INDIAN CHRISTIANITY – Swami Vikrant, SDB

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Swami Vikrant is an old time close friend and companion of CCV, editor in Chennai from New Leader times, a brilliant thinker and a scholarly research writer on any spiritual or theological topics. He was professor for long at the Major Seminary Poonamalleas as well.

The article he wrote is some 15 page long with 50 foot notes and I took the liberty to publish only few paras from it, what I thought was most relevant for the times, leaving the rest for leisurely publication.

Prolific with Cattle class thoughts

He is growing younger and sharper in his 90ies and comes in handy to add lustier to our fond topic, the Cattle Class community of the youthful Carpenter boy of Nazareth in his 30ies. As Jesus was fully Jewish to the core (INRI), Indian Church should become 100 percent Indian, not foreign or Chaldayan, he argues, nor marred by 50 crore concrete wonder ( Edappally Church)  for slum dwellers to pray.

Think of the example of the greatness of the  of the famous atheist Periyar paying exemplary respect to aging Rajaji a firm believer standing,  at a public function, so, offering the chair he was sitting and begging, “please sit!”, and his contrasting study and analysis of Caste system which was never the culture of India’s poor. But it is now glorified and embellished by the Catholic Hierarchy of bishops so shamelessly, as they make themselves colourful like peacocks to attract attention, but are ridiculed by the youth shouting “there comes the Catholic Bafoons!” (in the article by Bishop Alex.)

Tagore & misguided prayer

How can you read the heart rending commentary of Tagore on the misguided prayer in solitude and dim light in God-forsaken churches, and not moved, while  the God one worships is out in sun and rain tilling the soil or breaking stones sweating to earn a day’s bread and drink to survive? Think it over for ages! 

Words move, examples draw or drag; get yourselves dragged to discover that Church is not an organizational  concrete structure, but the fellowship of those who love Jesus intimately, of those who  loved him at the first and did not and could not let go of their affection for him for anything else. That alone is the Cattle class Jesus community.  james kottoor, editor CCV.


Please read below Swamy Vikrant on Indian Church

The Christian faith timeless? No, it is inextricably bound up with the spatio-temporal situation. This doctrine is the logical deduction of the mystery of the Incarnation. Jesus was a cultural man. Though as Son of God he was timeless, as Son of Man he was a Jew. Bultmann, Tillich and Bonhoeffer hold that it is impossible for us to determine what Christian faith is independently of our cultural milieu. Raymon Panikkar had said that truth, by its very definition, is relational, i.e., related to the human cultural context. 

The ancient Brahminical Mimamsaka philosophy taught that Vedic truths transcended time and space; it is non-relational, acosmic, not even related to God! It was described as Sabda-Brahman, the eternal, impersonal creative sound Vac. t. Thomas Aquinas rightly remarked that he could only describe what God is not rather than say what God is.

Women Inferior?

The zenith of male hubris is seen in irrationally assigning an innate impurity in women. They were debarred from many social and religious rites and functions in all religions and education was systematically denied to them. While the male semen is divinized, the God-given female menstruation is cursed and demonized. In this connection, read the excellent research article of Valson Thanpu, a frontline Indian Christian scholar, former Principal of St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, entitled, Tracing the Taboo Around Menstruation (19)….. The bible is a book by males for males and not a single text of female prophetesses has come down to us. Definitely, there were prophetesses in ancient Israel. The biblical woman was, “essentially a chattel,” says Rosemary Ruether, foremost U S Feminist theologian (20). ….. In primitive Jewish society, women were not member of the Jewish community, as they were not circumcised. So, they were not obliged to make the annual pilgrimages and only men offered sacrifices as we read in Samuel (22)…… Says St. Thomas:   “Woman is said to be a misbegotten male, as being a product outside the purpose of nature” (25). From this false pagan notion of woman as “deformed man”, Aquinas is prepared to make the fantastic statement that a mere boy or even an imbecile or idiot may be ordained priest but not a woman!

De-coding the ancient Scholastic jargon it simply means that a finite being, like man, cannot receive infinite wisdom. No man, except the Man-God Jesus, can possess all truths. The Pope cannot possess all truths. The soldiers of Charlemagne used to say:“Christians are right, pagans are wrong.” “Outside the church there is no salvation”, was another theological howler that stood the test of centuries, until the II Vatican Council…. Some over-enthusiastic followers of the Buddha used to exclaim that Buddhist truth is all truth, until the Buddha asked them if they knew all truths.

