” (I Cor 9, 16) (no 2). Moreover the fact that the document begins with the missionary command of Resurrected Jesus to the disciples to proclaim the Gospel to the whole world and to baptize all nations shown in all the Synoptic Gospels (Mt, 28, 19-20; Mk 16, 15-16; Lk 24, 46-48) make evident the priority of the Declaration for mission. (no 1)

 3. Affirmations of DI

            From the above explanation the three theological disciplines in which the document likes to put certain order is very clear. They are Christology, Ecclesiology and Missiology. Though the sixth chapter deals with the salvific value of non-Christian religions it is not a major preoccupation of the Declaration. If it were so, the document should have positively defined their role in building the kingdom of God.

 3.1 Christological: Jesus, the only Unique Redeemer

One of the main assertions of DI is that Jesus Christ is the mediator and the universal redeemer. Christ, the Son of God Lord and only Saviour, through the event of incarnation, death and resurrection, has brought the history of salvation to fulfillment and there is no other name under heaven among men by which they can be saved (no 13). God the Father raised Jesus from the dead, exalted and placed at his right hand constituting him judge of the living and the dead. This gives him unique, singular, exclusive, absolute and universal significance as the mediator of the world (no 15)

The document rejects the concept of limited, incomplete or imperfect character of revelation of Jesus Christ which will be complementary to that found in other religions. It denies also the underlying relativist theory, which says that God cannot be grasped and manifested in its globality and completeness by any historical religion. According to the document this theory is not applicable to the person of Jesus. The truth about God is not abolished or reduced even though it is spoken in human language by Jesus because he who speaks and acts here is the Incarnate Son of God (no 6) The attitude of perceiving Jesus as a particular, finite, historical figure manifesting one of the many faces of Logos communicating with humanity in course of the history does not conform to the faith of the Church. (no 9)

DI cautions against the different sorts of separation made by the progressive theologians: between Jesus of history and Christ of faith; between humanity and divinity of Jesus Christ and between the economy of salvation realized through the Three Persons of Trinity in order to create space for the mediations of other religions in the salvific project of God. The document denies the view that there are two economies of salvation: one of the Eternal Word, which is valid even outside the Church and another of the Incarnated Word, which is limited to the Christians. (no 9) The declaration does not accept any separation between the Word and Jesus Christ and the salvific actions of the Word as such and that of the Word made flesh (no 10)

            DI admits the work of the Spirit extending beyond the visible boundaries of the Church and affecting other cultures, peoples, and religions. It quotes Gs 22: “For since Christ has died for all and since all men are called to one and the same destiny 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”. But the declaration does not accept a separate economy of the Holy Spirit with a more universal breadth than that of the Incarnate Word. It is the same Spirit who is active among other religions and who was at work in the life death and resurrection of Jesus and now present in the Church. The action of the Spirit is not parallel to that of Christ.  (no 12)

 3.2 Ecclesiological: Necessity of Church

            The fourth and fifth chapters of the document defend the Unicity of the Church. Because there is an historical continuity between the Church founded by Christ and the Catholic Church DI argues that she has the fullness of Christ’s salvific mystery. Just as the head and members of a living body, though not identical, are inseparable, so too Christ and the Church can neither be confused nor separated, and constitute single ‘whole Christ’. Just as there is one Christ so there exists a single body of Christ, a single Bride of Christ, a single Catholic and apostolic Church. Church of Christ, despite the divisions which exist among Christians, continues to exist fully only in the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him. (no 16)

            Church being the legitimate continuation of Christ claims the declaration: ‘none can empty or deny the intimate connection between Christ, the Kingdom and the Church’. The declaration is aware that the kingdom of God is not identical with the Church in her visible and social reality. Church is oriented toward the kingdom of God, of which she is the seed, sign and instrument. Yet while remaining distinct from Christ and the kingdom, the Church is indissolubly united to both. Church is the kingdom of Christ already present in mystery. (no 18) On account of the indissoluble mysterious relationship that Church has with Christ, it would be contrary to faith to consider Church as one way of salvation along side those constituted by other religions. Other religions cannot be seen as complementary to the Church or substantially equivalent to her, even if they will converge with the Church toward the eschatological kingdom of God. (no 21)

 After affirming the specificity of Church DI alerts the Catholics not to boast of their exalted condition: ‘if they fail to respond in thought, word, and deed, not only they shall not be saved but also they shall be more severely judged’. (no 22) In fact these chapters reveal drafter’s tension to keep two truths together: the necessity of the Church for salvation on the one hand and the possibility of salvation for all mankind in Christ on the other. DI finds Church necessary for salvation because of Christ’s presence in her. Since Church is united always in a mysterious way to the Saviour Jesus Christ, she has, in God’s plan, an indispensable relationship with the salvation of every human being. She is the universal sacrament of salvation. But at the same time DI affirms that to those who are not formally and visibly members of the Church, salvation is accessible by virtue of a grace. (no 20).

 3.3 Missiological: Urgency of Mission

            Apart from relativism, what put down the missionary zeal in the Church is misunderstanding caused by some forged concepts of dialogue. Some missionaries doubt the need to work for the conversion of the gentiles if the latter are already on the way of salvation while they obey the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Responding to this situation DI explains the basic reason for evangelization: God has made himself in the fullest possible way known to Christians. Since Church possesses the definitive revelation of God she has by her nature to be missionary. (no 5)

According to DI though the followers of other religions can receive divine grace in their own religions, it is also certain that they are in a gravely deficient situation in comparison with those who in the Church have the fullness of the means of salvation. Hence the Church, to whom the fullness of Truth has been entrusted, has the duty to bring them the full truth. Guided by charity and respect for freedom Church must commit herself to proclaim the truth revealed by the Lord, to announce the necessity of conversion to Jesus Christ and of the adherence to the Church through baptism and other sacraments, in order to participate fully in communion with God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. (no 22)

 With regard to dialogue DI says that the inter-religious dialogue does not relegate the necessity of mission. Dialogue is just one of the actions of the Church in her mission ad gentes. Inter-religious dialogue as well the mission ad gentes today as always retains its full force and necessity. Dialogue does not replace but rather accompanies the missio ad gentes. In brief the certainty of the universal salvific will of God does not diminish but rather increase the duty and urgency of the proclamation of salvation and of conversion to the Lord Jesus Christ. (no 22)

4. Attitude towards other Religions

            In some instances DI endorses the open outlook of Second Vatican Council. For example, the first chapter quotes NA 2: “The Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions. She has a high regard for the manner of life and conduct, the precepts and teachings, which although differing in many ways from her own teaching, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men”. Referring to the universal salvific will of God DI admits that ‘the sacred books of other religions receive from the mystery of Christ the elements of goodness and grace for God who desires to call all people to himself in Christ and to communicate to them the fullness of his revelation. God’s love does not fail to make himself present in many ways not only to individuals but also to entire people through their spiritual riches. Hence other religions are the main and essential expression of God’s revelation even when they contain gaps, insufficiencies and errors’ (no 8). A similar attitude is obvious in the last chapter: “Certainly, the various religious traditions contain and offer religious elements, which come from God, and which are parts of what the Spirit brings about in human hearts and in the history of peoples, in cultures and religions” (no 21)

 But in many other parts DI compares Christianity with other religions and thereby downplays their value. First of all, the document makes a distinction between faith in Christianity and belief in other religions. Theological faith gives Christians revealed truth whereas beliefs of other religions are the sum of experience of human treasury of wisdom and religious aspiration, which are still in search of the absolute truth and still lacking assent to God who reveals himself.  (no 7) Secondly DI makes a distinction between the sacred writings of other religions and Bible. The Scriptures of other religions contain however some elements to nourish and maintain inter-relationship with God but they can not be considered as inspired texts, a title which is reserved only to the Canonical Books of the Bible as they are inspired by the Holy Spirit. (no 8) Thirdly, DI compares the Christian prayers and rituals with that of other religions. DI recognizes some of them as preparation for the Gospel but it does not attribute to them a divine origin or ex opere operato salvific efficacy, which is proper to the Christian sacraments. (no 21)

 In the light of above pages we can certainly say that Dominus Jesus projects an ambivalent attitude towards Non-Christians. In one context, it would say that other religions receive elements of goodness and grace from God and in spite of the errors contained in them, are essential expressions of God’s revelation (no 8). But on other occasions DI does not hesitate to affirm that other religions are in a gravely deficient situation (no 22) and that they are the sum of experience of human treasury of wisdom and religious aspiration, which still lacks assent to God’s revelation (no 7). Such sort of incoherence happens partly due to the presence of members having diverse sensibilities in the redaction committee. When Pope John Paul II convened the meeting of leaders of the World Religions at Assisi in 1986 there were some misgivings already in the Vatican and Pope had to give a special address to the Roman Curia explaining the theological foundations of that initiative. We will now see non-Catholic reception of Dominus Iesus.

 5. Reactions from outside Church

            Abd-al-Haqq, the director of Institute for Islamic Higher Studies at Paris thinks that Dominus Jesus is “taking a step back”. He observes that for the first time in the history of humanity the religions coexist in different continents and above all they encounter and know mutually. We can no more understand Truth in the same way as in the past. God does not want to be exhausted by one faith. Haqq regrets of the exclusive attitude in Dominus Jesus and he is afraid that such kind of text reinforces the rigid attitude in Islam. (La Croix, 7 September 2000, Paris)

Olivier Clement, an orthodox theologian who has been engaging in ecumenical dialogue since years comments that “this abrupt way of saying things make me to think that this text is a reaction of those who have difficulty in the Curia to accept the open attitude of John Paul II. I don’t see any continuity between this text and Ut unum sint (1995), an encyclical on the unity of Christians. Rabbi Korsia, the director of College of Rabbis in France, does not understand why a text from Vatican takes position on Judaism. When the Association of Rabbis makes a declaration to the Jews, it does not discuss any issue related to the Catholic Church. It is true that each religion must be able to articulate for its own members where lays the Truth. The only thing that we accuse is the fact of imposing one’s own truth on others. (La Croix, 7 September 2000, Paris, p.11)

            The Hindu world, the Sangh Parivar in particular, could not digest the premises of Dominus Iesus. N.S. Rajaram, an ideologist of RSS writes: “In a just released document titled Declaration of Lord Jesus the Vatican proclaims non-Christians to be in a gravely deficient situation” and that even non-Catholic churches have “defects” because they do not acknowledge the primacy of Pope. This of course means that the Vatican refuses to acknowledge the spiritual right (and freedom) of non-Catholics. This consigns non-Christians to hell, and the only way they can save themselves is by becoming Christians, preferably Catholics, by submitting to the Pope. (Organizer, 3 June 2001, Delhi, p. 19)

 6. Lacking pedagogy of encounter

 As we mentioned in the introduction a bundle of articles had already come out criticizing this document. Due to constraint of time we will discuss about only one aspect, namely language of DI.

No doubt, the tone, style and language of the Declaration are very different from that of the Second Vatican Council. The Council Decrees by its inclusive style generates in the reader a feeling of harmony. Reading them we are moved to work with all peoples, cultures and religions. For example see the human fellowship outlined in Nostra aetate: “All men form but one community. This is so because all stem from the one stock” (no 1) Gaudium et spes writes: “Through loyalty to conscience Christians are joined to other men in the search for truth and for the right solution to so many moral problems which arise both in the life of individuals and from social relationships. (no 16).

But this spirit of commonality or togetherness is unseen in Dominus Jesus. Exclusive language, imposing style and comparative statements of DI nourish a ghetto culture. Referring to the language of DI, Felix Wilfred has rightly observed that Church still lacks the pedagogy of dialogue. Many misunderstand tolerance, compassion and the concern for other’s faith as compromise. We are afraid to follow in our relationship with other religions the path of renunciation and kenosis showed by Jesus. The only way to get rid of this fear is to let us be touched by the neighbour (La Croix, 28 September 2000).

Some may underestimate Felix’s comment, as he is a theologian, known for his modernism. But Joseph Dore, Archbishop of Strasbourg, known for his orthodoxy and allegiance to Vatican, also confesses that the style of DI is different from that of the Council. There are expressions of command like “In fact it must be firmly believed that” (no 5) “It must be firmly held” (no 7) “all the children of the Church should nevertheless remember that” (no 22), etc. in the document, which may badly affect its reception by local Churches. (La Croix, 6 September 2000). Archbishop Vincent Concessao of Delhi, CBCI Vice-President said, “Dominus Iesus is immediately relevant to the multi-religious and multi-cultural situation in India but it was felt that the document has to be toned down”. (The New Leader, vol. 114, no:10, June 1-15, 2001, p.30.)

            As Jacob Parappally notes, DI cannot but be exclusive because its language is confessional. Our task is to proclaim the faith of the Church in the context of plurality of religions and ecclesial communities. It is the charism of the local Churches to evolve a language in which the faith affirmations can be meaningfully communicated. Overemphasis on the historicity of Jesus in DI reduces him to be one among the founders of religion. DI makes Jesus Christ small and his Church a sect. (Parappally, Profession and Proclamation of Faith, Jeevadhara, vol, 31, no 183, May 2001, pp. 225-227)

            Against the above-mentioned accusations CDF’s response was that DI is not destined to other religions. But this argument does not stand in Asia and Africa where to be religious means to be inter-religious. Whatever is said by one religion affects all others. Nobody can seek God in isolation here. In such a context the Church teachings must be expressed in local cultures. “Doing Asian Theology in Asia Today’ (DATAT), a document published by FABC in October 2000 seems to be a glaring example. It begins with addressing the threat of relativism, as does DI. But DATAT does not equate relativism with pluralism; instead as Second Vatican Council, DATAT advocates pluralism in theology.  At the same time it warns against irresponsibility or indifferentism with matters affecting the faith of the Church. When DI relegates other religious traditions to beliefs still in search of truth DATAT draws nourishment from Asian cultures. DI presents Church as custodian of Truth but DATAT consider Truth as mystery, to be approached with reverence. This reverence does not allow FABC make judgment upon other religions (Jeevadhara, vol, 31, no 183, May 2001, pp. 230-233)

            The absence of the theology of incarnation has also affected the missiological perspective of DI. It finds the source of mission in Jesus’ missionary command to the apostles after resurrection. To base mission on this mandate is an outdated approach. The Second Vatican Council accepts the Mystery of Incarnation as the source and model of evangelization. As Jesus who, being sent by the Father, assumed what is good in humanity the missionary must assimilate the fruits of Spirit already present in the local culture before announcing the Gospel. Unfortunately, DI is silent about inculturation, dialogue, liberative actions, witness, etc. which should precede mission.

7. There is yet to hope for

Inspite of all the above noted drawbacks DI cannot be, in my view, totally discarded because all along with the rigid standpoints it has also retained inclusive attitude of Second Vatican Council. For example, the document still believes in the participatory mediation of other religions: “The unique mediation of the Redeemer does not exclude but rather gives rise to a manifold cooperation, which is, but a participation in this one source. These participatory forms of mediation acquire meaning and value only from Christ’s own mediation. They cannot be understood as parallel or complementary to his.” (no: 14)

Similarly, DI has not totally identified Church with Christ and the Kingdom: “The kingdom of God is not identified with the Church in her visible and social reality. In fact the action of Christ and the Spirit outside the Church’s visible boundaries must not be excluded. Therefore, one must also bear in mind that the kingdom is the concern of everyone: individuals, society and the world”. (no 19 On the contrary if DI had equated Church with Kingdom there would have been no room left for dialogue and inculturation.

 It must also be noted that the Declaration believes in the salvation of those who remain outside Catholic Church by means of a special grace from God: “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. This grace comes from Christ; it is the result of his sacrifice and is communicated by the Holy Spirit (no: 20).

 Above all, the document promotes the freedom of theologians to cogitate over the mystery of salvation. DI invites the theologians to explore in what way the historical figures and positive elements of other religions fall within the divine plan of salvation. (no 14) It encourages them to find out the meaning of the statement in AG 7 saying: “Although in ways known to himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel to that faith without which it is impossible to please him “(no 21). The present Pope Benedict XVI during the Holy Mass that he offered on the subsequent day of his election (20th April 2005) promised to continue the efforts of dialogue commenced by his predecessor. Let us hope that Church will rediscover the vision of the Council about other religions.

