Fr Johnson Puthenpurackal OFM Cap
From a philosophical point of view, how do you explain the upsurge of communalism in every religion including Christianity? Are you apprehensive that the secular Constitution of India will remain as such in this country?
Although the world is claimed to have become a ‘global village’ with the arrival of globalization, in fact it has become fragmented into numerous identities with entrenched walls of division. The search for and creation of one’s own identity as different from that of others is on the increase; the upsurge of communalism is to be seen against this background. Communalism refers to ‘disproportionate allegiance to one’s own ethnic group rather than to the wider society’; and mostly such ethnic groups are religious groups, including Christianity. I do not think that it is because of the love for one’s religion that one becomes communal and fundamental; rather it is one’s fear that makes one communal. Those who keep on building higher ‘walls’ around them are terribly frightened—frightened of the security of their identity! A religious group tends to be communal, when their so-called religion is based on a few cultic practices of fragile type, and not on the solidity of conviction in and commitment to lasting religious values. When I am weak and fragile, I tend to consider every other as a ‘threat’ to me, as a result of which I show unprovoked aggression to and carry out preemptive attacks on the other.
In the context of the growth of religious communalism and fundamentalism, most of the thinking people of India are beginning to see the imminent ‘death’ of the secular Constitution of India—not a natural death, but an enforced death! I too am reasonably tempted to think along with this thinking minority; but as I foresee the terrible consequences that the ‘death of secularity’ in Indian Constitution can bring about, I am struggling to hope, with some reason, that it will not take place! Gandhi, Ambedkar and Nehru had their own different emphasis in their vision of the Constitution; but they were sincere in their intention for the good of India, and thus we are blessed with an integral Constitution that integrates the differences: religious, linguistic, cultural, ethnic… Although the average life-span of a Constitution is 17 years, Indian Constitution has lasted almost 70 years! Despite the various turbulent political happenings in the past, India has succeeded to remain democratic and secular! This gives me hope.
What is the meaning of home-sickness; do we have to return as Ulysses of Homer to one’s own clan and caste to find one’s home of life? How do we understand the call of Abraham to leave his land and kin, and go to the land which God will show him? Jewish life here on earth is an exodus of Moses from oneself to the alien; is life a journey to oneself or a journey to the other?
I have clubbed together the next two questions, as they are closely related. The two questions are set in an either/or style, presenting them in terms of both a “coming back to one’s home” as pictured in the literary figure of Ulysses of Homer, and “going away from one’s home”as given through the Biblical figures of Abraham and Moses—a journey to oneself and or a journey to the other. As a Heideggerian thinker, I would present these two journeys neither in the either/or mode, nor in the both/and mode. It needs to be explained. First of all, we cannot consider these two options as two alternatives to choose one from, since we cannot choose one at the neglect of the other. One has to be rooted in one’s given being. As the human is prone to run away from one’s being, one is called to a ‘home-coming’—a coming back to oneself. At the same time, unless we uproot ourselves, we will be remaining rooted and stagnant. Does it mean that we need to be rooted in our being, in ourselves, and be uprooted from ourselves? Yes, but with some clarification. Being rooted in and uprooted from one’s being, in other words, going to oneself and going to the other, are not to be seen as one beside the other, rather one as the other. Let me explain. My ‘coming to myself’ or ‘home-coming’ is not a getting back to the little ‘shell’ of my narrow self, but it is a journey into the wider horizon of cosmic home. In the very act of my ‘coming home,’ I am uprooting myself from my home; it is by journeying to the other that I journey to myself. Let me quote from my own book: “Human existence as the journey of home-coming is well-rooted in the home of one’s being and well-moving in the home of one’s becoming—one is becoming what one is.” Thus, in being rooted in my being (coming to myself), I am uprooting myself from my being (going to others).
Heidegger wrote “De-Christianization will be a Christian Victory.” How do you understand the western apathy to the Church in the West; do you think the same phenomenon can reach the traditional churches here in India?
By De-Christianization Heidegger refers to the process by which the dynamic and live ‘Christian-movement’ is freed from the dead structure of solidified ‘Christianity.’ Christ was a movement, and this Christ-movement became a Christian movement. The rational philosophy of precision gradually mummified God and Christ to a human concept, and solidified the Christian movement into a powerful institution, with well-defined moral-codes, precise dogmas, ecclesiastical structures, bureaucratic centralization, positions and titles, etc. Although the ecclesiastical power was referred to as of Divine origin, it follows the logic of human power structure—a secular structure with a religious garb! The dissatisfaction with such a Christianity began to be expressed in the West by different thinkers: ‘Death of God’ (Nietzsche), ‘De-Christianization’ (Heidegger), etc. It is a Christianity without Christ and Christian values! In India too loud expressions of dissatisfaction with the institutional church are heard, especially in the wake of various unfortunate happenings in different places. Even sincere followers of Christ think of distancing themselves from the institutional church of structure and cult, power and positions, and attaching themselves to Christ and the lasting Christian values. I will not be surprised if a new form ‘Christian Living’ makes its appearance even in our traditional churches!
The social movements in India have their transformative praxis. What do you think is the motivating force behind such secular movements? Do you think that the Western understanding of secularity is different from what is envisaged in Indian Constitution?
Most of the social movements have been well motivated by transformative praxis: change of the society for the better. But I am not sure whether all the social movements were well-intended, reading from the outcome of these movements. Social movements emerge from a collective experience; a group of people (social, political, religious, linguistic or ethnic) largely feel convinced of the urgent need of some change; for instance, the need of uprooting ‘untouchability’ from India. Mostly the need of a change remains dormant in the majority of the people, until it is awakened by one or more leaders by their writings, speeches, symbolic actions, etc. Sometimes even those movements, originally well-motivated, can make a deviation and end up with the wrong outcome. This happens when the original intention is differently interpreted by the successive leadership. If a movement is the result of a collective thought, emerging from personal reflection and conviction, it will have stability; if it is prompted for some individual objective, it will die out.
Secularity is considered in the West as opposed to the sacred, or as bereft of any religious allegiance. It is a negative way of considering secularity, since the secular is seen as entirely untouched by any of the religions or any element of the sacred. Thus according to the Western understanding a secular state does not have anything to do with any religion. The Indian understanding of secularism, which is very much inspired by Gandhi, is more positive; in the Indian understanding a secular state is open to and has respect for all religions. Such a ‘secularism is dead’ where religious fundamentalism thrives. There is no surprise that the religious fundamentalists consider the ‘Secularity’ of Indian Constitution as their greatest threat!