Ambrose, Athanasius and Chrysostom would not have dreamed of an Ad Limina visit to Rome. In the 35 years of his illustrious episcopate, St. Augustine of Hyppo did not visit Rome even once. Nor did he go to Ravenna for making obeisance to the Christian Roman Emperor. He collected necessary funds from his own flock, most of whom were very poor folk. Augustine would just announce the needs of the diocese and money would spontaneously pour in, a lesson for our globe-trotting Indian bishops  and major Religious Superiors! Pope Francs’ reference to airport-bishops is, in fact, a timely and well-deserved, though humourous snub.

Pius IX should have actually rejoiced when the Italian revolutionary leader Garibaldi took away his kingdom and political power and was reduced to the original, fisherman Peter’s status: penniless and powerless.

It is sad to notice the church still following the monarchical form of government, unwilling to give up outmoded feudalistic life-style, still clinging on to silk, gold and silver (including the Arab cassock!) and flaunting regal honorifics. The Arab cassock found its way to Rome most probably during the reign of the Roman Emperor Philip the Arabian, who was very tolerant of the church. High-flown church dignitaries may not recognize if the poor carpenter Jesus were to appear once again on earth, as suggested by the Russian novelist Dostoevsky in his famous novel, Brothers Karamazov. In the novel, Jesus, dressed like a poor worker, is made to mingle with the poor and the outcast of society in the slums of Rome. The poor immediately recognize him and there is celebration with wine and dance! The news reached the Grand Inquisitor in Rome, the Pope, who got him arrested and warned him not to restore liberty to people which he had taken away. It is very gratifying to see the humble pope Francs living like the Jesus of Dostoevsky’s novel, just a commoner, a real pastor, relentlessly trying to reach out to his flock to get the smell of the sheep. 

Demons that expel Christ from India

a) Casteism   Sociologist Mayer says that belief in an innate differential evaluation of purity is foremost in the Hindu caste system. Caste is a system of institutionalized inequality while Christianity is based on the equality of all human beings. Says Paul: “No more Jew or gentile, no more slave or freed man; no more male and female; you are all one person in Jesus Christ”(37). So, the expression “caste Christian” is a contradiction. In 1953 the Madras High Court ruled that converts to Christianity, “cease to belong to any caste as the Christian religion does not recognize a system of castes”(38). Caste was unknown to Rig Vedic Indians. Around1000-800 B C, Vedic priesthood (Brahminism) became hereditary and exclusivist and they created a vertical, hierarchical social order where they claimed the highest slot. 

Brahmins assigned the next slot to the powerful warrior group (Kshatriyas), while menial jobs like manual scavenging and disposing of carcases were forced on the outcasts (Sudras), the untouchables, who are denied basic human and social rights, like riding a cycle or wearing slippers in the caste areas. They were forbidden to draw water from the wells used by caste groups. In Kanyakumari district Nadar women and girls were forbidden to cover their breasts and there was breast tax too, as late as 1930s, until the British governor of Madras abolished the custom amidst riots.  Even fifty years after independence, many Dalits (former Sudras), including Christians, silently suffer untold atrocities, like rape, flogging, lynching and honour killing for inter-caste marriage. 

It is historical that among the ancient Dravidians there was no caste system. Theirs was a horizontal social order, with five geographical groups of equal dignity and status: people of the forests, the hills, the plains, the seashore and the desert (Kurinji, Marudam, Mullai Neidal, Palai). But later, the adventurous, cunning Brahmins from the North turned this horizontal social template into a hierarchical, vertical ladder, by patronising local rulers. This fraud was exposed by the Brahmin lawgiver Atri who said: “By birth all are Sudras; Sacraments make some twice-born” (Janmanajayatesudrah; samskaradvi- jauchchyate).