Deepening Inculturation

 Deepening Inculturation

 Dr Vincent Kundukulam

Dr Vincent Kundukulam

 Dr Vincent Kundukulam

Introduction

 

            Since the Second Vatican Council the theologians spoke much about the necessity of transmitting the gospel values in the indigenous cultures. Various local Churches in Africa Asia and Latin America took initiatives to develop Christian practices proper to their cultures. This interaction of the Christian message with the local cultures gave birth not only to adapted liturgies but also to diverged forms of theologies like liberation theology, theology of dialogue, etc. which sowed certain confusion in the Church. There was a feeling that individual Churches are moving away from the old traditions of the catholic Church. As a result certain precautions are taken by the Church to make sure that the efforts of inculturation do not risk the faith and unity of the universal Church. Unfortunately, today many individual Churches left aside the efforts to reinterpret the gospel message in their religious cultures and are content with adopting a few local external customs in the liturgy. The objective of this article is to show that inculturation is to be done not merely at superficial realms of indigenous cultures but also at religious aspects. The meaning of inculturation, its relation with the mystery of incarnation, the process of inculturation and the intrinsic connection that exists between the culture and religion proves the pertinence of such an argument.

 

1. Meaning of Inculturation

Origin: We don’t know the exact date of the first apparition of the term inculturation[1].  It seems that it was Fr. Pedro Arrupe, the Superior General of Jesuits, who first used this term during the thirty-second general assembly of their Congregation, which took place in Rome from 1st December 1974 to 7th April 1975[2]. The first Assembly of Federation of Asian Bishops Conference (F.A.B.C) organised at Taipei between 22nd to 27th April 1976 had also spoken about an indigenous and inculturated church[3]. This word first appeared in the official text of the Catholic Church during the Synod of Bishops in 1977. John Paul II officially pronounced this word during his allocation addressed to the members of Pontifical Biblical Commission on 26th April 1979. In his speech, he placed inculturation at the centre of the Mystery of incarnation[4]. Since then during his various visits in different countries and in his official documents Pope speaks about inculturation as a constitutive element of evangelisation. We can better understand the significance of inculturation if we compare it with other notions like adaptation, accommodation, localisation, indigenisation, contextualisation, acculturation and enculturation which are often employed in missiology to explain the new rapport established between the Church and different cultures.

Adaptation, accommodation and localisation: The initiative for adaptation was existing in the Church from the very beginning of her mission. It was more prevalent from 16th century when the European missionaries began to go in the Far East countries. It denotes the efforts taken by the missionaries on the one hand to adapt to the local customs in dress, lodging and food and on the other hand to present the Bible in an intelligible and understandable way for the non-Christians. In this sense the accommodation and localisation signify the same reality of adaptation. But inculturation is distinct from them in two aspects: a) Adaptation is essentially the work of missionary while inculturation is the result of the efforts taken by the members of the local Church to receive the Christian message in their culture. b) Adaptation limits itself to external aspects of the culture while inculturation is a process in which the Church makes of gospel new expressions and interpretations in a given culture[5].

Indigenisation and contextualisation The missiologists do not prefer to use the term Indigenisation to designate the transmission of the gospel in a particular culture because the term Indigenous designate those people who lived in ancient colonised countries. It revives the memory of colonial culture. As regards the term contextualisation, in its original usage, refers to the theological formation in the non-accidental countries. Later, it was utilised for explaining the various aspects of life and the mission of the church[6]. The benefit of this term is that it evokes the sum total of cultural political social and religious situations in which the Bible must be inculturated and by the same fact it represents well the object of inculturation. But the disadvantage of this term is that it does not represent well the theological dimension i.e., the encounter of gospel with human situations.

Acculturation:  This term is employed in sociology to evoke what one designated by inculturation in theology. Since thirty years, the missiologists use it to explain the relation between the Church and various cultures. Acculturation stands for that process by which one person moves from one culture to another with the consequence of changing the modes of his original culture. It is a historical process in the sense that the individuals and the groups do not stop modifying their cultural traditions by the contact of other people and other cultures[7]. But since this term is of sociology, the theologians prefer to use the word inculturation, which belongs properly to the theology.

Enculturation: This term also has its origin in sociology to indicate the process by which an individual is initiated and grown up in his culture, the first act of socialisation[8]. What distinguishes enculturation from inculturation is that the former is concerned about the insertion of an individual in a particular culture while the latter points to the process by which Church becomes a part of the culture of the people. Again, in the case of former, the child does not have a-prioi the culture while in the case of latter, the Church is already deep-rooted in a particular culture[9]. The above explanations helped us to see the differences between inculturation and other concepts, which describes the relationship between the Church and the culture in missiology. Now we have to study the significance of the term inculturation in a positive way.

            Fr. Arrupe used the term inculturation for the first time in his letter to the Jesuits written on 14th May 1978 defining it as follows: “Inculturation is the incarnation of Christian life and of the Christian message in a particular cultural context, in such a way that this experience not only finds expression through elements proper to the culture in question (this alone would be no more than a superficial adaptation), but becomes a principle that animates, directs and unifies the culture, transforming and remaking it so to bring about a new creation”. Then Arrupe gives the following explanation: “In every case, this Christian experience is that of the People of God, that lives in a definite cultural space and has assimilated the traditional values of its own culture, but is open to other cultures. In other words, it is the experience of a local Church which, accepting the past with discernment, constructs the future with its present resources”[10]. The FABC at Taipei in 1976 used the term inculturation when it defined the local Church: “The local Church is Church incarnate in a people, a Church indigenous and inculturated[11]. Pope John Paul II in his first utilisation of this term, he connects it with the mystery of incarnation: ‘the term inculturation is perhaps a neologism, but it expresses very well one of the components of the great mystery of incarnation’[12].

            The above explanations make clear that inculturation is more than adaptation. The gospel must be inculturated in the cultural political social and religious situations of the indigenous communities. Let us now contemplate on the inseparable link that exists between inculturation and mystery of incarnation, which will convince us of the need of giving flesh to the Word even at religious level.

2. Inculturation – Incarnation

            The heart of mystery of incarnation is the fact that the ‘word is made flesh’. (Jn.1:14)  God has taken the contingent form of humanity. The ultimate divinity has been incarnated in a man called Jesus. The connection between incarnation and inculturation consists in the fact that the latter follows the same logic of the former. In the process of inculturation, Gospel becomes a concrete word for the people. It takes a new expression and at the same time it enriches the culture. The advantage of comparing inculturation to the incarnation, as Claude Geffre says, is that there will be evangelisation only if the gospel is presented in a particular culture as the fullness of revelation of God in a man can take place only if he is incarnated in a particular and concrete man called Jesus of Nazareth.  Another advantage is that we can show the incorruptible nature of the word of God. Gospel does not lose its identity even though it is realised in different cultures, as the transcendence of God is not compromised in the incarnation[13].

            St. Paul presents the mystery of incarnation as a real denouncement  (kenosis) of God (Phil.2:6,7), a mystery according to which God accepted to incarnate as one of the member of a particular group (Jews) in order to open the way of universal salvation. The process of inculturation contains also this aspect of kenosis. The four gospels, even though they are inseparably linked with the cultures of their times, in order that they become a ferment in a particular context of today, they must be detached of the cultural contingencies of their time. The Indian theologians are really convinced that inculturation will take place only when there is kenosis of the word of God: “ To become a Christian is to become incarnated: to become a seed, to die, to be reborn in the cultural roots. There must be a fundamental transformation in our attitudes. We are born here and we must be harmonised to the vibrations, to the rhythms and to the music of Indian culture.”[14]

            R. Jaouen gives the example of a seed to speak about inculturation. As soon as the seed is fallen on the earth, it begins to work slowly and invisibly. The sower does not know how the seed sprouts and grows. The same way, the missionary sows the Word but the result is produced without him. Everything happens as a mysterious action that takes place between gospel and culture where the missionary remains as a useless servant. This reference to the symbol of seed helps us to understand the gist of inculturation: The principal actor of inculturation, as in incarnation, is not man but Jesus Christ himself who germinate his church in each man where he is preached. In other words inculturation is not the product of a human project. It is not the result of an encounter between two human cultures. But it is a divine project realised due to the encounter of Gospel with a particular culture. Jesus Christ is the Word proclaimed by the predicator and the Word received by a culture[15].

            As incarnation, inculturation is also an evangelising act. Amalorpavadass mention the missionary connection that exists between the process of incarnation and that of inculturation. According to him by incarnation, Christ has assumed in his humanity the whole creation and by the death and resurrection, he has recapitulated it in him. The church is called to continue the mission of recapitulation of everything in Christ of which inculturation is the accessible means for the church. If the church does not follow the same channel of incarnation done by Christ, she cannot fulfil her mission[16]. We listen to the same idea in the mouth of a bishop working in a missionary region of Kerala: “The incarnation of Christ is mission to be lived continually and everything that is good in different cultures must be assumed in his humanity[17]. Puthanangady affirms this dimension of inculturation saying that it does not mean simply the encounter of gospel with a culture in view of making a pertinent and adequate formulation of Gospel but it is the way in which God encounters the humanity in need of salvation[18]. In short, inculturation is a fundamental exigency for the church which is missionary among the diverse cultures of the world.

            Even though there are common elements between these two concepts, we cannot for the same reason exchange them mutually since the mystery of incarnation is absolutely unique. The incarnation has taken place only once for all while inculturation has to be realised many times everywhere in the world. Another important element which distinguishes inculturation from incarnation is that the latter evoke the relation between one person, Jesus Christ and a Jewish Aramanic culture while the former suppose a relation between a religion, Christianity which has already assimilated the elements of particular cultures and an another culture[19].

            This study on the relationship between the mystery of incarnation and inculturation shows the necessity of realising the process of inculturation even in religious level. We have seen that by incarnation, God has not taken shape only in the superficial aspects of humanity but in all the dimensions of man’s life. If the inculturation has to follow the same logic of incarnation, we cannot be content with an adaptation of the Church in Indian culture. We have also seen that incarnation was an act of evangelisation. Jesus has recapitulated the whole humanity in God. In order that the inculturation becomes an act of evangelisation, the gospel must assimilate and transform the profound aspects of human person including his religious culture. The study on the double movement of inculturation will clarify such a necessity in a better way.

3. The double movement of inculturation

            Inculturation is an encounter of the gospel with the culture. In this encounter, the two partners transform by the grace of their dialogical rapport. As the local culture is transformed by the gospel, the gospel is renewed by the culture. John Paul II in his encyclical Slavorum Apostolii published in 1985 during the 11th Centenary of the evangelising works done by Saints Cyril and Methode mentions this double face of inculturation: In the work of evangelisation that they undertake in the territories of Slav, one finds  a model which we call today inculturation: The incarnation of gospel in the native cultures and at the same time the presentation of the cultures in the life of the Church.[20]

3.1 The inculturation of the Gospel

            It designates today the process by which the gospel takes shape in the local culture of our time as the four gospels were formed in the early Christianity. The four gospels witness the possible cultural variants of the translation of the word of God. For e.g. in the discourse on love of enemies, when Matthew speaks to Jews, he uses the term- gentiles. (Do not even the gentiles do the same? Mt 5: 47) On the other hand, Luke uses another expression, sinners, while addressing to the Gentiles:  (For even sinners do the same; Lk 6:33) Thus the evangelists do not reproduce the exact words of Jesus, but translates the thoughts of Jesus in the cultural patterns of his addressee.[21] The objective of inculturation is, as says Peelman, to write a fifth gospel.[22]

   What does this expression mean? Should we try to write a gospel for India another for Brazil and a third one for Cameroon? I would never say that the gospel must be radically transformed. Anyway, by inculturation we would not be able to produce texts equivalent to the four gospels, which are part of the Canon of the church. The four gospels due to their proximity with Christ and the apostles are unique and they cannot be reproduced in any place. But at the same time, the process of inculturation of the Gospels implies that if the gospel takes root deeply in a culture of a particular people today, the latter will receive gospel in a quite different manner than the first Christian communities. The fact that the words of Christ are read and re-interpreted in a pertinent way for a particular people will bring a certain novelty in the very understanding of gospel. These new elements cannot be reduced to simple adaptations or applications of the word of God because they modify the very understanding of Christ, Church and her mission in the world. Inculturation is the renewal or the updating of the good news without losing its unique message. In realising such a task, the Spirit of Christ incorporates into the Church the new fruits of the kenosis of the word of God.

   In the process of inculturation, even though the principle agent is the Spirit of Christ, it is the missionary who acts in his name. When the Word of God is sown on the earth, it is the missionary who represents the presence of the church in that place. What is the role of missionary in the inculturation of gospel? First of all, let us remember that like gospel, the missionary is never culturally pure. Take the case of a Indian missionary in Africa. He is profoundly conditioned on the one hand by the Hindu culture and on the other hand by a Indian catholic culture. The gospel, which he announces, is in determined by the specific cultural paradigms of India that he lived during the course of centuries.  As says Jaouen, the cultural and religious affinity of a missionary compels him to create certain apriori cultural ethnocentrism. In order that his personal cultural roots do not become an obstacle in the encounter between the gospel and the local community, he has to put in dialectical contact his original culture and the new culture in which he is sent. In any way he has to avoid the risk of imposing the ecclesiastical culture proper to him upon the local Church. The missionary must act in such a way that the indigenous Christian community respond in an authentic manner to the gospel. On the contrary, if the missionary tries to implant his own Church, he imposes there a response, which is already made by his Church a few centuries ago. It has nothing to do with the local culture of Africa. The missionary must wait patiently so that the encounter between the gospel and the indigenous culture give shape to a new Church, which is the improvisible creation of Holy Spirit.[23]

   But in this process, the preacher should not also forget the risk of reducing the Christian message to the local culture because it will make Christ and his gospel to merely a human wisdom. St. Paul had averted the Christian communities of his time about such a danger. “For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin” (Gal.1, 11) “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ“”(Col. 2, 8) It is therefore Evangelii Nuntiandi after having indicated the necessity of inculturation of the gospel says: “But on the other hand evangelisation risk losing its power and disappearing altogether if one empties or adulterates its content under the pretext of translating it; if, in other words, one sacrifices this reality and destroys the unity without which there is no universality, out of a wish to adapt a universal reality to a local situation. Now, only a Church which preserves the awareness of her universality and shows that she is in fact universal is capable of having a message which can be heard by all, regardless of regional frontiers”. (EN 63) Bishop Poupard has reason to say that any effort to make cultural assimilation in a totalitarian manner, will end up in the very refusal of Christianity. In her concern to reach man in his modern culture, the Church cannot at the same time allow to be perished. She has to bring leaven to the local culture.[24]  Such an observation leads us to speak about the evangelisation of cultures, the other face of inculturation.

3.2 Evangelisation of cultures

   It means to criticise those elements in the local culture, which contradict the spirit of the gospels and to transform it by creating a new culture, which is in harmony with the gospel. The document Gaudium et Spes stresses this aspect of transformation of the culture when it speaks of the evangelisation. “Good news of Christ continually renews the life and culture of fallen man; it combats and removes the error and the evil which flow from the ever present attraction of sin. It never ceases to purify and elevate the morality of people. It takes the spiritual qualities and endowments of every age and nation, and with supernatural riches, it causes them to blossom as it were, from within; it fortifies, completes and restores them in Christ” (G.S. 58, 4) The Evangelii Nuntiandi explain like this: “For the Church, evangelising means bringing the Good News into all the strata of humanity, and through its influence transforming humanity from within and making it new  … the Church evangelises when she seeks to convert, solely through the divine power of the message she proclaims, both the personal and collective consciences of people, the activities in which they engage, and the lives and concrete milieu which are theirs.” (EN 18) The question that we have to ask here is this: why and how the gospel is capable of transforming the cultures?

   We can find the answer in the creative power of the Word of God. As we have said earlier, it is Christ himself, who is the word preached and the missionary. The good news that Christ is made man, died and resurrected is too strange that it provokes in the mind of the listener a rupture with his original culture. It results in the change of the person and the reception of the gospel.[25] According to Puthanangady, the word of God is a critical word and so it is liberating. If Church allows the gospel to play its critical role, it will bring in the conversion of oppressors and the liberation of the oppressed.[26] Those who receive the gospel message like Saccheus (Lk.1:19), says Amaladoss, change their representations of God, of the world and  of the other, of  the material things, etc. Thus a new culture is born in the society.[27]

   Those who are actively participating in the activities of the Church are aware of the transforming aspect of inculturation: “The inculturation includes also the process of questioning the Hindu cultural practices which are not in harmony with the gospel message. We have to accept what is coherent with the spirit of gospel and refuse which do not[28]. “The church must assimilate the concepts of Hindu culture but at the same time, she has to re-interpret them in order that they become capable of carrying evangelical sense. The Christians must purify and evangelise the cultures and if nessary, they have to formulate a new one.[29]” The process of evangelisation of cultures finishes only when the gospel exercises its critical function and contributes to the creation of new evangelical cultures. It is not sufficient that the anti-gospel and the anti human values are denounced. We must detect the spiritual aspirations hidden deep inside the minds of the people, which may enlighten in a better way the gospel message and thus create a new gospel culture.

