Sunday, May 28, 2006

Da Vinci fallout: lots of press?

Well, both the big English language dailies had coverage of the Catholic Church in the Sunday papers. The Indian Express carried a front page (bottom) story on Opus Dei in India. At Opus Dei center in Mumbai, no one's afraid of Dan Brown.
The place doesn’t look as if anyone there whips themselves to frenzy over anything. Sorry Dan Brown, but Opus Dei, at least as The Sunday Express saw in its Mumbai centres, is a picture of the humdrum.
Brown’s fictional Opus Dei, as almost everyone seems to know, is a secretive, self-flagellating, Catholic group ready to kill to protect the “secret” that threatened the church. At the Mumbai Opus Dei the big secret is this—the airconditioned library at the men’s centre is a refuge from Mumbai’s sweltering summer to some student members.

The Times of India had a full page special report inside the Sunday supplement on Catholicism with a variety of articles. One delved into the whole issue of the constitutionality of anti-conversion laws, the debate on religious freedom in the Constituent Assembly, and said that Pope Benedict had done his homework in saying that such laws are against the "highest ideals of India's founding fathers."
But the pope can't be faulted for alleging all the same that anti-conversion laws were "contrary to the highest ideals of India's founding fathers".

This is because, contrary to the SC verdict in the Rev Stanislaus case, the Constituent Assembly saw the right to convert others to one's own religion as a logical extension of two fundamental rights: the right to 'propagate' religion (Article 25) and the larger freedom of speech and expression (Article 19).

The intention of the founding fathers is evident from the extensive debates they had before incorporating the term 'propagate' in Article 25.
Another highlighted, quite positively I thought, one story of a Hindu converting to (non-denominational) Christianity.
My parents lost all their money, I couldn't go to college. My mother sold everything and sent me to Delhi to get a job. I got involved with a guy, we started doing drugs. My father was dying.

Then, my cousin died in a car crash. I was on the point of suicide. Then I found the love of Jesus and was saved."
This is the story of Shilpa, 23, a Hindu who converted to Christianity. Why? It gave her hope in a hopeless life.
The personal story, however, serves as a bookend for a sociological analysis of (especially lower-caste) conversion in India. A third suggests that Africa, not Asia, is where the action is, when it comes to the growth of Christianity, using Philip Jenkin's well regarded The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, as a springboard (Neat review in First Things). And a quote from the editor of The Examiner (the Archdiocesan magazine out of Bombay) which suggests that evangelization and conversion (understood narrowly as making new church members) are not the same at all.
"What he actually said was that in the past the gospel has been preached from Europe, in the future it should be preached from Asia. This means the Church should reach out to more people in Asia, not convert them."
Finally, columnist Jug Suraiya dishes up a nice sentimental "why-can't-we-just-get-along" relativism. Not either/or but both/and.
Born into Hinduism, I now call myself a practising atheist. But that does not preclude me from being "Little bit Muslim, yes?". Or little bit Christian, or Buddhist, or Sikh, or Hindu. On occasion I have been, and will be, all these.

If I wasn't, I couldn't be moved by a maulvi's call to prayer, or the soaring spire of a cathedral, or a stupa painted with the turquoise eyes of the Buddha, or the Gurbani being sung in the Har Mandir, or the recitation of the Gayatri Mantra. If I were to believe in just one faith, instead of in the faith of all faiths (including the faith of atheism), I would only be impoverishing myself. I'd be limiting both myself and the boundaryless domain of spirit.

This is what bothers me about the conversion controversy. How, in the name of faith, can zealots, of whatever denomination, seek to limit faith? To imprison it in an either/or mutually exclusive equation, instead of liberating it in an eclectic and elective both/and openness of multiple choice, multiple affirmation.
Sounds nice, doesn't it? Except "faith" is not just an aesthetic appreciation of other's cultures, to be enjoyed in the comfort of one's living room, or while visiting exotic destinations. I would say that being a truly faithful Christian, say, does not in fact preclude one from the kind of aesthetic (or even spiritual) appreciation of different cultures and religions that he talks about. (As Nostra Aetate put it, the Church doesn't reject anything that is true or good in other religions.) Not only that, this kind of appreciation is not just a nice thing, but a good in of itself, one that is sorely needed in today's world. But surely, "multiple affirmations" can mean that I also affirm, say, the need for human sacrifice (as practiced by the ancient Aztecs), or, sati, or extermination of a particular race? Why not? Didn't these stem from "faith"? Why should I discriminate against these aspects of "faith">

"Faith" is closely tied to the question of truth. And praxis. Catholics are all about "both/and." But not always. Sorry Jug, sometimes one has to take an either/or stand. And I suspect, for most people, their faith involves a lot more than just a little bit of this and that tossed together to make a pleasing cocktail to be served up when one feels the need for something exotic and multicultural.


IndianCatholic said...

Good review!

Steve Bogner said...

Yes, 'both/and' works within Catholic theology and practice. It's not a both/and that accepts things contrary to the church's teachings.

Thanks for the reviews & all the info.

Gashwin said...

Thanks for stopping by y'all and glad you found this helpful.