Is it not reprehensible and shameful that while great Communist leaders like the late A.K. Gopalan and P. Ramamurti renounced caste appendages to their names, Christians, including priests and bishops (mercifully not Sisters!) should blatantly flaunt caste titles? Just a few years ago a Dalit Christian was murdered for burying his father in the caste area of the cemetery at Thachur village in Tamil Nadu. Again some years back, two Jesuit priests were charged in the court for demolishing a wall separating the caste area from that of the Dalits in a Tiruchi cemetery in Tamil Nadu (39). “Caste group” Christians should listen to Paul: “Jesus has made both Jews and Gentiles one and broke the middle wall of separation”(40). 

In this context Samuel Rayan S J says: “By his very meal with sinners and tax collectors Jesus rejected the whole system of purities with its distinction of clean and unclean food, holy and unholy places, pure and polluted people”(41). In 1986 S. Japhet had revealed the existence of rigid segregation of caste and Dalit Catholics in Karnataka in the service of barbers and in the use of eating and drinking utensils in hostels (42). Scholars believe that basic tensions between the Latins and Syro-Malabar groups are basically of caste origin.

Now let us look at the other end of the spectrum where the oppressed become the worst oppressor, denying basic human rights like food, shelter, education and employment to poor, famished, unemployed “caste”  Christians. Some Dalit bishops in Andhra, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka practice discrimination in appointing parish priests and school principals, purely on caste basis, discarding indigence and merit. Let us not forget that the pangs from hunger is the same in the Dalit and in the Brahmin. Some Dalit leaders say that their violent reaction is in retaliation for thousands of years of caste oppression. But is it Christian in Gandhi’s homeland?

Periyar & Rajaji

During a public meeting in Tamil Nadu some years back, while the great Dravidian leader Ramasamy Naicker (Periyar) was comfortably seated in a chair, the ageing and sickly Brahmin Rajaji, the last Governor General of India, was standing. Periyar rushed to him with his chair and implored him to be seated. It was most noble of an avowed atheist, a gentleman to the core. A beautiful thought of the Buddha can highlight this topic: “No one should attack a Brahmin. But no Brahmin, if attacked, let himself fly at his aggressor. Woe to him who strikes a Brahmin, but more woe to him who flies at the aggressor” (43). 

b) Linguistic Chauvinism, Exclusive Regionalism, Ritual Rivalry Many sociologists believe that the division of Indian states on language basis was a political blunder. But  Christians cannot hate anybody because of difference in language or ethnicity. 

In conclusion, let us find out if the church leadership in India is prepared to build up local churches, as they existed at Apostolic times, with as many Rites as there are cultures, rejecting all the three foreign Rites. For that the Indian local churches must undergo the self-emptying (kenosis) of Christ and they should have the mind of Christ (44). 

This kenosis also demands the resignation of incapacitated pastors, superiors and prelates, for the good of the church. Both John Paul II and Mother Teresa became real dead-wood in their old age with zero level capacity for effective governance. 

Pope Francs bluntly told the Roman Curia that one of the fifteen spiritual diseases they were suffering was the false belief that they are indispensable. During the long illness of John Paul II, much harm had been done to the church by unscrupulous manipulators. Emperor Diocletian, a brilliant administrator and ruler, shocked the Roman world by his voluntary abdication at the height of his glory, reports the great historian Gibbon, The Catholic church gives ample room for the blind, the lame, the deaf and even the amputees for leadership! 

It is said that fish begins to rot at the head! Just as in politics, in the churches of India also we see the same craving and rat race for power and position, some using the trump cards of caste, language, regionalism and the quota system, even going to the extent of hobnobbing with powerful politicians of dubious morality and kowtowing before them, to put pressure on the Holy See to secure the coveted post. Merit becomes a pathetic, pitiable casualty.

Under tremendous pressure from the irresistible politico-economic forces like market economy and globalisation, we see sweeping changes taking place all round us, with hitherto unshaken ideologies like socialism, Marxism and nationalism tumbling and crumbling. Hopes had soared high during the II Vatican Council that perhaps the collective wisdom of the universal episcopate would restore the pristine collegiality and Spirit-given, legitimate autonomy of the local churches. Unfortunately, the enlightened, good Pope John XXIII was not around there to give the required leadership, and the Council floundered on the vital issue of collegiality and local autonomy, as it existed during apostolic times. All hopes are now zeroing on Pope Francis, the unstoppable reformer, for the restoration of true, legitimate collegiality.

b) An Agenda for the Future; 

What should be the Indian church’s agenda for the future? It is very simple: first and foremost, let the Indian churches be Indian not Latin, Syrian or Chaldean. 