   But this evangelisation of the culture must be lead without destroying the prestigious indigenous culture, which may appear to the missionaries eyes as non evangelical due to his estrangement to the local culture. The directives given by the Congregation for the Propagation of Faith to the first missionaries of Asia in 17th century had already evoked the necessity of being prudent vis-à-vis the local cultures: “Don’t make any tentative to persuade the people to change their customs, way of life and daily practices, when they are not contrary to the morals and religious life. It is absurd to transport to China what is lived in France, Spain and Italy or in other parts of Europe. Don’t bring them at all, but only faith which does neither reject nor offend the way of life and the usage of the people when they are not bad. On the contrary, the faith may conserve and protect those morals and ideas.”[30] Even then, these instructions do not come from the urge for the inculturation of the gospel, as we understand it today. Rather it shows the desire to be successful in the conversion of gentiles.

   But in our time, Pope John Paul II in his address to the Australian aborigines on 29th November said: “Your culture, which witness the permanent genius and the dignity of your race, should not be disappeared. Don’t believe that your talents are not of great value that you need not preserve them no more. Share them among you and transmit them to your children; your songs, your stories, your paintings, your dances, your language…They should never be lost.”[31]  The objective of all these official declarations of the church is the same: We should not confuse the values, the cultures and the way of life in Europe or in Mediterranean world with the substantial and essential message of the gospel. The missionary Church is neither Christ nor the Kingdom of God Her mission is to witness Christ and to dispose herself at the service of the Kingdom as the sign and sacrament of God. Such a conviction will allow the preachers to make gospel a leaven in the inside of each culture.[32] Finish this treatise with the description of inculturation proposed by Crollius who resumed the double movement in inculturation as follows: “Inculturation of the Church is the integration of the Christian experience of a local Church into the culture of its people, in such a way that this experience not only expresses itself in elements of this culture, but becomes a force that animates, orients and innovates this culture so as to create a new unity and communion, not only within the culture in question but also as an enrichment of the Church universal”.[33]

            The above study shows that if the inculturation is made only in the exterior aspects and if we remain foreign to the profound dimensions of Christian life that is not the spirit of the theology of inculturation. A serious approach to inculturation demands that the Gospel penetrate even in the religious cultures of a locality in order to transform them and recapitulate them in Christ. In this mission, Church cannot leave aside the non-Christian religious traditions, which guide the half of human population. As says Claude Geffre, all the existing values and ideas must undergo a metamorphosis and a new synthesis of which the Christian message is the catalysing factor. Thus re-actualising the fundamental Christian experience in new historical forms, the Church will become really universal.[34] To achieve this objective, as bishop Zoa of Cameroon says, ‘It will not be sufficient to put together the rituals of some religions or cultures. The word of God must take flesh in the economic, political and social situations of the local people. One must be able to say as the Samarians told to the Samaritan woman converted by Jesus. “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe. For we have heard for ourselves and we know that this is truly the saviour of the World” (Jn 4:42)’[35].

   Evangelii Nuntiandi reminds that the gospel message must be be inculturated not merely in a decorative way as it were by applying a thin veneer, but in a vital way, in depth and right to their roots. (EN 20) During the encounter with the Pontifical Council for the Culture, on 13 January 1986, Pope John Paul II referred to the work done by the Synod of Bishops and affirmed it clearly: ‘Inculturation is another thing than mere simple exterior adaptation. It signifies a deep transformation of the authentic cultural values by the integration into Christianity and the deepening of Christianity in the different human cultures’[36]. If this is the very objective of inculturation, we cannot be satisfied with adaptations in the superficial level.

4. Culture and religion

   The concept of culture can be studied from different angles. There is the classical understanding of the culture according to which it is the sum total of refined habits that are practised by the dominant classes. The modern anthropologists prefer a more open definition of the culture. Among many definitions, I would like that of Edward Tylor and Clifford Geertz: “Culture is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, customs and any other capabilities or habits acquired by man as a member of society[37]. “Culture is a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic forms by means of which human beings communicate perpetuate and develop their knowledge about and their attitudes towards life”[38].

   The description of the culture given by Gaudium et Spes is in coherence with the modern anthropological vision: “The word culture in the general sense refers to all those things which go to the refining and developing of man’s diverse mental and physical endowments. He strives to subdue the earth by his knowledge and his labor: he humanises social life both in the family and in the whole civic community through the improvement of customs and institutions; he expresses through his works the great spiritual experiences and aspirations of man through out the ages; he communicates and preserves them to be an inspiration for the progress of many even of all mankind.” (G.S. 53:2) These definitions show that the term culture is to be understood in its largest sense: the integral vision of the life which is developed from not only social but also religious heritage of people through the history in a determined context.

   The relation between the culture and the gospel brings into our focus the inevitable place of religious factor in the processes of inculturation. With regard to the message of salvation, gospel is distinct from diverse cultures and still there cannot be total separation between gospel and culture. Gaudium et Spes says that God revealed himself to his people until the coming of his son through different cultures of the time.(G.S. 58) For the same reason in every culture we can find some sort of preparation to receive the gospel message. (G.S.57) Evangelii Nuntiandi affirms also the connection between culture and gospel: The Gospel, and therefore evangelisation, is certainly not identical with culture, and they are independent in regard to all cultures. Nevertheless, the Kingdom, which the Gospel proclaims, is lived by men who are profoundly linked to a culture, and the building up of the kingdom can not avoid borrowing the elements of human culture or cultures. (E.N. 20) As Cardinal Poupard says if Bible had been completely separated from the culture, it could not have the capacity to transform, to purify, to elevate, to strengthen, to perfect and to renovate the cultures as it does since 2000 years[39].

            There exists a reciprocal interaction between culture and religion in almost every countries. Religion is often the secret motor of every culture. So any attempt to get involved in a culture will necessarily lead to the involvement in their religious sphere. Perhaps what keeps away the missionaries from the religious inculturation is the fear of losing the Christian identity. Some think that by adopting some Hindu symbols, the Christians will be ‘Hindusised’. This fear is understandable because the co-habitation of the symbols belonging to different religious languages may cause syncretism. But the universal character of symbolic language shows that such a fear is baseless. As Michel Meslin says, ‘The symbol reveals a logic of correspondence: Above the immediate signification, there will be a second meaning which surpasses the material reality and make possible a mediation between man and his world. The efficient symbol speaks to man at a cosmic and social level. The symbols exist in and through the signification given by human individuals.’[40] If it is the human interpretation that gives sense to a symbol and if the symbols have the capacity to represent the ideas in a universal realm, I think that the Christianity can re-interpret the Hindu religious symbols without committing the mistake of syncretism.

Conclusion

            The inculturation is an inter-religious encounter. The particular culture that the gospel meets is not devoid of religious elements. The culture is transporting the human aspirations about transcendental realities and it is very difficult to separate the religious elements from the culture even in those countries which are very much secular. Much more difficult in countries like India where the daily life is some way or other related with a event in Scriptures which are numerous. So Indian Church has to take a renewed interest in reading and interpreting the word of God in the diverse religious cultures of this land. This is part and parcel of her mission to transform the Indian society from within. Only when the she fulfils this task she will be really Indian and Catholic.

                                                                                                Vincent Kundukulam

                                                                        Mangalapuzha, Aluva, January 2000


[1] For the details see A.A.R.Crollius, ‘What is so new about Inculturation? A concept and its implications’ , Gregorianum, Vol 59 n.3. 1978, pp. 721-738 : M. Sales, ‘Le christianisme, la culture et les cultures, Axes XIII – 1-2, 1980, pp.3-40: J. Masson, L’ Eglise, Ouverte sur le monde,  Nouvelle Revue Theologique, Vol 84, 1962, p.1038.

[2] Cf. P. Arupe, Fr.P Arupe’s letter on Inculturation to the whole society of Jesus,  Indian Missiological Review, January 1979, p.87.

3 Cf. G.B. Rossalez and C.G. Arevalo (eds), For All The Peoples Of Asia : Federation Of Asian Bishops Conference Documents From 1970-1991 , Clarition Publication, Quenzon City, 1992, p. 14

[4] John Paul II, Allocution a la Commission  biblique Pontificale: L’insertion culturelle de la Revelation, Documentation catholique, no: 776, 1979, p. 455

[5] Cf. N. Standaert, L’histoire d’un neologisme, Nouvelle revue theologique, no: 111, 1988, pp. 556-557.

[6] Cf. A.A.R. Crollius, What is so new about Inculturation? op.cit., p.723.

[7] Cf. A. Shorter, Toward a Theology of Inculturation, Orbis, New York, 1994, p.7.

[8] Ibid., p.5.

[9] Cf. A.A.R. Crollius, What is so new about Inculturation? op.cit., pp. 726-727

[10] P. Arupe, Fr.P Arupe’s letter on Inculturation to the whole society of Jesus,  op.cit., pp.87-88

[11] G.B. Rossalez and C.G. Arevalo (eds), For All The Peoples Of Asia, op.cit., p. 14

[12] John Paul II, Allocution a la Commission  biblique, op.cit., p. 455

[13] Cf. C. Geffre, Mission et inculturation, Spiritus, vol. 28, no: 109, 1987, p. 412

[14] Interview with Albert Nambiaparambil at Delhi.

[15] Cf. R. Jaouen, Les conditions d’une inculturation fiable, Observations d’un missionnaire au Cameroun, Lumiere et Vie, vol. 33, no: 168, 1984, pp. 29. 35-38.

[16] Cf. D.S. Amalorpavadass, Theological Reflections on Inculturation, Indian Theological Studies, vol. 27, no: ¾, 1990, pp. 234-240.

[17] Interview with Bp. Zoosai Pakiam at Trivandrum, Kerala.

[18] Cf. P. Puthanangady, Which Culture for Inculturation: The Dominant or the Popular, East Asian Pastoral Review, vol. 30, no: ¾, 1993, p.301.

[19] Cf. N. Standaret, L’histoire d’un neologism, op.cit., pp. 561-562.

[20] Jean Paul II, Homelie pour le jubile des saints Cyrille et Methode, le 14 fevrier 1985, La Documentation catholique, no: 1893, 1985, p. 308.

[21] Cf. S. Anand, The Local Church and Inculturation, Ishvani Kendra, Pune, 1985, pp. 34-36.

[22] Cf. A. Peelman, L’inculturation: L’Eglise et les cultures, Desclee, Paris, 1989, pp. 91-92.

[23] Cf. R. Jaouen, Les conditions d’une inculturation fiable, op.cit., pp. 34-37

[24] Cf. P. Poupard, L’Eglise au defi des cultures: Inculturation et Evangelisation, Desclee, Paris, 1989, p.44.

[25] Cf. N. Standaret, L’histoire d’un neologism, op.cit., p. 563.

[26] Cf. P. Puthanangady. Which culture for Inculturation: The dominant or the popular ?, East Asian Patoral Review, vol. 30, no: ¾, 1993, p. 302

[27] Cf. A. Amaladoss, Inculturation and Intentionality, East Asian Pastoral Review, vol. 29, no:3,1992,p.240

[28] Interview with Paul Thelakkatt, editor of Satyadeepam weekly at Ernakulam, Kerala.

[29] Interview with Francis Kodenkandath, Diocesian Pastoral Council member of Thrissur, Kerala.

[30] Alexandre VII, Instructions a l’usage des Vicaires Apostoliques en partenance pour les Royaumes chinois de Tonkin et de Cochinchine, Collectanea SC Propaganda Fide, 1, p. 42, no: 35

[31] Jean Paul II, Voici pour vous l’heure d’une novelle naissance: Discours aux aborigenes a Alice Springs, La Documentation Catholique, no: 1932, 18 janvier 1987, p. 61

[32] Cf. A. Peelman, L’inculturation: L’Eglise at les cultures, op.cit., pp. 78-85

[33] [33] Cf. A.A.R. Crollius, What is so new about Inculturation? op.cit., p.735.

[34] Cf. C. Geffre, Mission et inculturation, Spiritus, vol. 28, no: 109, 1987, pp. 418.420.

[35] From the homily which was made at Notre Dame de Lorette in Paris on 10 December 1995.

[36] Jean Paul II, Un temps nouveau de la culture humaine, La Documentation Catholique, no: 1912, 16 fevrier 1986, p. 191.

[37] E.B. Tylor, Primitive culture: Researches in to the development of Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, Art, Custom, vol.1, Peter Smith, Gloucester, 1871, p.1.

[38] C. Geertz The Interpretation of Cultures, New York, 1975, p. 89.

[39] Cf. P. Poupard, L’Eglise au defi des cultures, op.cit, p. 27.

[40] Cf. M.Meslin, L’experience humaine du divin, Cerf, Paris, 1988, pp. 197-201.

Education comme Evangélisation en Inde

Colloque organisé par l’AFUI et l’ISTR sur L’Inde et le fait Chrétien  le 19 Octobre 2005

A la Salle de l’Horticulture, 84 rue de Grenelle, Paris-7.

Education comme Evangélisation en Inde

Dr Vincent Kundukulam

Dr Vincent Kundukulam

KUNDUKULANGARA Vincent

Introduction

Tout d’abord permettez-moi de remercier sincèrement les responsables de l’AFUI et de l’ISTR qui m’ont fait venir d’Inde pour participer à ce colloque. Ils ont tout à fait raison car comment fait-on un colloque sur l’Inde sans avoir les Indiens comme  interlocuteurs ? Tous ceux qui travaillent pour le bien-être de l’humanité sont intéressés au service de l’éducation car d’une part le futur de tout pays dépend du progrès de l’éducation et d’autre part l’éducation est l’instrument le plus efficace pour assurer l’égalité entre les hommes. J’espère que cette réflexion sur le service éducatif chrétien en Inde nous ouvrira de nouveaux horizons et nous aidera à faire un pas en avant dans nos efforts de développer un monde meilleur.

Le Père Rossignol nous a très bien présenté l’histoire de l’évangélisation en Inde et Dr. Jeyaraj a fait un exposé enrichissant tout en expliquant les soucis, le succès, la peine, la joie et les défis que les missionnaires expérimentent lorsqu’ils essayent d’enraciner le christianisme dans le pays. Le sujet de mon intervention dans ce colloque est l’éducation comme évangélisation en Inde. En d’autres termes je vais expliquer les divers types de services éducatifs entrepris par l’église en Inde hier et aujourd’hui, mettre en évidence les problèmes qui existent dans le service de l’éducation en général et montrer également comment les initiatives chrétiennes dans ce domaine deviennent une manière d’annoncer l’évangile dans le sous-continent indien.

Je vais diviser cet exposé en quatre parties. Nous commencerons par un bref aperçu de l’histoire de l’éducation en Inde de la période Védique à notre ère contemporaine. Après nous verrons en détail les divers types des services éducatifs faits par les chrétiens parmi les différentes catégories de la population indienne. Dans la troisième partie nous verrons comment ce service éducatif devient une mission évangélisatrice. Nous conclurons avec les défis que les établissements éducatifs chrétiens relèvent en Inde, un pays qui est profondément affecté par le mondialisation et le nationalisme hindou.

Clarifications des termes

Education: Aujourd’hui on parle de l’éducation à deux niveaux différents: l’éducation ordinaire ou formelle et l’éducation informelle ou non-formelle. L’éducation formelle est synonyme de l’enseignement conventionnel à travers les écoles. Dans un sens plus large tout ce qu’on fait pour élever les hommes à la perfection de la nature humaine est compris aujourd’hui en Inde comme éducation informelle ou non-formelle. Par exemple, le travail d’alphabétisation des adultes, l’éducation donnée hors d’écoles ordinaires, etc. Ces deux formes d’éducation sont intimement liées car les deux préparent l’individu à être de bons citoyens. (Collier’s Encyclopedia, 582) Dans ce colloque nous utiliserons ce terme dans son sens plus large.

