Thursday, February 15, 2007

No baptism for you!

If your parents were married as children, i.e. A story in today's Hindustan Times on the Catholic Church cracking down on child marriages in tribal areas. [I saw the story in the print edition, but couldn't find it online, except in the digital reproduction section. The search engines on almost all the Indian dailies are phenomenally frustrating.]
The Catholic Church in West Bengal has realized that the only way to crack down on social evils like child marriages is to brandish the stick.

The Krishnanagar Diocese, about 130 kilometers away from Kolkatta, is the first one to have cracked the whip by penalising families who got their children married off. The punishment ranged from a fine of Rs. 3000 to excommunication.
[That's about $70. Probably close to or more than a month's wages for many.]
Bishop Joseph Gomes said that the Diocese had decided that everybody has to follow the law and anyone found flouting it would be punished. "We will not baptise children of guilty families and prevent them from attending church functions. Girls have to be 18 and men 21 to get married and everyone has to follow that." he said.
That's the law across the country. I would like to know how they would "prevent" people from attending church "functions" (but not the liturgy?).

It just struck me, a dyed-in-the-wool American Catholic as somewhat strange that the church could actully levy fines. Try that in the US! Anyway, it's clear this is a big problem out there, and the church felt compelled to respond. An interesting reference to ethnic customs:
Herod Mullik of the Bangiya Christian Pariseba, a forum of Christians in Bengal, said traditional customs like child marraiges were prevalent particularly in the tribal belt 'where people continue to retain their ethnicity. Where people flout existing laws, it is for the Church to take punitive action to keep its community law abiding," he said.
I would interpret, "retain their ethnicity" to mean, "continue in their pre-Christian customs." And, I wonder which other laws fall under the purview of the Church to help enforce? Clearly, a different role for the Church in the society.


Anonymous said...

I do not know where to begin. To me it sounds as if the Catholic church is trying to force rules, which seems to be against what we know of the church here in the US. I just assumed that LOVE would prevail and punishing the children for their parents actions seems to be counter productive. Sinners should be welcomed into the church, we are all sinners! To say that the legal age of consent is 18 or 21, notice it is 21 for the males, seems ill based. I know that we are called to follow the laws of our government second only to the laws of God, but this seems ridiculous!

PixelChick said...

Gashwin, am I the only one that sees the irony in Herod Mullik? Ah King Herod and his atrocities against children.

Oh, BTW I changed my display name, but this is Pram.

Gashwin said...

Pram, I totally saw the Herod thing.

This whole thing smacks of authoritarianism, for sure. But, the Church operates differently in rural areas.

I really cannot see why children should be denied the sacrament though!

Anonymous said...

Gashwin, I have a problem with the church denying sacrament to divorcees and remarried people etc. In the US, it might be a more don't ask don't tell kinda thing, as a Hindu I could very well sneak into the line for communion and even though the priest might have his suspicions, I could receive it (never done it though). But in India, I've seen the priest refusing communion to people in line, and the sense of shame/other people watching you being denied is real. When I think about it, it all boils down to control, whether its upper caste brahmins denying untouchables entry to the temple or Catholic priests doing it.


Gashwin said...

Hey Pram/Pixelchick -- the issues surrounding those divorced and remarried and their admission to the Eucharist are completely different.

The proper reception of the Eucharist, and the sacrament of Baptism are very different things as well.

However, I think the perception here is, "Church denies sacrament, therefore church is unloving/unkind/unChristlike/rude/controling"
It is, of course, not quite so simple. Not denying the perception -- that's another issue as well. However, receiving a sacrament is not an automatic thing, nor is it something that is just given, or "by right." There is always the question of the proper disposition of those receiving. It is well within the purview of the Church to evaluate the disposition and preparedness of anyone who wants to be admitted to any of the sacraments.

In this case, it seems completely unjust that the children are being punished for something that is not their fault, and the sacrament is being used as a means of social control (even if it is something that is, in the end, good - the reduction of child marraiges.)

In the case of those divorced civilly and remarried, one is trying to be faithful to a direct command of Jesus about the sanctity of marriage.

Yes, everything slips under the radar in the US. And yes, there is no reason for this to be done in a shameful and degrading manner as you seem to have witnessed in India. (That, I would think, would fly against Jesus' example. Look at how he treated the woman caught in adultery, for instance? This isn't about gloating and pride, after all!)

But, when it comes to the sacraments, no one is "automatically" worthy to receive them.

