The Shift in the Focus of Authority Does Create Crisis

Light of Truth

Fr Jose Kuriedath CMI

You are basically a sociologist, you were also the provincial, do you think the religious (coenobitic life) life in India is fulfilling its prophetic role in society? Are the religious men and women becoming shut up in the institutions?

In my view, the religious life is and should be basically prophetic. By its very nature, it is expected to point toward, and bear witness to an ideal type of Christian life. So, the very presence and life of the religious becomes, by example, prophetic in the Church and in the society as a whole. In the case of the religious priests, much more than the priestly and pastoral functions of the priesthood which every parish priest is appointed to do, it is the prophetic function that should stand out in the life of the religious priests. Pope Francis called this the ‘wake up’ function of the religious; the religious are to wake up the dormant society through their way of Christian life. If one looks into the history of the Catholic Church, in almost all major areas of the Church life such as the development of theology, liturgy and spirituality, it is monasteries and abbeys and the religious who lived there who gave prophetic leadership according to the needs of the times much more than other members of the Church. Among the theologians the number of the religious (priests) outnumber others; it is in abbeys and monasteries, the original forms of liturgy were experimented and developed, and later renewed. In the case of spirituality, the spectrum of various colours of spirituality in the Church like Franciscan, Carmelite, Benedictine and so on were the contributions of the religious.
In modern times, the prophetic role of the religious should manifest more in giving importance to community life in the face of growing individualism and authoritarianism, to simple life as against growing consumer culture, genuine spirituality in the wake of fast growing religious fundamentalism and ritualism etc. Unfortunately, many religious are afraid or not bold enough to take up this call, and end up leading a rather pious life with a few kinds of spiritual exercises and conventional ministries in secure religious houses.

Some of the religious congregations are suffering from a protracted crisis of authority? Why so?

I am not quite sure what the question specifically means. As I see, two trends are threatening the authority among the religious. One: in the modern times, the legal authority is losing its enforcement power in all spheres, particularly in voluntary organizations like Church, religious congregations etc. Even though the legal power exists as per the Statutes, it is steadily becoming difficult to exercise as our society and our mindset are becoming more liberal compared to the past traditional and rural setting in which authority had firm grip in all societies. So, the moral power or personal power that emanates from the personality of the leader alone has some enforcement ability. Unfortunately it is this moral power that is declining in many of those in authority, in religious houses, parishes, dioceses, political institutions and so on. One of the reasons might be due to the fact that many are selected/elected to the positions of authority under the influence of political dynamics based on various extraneous considerations rather than considerations of genuine spiritual personality. Two: the religious run many institutions now, and so the chief function of a person in authority is to manage or run these institutions. So those who are capable of administration rather than animation and charismatic leadership are chosen to these positions of authority. In a religious community, this shift in the focus of authority can and does create crisis.

You are also a writer do you experience intolerance within the society and even in believing community of Christians? How do you use the freedom of thought within the church?

Intolerance not only to expressing different opinions, but even to the very diversity in life itself is growing very fast. People have become reluctant to accept or have become hostile to different lifestyles like diversity in food, dress, art and so on. Fascism or enforcement of uniformity in all aspects of life is growing. Authoritarian enforcement of uniformity in lifestyle is tribal in its origin. The most uniform life is seen in a tribal culture; later when people move to rural, then to urban and now to post-urban lifestyle, culture becomes or should become more liberal and flexible. But, unfortunately, now a reverse trend is seen – enforcement of uniformity. This can be seen in eliminating or shutting up differing speakers or writers, threatening differing food habits, political opinions, enforcement of ‘ghar wapasi’ and so on. It was hoped at the beginning of the last century (20th) that as rationality and scientific temper spreads along with modern education, the people would be less inclined to group together on the basis of emotional interests, and would be more open to diverse ideas and opinions, and more ready to accommodate individual and group freedom. Again, unfortunately, the trend now is in the opposite direction. Each group – political, religious or ethnic – wants to hold on to what it inherited from the past and does not want to open itself to new ideas and possible practices. Though the Church began to open the doors of free thought and opinions in all changeable and flexible matters like pastoral care, we see the above said opposite trend within the Church too. In all religious groups including the Church, this reverse move is closely connected to traditionality – holding on to traditional and inheri-ted practices and resistance to any change as if to erect a wall of security in the past.

You were principal of a college, why do you think the young generation is tempted by fundamentalism?

While I was teaching in the college and even after that, I was seeing two ambivalent trends among the youth. One the one side, most of the youngsters imbibe the more rational and less emotional aspects of culture and lead a typical modern life. Their vision about society and life is comparatively more liberal; they lead even their religious or spiritual life without much of the traditionalist and obsessive mentality. At the same time, a minority tends toward traditionalism. In all religious groups, I see the emergence of traditionalism and fundamentalism in different degrees and forms during the last twenty to twenty-five years. Maybe, some youth are attracted to that. In the very hectic and turbulent modern life, very secure and traditional religious beliefs and practices may be a kind of anchor of mentally peaceful life. Or still, in some cases I see a split personality syndrome; in the fields of science, technology, politics, economics and so on people accept and translate into their life most of the modern changes; but in the case of religion or that of the inner life the same people cling to very traditional practices as if this aspect of life is an island without much connection with other aspects.