Evangélisation: Que voulons-nous dire par l’évangélisation ? Jusqu’à un temps récent, mission ou évangélisation a été comprise par l’Eglise catholique comme l’annonce explicite de Jésus Christ et de son Evangile dans les pays païens et lointains et l’implantation des églises pour les baptisés. Mais aujourd’hui plus que cette vision écclésio-centrique ce qui est mis en valeur est une mission centrée sur le Royaume de Dieu. Cette mission n’exclut pas le baptême, pourtant on y donne l’importance à répandre les valeurs du règne de Dieu à travers le combat pour la justice, les efforts pour améliorer la bonne entente inter-religieuse, le développement, etc. partout où les Chrétiens sont en mission. Ici nous parlerons de l’évangélisation avec ce sens actuel du terme.

Partie 1 : Un Aperçu Historique

L’histoire de l’éducation en Inde est longue car l’Inde a un passé très ancien. Pour des raisons pratiques je la divise en trois périodes: périodes antiques, période occidentale et période après l’indépendance. Nous les étudierons brièvement excepté la période occidentale parce que l’Inde actuelle doit beaucoup à l’éducation occidentale pour ce qu’elle est aujourd’hui.

1. L’époque ancienne

L’impact le plus ancien de l’éducation en Inde était celui de la civilisation aryenne, qui a dû entrer dans ce pays entre 1500 et 1200 avant notre ère. Pendant la période aryenne l’éducation a été principalement donnée aux classes sacerdotales et plus tard aux kshatriyas (des nobles et des guerriers) et aux vayshiya (des agriculteurs et des commerçants). L’apprentissage était très lent car les étudiants devaient en même temps travailler pour leur professeur à la maison et dans le champ. Ils étudiaient lors de leur temps libre. Par conséquent l’étude d’un Veda prenait 12 ans et ainsi seulement quelques uns pouvaient achever leurs études. Le deuxième impact était celui du bouddhisme. Les systèmes d’éducation brahmanique et bouddhistes étaient presque semblables mais le bouddhisme a ouvert l’éducation à toutes les castes. Pourtant puisque les cours ont été tenus dans les monastères le public n’a pas pu en profiter. Alors est venue l’éducation musulmane au 10ème siècle de notre ère qui a eu lieu dans les madrasah, les écoles primaires attachées aux mosquées. Ces établissements étaient principalement pour Musulmans et donc n’ont pas eu un impact sur le public. (Education in India, 5-18)

         Parmi les systèmes d’éducation antiques en Inde ce qui avait le plus marqué l’ensemble de l’Inde était celui des Brahmanes. Mais alors on peut se demander pourquoi  le système Brahmane n’a pas eu de succès à l’époque moderne ? Je pense que le souci du monde céleste a fait que les éducateurs hindous se sont éloignes du contact avec la vie ordinaire. Pour certaines écoles de la philosophie indienne le monde terrestre est une illusion ou Maya. Le Bhagavad Gita, II dit : “l’homme qui chasse de soi tout désir et marche sans désir, sans la pensée du moi, hérite la paix” Les bonnes actions aussi bien que les mauvaises contribueront à la prolongation du cycle des naissances. La vraie sagesse est le pouvoir de libérer les âmes des chaînes mondaines. Par conséquent les Brahmanes ne pouvaient pas être intéressés à l’étude des sciences modernes qui favorisent l’attachement au monde en s’abstenant ainsi au moksha. (A History of Education in India and Pakistan, 183- 189)

2. La période occidentale

Les écoles ordinaires ont démarré en Inde d’abord pour les enfants d’Européens qui ont habité le pays. Ainsi une première école, celle de Santa Fe School est ouverte à Goa (1540) par les franciscains et plus tard d’autres écoles de missionnaire à Bassein (Vasai) en 1546, à Cochin en 1549, à Punnaicayil au Tamil Nadu en 1567, à Madurai en 1595, à Pondichéry en 1713 et une école tamoule à Ellacurichi au Tamil Nadu en 1731. (G. Palackapilly, Christian Contribution to Education, Language and Literature, Christian Contribution to Nation Building, 84). En 1784 le Gouverneur Warren Hastings a établi un Madrasa pour l’éducation des garçons musulmans à Calcutta et en 1791 Jonathan Duncan, le résidant britannique à Bénarès a ouvert une école universitaire de Sanskrit. Le but de ces écoles était de former des hommes capables d’interpréter les lois musulmanes et hindoues qui étaient nécessaires dans l’administration de la justice. (A History of Education in India and Pakistan, 197-199)

On reproche souvent aux Anglais d’avoir eu des intérêts personnels dans l’éducation des Indiens puisqu’ils ont ouvert les écoles en vue de former les secrétaires nécessaires pour leur administration. Ceci peut ne pas être entièrement vrai parce que ce n’était pas le seul but de ceux qui avaient pris des initiatives dans le domaine éducatif. Par exemple, Macaulay, le membre du Comite pour  la loi du gouvernement Indien de l’époque avait exprimé en Chambre des Communes comme suit : “sommes-nous pour maintenir le peuple de l’Inde ignorant afin que nous puissions les maintenir dociles ? Ou voulons-nous les laisser sans le passage légitime après avoir éveillé chez eux l’ambition? Il se peut que l’esprit public de l’Inde puisse augmenter sous notre système jusqu’à ce qu’il le dépasse” (Education in India, 22)

En 1792 en renouvelant la charte d’East India Company, Wilberforce, le chef de la partie évangélique, a demandé à la Cour des directeurs d’envoyer des professeurs de temps en temps en l’Inde pour la promotion de la connaissance des habitants. En 1857, la Cour des directeurs a créé des universités à Calcutta, à Bombay et à Madras sur le modèle de l’université de Londres. (Education in India, 21-24) Lorsque les Britanniques ont quitté l’Inde il y avait environ 196.000 institutions de formation. (A History of Education in India and Pakistan 212; Pour étude  plus approfondie de la contribution de la période britannique à l’éducation voir également A..A. Zellner, Education in India, New York : Bookman Associates, 1951 ; S.N. Mukerji, History of Education in India, Baroda : Acharya Book Depot, 1957)

Les efforts du gouvernement dans le domaine de l’éducation ont été renforcés par les missionnaires en créant des écoles et des collèges dans les villes et les villages. Indépendamment des établissements éducatifs les missionnaires ont un vif l’intérêt pour étudier les cultures, les religions et les langues régionales et communiquer leurs résultats au monde extérieur. Les premiers dictionnaires et grammaires modernes et les alphabets d’un grand nombre de langues et de dialectes indiens doivent leur existence aux missionnaires.

Examinons le brièvement dans les Etats différents de l’Inde.  En Inde du nord les services éducatifs chrétiens ont débuté avec la mission du Tibet en 1704 et plus efficacement avec l’établissement de l’archidiocèse d’Agra en 1886, la mère de tous les diocèses du nord de l’Inde. Les 13 diocèses qui existent dans le nord ont entrepris des campagnes d’alphabétisation dans leurs villages. Il y a presque 800 écoles Catholiques y compris primaires et secondaires et cinq écoles universitaires dans cette région. (P. Celestine, Christianity in Northern India, Indian Christian Directory, 98-99)

Grâce aux jésuites portugais, Mission Etrangère de Paris et églises protestantes le taux d’alphabétisation et en particulier des femmes ont été élevé dans les sept états sœurs du nord-est de l’Inde:  Arunachal Pradesh 42 % ; Assam 53.42 %; Manipur 60.96 %; Meghalaya 48.26 % Mizoram 82. 27 % et Tripura 60.39 %. (J. Puthenpurakal, The Rising Sun: Christianity’s Contribution to India’s North Eastern Region, Indian Christian Directory, 107-110). Les baptistes et les presbytériens ont contribué à la formation du dictionnaire Assamese-Anglais, la grammaire et les manuscrits de la langue d’Assamese, alphabet de Khasi, la langue de Garo, le dictionnaire de Naga, prose bengali, etc. (G. Palackapilly Christian Contribution to Education, Language and Literature, Christian Contribution to Nation Building, 91-92.)

Dans différentes régions de l’Ouest de l’Inde notamment à Goa, Bassein, Bandra, Bombay et Gujerat les initiatives éducatives ont été commencé par les jésuites portugais. Sous la direction d’évêque Hartman (1850ff) une école primaire a été attachée à chaque paroisse à Bombay. La diffusion des écoles primaires dans les villages éloignés de Bombay doit considérablement aux missions protestantes. Jyotiba Phuel ancien étudiant d’école écossaise à Pune a lancé le premier mouvement non-Brahmin contre la pratique de caste en Inde. (M. D. David, Christianity in Western India, Indian Christian Directory, 114-115)

Le progrès éducatif s’est produit dans la côte est de l’Inde – du Bihar, du Madhya Pradesh et de l’Orissa – par la mission de Tibet-Hindustan (1707), la mission de Bettiah (1707-1745) et la mission du Népal (1715-1769). L’influence de l’éducation parmi les chrétiens de Bettiah qui  appartenaient aux castes élevées et moyennes et qui forment maintenant une communauté autour 13, 000 membres était si significative que dans les années 90 qu’ils étaient tous alphabétises. Leurs métiers ont changé de les traditionnels en les travaux de secrétaire, d’enseignants et de cadre professionnels. En tout dans ces trois Etats l’église a 36 écoles universitaires, 384 lycées, 555 collèges, 615 écoles primaires et 300 centres d’éducation professionnelle. (J. Kalapura, Dignit Re-discovered :Christians in Eastern India, Indian Christian Directory, 102-104)

Venons à l’Inde du sud, au Kerala. Quand les Portugais y sont arrivé au 15ème siècle il y avait des écoles conduites par tous les Hindous et pour les chrétiens. C’est évident des décrets adoptés par le synode d’Diamper selon lequel on devait déplacer les sanctuaires maintenus dans les écoles chrétiens pour les étudiants hindous et qui accordait la permission aux enfants chrétiens d’aller à des écoles hindoues mais sans montrer n’importe quelle vénération à des idoles. L’éducation occidentale a été présentée par les Prussian missionnaires, The Church Missionary Society (CMS) et de Basel German Evangelical Mission. Selon les statistiques en 1901 le taux d’instruction chez les femmes au Kerala était déjà 31 sur 100 tandis qu’il était 1 sur 1000 à Gwalior et 11 sur 1000 à Bombay. En 1901 les chrétiens avaient déjà 1920 écoles au Kerala. (C.V. Cherian, Kerala-Empowernment through Enlightenment, Indian Christian Directory, 130-131). En ce qui concerne la langue de Malayalam, son premier dictionnaire est fait par un missionnaire allemand John Ernetus Hanxleden, connu sous le nom d’Arnold Padiri ; la première grammaire par l’évêque Anjelo Francis de Verapoly et le Nigantu Malayalam-Anglais  par Hermann Gundert. (A. Sreedhara Menon, A Survey of Kerala History, 339-340)

Au Tamil Nadu, les missionnaires comme Robert de Nobili, Constantius Joseph Beshi, Bartholomew Ziegenbalg, G.U. pape, Robert Caldwell, ont travaillé à la prose tamoule moderne, au premier lexicographe scientifique du Tamoul, aux dictionnaires Tamoule, Latin-Tamoul, et Portuguese-Tamoul, une grammaire comparative des langues Dravidiennes du sud, etc… (G. Palackapilly, Christian Contribution to Education, Language and Literature, Contribution to Nation Building, 93-94)

Au Karnataka les dominicains, The Church Missionary Society et The Basel Mission ont commencé des écoles. Le Vicaire apostolique de Mysore Msgr. Charbonneaux MEP en collaboration avec les soeurs du Bon Berger a commencé des écoles à Mysore, Bangalore, Bellary, Kolar, Udipi, et par l’année 1895 elles ont eu 77 établissements éducatifs à la mission de Mysroe pour des étudiants venant toutes castes. Ils ont écrit des livres de grammaire et les dictionnaires de Kannada. La Presse catholique qui a été commencé par le Msgr. Etienne Charbonnaux à Bangalore a facilité la publication des littératures de kannada. (T. Anchukandam, Christian Contribution to Karnataka, Indian Christian Directory, 116-119) ]

Résumons l’impact des missionnaires européens sur l’éducation des Indiens en disant qu’il a créé une grande révolution dans la mentalité indienne. Les idées occidentales de la liberté, l’égalité et la dignité humaine ont agi en tant qu’agent catalytique et provoqué un changement social radical dans le pays. Citons à ce propos Les historiens éminents comme R.C. Majumdar a dit la chose suivante : “Si nous devons choisir un facteur qui a aidé plus que d’autres à la grande transformation de l’Inde au 19ème siècle sans n’importe quel point d’hésitation on peut dire que c’est l’éducation anglaise” (R.C. Majumdar (ed.), The History and Culture of the Indian People, X.31) Selon Syed Nurullah et J. P. Naik, les deux auteurs célèbres de l’histoire de l’éducation en Inde, l’acquis le plus important de l’éducation britannique était de présenter à l’Inde la langue et la littérature européenne et à travers elles toute la pensée, le développement industriel et scientifique, et la philosophie sociale et politique de l’ouest. L’éducation anglaise a libéré l’esprit indien des idées archaïques et a créé la base de la Renaissance indienne. L’Inde doit l’étude scientifique et critique de sa propre culture antique aux européens. L’ouest est également responsable du réveil de plusieurs tendances humanistes telles que la croisade contre l’intouchabilité et l’esprit du service social. (A History of Education in India, 865-867)

3. Après l’indépendance

À l’heure de l’indépendance seulement 14 % de la population était instruite et seulement un enfant sur trois était inscrit dans une école primaire. (Government of India, Ministry of I & B, India 1995, p. 79) La Constitution Indienne a déclaré dans son article 45 déclarant que l’Etat essayera d’assurer une éducation obligatoire pour tous les enfants jusqu’à l’âge de quatorze ans. Depuis, plusieurs commissions telles que la Commission pour L’université sous la présidence de Dr. Radhakrishnan en 1948, la Commission pour L’éducation Secondaire sous la présidence de Dr. S. Lakshmanasamy Mudaliar en 1952 et la Commission d’Education sous la présidence de Dr. D.S. Kothari ont été nommées pour aborder le problème de l’éducation. En juillet 1993 la Cour suprême a déclaré l’éducation élémentaire comme droit fondamental : Chaque citoyen du pays a droit à une éducation gratuite jusqu’à l’âge de 14 ans”. Le Gouvernement central et ceux des Etats ont pris des mesures pour l’expansion des écoles élémentaires. En conséquence le taux d’instruction a atteint jusqu’à 62 % en 1997.

Partie II : Différents types de services éducatifs

Si les chrétiens sont respectés en Inde c’est non en raison de leur croyance religieuse, mais à cause de leurs établissements éducatifs et leurs services de santé. Les établissements éducatifs jouent comme une porte d’entrée pour les chrétiens pour créer un bon rapport véritable avec la société. Les chrétiens sont seulement 2.34 % de la population indienne mais, leurs institutions assurent

5 % de l’éducation primaire,

10 % de l’éducation et de santé,

25 % des soins  des orphelins et des veuves

30 % des soins aux handicapés mentaux et physiques, lèpres et les victimes des SIDAS. (Alain De Lastic, Inaugural Speech, Proceedings of the National Consultation on Education, 9. 48.)

Selon le Catholic Directory of India 1994 les Catholiques qui représentent 1.68 % de la population indienne dirigent 17, 000 établissements éducatifs.

3.785 écoles maternelles

 7.319 écoles primaires

3.765 écoles secondaires

1500 professionnelles et écoles techniques

175 écoles universitaires

2 universités de technologie et

2 universités médicales. Maintenant nous pouvons voir de près les différentes initiatives prises par les églises pour l’éducation des tribus, des dalits, des femmes, des pauvres enfants, etc.

4. Éducation des Dalits (intouchables)

Durant l’époque des Britanniques, éducation et évangélisation étaient extrêmement liées chez les Dalits, la classe la plus opprimée de la société indienne. Les missionnaires ont ouvert des écoles et les Dalits ont perçu la conversion comme un moyen efficace d’acquérir une bonne éducation. Le mouvement de conversion des Pulayas (groupe d’intouchables) en 1930 au Kerala était un exemple. Peu après la conversion les Pulayas chrétiens ont créé leurs propres écoles qui sont devenues si prestigieuses que même les autres, les hautes castes ont envoyé leurs enfants dans ces écoles.