Coming back to the question at hand -- I think that it's worthy that the Church is trying to address the issue of child marriages. I don't know what might have been tried before, and yes, it's possible there are elements of "control" here, but one can hope that the "stick" (as the article describes it) was a means of last resort when other approaches failed.

It would be interesting to find out what other Diocese in the tribal areas of Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal (which have large numbers of Catholis, relatively speaking) are doing.

PixelChick said...

You're right, Gashwin. I do view receiving communion as a right. As a Hindu I was taught that I could ask for prasad from anyone, and if I was refused, it was ok, let the sin of refusing God's food to you fall on the refuser. In that respect, I believe everyone who seeks communion should receive it, it's not a man's job to come between a human and God.

It's interesting that you should bring up the parable of the adulteress. It is one of my favorites and the woman is sort of my personal gold standard. That story is also a great example of how perfectly wrongly the Church has got it. Jesus' focus in that parable is not only the here and now - to save her from a violent death, but also the future. If I remember correctly, he says to her, Go forth and sin no more.

Jesus is not concerned with her past. What the Church does in refusing communion to divorcees and remarried people is completely antithetical to what Jesus did. Its focus is on an act in the past, and because of that past act, it finds it ok to deny communion forever and ever more, irrespective of what a person's present or future reality is. How justified is that, especially when you have Jesus' compassion as an example in front of you?

In the history of the Church, it might have served to have such a rule, to differentiate itself from other faiths (Anglicanism or Islam for example) but I have a feeling Jesus himself would be a lot more compassionate in dealing with modern-day versions of that adulteress.

Anonymous said...

Gashwin, I know I've veered way off topic, but communion is a big thing for me, maybe because I always have to sit it out.

For some reason when I read the excerpt you had posted, I assumed the children were being denied communion. But if its baptism that is being denied, that's a lot bigger I guess.

Take care

Gashwin said...

Hey Pram: the story said nary a thing about Communion. It was about baptism. Which is a lot more fundamental, and, as I said, problematic. (Those who cannot be baptized cannot receive any other sacrament, including the Eucharist, legitimately).

Now to respond a bit about what you've written. I think the heart of it is this sense of a "right" to receive Holy Communion. Surface appearances aside, Communion is simply not the same as an offering that is presented to a god , and in a sense blessed, and then given to anyone who wishes to receive it. It is not like prasad. The theology behind it, which goes right back to Jesus, is quite different, and is tied into the supreme act of his sacrifice on the Cross -- his body and blood poured out for redemption. Participating in Communion is for those who are "in Communion" with the Church. I.e., most commonly (there are exceptions), baptized Catholics who are properly disposed. A Catholic who is conscious of grave or mortal sin is not supposed to come forward and receive. While it may appear as a pro-forma ritual participation by many Catholics, that is not what it's supposed to be.

The discipline surrounding the reception of the sacrament has varied down the ages, but never has it ever been a simple "come and get it." In fact, in the early Church, those preparing for baptism could not even be present for the Eucharistic prayer. The sense is vastly different from prasad.

Now, one can understand it as prasad, and feel resentful. But, it behooves one to at least properly understand what Catholics believe by Holy Communion and the act of receiving Holy Communion.

My bringing up Jesus' example in John 8 was indeed to highlight his compassion. He would not stand for a sense of superiority or gloating or spiritual pride over others faults.

However, this is the same Jesus who says that anyone who looks at a woman in lust commits adultery, who speaks a word in anger, commits murder. Who counsels us to tear our eye out if it causes us to sin and to cut our hand off if it causes us to sin. Hyperbole, perhaps, but, not exactly, mild and innocuous.

And St. Paul warns the Corinthians that those who receive the Body unworthily condemn themselves.

I think there is a tendency abroad to confuse compassion with license. One always has compassion for any individual. Why, even today at Mass we heard, "judge not lest ye be judged." But, this does not mean that people's actions are simply to be approved. Loving someone does not mean approving everything they do, or even accepting it. Sometimes it means challenging people. Always, I would say, in a gentle and compassionate way. ("Speak the truth in love" as St. Paul says again.)

When it comes to those divorced and then remarried, the Church is also trying to be faithful to the same Jesus (the teaching on the indissolubility of marriage was not introduced at a later time to distinguish Catholicisim from Anglicanism or Islam. It goes back to the Gospels.) who forbade divorce. If someone has entered into a valid sacramental marriage, that marriage is for life, and, in the Church's eyes, even if a couple gets divorced, that previous marriage continues to exist.

