Valson Thampu

Christianity is a historical faith. By that we mean not only that its founder is a historical person, but also that it remains sensitive to the nudges and nuances of history. It is, in other words, a ‘living faith.’ The hallmark of this ‘living-ness’ to which religious orthodoxy is often blind is the ability to respond creatively and self-reformingly to emerging situations, which is different from succumbing to cowardly compromise. In ‘compromising’ one dilutes the essence of one’s being-ness; in this case, the essence of being Christian.

We are, if we care to realize, already in a state of compromise. Church life, as Tolstoy argued at length and with much passion, involves compromising ‘the doctrines of Jesus Christ.’ It is already prefigured in the Bible itself. Jesus Christ is kept outside the Church at Laodicea, one of the seven Asian churches. That is nearly at the beginning of Christianity! So, the question is not if do, or do not, compromise. The issue is, perhaps, which genre of compromise we accept.

We should accept none. Compromise involves conformity to the pattern of the world, which is to be eschewed as per St Paul (Rom.12:2). The pattern of the world is expediency. Expediency recognizes no enduring norms and values. Expediency gives to the ‘grain of wheat’ the option to not ‘fall down and die.’ The only value that expediency recognizes is self-preservation.

The self-reform that I posited in the opening paragraph is not to be confused with this. Self-reform too may aid survival, but survival as authentically oneself. That’s what a living organism does. A chameleon that changes its colours and shape permanently and ceases to be a chameleon is neither a chameleon nor anything else. A chameleon that recklessly refuses to use its God-given resources for self-defense is a foolhardy chameleon. The spiritually valid self-reform aims at ‘survival’ not to avoid danger but to avoid the erosion of authenticity. Reckless death is indistinguishable from suicide, which is not a spiritual option.

Consider the dynamics of community formation. What is emphasized in the formation of all communities and people-groups is ‘difference’ in relation to the other. Members are attuned to symbols, rites and customs to institutionalize and sacralize their own otherness. This serves to build walls that solidify a sense of community. But it creates another problem in doing so. It segregates. It alienates, unawares.

Alienation is a core spiritual issue. In biblical terms, the very purpose of spirituality is to overcome and eradicate alienation. Jesus’ idea of ‘liberation’ -of setting the captives free, as in the Nazareth Manifesto (Lk.4:18) is that of overcoming alienation. Alienation is darkness and death. It is, primarily, the death of truth. Darkness is the ideal breeding ground for falsehood. Propaganda is the darkness of falsehood masquerading itself as the light of truth.

This is nothing new. This issue was debated in Europe in relation to the Jews. Special privileges and protections, which some segments of Jews enjoyed in certain contexts, were felt to be militating against the principle of ‘equality.’ In the end, equality was used as an alibi for abolishing privileges. I make a reference to this for the reason that this logic has already surfaced in the statements of the Prime Minister and his ideological cohorts. It doesn’t help to remain uneducated on the logic and background thereof. In the near future, the minorities in this country could be confronted with the choice between ‘privilege’ and ‘equality.’ It is doubtful if we can continue to enjoy both for long hereafter.

It needs to be realized that we have played a part in ushering in this predicament. No matter how much research I do, and how microscopically I search, I cannot find, anywhere in the New Testament or Christ-centred spirituality, any justification for seeing the rest of the world as ‘Gentile’ and feeling ourselves superior to it. Jesus debunked this outlook. The instances are well-known and don’t warrant enumeration. There is no justification whatsoever for any physical separation; there is justification only for spiritual distinctiveness, or authenticity. The issue is not if you are the salt and the rest of the world is stones. The issue is if you, as the salt, has lost saltiness. The physical separation serves as a cover up, willy-nilly, for our spiritual bankruptcy. So long as the salt remains in bottles, who would know if it has saltiness or lost it?

I wish to plead for greater objectivity on our part; for it is the essence of meekness (The meek, Jesus said, shall inherit the earth). We have become so inured to taking everything on our terms and viewing everyone only from our perspective that the discipline of ‘doing to others what we would that they should do to us’ escapes us. For this sorry state of affairs, I have to, alas, blame the Church at least in part. I am an ardent Church man myself; but I have to be frank about this. For most Christians church is a religious hiding place. The rest of the world suddenly ceases to exist on Sundays! But God loves the world on all days!

To be alienated from the rest of the society is to invite misunderstanding, to fuel communal negativity, and to justify prejudices. This was the suicidal mistake that the Jews in diaspora did in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries, so much so it was possible, even with a feeble flourish of propaganda to make many Germans believe that it was the Jews who caused the second World War!

I plead therefore for a paradigm shift: from separation to outreach, which is what Jesus mandated. To reach out is to discard the baggage of unilateral assumptions, quaint stereotypes and arbitrary assumptions of superiority and inferiority. It is to be empowered by truth. It is to be under the authority of Jesus Christ. It is, also, to refuse to let oneself be shackled by denominational agendas that hinder such spiritual freedom, if they do.

Christian spiritual authenticity is now of crucial importance. As the dark clouds of majoritarian triumphalism gather in the horizon, the only way we can fortify ourselves to weather the storm is by becoming more authentically Christian, ‘looking unto Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith.’ Habitual and nominal Christianity will not do.

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