Le programme éducatif réalisé chez les Musahars, un groupe de Dalit du Bihar, par le centre social situé dans le département de Rodtas (il s’appelle Rhotas Education and Associated Programme – REAP) montrerait comment l’éducation de Dalits devient vraiment une activité évangélisatrice. Comme le mot Musahar lui-même dénote – vient de deux mots musa (rat) et ahar (nourriture) – le Musahars survivent en mangeant des rats. Ils font aussi l’élevage de porc et le travail agricole. Sur le plan économique ils dépendaient des hautes castes qui les manipulaient. Les femmes étaient des illettrées et aucun enfant n’allait à l’école.

Le REAP a apporté à son centre les groupes de 40 étudiants trois fois en une année, pendant une période de 20 jours. Un problème majeur de ces enfants était le manque d’image de soi. Par conséquent le centre a visualisé des programmes pour en faire des individus bien dans leur peau. Dès qu’ils sont arrivés on leur a fournis deux ensembles d’uniforme, une paire de chaussures, une photo et une carte d’identité. L’uniforme a beaucoup fait pour l’image de soi. Le contrôle médical et l’enregistrement de leur poids ont mis en valeur leur corps. On leur a appris l’histoire de Musahars, les statistiques de leur population, les noms de leurs héros mythiques, des personnes significatives contemporaines de leur communauté, etc. Les enfants ont été présentés à la bibliothèque et ceux qui ont lu le plus de pages ont recu un prix le dernier jour.

Un autre aspect de la personnalité de Musahars était le sentiment de l’intouchabilité. Le REAP a fait de telle sorte que l’intouchabilité n’existé pas dans le centre. A leur arrivée on a pu noter un regard soupçonneux vis-vis des autres et alors grâce au programme, leur distance soupçonneuse c’est lentement transformée en proximité physique. Ils ont commencé à se tenir près des animateurs, à serrer la main et à saluer les gens. Ils ont commencé à apprécier les jeux, qui ont rendu nécessaire un contact plus physique. Le dernier jour du programme des fonctionnaires de gouvernement, des chefs politiques et des chefs de service de l’éducation ont été invités afin que les étudiants aient une occasion de mélanger avec eux. Des journalistes et des groupes de télévision ont télédiffusé leurs programmes culturels. Ainsi le REAP leur a redonné une enfance normale. (J. Velamkunnel, Christian Commitment to Education of Dalits in India, Education as mission, 42-68)

En bref, la croix est devenue pour les Dalits un symbole qui permet de gagner l’identité et la dignité en tant que personnes humaines. Le peuple qui n’avait pas accès aux temples et aux Ecritures était heureux d’avoir le Christ, la Bible et une église dans le christianisme. Shri K.R. Narayanan, ancien président de l’Inde, est un Dalit et il a publiquement reconnu que c’était seulement grâce aux établissements éducatifs chrétiens qu’il a pu être éduqué à une époque où la discrimination de caste était importante dans la société.

5. Éducation des tribus

       Pour évaluer l’impact de l’éducation chrétienne chez les tribus nous analyserons le cas de Chotanagpur, Jharkhand (Inde du nord-est à l’Ouest du Bengale) d’aujourd’hui. Cette région est composée de 29 tribus et les tribus principales sont Santhals, Kharias, Mundas et Oraons. Ces habitants originaires de la région connue sous le nom de Khuntkattidas étaient innocents et accueillants. Mais ils étaient exploités par des Dikus, les hautes castes qui sont entrés dans leur secteur. Les Zamindars, les Thikedars ou les Jagirdars ont pris possession de leur terre et ils les ont trahies par le commerce. Ils ont été réduits au statut de travailleurs et de coolies. (J. Toppo, Education and Change among the Tribal Peoples of Jharkand, Education as Mission, 81-88)

C’est l’insurrection de Kol de 1831-32 qui a ouvert les yeux des Anglais sur la situation déplorable des tribus. La première école pour eux a été fondée en 1834 à Chotanagpur. Les missionnaires luthériens ont fondé des écoles à Ranchi en 1845 et l’Eglise Angleterre a crée l’école St. Paul’s à Ranchi en 1868. Les jésuites sont arrivés en 1869. Parmi eux Constant Lievens a  commencé le travail chez les Topra en 1885. Toutes les fois que Lievens a occupé sur un village son premier souci était de bâtir une chapelle et une école. Presque partout le même bâtiment, a été utilisé dans deux buts : prier et apprendre. Là les enfants ont appris leurs prières, catéchisme, ainsi que les sujets séculaires comme arithmétique, géographie, etc. L’évêque Oscar Severin a insisté sur le fait que dans n’importe quel nouveau secteur une école doit être construite d’abord, et seulement après une église. (L. Clarysse, Education in Chotanagpur, Constant Lievens and the Catholic Church in Chotanagapur, 54. 63)

       Les étudiants tribaux éduqués sont revenus dans leurs villages natals avec une confiance forte  et ils ont dépassé les étudiants d’hautes castes à plusieurs niveaux. Cela a mis le feu à reformuler la motivation pour l’éducation parmi les jeunes tribus. En 1907 le nombre d’écoles a augmenté jusqu’à 588. Les missionnaires ont commencé également l’éducation au commerce et à l’industrie dans les écoles. La menuiserie, forge noire, maçonnerie, tissage et la fabrication de tissu, le soin de récolte, les qualifications de production animale, médecine de fines herbes, etc.., ont été les sujets d’étude. En cinq ans, 30, 000 personnes se sont converties au christianisme. À cause des écoles de mission il y avait presque trois fois plus d’éduqués chez les tribus chrétiennes que chez les non Chrétiens. Aujourd’hui l’Eglise de Chotanagpur comporte d’environ 29 tribus avec environ 400 000 Protestants et 1.2 millions de Catholiques

       Les missionnaires sont souvent accusés d’avoir instruit les tribus simplement pour les convertir au christianisme. James Toppo s.j. l’ancien directeur de l’école à Ranchi, lui-même fils d’un tribal converti, se défend contre cette accusation. Il admet qu’il était difficile d’évangéliser les tribus sans les instruire. La foi sans éducation serait comme planter des arbres dans une terre aride sans prévoir d’eau. Selon lui, les tribus devaient abandonner leur vieille croyance afin de changer leur vie qui la maintenait en arrière par leurs superstitions et la crainte des esprits mauvais, qui existaient chez les ancêtres. Dans les villages où il y a des tribus convertis au christianisme en grand nombre  les hindoues d’hautes castes n’ont pas osé à imposer leur loi. Évidemment grâce à l’éducation, les milliers de tribus occupent des postes bien placés aux gouvernements et dans la société. (J. Toppo, Education and Change among the Tribal Peoples of Jharkand, Education as Mission 93-105)

6. Éducation des enfants pauvres

       En parlant  de l’éducation des pauvres nous voulons insister sur les efforts spéciaux accomplis par les établissements chrétiens pour intégrer les enfants les plus pauvres dans les écoles ordinaires en leur donnant un soutien  scolaire additionnel ou en donnant une instruction à ceux qui ont laissé tomber l’écoles à mi-parcours ou encore à ceux qui n’arrivent pas aller en classe régulièrement parce qu’ils travaillent. Prenons l’exemple de l’école de Loreto Day Sealdah à Kolkata. D’après la direction de cette école, les écoles chrétiennes ne sont pas vraiment chrétiennes si elles ne prennent pas en compte les enfants marginalisés. Donc elle admet délibérément 50 % d’enfants des milieux pauvres tous les ans. Parmi les 1400 étudiants réguliers 700 viennent de la rue et de bidonvilles. Parmi eux pour ceux qui ne peuvent pas suivre les classes régulièrement ils mettent en route un programme spécial. Les enfants intelligents sont formés pour être enseignants quand ils atteignent l’âge de dix ans. Ils enseignent à leur tour les enfants des rues. C’est comme une école dans l’école. (S. M. Cyril, Education for Transformation of Society, Education as Mission, 176-177)

       Autre initiative intéressante : les cours d’été. Pendant l’été ceux qui ont arrêté leurs études sont rassemblés et ils reçoivent des cours intensif. Après quelques semaines ils obtiennent un niveau leur permettant de rejoindre les écoles ordinaires. Ceci semble bien marcher. Au Tamil Nadu il y a des écoles spéciales qui s’appellent Grihini pour les jeunes villageoises qui ne peuvent pas se permettre d’aller à  l’école. On leur enseigne à l’hygiène, à gérer leur budget et à élever les enfants, etc. Une fois qu’elles ont terminé leur formation elles sont capable de gérer une famille de manière responsable et de s’occuper de l’éducation de leurs enfants. (F.P. Xavier, Future of Education, Education as Mission, 205-207)

7. Éducation technique ou professionnelle

Les missionnaires ont créée des écoles pour donner une formation technique  aux étudiants. La première de ces écoles a été ouverte à Aleppey, Kerala, en 1842, d’autres ont suivi à Kottayam, Thrissur et dans d’autres parties du pays. Dans le nord-est de l’Inde Rev. Le M.C. Mason en a ouverte une à Goalpara parmi les Garos. L’administrateur apostolique d’Asam a ouvert une école commerciale à Shillong en 1901. Les Salvatoriens qui étaient des experts en matière de menuiserie, de cordonnerie et de forge ont dirigé les jeunes Khasi dans les filières de commerces. En 1922 les Salésiens de John Bosco ont remis en route l’école de commerce à Shillong et plus tard à Guwahati. (G. Palackapilly, Christian Contribution to Education, Language and Literature, Christian Contribution to Nation Building, 86)

       L’école universitaire de la Communauté (Community College) fait une autre aventure dans l’éducation professionnelle. Avant de commencer l’école, on étudie d’abord le potentiel des emplois dans un secteur. Ensuite on forme des gens pour les adapter à la demande locale. Les cours sont assurés en collaboration avec le personnel des industries voisines. Ceci assure non seulement l’emploi pour l’étudiant mais également le travail de qualité aux industriels. Actuellement il y a environ 140 écoles professionnelles de ce genre en Inde principalement dans les Etats du Sud. (F. P. Xavier, Future of Education, Education as Mission, 205)

8. Donner le pouvoir aux femmes

Il semble qu’à l’époque Védique les femmes aient eu un statut social élevé et qu’elles l’ait perdu lorsque le brahmanisme est devenu dominant. Selon les règles établies par Manu au 2ème siècle avant notre ère les femmes n’avaient pas d’indépendance même dans leur propre maison. Dès l’enfance, une femme devait être soumise à son père, dans la jeunesse à son mari et quand le mari était mort à ses fils. Depuis la période des Anglais, l’éducation des femmes s’est développée en son importance. La première école pour les filles a été ouverte par les missionnaires au Kerala en 1819 à Kottayam et un an après à Aleppey. Depuis il y a des progrès dans l’éducation des femmes. (G. Palackapilly, Christian Contribution to Education, Language and Literature, Christian Contribution to Nation Building, 85)

Selon le recensement du 2001 le taux d’alphabétisation chez les femmes atteint 52 % dans le pays. Elles sont chef d’Etat dans des 26 Etats de l’Inde. Il y a de plus en plus de femmes qui assument des métiers qui étaient auparavant réservés uniquement aux hommes – cadre professionnel, armée, police, etc. Néanmoins la société actuelle reste patriarcale et discriminatoire. Elles sont traitées, comme image de beauté et de la femme au foyer, mais rarement comme des personnes. Selon les statistiques publiées par le Bureau d’Etude sur la Violence en Inde toutes les 26 minutes une femme est molestée, toutes les 42 minutes il y a un harcèlement sexuel et toutes les 34 minutes un viol. (Hindustan Times, 27 Novembre 2002)

Le programme d’autofinancement (Self Help Programme) mis en oeuvre par le diocèse d’Aleppey au Kerala est représentatif de l’éducation informelle qui a lieu parmi les femmes en Inde rurale. Chaque group SHP se compose de 10-20 familles. Il y a 175 groupes de ce type dans le diocèse d’Aleppey. Leur opération principale consiste à faire “une petite banque de crédit”. Chaque membre contribue RS 10 chaque semaine. La quantité recouvrée ainsi de chaque membre est déposée à la banque au compte du président et du secrétaire. Un prêt avec un petit intérêt est donné aux membres selon l’urgence du besoin et la disponibilité des fonds. Habituellement les banques leur donnent trois fois en dépôt. L’intérêt sur le prêt est le bénéfice aux membres. D’avril 2002 à mars 2003 toute la transaction a été faite pour un montant de Rs 16 millions i.e. environ 300, 000 E. A travers ces programmes les femmes apprennent à signer,  à écrire et lire, à faire des démarches de réunion, des transactions de banque et à développer des habitudes de gestion du budget familial. Comme les femmes apportent l’argent à la famille et qu’elles ont une certaine autonomie économique elles obtiennent plus de respect dans la famille et dans le voisinage. (A. Thottakara, Empowerment of Women through Education, Education as Mission, 148-150)

9. Éducation de Valeurs

L’éducation de valeur n’est pas un programme en soi. Les établissements chrétiens, dans toutes leurs activités cultivent des valeurs humaines et religieuses chez les étudiants. Pourtant quelques mouvements ont adopté l’éducation de valeurs comme leurs propres charismes. L’Institut national de Dharma Bharati, qui a été fondé le 16 juillet 1993 à Indore, est une telle O.N.G. C’est un contre- mouvement qui lutte contre les querelles ethniques, les émeutes communales, le terrorisme et les menaces de guerre. Eduquant la jeunesse aux valeurs de l’amour, de la fraternité, de la justice, de la paix, du partage, de la tolérance et du respect est le but du Dharma Bharati. C’est un programme de reconstruction nationale par la transformation personnelle des citoyens.

Le mouvement du Dharma Bharati a des buts à long terme et à court terme. Les buts à long terme sont de préparer la jeunesse à prendre des responsabilités dans leurs propres situations de vie; d’en faire des citoyens responsables qui travailleront pour l’harmonie inter-religieuse, la solidarité globale et la régénération de valeurs dans la nation. Le but à court terme est de transformer les attitudes de jeunes en valeurs humaines. Pour la transformation personnelle des individus il y a cinq voies à suivre. a) Dire une prière par jour pour la paix selon sa propre tradition religieuse ; b) se dispenser d’un repas par semaine pour exprimer sa solidarité avec l’affamé et pour contribuer à l’épargne des pauvres ; c) faire un bon acte par jour; d) honorer les parents, les enseignants et tous les êtres humains e) respecter la terre et sauvegarder ses ressources. (V. Alengaden, Dharma Bharati : A Movement with a Diffference to Build a Civilization of Love, Education for the Third Millennium, 209-215) Jusqu’an janvier 2003, le mouvement s’est répandu dans 600 écoles de 19 Etats de l’Inde. Plus de 400, 000 étudiants et 32, 000 professeurs ont jusqu’ici assisté aux programmes qui sont organisés par le dharma Bharati. 104 colloques ont été déjà organisés pour les chefs des établissements éducatifs. (Annual Report of Dharma Bharati Service Society from 1st April 2003 to 31 March 2004)

En conclusion nous voudrions faire les remarques suivantes :

a) Des établissements chrétiens ont été classés au premier rang en ce qui concerne le niveau d’études et les valeurs spirituelles et séculières.

b) Les écoles chrétiennes prêtent attention au développement intégral des étudiants à travers les activités de sport et de jeux, l’encouragement des talents en art, musique, danse, peinture, et l’écoute des étudiants.

c) Les étudiants sont également invités à devenir conscients des problèmes sociaux par le biais des stages et enquêtes faites dans les villages.

d) L’éducation des femmes est une priorité de l’éducation chrétienne. 50 % des écoles universitaires catholiques en Inde sont réservées aux femmes. Ceci aide les femmes à obtenir un travail dans les centres de soins,  dans la médecine, dans l’informatique, dans la pharmacie, dans la production alimentaire, dans les services administratifs et même dans l’ordre judiciaire.

e) L’Eglise donne de l’importance à l’éducation des illettrés et des opprimés. 70 % des écoles sont dans des secteurs ruraux où habitent les désavantagés.

f) Plus de 90 % des étudiants des établissements chrétiens sont non-chrétiens.