It is not, however, a situation that results in Communion being denied "forever and ever more." An annulment (a determination that the marriage was not entered into validly, and therefore, didn't objectively speaking, exist) can be granted, for instance. But the discipline of the Church isn't because the people involved are "bad" or "sinful" or "evil" (even though, I admit, this is how it is often perceived, and the officials of the Church as very much at fault over this.), it's because, their actions are, from the point of view of the moral law, problematic.

Unfortunately, perception is what determines many things. And, on that front, the Church has a huge task.

And, as an aside, I think, for instance, that in a culture such as the US, with rampant promiscuity and a sexual ethic that is so counter to Christian values, that the preparation time for couples preparing for marriage should be lengthened, and accompanied by some serious catechesis about the Christian moral life, and an opportunity to really develop a sense of Christian discipleship. Of course, at one level, that is impractical. But, a part of me feels, that maybe fewer people should be admitted to sacramental marriage!

PixelChick said...

Gash, I think you as a convert are talking in an idealistic, naive sense in many ways. The sense I've got from my husband is that annulment is a sort of divorce workaround that Catholics have devised for themselves.

His (Catholic) friend went through an easy civil divorce in the US and we had this discussion at that time, and he actually said you could bribe priests to give you an annulment. I don't know if its an Indian corruption or something particular to Bhopal/MP where he was brought up, but this is the sense I derived.

Another Catholic friend of mine went through an annulment, and while the marriage was consummated and nothing seemed severely wrong with either of them except some level of incompatibility, her parents managed to get her an annulment, lying cleverly that their marriage hadn't been consummated. It was common knowledge amidst our friend circles. Of course two anecdotal stories do not point to a church wide corruption, but it also leads me to think that all is not as perfect as you present it.

I also read your God forbid you should be thought a Hindu post... My husband and his family regularly sang a Hindi hymn the words of which go like:

Ganga ke tat pe paap nahin dhulta
Tere lahoo se hi paap dhulta hai

It even sounds like a pop song, the paap nahin dhulta repeated three times for proper effect. I found such a hymn distasteful of course, it speaks to a Catholic version of truth, but that might be expected. The bigger put off was that it was part and parcel of the Mass, being sung in the church itself, not your average Catholic doing a celebratory jig at having found salvation. Can you imagine a Hindu bhajan saying Jesus is not the saviour of the world or Mohammad is a false prophet? If there is one, I would find that in really poor taste too.

My 5th standard history book had a picture of Ashoka pillars and a discussion of his edicts. What he said about honoring one's own religion and others' has been the most important principle by which I judge how good a religion fits my thinking - [link]

but all of them have as their root restraint in speech, that is, not praising one's own religion, or condemning the religion of others without good cause. And if there is cause for criticism, it should be done in a mild way. But it is better to honor other religions for this reason. ... Whoever praises his own religion, due to excessive devotion, and condemns others with the thought "Let me glorify my own religion," only harms his own religion.

I find it easier to digest when people tell me why their faith is meaningful to them, instead of coming on to me by putting down my faith.

Anyways... I'm sorry I end up leaving entire books as comments, I tend to be quite wordy sometimes ;)

Gashwin said...

Hey Pram (or should I go by your new online moniker?) ... of course I'm talking about ideals and principles. However, at no point have I said that the ideal is what the reality is. Corruption is and has been part and parcel of human reality, and as much a part of the Church, because she is quite human. (She is, from a Christian view, not just human, of course.) It saddens me to hear that in India it may be possible to bribe priests into getting an annullment. It may even be possible in the US, I just don't know! However, I've worked on cases in front of the tribunal in my home diocese, and whereas there are other issues, corruption isn't one of them.

There is an old adage: abusus, usum non tollit. "The abuse doesn't take away from the use." And while the human frailty and willful sinfulness of the Church is a problem -- it has been and will be a problem till Kingdom come really -- that does not take away from the principles, or ideals, or, if you will, truth. It does, of course, detract from the clarity of the message, if you will. It compromises the witness, yes. [I might suggest you read Amy Welborn's recent post, her "Theory of Everything." It's an intraCatholic conversation on the direction the Church has taken since Vatican II, but it touches on my above point very forcefull, If eel.]

I should also point out, that when one is dialoguing, it is generally not a good idea to compare the ideals of one with the reality or practice of the other. Such as, say, comparing the ideals of Christianity with jihadi strands of Islam. You weren't doing this, however, it is a strong temptation, I feel (it certainly is mine!), when one starts talking about one's own religion and other's religions. I think it behooves one to be aware of this.

