Valson Thampu

Valson Thampu

Everyone is quick to recognise it when things go wrong. It takes no special gift or spark of greatness to do so. What most people fail or refuse to do is to reckon the extent to which they have contributed to the danger engulfing them. A sign of spiritual health, in a time of general disarray, is the strength and integrity of character by which we face up to the truth about ourselves. This is, however, not to be confused with sentimental self-flagellation of an uninformed kind in a state of bewilderment. What makes the difference between the two is the strength of truth. Remember, Jesus said, “the truth will set you free.”

One of the problems inherent in belonging to a nearly-global religious community – as in the case of Christianity and Islam – is that its members could lack sensitivity to, and awareness of, the specificity of the given national and regional contexts. They tend to follow patterns and practices derived mostly from other national and cultural contexts, mistaking them to be divinely ordained, with an air of sanctimoniousness that proves counter-productive. Rather than correct the mistakes, contrived attempts are made to explain away the alarming signs as the symptoms of inherent local malice. The regrettable consequence is that we fail to learn. We become, as W.B. Yeats says, an unmoving stone amidst the ever-changing stream of history.

The most distinctive feature of the Indian context over the millennia has been its multi-racial, multi-ethnic diversity. This is a complex problem that poses difficult challenges demanding mature attention and innovative solutions. India dealt with it in two ways, according to Tagore. At the social level we evolved systems to regulate and manage differences. At the spiritual level, we perceived and respected the unity of all. This is the essence of the unity-in-diversity that is often glibly referred to. This was at stark contrast, Tagore observed, to ‘the colourless vagueness of cosmopolitanism and the fierce self-idolatry of nation-worship’ that emerged in diverse parts of the world at various periods.

Christianity and Islam are converting and self-propagating faiths. This implies a need to project oneself as different from, and superior to, all the rest, which is a commonplace marketing strategy. In the market place this does not become a problem because all merchants do the same thing: they showcase the superiority of their wares.

The proof that we are hurting people by slapping inferiority complex on them is that they want to imitate us. This might seem flattering; but it is potentially very dangerous. This happened to at least the upper caste Hindu psyche. The fact that in the latter half of the last century, the think-tank of Hindutva was talking regularly of the need to ‘semiticize’ Hinduism, in order to rid it of its inherent weaknesses and to equip it to face the challenges posed by allegedly ‘proselytizing faiths,’ was a clear danger-signal. But it was lost on us.

Insights of collective psychology warn us that from imitation to hated and hostility is a small and inevitable step. Such a change clearly happened in the last decade of the 20th century. The attacks on Christian missionary groups and the demolition of the Babri Mazjid were significant symptoms, which we refused to read aright; simply because we have got so used to taking the world on our terms. It never occurred to us that this is symptomatic of spiritual blindness. We may justify this with any number of arguments and scriptural quotations; but that does not change the reality. The principle that we have to treat others as we would like to be treated by them, and by others, is what applies most to such contexts.

Hindutva, if we care to open our eyes, is more akin to the spirit of European Christianity, in its mix-ups with European nationalism and imperialism. It is certainly closer to Christianity than it is to Hinduism, though it might seem otherwise. Unfortunately, the philosophical core of Hinduism is like Sanskrit. It is not a living language. Most Hindus, as a result, do not have the spiritual discernment to understand the difference. They do not go beyond judging by external symbols and markers. So, it is easy to dress up the ghost of European imperialistic, triumphalist Christianity which is at stark contrast to the biblical faith in the colours and costumes of Hinduism and market it at mega profit.

So, today we are faced with a real problem. It has struck Muslims more acutely for the time being; but it is foolish to stay complacent like Behadur Shah Zaffar who said, “Delhi is still far away,” even as the enemy army was marching upon the capital city. The fact that a danger is now out of sight does not mean that it doesn’t exist. It could be more like a cyclone brooding and whirling on the ocean, gathering momentum all the while before it makes landfall. This is not to be alarmist, but to be open to the logic of history and nature. Delayed consequences, as in smoking induced cancer, are more dangerous than immediate danger like burning your finger touching a firebrand.

The spiritual character of a people or a church is proved by the way it faces and resolves emerging challenges and perils. Evident and alarming signs of rot within the church and the Christian community at large are coming to light ever and anon. We can, like the proverbial ostrich, hide our heads in the sand of denial. But the reality does not change because of the vehemence of self-deception, but only aggravates it. The whole country is watching us. We should not open ourselves to public indictment and ridicule anymore than we have done. Nuns, howsoever few, having to go on strike demanding justice for an alleged fellow victim of a bishop clearly conveying to the public, rightly or wrongly, that justice is not available within the church is a regrettable state to which we need not, and should not, have been reduced.

The sooner we address the rot within, the better. Nothing is lost forever. What is lost can be regained; just as what is gained can be lost. The tragedy the death warrant is not in the loss; but the reluctance, for whatever reasons, to address the issues and mend our ways. It is abundantly clear now; we have reached a stage at which serious and biblically sound re-thinking is urgent and warranted. Presumptions of infallibility the arrogant hypothesis that all else are wrong and we alone are always right should not make us obstinate. History warns us that those who do not grow out of their mistakes perish.

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