Partie III : Réflexions théologiques

Nous avons vu l’investissement énorme des chrétiens dans le domaine de l’éducation dans diverses régions de l’Inde. L’éducation est une affaire publique aujourd’hui. En plus des chrétiens, les Etats, les O.N.G. et les individus privés sont implantés sur le terrain de l’éducation. De quelle manière le service éducatif chrétien est-il alors spécial et unique ? Les établissements chrétiens sont-ils les canaux de l’évangélisation ? Les réflexions suivantes montreront que bien qu’il n’y ait aucune prédication directe de l’évangile dans les établissements chrétiens ils sont témoins des valeurs du royaume de Dieu et qu’ils remplissent ainsi la tache de la mission.

10. L’éducation est une activité évangélisatrice

Comme nous l’avons dit plus haut par mission nous indiquons tout ce que nous faisons pour promouvoir les valeurs du Royaume de Dieu inauguré par Jésus. Redemptoris Missio explique la nature de cette mission orientée vers le Royaume : travailler pour le Royaume signifie reconnaître et favoriser le dynamisme divin, qui est présent dans l’histoire humaine et la transforme. Construire le royaume signifie travailler pour la libération du mal dans toutes ses formes (n° : 15) Du coup, l’éducation est un service qui met en valeur le progrès du royaume de Dieu. Le RM dit la chose suivante : L’Eglise est efficacement et concrètement au service du royaume et cette mission inclut divers éléments comme le témoignage, la conversion, le dialogue inter-religieux, la promotion du développement humain, l’engagement à la justice et à la paix, l’éducation et le soin du malade et de l’aide aux pauvres et aux enfants. (n° : 20) Jésus a dit : “qui accueille en mon nom un enfant comme celui-là, m’accueille moi-même” (Mt 18, 5). L’éducation et le soin pour  enfants sont les constituants essentiels de l’évangélisation car ils jouent en le essentiel en favorisant l’amour de Dieu sur terre.

       La nature de l’enseignement de Jésus comme maître, indique également le lien étroit entre l’éducation et la mission. Kuttianimattathil constate que Jésus est nommé environ soixante fois comme maître dans les Evangiles. Même ses ennemis lui ont attribué ce titre “Maître, nous savons que tu es franc et que tu enseignes les chemins de Dieu en toute vérité, sans te laisser influencer par qui que ce soit, car tu ne tiens pas compte de la condition des gens.”(Mt 22, 16). Évidemment, Jésus n’était pas un enseignant qualifié comme les rabbins qui ont appris scientifiquement à interpréter les Ecritures. Il était plutôt un professeur charismatique qui a donné son message aux gens par un appel personnel. (J. Kuttianimattathil, Education is Mission : Some Considerations from the Perspectives of Theology, Education as Mission, 152-154)

La force de l’enseignement de Jésus était son caractère libérateur, remarque Soares-Prabhu. Son enseignement a libéré des personnes de l’avarice et de l’esprit concurrentiel. Son enseignement a renversé les structures qui favorisaient l’injustice et il a invité ses disciples travailler pour un monde nouveau où les hommes et les femmes vivraient ensemble comme frères et soeurs. Ceux qui ont accepté l’enseignement de Jésus sont devenus libres sur le plan psychique et spirituel. Cette libération interne est également le but de l’éducation. Celui-ci rend conscient les personnes de l’injustice et le guide à faire des actions de libération. Par conséquent, l’éducation authentique est par nature un acte d’évangélisation. (Soares-Prabhu, Biblical Themes for a Contextual Theology Today, 136-139)

Le lien fondamental entre l’évangélisation et l’éducation est également évident dans leur souci commun de promotion de la vie. Evangélisation signifie proclamation de la Bonne Nouvelle. La partie essentielle de cette bonne nouvelle est l’amour sans conditions de Dieu qui a été révélée en Jésus pour chaque être humain. (EN 27) L’Evangélisation ne sera alors pas complète si la Bonne Nouvelle n’est pas directement concernée par la vie des personnes. C’est pourquoi les évangiles contiennent les messages explicites concernant les différents aspects de la vie tels que les droits et devoirs humains, la vie de famille, la vie sociale, le développement, la paix, la justice, la libération, etc. (EN 29) La vie est un cadeau à célébrer. La Bonne Nouvelle apparaît sous la forme du pain aux affamés. Quand les maladies perturbent la vie, l’évangélisation prend la forme de santé. Quand la vie est perturbée par l’ignorance, l’évangélisation les touche par l’éducation. (T. P. Kalam, Animation et Evangelization in Catholic Educational Institutions, National Consultation on Education, 89-91)

De la même manière, le but de l’éducation est de donner la vie aux êtres humains. Etymologiquement parlant, le mot éducation vient du mot latin educare ou educere qui signifie « apporter vers le haut ». Beaucoup de définitions ont été données à l’éducation dont l’idée principale est bien dite par le Collier’s Encyclopaedia que voici: c’est un processus social par lequel une communauté, une société, ou une nation cherche à communiquer à la génération émergente les aspects traditionnels de sa culture qu’elle considère fondamentaux et essentiels pour sa propre stabilité et survie. (p. 564) En d’autres termes l’éducation vise à bâtir une société humaine juste par la formation de citoyens mûrs et responsables. Elle vise au changement intégral de la personne humaine pour être témoin des valeurs de l’égalité, de la justice, de la coopération, et de l’harmonie. Ainsi l’éducation par sa voie libératrice favorise la promotion de la vie, le même souci de l’éducation.

En bref, si par évangélisation nous voulons dire forcer les gens à adopter la foi l’éducation chrétienne ne peut pas être une voie de mission. D’autre part, si nous la comprenons dans un sens plus large en tant que notre contribution à faire du monde un endroit meilleur où  les êtres humains se libèrent de toutes sortes de servitude et apprécient la plénitude de la vie alors pouvons nous dire que l’éducation est l’évangélisation. Les documents de l’Eglise  soutiennent une telle mission d’éducation orientée vers le Royaume. Par exemple, le Concile  Vatican II Gravissimum Educationis dit : “L’école catholique, en s’ouvrant comme il convient au progrès du monde moderne, forme les élèves à travailler efficacement au bien de la cité terrestre. En même temps, elle les prépare à travailler à l’extension  du royaume de Dieu, de sorte qu’en s’exerçant à une vie exemplaire et apostolique, ils deviennent comme un ferment de salut de l’humanité”. (n° : 8)

Le document “Ecoles Catholiques” publiés par la Congrégation de l’Education Catholique en 1977, précise que les écoles catholiques assurent un service essentiel de l’Eglise dans le monde d’aujourd’hui. Elles participent au dialogue culturel par des écoles, apportant sa propre contribution positive à toute formation humaine (n°: 15). La Constitution Apostolique « Ex Corde Ecclesiae » sur les universités catholiques par le pape Jean Paul II daté du 15 août 1990 indique : De par sa nature, chaque université catholique est un témoin institutionnel vivant au Christ et à son message, d’une manière extrêmement importante dans les cultures marquées par sécularisme, ou où le Christ et son message sont toujours pratiquement inconnus. Toutes les activités de base de l’université catholique sont reliées à et en harmonie avec la mission évangélisatrice de l’Eglise. (n°: 49). Le document “Personnes Consacrées et leur Mission dans les Ecoles” publié par la Congrégation de l’Education Catholique en 2002 rappelle que les personnes consacrées travaillant dans les écoles mènent à bien une mission ecclésiale qui est extrêmement importante puisque tandis qu’elles instruisent elles évangélisent également. (n°: 6)

Partie IV : Problèmes et défis

11. Manque d’infrastructure

Bien que les gouvernements, les groupes religieux et les agences privées aient pris beaucoup d’initiatives pour améliorer le niveau d’éducation, pourtant, sur les 600 mille villages en Inde il y a encore 102 mille villages sans école;

 29 % des villages manquent d’écoles primaires ;

77 % des villages manquent d’écoles secondaires

60 millions d’enfants n’ont jamais vu l’école

40 % des écoles ont des bâtiments sommaires et pas de tableau noir, etc..

60 % d’entre elles  n’ont pas de service d’hygiène et ni d’eau potable.

35 % des écoles fonctionnent seulement avec un enseignant

2937 n’existent seulement que sur le papier

L’Inde a la plus grande population illettrée du monde (424 millions). (P.Arockiadoss, Brief Analysis of the Education Policies, Education as Mission,18 : Bertille, Strategies in Primary and Secondary Catholic Education, Proceedings of the National Consultation on Education, 39, 48)

12. Politiques non équilibrées d’éducation

Les études prouvent également qu’il y a une grande disparité dans le système d’éducation indien.

– La moitié des enfants en Inde ne finissent pas l’école primaire tandis que le pays dans l’ensemble produit plus de diplômés qu’il ne peut employer.

– “L’état des enfants dans le monde en 1992”, un document de l’UNICEF, note que 50 % de toute la dépense du gouvernement indien sur l’éducation est utilisé pour subventionner les 10 % mieux-instruits “.

– Selon le Human Development Report 2001, parmi les 143 pays énumérés, l’Inde est en 104ème position en ce qui concerne la part du PNB dépensée en éducation

Est-ce que l’Eglise a pris en compte ces faits dans ses politiques éducatives ?

– Tandis que le taux de croissance d’établissements ecclésiaux augmentait de six à dix fois en général, il n’y a eu que des 25 % de croissance en nombre d’écoles primaires.

– 60 % de prêtres, 69 % de soeurs et 56 % de frères travaillent dans le sud de l’Inde où vit seulement 25 % de la population totale. (Bertille, , Strategies in Primary and Secondary Catholic Education, Proceedings of the National Consultation on Education, 31-35)

Tous ces points montrent que l’éducation primaire n’est pas le souci principal des chrétiens.

13. Education profite aux élites

Malgré les d’initiatives prises parmi les tribus, les dalits, et autres classes privées, le système d’éducation en Inde est essentiellement centré autour des élites et il est absent des besoins de la majorité du peuple. Il est évident que 80 % des étudiants qui sortent des universités viennent des 20 % des classes riches de la société indienne. C’est une minorité qui possède et gère les ressources du pays. Ceci perpétue un ordre social injuste avec la pauvreté, les inégalités, le chômage et le sous-développement de masses pauvres. (The Statement of the Seminar, Education for Social Change, 25-27) Le système actuel encourage les étudiants à accepter le conformisme, la sécurité, le prestige et l’entretien du statu quo. Il renforce toutes les structures injustes et va l’encontre de l’Inde rurale, où habitent 70 % de la population indienne. (Babu Mathew, A Joint Presentation: The Present Educational System, Education for Social Change, 14-20) Les institutions chrétiennes dans les villes ne sont pas privées de ce danger. On a pensé qu’en instruisant le riche on pourrait facilement conduire la société dans la bonne direction.  Mais parfois on doit humblement accepter que d’une part les étudiants qui ont été formés dans les établissements chrétiens sont devenu des oppresseurs et d’autre part à cause de leur association avec les riches, les écoles chrétiennes sont parfois devenues corrompues.

Dans ce cadre il faut souligner que ce type d’éducation crée de la frustration chez les tribus aussi. Ils estiment que leurs garçons sont aliénés du reste de leur société. Certains d’entre eux coupent des liens avec leurs familles et leurs villages après avoir trouvé un emploi. C’est parce que l’éducation est superposée à la culture des tribus dans sa structure et son contenu. Les livres font rarement appel aux milieux culturels des tribus. Ils doivent d’abord fournies  les informations concernant leurs propres communautés, vie de village, organismes sociaux, croyance et pratiques et puis passer à la scène nationale. (N. Hasnain, Tribal India Today, 128-129)

14. L’éducation professionnelle coûte une fortune au public

La vague de la commercialisation de l’éducation a pratiquement éclipsé le but des établissements chrétiens qui ont été fondés pour l’éducation des pauvres. Plusieurs des nouveaux cours présentés dans les universités ne sont pas gratuits. Les gouvernements ne donnent pas de bourses. Donc les étudiants doivent payer chère pour la formation professionnelle qui donne accès à un bon emploi. Par conséquent, l’éducation des pauvres devient impossible. Les établissements chrétiens sont dans un dilemme : intégrer les pauvres ou diriger les établissements avec l’aide de ceux qui peuvent payer l’éducation ?

15. L’opposition des communalistes hindous

Le caractère séculier d’éducation qui a été assidûment sauvegardé dans la période post-coloniale est mise en danger par l’interférence croissante des nationalistes hindous aujourd’hui. On s’en rend compte en examinant le programme d’étude préparée pour l’éducation à l’école en 2000 par le gouvernement central mené par le BJP. Il y a une tentative d’imposer leur idéologie monolithique sur le système éducatif. Les écoles sont soumises à des impôts exorbitants sur l’emploi et sur le revenu de l’école. Ils interviennent dans l’admission des étudiants et dans la nomination des enseignants. Parfois il est difficile d’obtenir le permis pour démarrer de nouvelles écoles. Des motifs chrétiens sont remis en cause dans les secteurs ruraux alors que ces agents de l’Hindutva veulent bien profiter des établissements chrétiens dans les villes. Cela explique le grand besoin de renforcer la culture séculière afin de cultiver un esprit de bonne entente inter-religieuse chez les  étudiants et d’éviter de tomber dans les préjugés et la haine.

Conclusion

Pour presque 97 % d’Indiens, le seul contact avec le christianisme se fait par des écoles, des universités et des hôpitaux dirigés par les Chrétiens. Par conséquent, une des manières décisives pour diffuser les valeurs de l’Evangile, est, sans aucun doute, l’éducation en Inde. Il est difficile d’imaginer que les hindous se convertiront au christianisme dans un avenir proche, mais ils accueilleront des initiatives éducatives chrétiennes qui les rendent plus humains et religieux. C’est pourquoi le Swami Vivekananda disait aux étrangers : “Le seul service à faire aux Indiens est de donner une éducation afin qu’ils développent leur personnalité. Si on leur donne des idées, leurs yeux seront ouverts à ce qui se passent autour d’eux, ils découvriront alors leur propre salut.” Malgré les difficultés rencontrées, les chrétiens en Inde continueront leurs services éducatifs car l’éducation est le moyen le plus efficace pour l’Eglise de devenir un catalyseur de changement social et de justice dans la société indienne.

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Hindustan Times

De la conversion au dialogue en vue du Royaume

De la conversion au dialogue en vue du Royaume*

Dr Vincent Kundukulam

Vincent Kundukulam

St Joseph’s Pontifical Seminary, Aluva (Kerala)

            Aujourd’hui, beaucoup de prêtres et de religieux sont découragés dans le champ de la mission en raison d’une propagande anti-chrétienne militante issue de milieux néo-hindouistes (hindutvas). Ils sont désolés parce que leur travail n’aboutit pas à la conversion de non-chrétiens comme autrefois. Cela soulève plusieurs questions théologiques. Quel pourrait être le mode d’une authentique évangélisation dans un contexte de conflits interreligieux croissants ? Jésus a-t-il considéré comme nécessaire l’implantation de l’Eglise pour accomplir le commandement de la mission ? Si le salut est possible dans d’autres religions quel est alors la nécessité d’un travail missionnaire ? Si l’évangélisation vise la réalisation du Royaume de Dieu, quels sont les chemins pour remplir une telle tâche missionnaire ? Cet article se veut une réponse théologique (il peut y avoir aussi des réponses politique et sociologique) au problème de la conversion auquel doit faire face l’Eglise en Inde.

1. L’attitude du Sangh-Parivar[1] quant à la conversion

Il y a différentes tendances en ce qui concerne l’attitude du RSS [2] et de ses alliés à propos des conversions. Quelques-uns sont violemment contre la conversion tandis que d’autres autorisent une telle possibilité sous certaines conditions. Les raisons qu’ils énoncent pour leurs positions sont diverses (cf. Kundukulam 2000: 31-40). Nous n’avons pas besoin ici de les détailler, il suffira de mentionner les positions principales et leurs arguments.

Des conversions sous conditions:

a) La conversion peut être autorisée si la personne concernée a une connaissance suffisante aussi bien de la religion qu’elle a pratiquée que de celle qu’elle veut embrasser. Le terme matham (voie religieuse) signifie une idée ou opinion particulière dans le contexte indien. La formation d’une opinion est principalement une activité intellectuelle, et elle doit être menée à bien après une réflexion suffisante. b) La conversion individuelle peut être permise, mais non la conversion de masse. Le droit de changer de religion est un droit individuel. En cas de conversion de masse un individu n’est pas en capacité d’exercer sa liberté personnelle. c) Une conversion due à l’ignorance, la séduction ou la force doit être condamnée. Le Sangh-Parivar se plaint de ce que les missionnaires manipulent l’ignorance des pauvres analphabètes : « Les missionnaires mettent les statues des dieux tribaux dans un récipient plein d’eau et ces statues sont englouties. Puis ils mettent dans le même récipient une croix de bambou. Quand la croix surnage à la surface de l’eau, ils disent : « le Christ est plus puissant que les dieux tribaux ». Les autochtones (tribals) analphabètes sont convertis au christianisme. » (Janmabhumi [3], 10 mars 1999) « Les missionnaires offrent aux pauvres des possibilités de travail et un meilleur traitement dans les hôpitaux chrétiens s’ils rejoignent la communauté chrétienne. » (Interview de U. Issrani, Pranta Sanghchalack de Madhya Bharat, Bhopal, décembre 1993).

