Keith D’Souza, SJ
Rector of St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai
and President of the Association of
Christian Philosophers of India (ACPI)
We are in the midst of a crisis as a Church, which is haunted by scandals from within and a Hindutva ideology of domination and perhaps subjugation from without. What do you think is the way of the Church forward?
The word ‘crisis’ means an opportunity or time to discern or to think critically, in order to take stock, to look at possible options and to choose wisely as to how to proceed.Scandals in the Church are not something new, if one is familiar with Church history. However, today it may be more possible—and necessary—to introduce better checks and balances in order to purify the way power is operationalized within the Church. Like any other major institution, there is a need for structures of transparency and accountability to be put into place and monitored on an ongoing basis.
With regard to external domination and subjugation, this too is not something new, as Christians have had to deal with some or other form of opposition over the centuries. In fact, in our country we still have many liberties which we need to sustain—with the help of multitudes of people who deplore the ascendency of negative and regressive forces over the past few years. We need to offset the deleterious influences of these right wing forces by collaborating and networking with numerous individuals and communities who desire to live in an egalitarian, integrated and politically liberal civic culture.
The way forward for the Church in India is to overcome a siege or ghetto mentality and use our institutions to work with others to create a social and professional mindset that is positive, productive and inclusive. We need to do more to overcome the stigma of conversion, which is often used as a social red flag to discredit our massive social contributions in the areas of education, health and social development.
The Church is in need of an image makeover. We are too inward looking. We need to publicly project ourselves more assiduously as committed to nation building as individuals and as a community. We need to encourage persons from the community—especially the young—to assume leadership positions in diverse spheres of social life. There is a need to make our institutions more professional and to take advantage of belonging to an international community of believers, by networking with institutions all across the globe.
Erotic contagion pervades the culture called consumer. How do you read the sex scandals in the Church? Do you suspect corruption is entering “the strictest watches and the closest retreats, which, though as intricate and unknown as the labyrinth of Crete, are no security for chastity?” (from Don Quixote). How many religious live in the world and not of the world?
The erotic contagion is a sign of our times, and what is happening in the Church is a reflection of what is happening in the larger culture. Access to pornography has never been as easy, and the young are very vulnerable in this regard. Also, domestic abuse, including sexual abuse, is more rampant than ever—not only in underdeveloped, but also in materially developed nations. Nevertheless, those who are invested with authority and leadership in the Church must be held more accountable than others, as they constantly espouse the higher moral ground and publicly commit to walking the talk.
Our seminary formation is too cerebral, and needs to include much more human formation (personal and social formation), so that emotional and interpersonal intelligence is developed concomitantly with ecclesiastical and pastoral knowledge and wisdom. However, in spite of the failures that abound in the area of interpersonal abuse, and in spite of the lures of the sensual world, numerous countercultural examples bear testimony to the fact that it is still very much possible to live a life of abstinence and selflessness, manifested in joy and loving service.
Fundamentalism is what we live with in every religion. Why do you think religions turn inward and become narcissistic?
Fundamentalism is most often based on personal or communitarian fear and insecurity. It also thrives on account of ignorance about historical-critical methods of understanding literary texts, or a reluctance to employ these methods. Another reason for fundamentalism may be the conscious or subconscious desire to have power and control over others, by presupposing a sense of superiority and wanting to maintain this unequal power relation. In many cases, however, fundamentalism, which stems from a fear of the unknown and of the “other”, is often linked with deeper economic, political and cultural factors, and contemporary forces of globalization have only exacerbated these fears.
You are discussing the transformative praxis of social movements, based on a transformative vision. Where does this vision come from and why do social movements want transformation at all? What is the philosophical interest behind social movements?
In our just concluded national research seminar on “Philosophies of Transformative Practice: Social Movements in India” organized by the Association of Christian Philosophers of India (ACPI) in Kozhikode, we were hopeful in providing the foundations for a “liberation philosophy.” This is akin to the project of developing a“liberation theology,” but based on a much broader canvas, which takes into account common sentiments for transformation which are shared among people of all communities.
This common vision which stems from the desire for a more just and peaceful and less wasteful society needs better articulation. There is also a need for the delineation of clearer and surer pathways of strategic action which will bring about more productive and positive social transformation.
We especially want to encourage social movements which share the primary values and projected trajectory of development found in our Constitution. In many ways, this foundational text of the nation is already a wonderful articulation of a vision-mission understanding which could provide necessary impetus for both governmental and non-governmental agencies to bring about appropriate social transformation.
There are powerful social currents today which desire to counter the richness of this text and replace it by another vision which will primarily serve only a section of the populace. This will make our nation poorer in terms of the quality of social relations, the conditions for egalitarian development and the possibility to express oneself freely in various forums. We need equally powerful and influential social movements to counter this trend.
How do you interpret the rigid ideology of Hindutva in relation with Hinduism as a religion?
Hindutva is alien to the spirit of India. It is instead a cousin of European fascism and racism—and in fact gets its inspiration from these fascist resources, which today are a source of shame and guilt for many of the descendants of communities which had hitherto espoused these sentiments and engaged in barbaric social engineering programmes which have left their scar not only on Europe but on the collective human consciousness.
Hindutva is not based on religious conviction, but rather on cultural hegemony. It is a social movement which desires to reinvent a past which is ostensibly oriented towards providing psychological security as well as social power. However, Hinduism as a religion—in fact, more of a cluster or family of religions as opposed to one unified religion—is already rich enough to provide resources for personal and social wellbeing, without having the need for this recently marginal but now ascendant social movement to give it new roots and wings.
If India is to become a “vishwaguru” (universal spiritual teacher), as proponents of Hindutva desire, then we will need to twin spiritual imagination with social ground realities which feature egalitarianism, fraternity based on an inclusive mentality and the possibilities of free expression in diverse social forums.
If we offer anything less, why should other nations listen to, and learn from us? Many foreign supporters of Hindutva of Indian origin have conveniently left our homeland to settle in other nations which ensure the realization of these basic social amenities and freedoms.
Is the taste for the holy moral or aesthetic? How may moral sense and a sense of beauty join in the life of committed religious or priests?
Traditional Catholic philosophical wisdom speaks of three “transcendentals”—or aspects of reality which transcend particular phenomena and apply to all of reality. These transcendentals are truth, beauty and goodness. The taste for the holy stems from the existential need to absorb as much as possible of the truth, goodness and beauty which reality offers us in diverse forms. People want to know the truth about the world, they want to abide by wholesome values and they want to enjoy the giftedness of life as well.
The life of a priest or religious is ideally oriented towards a celebration of truth, goodness and beauty. However, in reality—especially in underdeveloped nations—the lives of committed believers is largely and necessarily oriented towards mitigating the many falsehoods, evils and ugliness that seems to have overcome our basic human drive towards these more noble transcendentals.
Holiness is context dependent: in situations which need social liberation, a holy person will strive to create the conditions for freedom from bondage to take place; in situations where there is relative social stability, a holy person will invite the community to enhance the truth, goodness and beauty that is already experienced. In practice, a holy person may find himself or herself doing both: proclaiming and witnessing to the invitation to enjoy truth, goodness and beauty, and struggling with others to overcome different forms of falsehood, evil and ugliness.