Religious fundamentalism is a universal phenomenon, do you think it is the outcome of globalisation or of the market economy being globalised?

Whether religious fundamentalism is a product of market economy or not, both have close affinity, I think. They also depend on each other and influence or nurture each other. Globalised market economy has marginalized a large section of the world population. Even though such marginalization creates different classes of people, in the recent history of globalization it has also created marginalization on the basis of ethnic and religious lines. The marginalized naturally come together for survival and regaining of power. The easiest and widely available base for such communalization in most parts of the world is still religion and ethnicity. And religion in its fundamentalist form provides the necessary emotional bonding and synergy to these marginal groups. Further, unfortunately, practically all religions in their fundamental forms are not averse to using power, even physical power, to gain upper hand in the society. On the other hand, a modern and liberal understanding of religion does not easily provide such an emotional bonding within the group. In Christianity itself, we notice that the charismatic type of religious gathering in which religious faith is explained and interpreted in a very traditional way, provides a lot more emotionality and exclusivist mindset than a conventional religious gathering of the Christians.
Besides, globalization of market economy aims at financial or material growth, which naturally appeals to and later ensnares everyone. Religions in their tribal or primitive forms or wrongly interpreted forms consider material prosperity as the final goal of human life and gift of God. Spiritual growth and gift of afterlife is a later theological development in most religions. So, religion in its fundamentalist or biased mode appeals to material prosperity like the global market economy itself. That is why sociologists like Max Weber linked the growth of capitalism to the growth Calvinist Protestantism. And that is also why most of our prayers and rituals are for the sake of material prosperity rather than spiritual growth.

You are a person who is actively involved in the liturgical thinking of the Syro-Malabar Church? Do you think the restorationist tendency is akin to the ‘Ghar Vapsi’ movement of the Hindutva movement in India?

I think, both are not the same. In Ghar Vapasi, the leaders of the Hindutva want to attract and bring back those who left Hinduism and its practices either through an organizational change-over or through fall out in life. In the Syro Malabar Church, the liturgy issue is more complex, as I see it. It is not merely the over-emphasis on restoration more than adaptation. I see several strands in the liturgy issue. Of course, there have been leaders and liturgical experts who gave emphasis either to restoration or to renewal, and they attracted large following. The most famous leaders among them have been, for example, Abp Powathil for restoration and Cardinal Parecattil for renewal. These leaders and their followers happened to be mostly in two different regions, which gave the issue a regional colouring. Besides, the Travancore region of the Syro Malabarians always lived among other Christians of ancient Syrian heritage like the Syro Malankara Catholics, Orthodox and Jacobite Christians, who never considered seriously any adaptation or change, but continued to hold on to traditional liturgical styles. To be considered among them as authentic and esteemably ancient, it is necessary to emphasize traditions. But on the other hand, the region of erstwhile Kochi State was always a home of different kinds of Christians like Latin Catholics, and other religious and ethnic groups like the Jews, Muslims, Gujarati Hindus, other immigrants and so on. So, this region had a comparatively open and cosmopolitan culture. The Latin Catholics particularly have gone ahead with significant steps of renewal and adaptation in the case of liturgy. Last but never the least, these two regions have been competing with each other for authority, supremacy and leadership within the Syro Malabar Church from the time of the establishment of the Syro Malabar Hierarchy; and that competitive spirit has not at all settled down. So, taking all these together, it is a conflict arising from a mixture of theological or liturgical stand, acceptability within the area, and the consequence of an ongoing power struggle.

There is a lot of hate speech prevalent in social media, even among Christians, how do you explain it?

I see two factors behind this trend; there could be more. One, when one does not have serious logical and convincing arguments for support, he or she tends to exercise emotionality, particularly anger, and tries to defeat the other through an expression of emotional power. Hate speech is one type of such exercise of power. Murder is often an expression of anger and power to defeat the other person forever in the physical world; hate speech is a kind of verbal murder in the virtual world, especially since the social media has become easily available. Two, some who give great importance and priority to rituals, practices etc, consider it as the core of spirituality, and become vehemently disturbed when they see any break or change in such practices. On the other hand, the fact that spirituality is a quality of inner self and that it comes out through one’s words and actions, and that rituals are only means to acquire this spiritual quality is often forgotten by them. They falsely feel that they spiritually grow if and if only they do such rituals, and ignore the truth that spirituality is within one’s personality, and that it manifests itself from the heart through the mouth.

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