Une opposition absolue à la conversion :

Alors que certains leaders du RSS permettent en principe la conversion, d’autres s’y opposent catégoriquement pour plusieurs raisons.

a) Le concept de conversion d’une religion à une autre est contraire à la nature même de la religion. La religion est ce qui montre le chemin vers Dieu. Si toutes les religions conduisent l’homme vers le même Dieu pourquoi changerait-on de religion ? (Cf. Mishra 1980: 118-121)

b) L’Inde (Bharat) a suffisamment de religions adaptées à sa culture et par conséquent n’a pas besoin de religions supplémentaires : «  Les Indiens sont déjà religieux. Il y a diverses religions dans le pays aptes à répondre à leur besoins religieux. Même les autochtones (tribals), qui n’ont pas de religions instituées, mènent une vie vertueuse et en ce sens ils sont religieux. Il n’y a pas besoin de les convertir à une autre religion. » (Interview de R. R. Mishra, President du Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram à Surguja, Madhya Pradesh, janvier 1994).

c) Les conversions créent des conflits dans la société. Quand les chrétiens revendiquent la supériorité de leur religion et gagnent des adhérents provenant d’autres religions, celles-ci se sentent désolées d’avoir perdu leurs adeptes. Ceci augmente les possibilités que surgissent des conflits entre religions. Pour maintenir la paix dans un pays multi-religieux comme l’Inde, les conversions doivent être interdites.

Plus que les raisons susdites, ce sont les facteurs culturel et politique qui font que le Sangh Parivar se retourne contre les conversions chrétiennes. d) la conversion de l’Hindouisme au Christianisme crée une aliénation culturelle ou « déculturation » des gens convertis. Quand quelqu’un devient membre de l’Eglise, il laisse de côté les coutumes, fêtes et rituels hindous, et souvent il se met à ternir les Dieux et les pratiques hindous. Arun Shourie écrit, dans l’introduction à La moisson de nos âmes (Harvesting Our Souls) :

« La conversion même d’une seule personne cause une grave perturbation. Sa famille est mise à part. Des tensions surgissent dans la communauté. On va ainsi au pire parce qu’après l’avoir convertie, les convertisseurs font que la personne fait et dit des choses qui offensent gravement la communauté dont elle provient. Cette seule personne est conduite non seulement à répudier mais à dénoncer les Dieux et les rituels dans lesquels elle a grandi, jusqu’à faire des choses qui sont interdites dans sa religion ou communauté d’origine – par exemple, de manger de la viande qui est prohibée » (2000 : 1-2)

e) Le point principal est que la conversion est devenue une affaire de nombre et qu’elle a des conséquences politiques. L’augmentation du nombre affecte le scénario politique du pays. En démocratie le nombre compte : nombre signifie pouvoir, nombre signifie argent et nombre signifie bien d’autres fins désirées. Si la conversion est permise cela réduira le pouvoir « hindou » dans le pays. Deoras, le Sarsanghchalak ( le dirigeant suprême) du R.S.S. entre 1973 et 1994, explique cela avec l’exemple du Kerala : « Aujourd’hui il y a 25% de Chrétiens et 20% de Musulmans au Kerala. C’est pourquoi leurs votes deviennent importants, très importants au moment des élections. Il y deux groupes politiques principaux : le Congrès et les Communistes. Les deux ont à faire des compromis en raison de ces bulletins de vote. » (1985 : 12) Le séparatisme augmente dans d’autres Etats à majorité chrétienne comme le Nagaland, le Mizoram, etc. et c’est pourquoi les conversions doivent être stoppées. Pour reprendre les mots de Golwalkar, le Sarsanghchalak entre 1940 et 1973, la conversion subvertit la loyauté. « La conversion des Hindous à d’autres religions revient à faire mourir le pays en proie à une loyauté divisée, au lieu d’avoir une loyauté indivise et absolue envers la nation. C’est dangereux pour la sécurité de la nation et du pays.» (1980 : 225)

Arun Shourie écrit que l’Eglise comme institution est obsédée par l’idée d’avoir la plus grande part sur le marché mondial des religions. La pression pour évangéliser est commerciale. Les publications missionnaires apportent un ample témoignage au fait que la mission est une grosse affaire (big business). L’Eglise doit avoir des cibles définies, des plans détaillés de stratégies de marché, au moyen desquels multiplier la récolte : une église doit être plantée dans chaque village, une Bible doit être placée dans toutes les mains : les femmes, les castes qui bénéficient de quotas (scheduled casts), les autochtones (tribals), doivent être ciblés, etc.  Quelques groupes missionnaires ont même budgétisé la dépense d’une telle activité, en gros autour d’un milliard et demi de dollars. (Cf. 2000 : 25-33)

Evaluation : Nous n’avons pas l’intention de défendre ici d’une manière apologétique la position chrétienne contre les accusations du Sangh Parivar. Nous les examinerons simplement pour en tirer les principales questions théologiques qui doivent venir en discussion, face à l’éveil de la conscience hindoue (hindutva).

Nous pouvons être d’accord avec le R.S.S. pour dire la place importante de la connaissance pour la poursuite de la vérité. Mais nous ne pouvons restreindre la découverte de la vérité à une recherche purement intellectuelle, parce que l’expérience personnelle, les intuitions, la foi, etc. jouent aussi un rôle vital dans la compréhension de la vérité. De la même manière la possibilité d’une conversion de masse ne peut être complètement exclue. L’homme est un être social. Un groupe de gens qui vivaient sous l’oppression peuvent réfléchir ensemble à propos de leur état d’opprimés, et peuvent faire collectivement un sérieux pas sur le chemin d’une libération religieuse et sociale. En ce qui concerne la conversion par séduction et par force, il est vrai que dans le passe des milliers de pauvres gens ont été convertis durant la famine. Les missionnaires se sont souvent servis du catéchuménat comme de centres de secours et dans quelques cas ont transformé les centres de secours en catéchuménat (Fernandez 1984 : 289-306). Mais aujourd’hui l’Eglise ne favorise pas cette sorte de conversions. Elle interdit par tous les moyens les conversions qui bloquent l’usage par quelqu’un de sa liberté personnelle. « L’Eglise propose, elle n’impose rien. Elle respecte les personnes et les cultures et elle honore le sanctuaire de la conscience. » (Redemptoris Missio 39)

Les raisons données par le Sangh Parivar pour arrêter les conversions sans exception aucune semblent plus importantes, parce qu’elles ont de sérieuses implications théologiques. Si toutes les religions conduisent au même Dieu et puisque l’Inde a déjà diverses religions de très haute réputation, pourquoi l’Eglise favoriserait-elle les conversions ? Est-il chrétien d’insister sur la conversion comme une voie légitime d’exercer la liberté religieuse si cela cause des tensions sociales et des conflits interreligieux dans notre mère patrie ? Pouvons-nous nous opposer aux croyances des autres religions si elles ne trompent pas les gens dans leur recherche de la vérité ? Ces questions sont importantes non seulement pour la réflexion à l’intérieur du Christianisme mais aussi pour améliorer les relations entre Chrétiens et Hindous. Les quatre conditions qu’Arun Shourie place devant nous pour cette amélioration de la relation entre Hindous et Chrétiens touchent aux mêmes points : a) rendre compte avec honnêteté des calomnies qui se sont amoncelées  à propos de l’Inde et de l’Hindouisme ; b) refuser l’inerrance de la Bible et l’infaillibilité du Pape ; c) reconnaître la valeur salvifique des autres religions ; d) arrêter les conversions (1994 : 214-230).

L’Eglise, appelée à poursuivre sa mission en recevant l’inspiration du mystère de l’incarnation, se doit de prendre en considération ces défis pour rendre témoignage à l’Evangile. Nous allons pouvoir maintenant développer des orientations pour la mission, qui aideront l’Eglise à témoigner du Christ en Inde.

 

            2. Les autres religions comme “moyens” de salut

Dans la période qui a suivi la deuxième Guerre Mondiale, à cause du développement rapide du commerce, des médias, des transports et communications, les chrétiens en Occident ont pu avoir contact avec beaucoup de non-chrétiens vivant les valeurs de l’Evangile. La diminution du pourcentage des chrétiens pratiquants en Occident et l’acceptation du pluralisme comme une valeur positive a aussi changé la perception par l’Eglise des autres religions.

Karl Rahner a modifié l’ancienne perspective selon laquelle les autres religions sont des religions « naturelles », le Christianisme seul étant « surnaturel ». Il a justifié son point de vue à partir de deux principes chrétiens fondamentaux : l’être humain est créé à l’image et ressemblance de Dieu et Dieu désire que tous les humains soient sauvés. L’être humain, par création, est un être ouvert au Transcendant. Chaque fois qu’il élève son esprit vers Dieu il peut recevoir le message de celui-ci. Les autres Ecritures sacrées sont alors le résultat d’une expérience transcendantale des saints hommes des autres religions. C’est pourquoi les religions non-chrétiennes ne contiennent pas simplement une connaissance naturelle de Dieu mais des éléments surnaturels. (1983 : 163-168)

Raymond Panikkar insiste sur la liberté de Dieu de se révéler Lui-même à qui Il veut : « La croyance que Dieu a parlé aux chrétiens, et la conviction que Dieu leur a fait part à eux seuls d’un secret, n’exclut pas la possibilité que Dieu ait révélé des aspects identiques ou d’autres du Mystère divin à d’autres peuples… Dieu est libre de dire un secret et même un secret différent quand et à qui il plaît à Dieu. » (1990 : 115) Cela signifie que l’unique auto-révélation de Dieu en la personne de Jésus-Christ n’empêche pas Dieu de parler à travers d’autres manifestations.

La compréhension positive de l’Eglise envers les autres religions est aussi fondée sur la théologie du Logos développée par saint Justin martyr. Le Logos divin, la Parole de Dieu créatrice, était présente et active depuis le commencement même de toute la création. Chaque être a été créé dans et par le Logos (Jn 1, 3). Dieu est entré en alliance avec l’humanité entière avant l’incarnation de Jésus avec Adam et Eve (Gn 1, 28-30), avec Noé (Gn 9, 8-17), avec Abraham (Gn 15), avec Moïse (Ex 19), etc. A cause de ces alliances il peut y avoir des révélations de Dieu par la médiation de l’Esprit en dehors du Christianisme, ce qui n’est d’aucune manière en défaveur de Son auto-révélation dans le Christ. Des théologiens font le raisonnement que des chrétiens à la différence des Pères de l’Eglise proclament la Parole-dans-l’histoire au détriment de la Parole-dans-la-création. A partir de quoi leur attitude envers les autres religions devient plus exclusive. « Nous réduisons Jésus-Christ à une divinité tribale ou nationale alors que nous étions partis de la position d’un Dieu-avec-nous pour tous les peuples, races et nations dans leur identité la plus profonde. Aussi la tâche est-elle pour les théologiens de travailler à retrouver une présentation équilibrée de la présence salvifique de Dieu dans la création et sa venue dans l’histoire. » (Karokaran 2000 : 36-37)

Il y a des textes dans la Bible qui confortent cette attitude ouverte et inclusive vis-à-vis des autres religions. Bien que Paul fût enflammé de zèle pour le message du Christ il use à l’Aréopage d’un langage inclusif. Il reconnaît les goïm qui sont observants en matière de religion. « Dieu n’est éloigné d’aucun de nous, puisque c’est en lui que nous avons la vie, le mouvement et l’être, comme aussi bien quelques uns de vos propres écrivains l’ont dit : nous sommes tous ses enfants. » (Act 17, 26-28) Paul propose le message chrétien comme complétant la religion grecque. L’attitude de Pierre envers Corneille est ouverte. Dieu semble avoir rendu clair pour lui, à travers une vision, qu’il ne doit pas qualifier quelqu’un de souillé ou d’impur. (Act 10, 28) Dieu ne fait pas acception de personnes, mais qui que ce soit, de quelque nation qu’il soit, qui craint Dieu et fait ce qui est juste Lui est agréable. (Act 10, 34-35)

Le Concile Vatican II reconnaît qu’existent des “éléments de vérité et de grâce (Ad Gentes 9), « des « rayons de vérité » (Nostra Aetate 2), et des « semences du Verbe » (Ad Gentes 11) dans les rites et coutumes des peuples (Lumen Gentium 17), et dans leurs traditions religieuses et nationales (Ad Gentes 11). Soulignant l’universelle volonté salvifique de Dieu, le Concile écrit : « Car puisque le Christ est mort pour tous, et que tous les hommes sont en fait appelés à une seule et même destinée, nous devons tenir que l’Esprit Saint offre à tous la possibilité d’avoir part, d’une manière que Dieu connaît, au mystère pascal. » (Gaudium et Spes 22) Dialogue et annonce, publié conjointement par la Congrégation pour l’Evangélisation des Peuples et le Conseil Pontifical pour le Dialogue Interreligieux en 1991 confirme une telle perspective : « Les membres des autres religions sont orientés à l’Eglise, sacrement du Royaume de Dieu (…). Quand ils répondent à l’appel de Dieu qui se manifeste dans la loi de leur conscience, ils sont sauvés en Jésus-Christ et partagent donc en quelque sorte la réalité signifiée par le Royaume » (n° 35).

A la lumière de ce qui vient d’être dit, réflexions théologiques, citations bibliques et références du Magistère, nous pouvons conclure que les autres traditions religieuses peuvent être des voies de salut pour leurs croyants respectifs dans la mesure où elles sont compatibles avec les valeurs de l’Evangile et la grâce salvifique qui vient du Christ. La médiation du salut est rendue accessible aux autres religions par le biais du Saint Esprit, qui est le principe de communication entre Dieu et les hommes depuis les commencements de la création (Dupuis 1989 : 168). Une telle médiation de l’Esprit n’est pas opposée à l’unique et universelle médiation du Christ parce que l’Esprit intervient dans l’histoire par la médiation du Christ.

            3. La mission comme développement du Royaume de Dieu

            Ce changement d’attitude envers les autres religions a eu un impact sur la théologie de la mission. Les théologiens trouvaient le fondement de l’activité missionnaire de l’Eglise dans la mission du Fils et dans celle de l’Esprit Saint (Ad Gentes 2). L’Incarnation est devenue le modèle de la mission. La prédication a cessé d’être à sens unique. De la même manière que Jésus s’est incarné selon les modèles culturels de l’humanité, les missionnaires ont commencé à assimiler tout ce qui est bon dans la vie culturelle et religieuse de ceux à qui ils s’adressaient avant de leur présenter la spécificité de l’Evangile.

            Il y a eu un changement aussi dans l’objectif même de l’évangélisation. Les théologiens ont réalisé la prééminence du thème du Royaume de Dieu dans la prédication de Jésus. Le Christ s’est servi seulement deux fois du terme Eglise alors qu’il a employé l’expression Royaume de Dieu quatre-vingt-douze fois. Aujourd’hui les théologiens distinguent entre Eglise et Royaume de Dieu. Le Royaume de Dieu ne sera pas réalisé par la seule expansion de l’Eglise parce que l’Eglise est seulement le signe et le sacrement du Royaume de Dieu (Lumen Gentium 1. 48.) Elle a vocation à préparer le Royaume de Dieu. Elle ne peut prendre la place du Royaume. Redemptoris Missio affirme la même perspective : « Il est vrai que l’Eglise n’est pas une fin en elle-même puisqu’elle est ordonnée au Royaume de Dieu dont elle est germe, signe et instrument. » (Redemptoris Missio 18) L’Eglise aura son achèvement seulement lorsqu’elle sera assimilée au Royaume. Karl Rahner dit : « L’Eglise, quand on la comprend bien, existe en proclamant son caractère provisoire et la destinée vers laquelle elle marche à travers l’histoire, pour réaliser que sa fusion dans le Royaume de Dieu arrivera dans le futur. » (1965 : 35) Dans cette perspective, la mission ne doit plus être centrée sur l’expansion de l’Eglise institutionnalisée mais sur le témoignage en faveur du Royaume de Dieu.