The existing three Rites must be fully Indianized, getting rid of exotic symbols like the Manichean cross of the Syro-Malabar church, the grotesque, Tibetan head-gear of the Latin bishops and the heavy vestments most unsuitable for extremely hot tropical India. 

Adapt symbols from the abundant supply of local cultures as the ancient Hebrews adapted them from the Egyptians, Babylonians, and Canaan. Why limit to three Rites? There can and should be as many Rites as there are viable, vibrant local cultures. They must be forward-looking and not archaic or retrogressive, looking for dead roots in foreign lands. 

Forget about the St. Thomas cross: historians tell us that there was no cult of the cross before the fourth century, with no evidence anywhere, not in the Roman catacombs. It is sad that some have adapted the Protestant custom of removing the crucified saviour from the cross and have also introduced the Jewish sanctuary veil which was torn by the Risen Lord.  

The Indian churches must reject all forms of elitism in the context of grinding poverty, educated unemployment, rural suicide due to the cruel vagaries of weather and rampant illiteracy. Following the example of Pope Francis, the church leadership should be attuned to the life-style of the masses in their personal lives, eschewing all shades of luxury and opulence. 

How can good pastors enjoy a/c comfort in palatial buildings when their flocks are either huddled on pavements or live in hovels in drought-stricken, parched rural areas, with unemployment, famine and starvation as their invisible household companions. The utter poverty of the rural areas and starving tribal forest context is the authentic theological text, locus theologicus for developing a genuine Indian theology of liberation, giving pride of place to Dalit or Subaltern and Feminine theologies.  The Bhagavadgita is theology in verse and it has a timeless appeal. But there is a hitch here: most of the Indian theologians live in the comfort and security of well-funded institutions, still teaching Western, rational, speculative theologies, with hardly any roots in the soil, dishing out what they learned in the West. 

Says the great Sri Lankan Jesuit theologian Aloysius Pieris, S J: “The dilemma is that the theologians are not (yet) poor and the poor are not (yet) theologians!”(45). In this context, Gandhi had cautioned Christian missionaries against the demon of wealth. Said Gandhi: “My fear has been that mammon has been sent to serve India and God has remained behind” (46). Gandhi strongly condemned the construction of expensive, luxurious structures for worship. Said he: “The best place for congregational worship for any religion was in the open maidan,  with the sky above as the canopy and mother earth below for the floor”(47). Is it not criminal to squander the money meant for the poor to construct posh Cathedrals with hardly any congregation? Paul never spent a penny or paisa for building material churches; he built only vibrant household churches. When the wild barbarian Vandals were pulling down the walls of Hippo, the dying St. Augustine, the good pastor that he was, sold the golden candlesticks of the cathedral to feed the poor, starving people. 

In this context, Tagore gives a timely warning to cultic Hindu temple priests, applicable to over-pious elitist Christian charismatic groups hysterically chanting endless Alleluias, enraptured by psychedelic music, totally oblivious of the poor, under-nourished, starving  tribal people around them, like those of Attapady. Says Tagore: “ Leave this chanting and singing and telling of beads! Whom dost thou worship in this lonely dark corner of a temple with doors all shut? Open thine eyes and see thy God is not before thee. He is there where the tiller is tilling the hard ground and where the path maker is breaking stones. He is with them in sun and in shower and his garment is covered with dust. Put off thy holy mantle and even like him come down on the dusty soil” (48).

The Indian churches will continue to stagnate unless we are prepared for radical structural changes, especially our abject dependence on foreign help. Gandhi told Christians to rejoice when foreign funds dry up, because, “then an artificial prop was being removed”(49). Human nature abhors change and radical changes always involve opposition and controversies. “New views cannot be developed except through controversies,” said Lenin. In this context Cardinal Newman says: “To live is to change and to be perfect is to have changed often”. Swami Vivekananda had said that every new idea has to pass through three painful and agonising phases of growth: ridicule, fierce opposition and total acceptance. Let me conclude with a beautiful thought of St. Paul: “Take every thought captive to obey Christ”(50).

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1 Response

  1. Denis Daniel says:

    Brilliant, brave and inspiring.

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