Une compréhension appropriée du sens de la conversion a aussi aidé les théologiens à considérer  l’expansion du Royaume de Dieu comme le but de l’évangélisation. Depuis longtemps, l’acte de conversion était identifié avec le changement de religion. Mais une étude de l’étymologie fait voir que l’élément important dans la conversion est la conversion du cœur à Dieu. Le terme de conversion est dérivé du latin conversio. Sa racine con-vertere signifie se retourner comme en un demi-tour, dont l’équivalent grec est la métanoia.

La conversion s’oppose au péché dans la Bible. Si le péché est se détourner de Dieu dans l’isolement et l’auto-suffisance, la conversion est de se retourner de tout soi-même vers Dieu. Par conversion les prophètes ont désigné le retour à Dieu dans l’amour et la sincérité, une ré-orientation de soi tout entier, de tout son être, vers le Dieu de l’Alliance. La conversion appelle une nouvelle relation ave Dieu, qui doit se manifester dans tous les registres de l’existence, particulièrement dans la pratique de la justice et de la charité. Jésus commence sa vie publique en annonçant la venue du Règne de Dieu. Il invite chacun à se laisser convertir aux valeurs du Royaume de Dieu. Pour saint Paul la conversion est l’avènement d’une nouvelle création. Selon Jean elle signifie le passage des ténèbres, de la fausseté, de la haine et de la mort à la vie et à la lumière. (Saldanha 1993 : 215-227)

Si la mission doit être centrée en tout premier lieu sur la conversion du cœur, comment alors comprendre le commandement de Jésus d’« aller, de faire des disciples de toutes les nations, et de les baptiser » ? David Bosch est d’opinion que l’expression faire des disciples doit être resituée dans le contexte pastoral de Matthieu. L’évangéliste invite les membres de la communauté à ne pas laisser passer l’occasion de porter témoignage en se mettant au service des gens autour d’eux. Le verbe principal de la péricope est faire des disciples, et les deux participes en baptisant et en enseignant lui sont subordonnés. Cela indique le chemin à suivre pour faire des disciples. L’état de disciple est plus important que d’enseigner et de baptiser. Etre un disciple du Christ signifie vivre à partir des enseignements de Jésus. L’état de disciple implique un engagement pour le Règne de Dieu, pour la justice et l’amour, pour l’obéissance à la volonté de Dieu tout entière. (1993 : 53.77)

Un missionnaire peut-il se contenter d’introduire les gens aux valeurs de justice, d’égalité, d’honnêteté, de fraternité, de service et d’amour dans la société indienne ? L’Eglise accomplit-elle son devoir missionnaire si elle ne peut faire en sorte que les gens appartiennent à  l’Eglise ? La réponse est oui dans certains contextes. Saint Paul abandonne la moisson au temps que Dieu a prévu en son dessein. « J’ai planté, Apollos a arrosé, mais c’est Dieu qui donnait la croissance. » (1 Co 3, 6-7) Dialogue et annonce dit : « Dans ces situations où, pour des raisons politiques ou autres, l’annonce est pratiquement impossible, l’Eglise accomplit déjà sa mission non seulement par sa présence et son témoignage mais aussi par ses activités et son engagement pour le développement humain intégral et le dialogue. » (n° 76)

            4. L’évangélisation comme dialogue

Nous avons vu que l’évangélisation vise la construction du Royaume de Dieu. Cela comprend toutes les formes de construction du Royaume : témoignage, annonce, implication dans les luttes de libération de l’humanité, dialogue avec les autres religions, inculturation, et œuvres de charité. Comment déterminer la forme de construction du Royaume de Dieu en Inde ? Cela doit avoir lieu en prenant en compte les contextes particuliers de notre pays. L’Inde est le berceau des grandes religions du monde comme l’Hindouisme, le Bouddhisme, le Jaïnisme et le Sikhisme, et beaucoup de religions traditionnelles (tribal). Il y a aussi dans ce pays des Musulmans, des Chrétiens, des Parsis [4] et des Juifs. Ainsi d’être naturellement interreligieuse est un trait basique de l’Inde. En Inde, être religieux signifie être interreligieux. Si l’Eglise se doit de témoigner du Royaume de Dieu comme un avant-goût de l’harmonie et de la paix, alors le premier chemin de la mission serait le dialogue interreligieux, sans exclure cependant les autres formes. L’Eglise se doit d’être une communauté qui fait des ponts. Comme le dit Pathil, l’Eglise doit être une « communauté de communautés » traversant toutes les castes, races, religions et dénominations linguistiques (2000 : 89. 99) Le dialogue interreligieux est le moyen  fort pour cette manière d’être l’Eglise.

Accepter le dialogue comme le moyen de la mission n’est pas sans cohérence avec l’esprit du Concile. Ad Gentes invite tout le monde à vivre dans la bonne estime et l’amour envers les croyants des autres religions, à partager leur vie culturelle et sociale au travers d’échanges variés et d’entreprises favorisant une vie humaine. Ad Gentes 9. 11) Le Cardinal L. T. Picachy a dit au Synode des Evêques tenu à Rome en 1974 que le dialogue est bon en lui-même, et que l’Eglise en Inde voit le dialogue interreligieux (inter-faith) comme une expression normale de l’évangélisation (Amalorpavadass 1975 : 155). « Le dialogue interreligieux est une part de la mission évangélisatrice de l’Eglise. Compris comme méthode et moyen de connaissance et d’enrichissement réciproques, le dialogue ne s’oppose pas à la mission ad gentes ; bien plus il en est une expression. » (Redemptoris missio 55) Jean-Paul II dans son adresse au Conseil Pontifical pour le Dialogue Interreligieux en 1984 a dit qu’à travers un dialogue authentique la tâche missionnaire de l’Eglise est accomplie : « Tous les chrétiens sont appelés au dialogue. Dans cette activité ecclésiale, il est nécessaire d’éviter l’exclusivisme et les dichotomies. Un dialogue authentique devient témoignage, et la vraie évangélisation est accomplie en se respectant et en s’écoutant les uns les autres. » Nous avons trouvé que le dialogue inter-religieux est l’une des formes privilégiées d’annoncer l’Evangile dans le contexte indien. Comment l’Eglise peut-elle fonctionner comme communauté de dialogue en Inde ?

            5. L’Eglise, une communauté de dialogue

La première et principale manière d’entrer en dialogue avec les autres religions est le témoignage de vie. Jésus n’a pas seulement indiqué ce chemin mais il a été ce chemin. Il n’a pas seulement parlé de la vérité mais il a été la vérité (Jn 14,6). Les chrétiens, au travers de leur présence auprès des croyants des autres religions dans les situations variées de la vie et des activités  humaines, peuvent annoncer l’Evangile comme une rose, qui n’a pas besoin de prédication sur son parfum. « Le témoignage dans la vie de tous les jours est inséparable du dialogue » atteste Sara Grant, qui fut une pionnière du dialogue en Inde depuis 1956 (Grant 1991 : 95).

 Le développement humain est un autre domaine où l’Eglise peut être une communauté de dialogue. Le chrétien est d’autant plus profondément concerné qu’il cesse d’être chrétien s’il manque à porter  radicalement le souci des pauvres et des opprimés et à les aimer. Prendre soin des exclus est témoignage de l’amour du Christ dans un monde d’égoïsme. Dans la scène du Jugement dernier (Mt 25, 31-46) et dans la parabole du riche et de Lazare (Lc 16, 19-31), Jésus renvoie au souci de compassion pour les dalit [5] comme condition nécessaire pour entrer dans son Royaume. Tandis que les missionnaires cherchent les moyens pour faire progresser leurs compagnons humains sans se soucier de leur conversion, ils diminuent le fossé entre les communautés et développent une communauté d’amour dans le monde.

L’activité de libération est une autre manière de mettre en actes le dialogue avec les autres religions. La Bonne Nouvelle n’est pas seulement réalité d’un autre monde. Dans son discours inaugural (Lc 4, 16-22) Jésus mentionne que libérer les anawim de toutes sortes d’oppressions est sa première mission. De même l’Eglise a le devoir d’apporter son aide aux missionnaires de la libération sociale – hommes de loi, sociologues et travailleurs sociaux -, qui ont au premier chef le souci de la justice et des Droits de l’Homme. Ils ne prononceront peut-être pas le nom de Jésus devant ceux dont ils prennent soin. Là n’est pas le problème. Dans la parabole du Jugement dernier, ceux qui se sont engagés en faveur de l’Homme et qui ont été placés à la droite du Père ne savent pas que leurs actes de compassion étaient des actes de compassion envers le Christ lui-même.

Les efforts en faveur de l’inculturation font aussi partie du dialogue interreligieux. Les ashrams chrétiens produisent un climat favorable où les croyants de différentes religions peuvent se rencontrer dans leur condition commune de pèlerins. A travers des prières, des méditations, des discussions et des célébrations interreligieuses, et par un mode de vie marqué par l’austérité, l’hospitalité et la simplicité, ils peuvent témoigner des valeurs du Royaume. Les récentes attaques contre les chrétiens ont été la cause d’un développement parmi eux d’une attitude négative envers l’inculturation. Aussi devons nous particulièrement prendre soin de promouvoir des rassemblements populaires interreligieux dans les ashrams chrétiens, qui sont de nouvelles manières d’être l’Eglise.

Même si la conversion au Christianisme n’est pas le point focal du dialogue orienté vers le Royaume, cela n’exclut pas la possibilité d’accueillir dans l’Eglise ceux qui en expriment le désir sincère et acceptent la catéchèse nécessaire. Les statistiques de la Mission montrent que toutes les dénominations chrétiennes prises ensemble forment seulement le tiers de la population mondiale, et que la population musulmane peut dépasser les catholiques dans le troisième millénaire. En Asie où vit 60% de la population, il y a seulement 3% de chrétiens. La présence des communautés chrétiennes doit être renforcée si l’Eglise doit remplir son devoir d’être le levain du Royaume de Dieu en Asie. Si nous proclamons un moratoire pour les conversions cela affectera la construction du Royaume de Dieu. Cela va aussi contre la liberté religieuse de la personne humaine.

            Conclusion

            Le dialogue est la nouvelle manière d’être l’Eglise. Cette manière d’être inclut de travailler ensemble pour la défense commune des droits de l’Homme, pour la promotion du développement humain, pour faire vivre les valeurs spirituelles et culturelles, en partageant les expériences spirituelles, en échangeant les réflexions, etc. Il y a des manières indirectes de témoigner du Royaume. Ce que nous voudrions avoir est la confiance dans l’Esprit Saint et le courage d’entrer en dialogue avec les Hindous et le R.S.S. Notre ouverture, notre sincérité, l’amour et le désir d’un enrichissement réciproque mettront en valeur les multiples manières de témoigner, à l’échelle d’une fraternité universelle, des idéaux qui sont ceux du Royaume de Dieu : « Dieu en tous et pour tous, qui donne et garde pour toute la terre habitée bonheur, paix et plénitude » (vasudaiva kutumbakam, loka samastha sukhino bhavantu).

(Traduction François Bousquet)

Références

Amalorpavadass D.S. (1975)   : Evangelization of the Modern World, Bangalore: NBCLC.

Bosch D. (1993)                      : Transforming Mission, New York: Orbis.

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

Dupuis J. (1989           )                       : Jésus-Christ a la rencontre des religions, Paris: Desclée.

Fernandez W. (1984)               : “Conversion: the caste factor and dominant reaction in Indian                                                      Missiological Review, Vol.6, 289-306.

Golwalkar M.S.            (1980) (66)     : Bunch of Thoughts, Bangalore: Jagarana Prakashan.

Grant S. (1991)                        : “Dialogue” in Pilgrims of Dialogue, A. Pushparajan (Ed.), Munnar:                                                             Sangam Dialogue Centre, pp. 93-97.

Karokaran A. (2000)               : “Mission: An Alternative Model” in Third Millenium, III (2000)1, 29-44.

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

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

Panikkar R. (1990)                  : “The Christian Challenge for the third millenium” in Christian Mission and                                                 Interreligious Dialogue, P. Mojes & L. Swidler (Eds.), New York: The                                                          Edwin Mellen Press, pp. 113-125.

Pathil K. (2000)                       : “Proclamation of the Gospel in India Today” in Vidyajoti, Vol. 64, 85-102.

Rahner Karl (1965)                  :Kirche und Parusie Christie, Schriften Zur Theologie, Einsiedeln: Band VI                                       Benzinger.

Rahner Karl (1983)                  : Traité fondamental de la foi, Paris: Centurion.

Saldanha J. (1993)                   :“Biblical Conversion and the Indian Context” in Bible and Mission in India                                                 Today, J. Kavunkal & F. Krangkhum (Eds.), Bombay: St. Paul’s, pp. 215-                                         230.

Shourie A. (1994)                    :Missionaries in India: Continuities, Changes, Dilemmas, New Delhi: ASA.

Shourie A. (2000)                    : Harvesting Our Souls, New Delhi: ASA.

            * Vincent Kundukulam, prêtre syro-malabar, Docteur en Théologie (ICP) et Docteur en Histoire des Religions et Anthropologie religieuse (Paris IV Sorbonne) est Professeur au St Joseph’s Pontifical Seminary d’Aluva au Kérala.

            Cet article, reprenant une conférence donnée le 28 août 2000 à Mount St Thomas, au Colloque de la KCBC, a été publié dans Third Millennium, vol., IV /3, July-September 2001, pp. 16-26. Toutes les notes de bas de page sont du traducteur.

Résumé : Le problème de la conversion prend un aspect particulier en Inde avec l’avènement de courants néo-hindouistes. Le Sangh Parivar s’oppose violemment à la conversion des Hindous à d’autres religions, qu’il considère comme un acte déloyal et communautarien. A l’intérieur de l’Eglise un nombre important de missionnaires est divisé en ce qui concerne la nécessité d’avoir la conversion comme objectif premier de la mission. Cet article essaie de comprendre les arguments des néo-hindouistes contre les conversions. Il montre comment le changement d’attitude envers les autres religions affecte le style de l’activité missionnaire. Il suit l’évolution du concept de mission et étudie la signification réelle de la conversion. A la lumière de cette étude il propose un chemin pour la mission, qui fasse justice à la fois au contexte indien et à la théologie de la mission. La priorité de l’évangélisation en Inde est de contribuer à la pleine croissance du Royaume de Dieu, le dialogue interreligieux étant une forme privilégiée de cette évangélisation. Celui-ci comprend un travail en commun pour la défense des Droits de l’Homme et pour le développement humain, dans le partage des expériences spirituelles, la promotion d’un éthos culturel de la nation, etc. Nous pourrions avoir confiance en l’Esprit-Saint et entrer en dialogue avec les Hindous et le R.S.S. C’est une manière indirecte de témoigner de l’Evangile.

Abstract

The problem of conversion takes a special turn in India with the advent of hindutva forces. The Sangh Parivar vehemently opposes the conversion of the Hindus into another religion as they consider it as a communalist and disloyal activity. Inside the Church, a considerable number of missionaries stand divided on the need of projecting conversion as the primary objective of mission. This paper tries to understand the arguments of hindutva forces against conversion; it shows how the changed attitude towards other religions affect the style of missionary activities; it assess the evolution of the concept of mission and it studies the real sense of conversion. In the light of above study, it proposes a path of mission, which does justice both to the Indian context and to the theology of mission. The priority of evangelization in India is to contribute to the full growth of the kingdom of God, of which inter-religious dialogue is a privileged form. This inter-religious dialogue comprises working together for the common defense of human rights and for human development, sharing of spiritual experiences, promotion of cultural ethos of the nation, etc. We should have confidence in the Holy Spirit and enter into dialogue with the Hindus and the RSS. It is an indirect way of witnessing the Gospel.


[1] Le nom qui signifie l’ensemble des mouvements nationalistes et fondamentalistes hindous.

[2] Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangha, c’est-à-dire Corps National des volontaires, l’organisation mere des mouvements nationalistes et fondamentalistes hindous, fondé en 1925.

[3] Janmabhumi : un journal quotidien en malayalam, la langue locale au Kerala, qui veut dire la Patrie.

[4]  Nom en Inde des adeptes de la religion zoroastrienne.

[5] Les Intouchables.