As to your second point -- well, on these matters, one can share one's owns views, respectfully listen to others' views, (and if one is truly interested in dialogue, try to really understand the other view) but at some point (many points, I would think), one would just have to disagree, respectfully. That hymn, I am sure, does come across as exclusive, and, perhaps given the context (a pluralistic society), even polemical. But, the claim that Christ is the universal savior is central to Christianity. He just isn't one devata among others, just one path. He is the way. That has been the understanding from the get go, and, in my view (and in my understanding of Catholicism), is non negotiable.

[As we've discussed previously, this does not mean that non-Christians are simply condemned to hell.]

Catholicism (and Christianity) is not Hinduism. As I've remakred, there is a sense of exclusivity, at one level, that marks all three semitic religions. And all three, in their own way, claim universality, in a way that is quite distinct from the various forms of Hinduism that I am familiar.

However, your very discomfort points to the fact that when it comes to religion, all things are simply not equal. "Every path leads to the mountaintop" is simply not true. From your point of view, it would seem, that what you've seen and experienced in the Church, such as this hymn, is distasteful, and makes you feel that the Hindu take on things is better. If, everything were simply all ok, why would any of this matter? Why would the "Catholic version of truth" be any more or less distasteful than the "Hindu version?"

There is a whole separate conversation, about just what is meant by religion, both in modern times and in the past, and how one translates Hindu ideas of dharma into a modern understanding of religion.

Having said all that, I too laud the sentiment you shared from the Ashokan pillar. The sense of exclusivity of all three semitic religions does lead their members to a sense of spiritual pride. From a spiritual point of view, I would say, a Christian spiritual point of view (I cannot comment from a Jewish or Muslim perspective as an insider!) this is very dangerous. For, as a Christian, it is not my decision to follow Christ, my desire to seek baptism, or my act of piety or sense of belonging to the "right club" that saves. That is, as common as that sentiment might be, quite antithetical to a Christian understanding of how God works.

One is saved, purely and simply, by God's grace, by His gracious action. This is not merited, or earned, or deserved or achieved by one's own spiritual exercises, meditations, ascesis, or whatever. The primary action is God's. God comes to us. Unexpectedly. In the most bizarre way.

God's love, once experienced, motivates us to then imitate, to love back, to love others. But it is a response.

Any Christian who says, "I am saved because I am Christian" is, I would suggest, missing the point. In fact, as Catholcis, we are taught not to think in these terms (the language of "being saved" tends to be very evangelical Protestant), and the presumption of one's salvation is one of the highest forms of pride, a deadly sin. It can close us off to God's love.

The first person who needs converstion, is myself. Constantly. As does the community that bears the name Christian. It needs constant purification in the light of the Gospel, because we are simply, quite human, and therefore, prone to making all kinds of gods.

[And, another separate conversation would be, just what is the meaning of "salvation" and "being saved?" It is not, simply, "who gets to heaven."]

If you leave books, I write encyclopedias. :)

Gashwin said...

Hmm. I should follow my own advice of listening carefully and (in this context, that would mean reading carefully) ... I didn't really read the first line of that hymn. For other readers, the words in English are:

Sins aren't washed on the shores of the Ganges.
Sins are only washed by the blood of Christ.

I only read the second line and thought your objection was to the second line. I didn't read the first line ... the Ganga ke tat par ...

I share your discomfiture at this hymn. This kind of polemical rhetoric is not articulated in American Catholic liturgies.

However, they do have a history in the not so recent past of Christianity. And certainly, in the early times, when the Jewish and Christian self-understanding of being something distinct from paganism was very important.

[I was reminded of a medieval hymn, whose Latin translated to something on the lines of ... "The Church rejoices while the synagogue mourns." Such sentiments were quite common in Europe at the time, often murderously so. I was horrified when I first read them. I doubt that such sentiments would be expressed in today's context of dialogue with Judaism. There is a distinction between the sentiments this hymn expresses and those expressed by the hymn you mentioned -- I'll come to that in a moment -- but both are, indeed, put downs. There is also a very important distinction between the relationship of Christianity to Judaism and that to any other non-Christian religion.]

At one level, it surprises me that they are still used. I thought the focus was on dialogue, and not just confrontation.

Now, if you push me to it, I would say that what the hymn says is objectively true, if by "pap dhulna" one means "achieve salvation" (in the full Christian understanding of things), then this is, indeed, only possible in the blood of Christ. Washings in the Ganges, the Jordan or any other place do not achieve this.

My tendency, my comfort level, would be not to use such a polemical hymn, however.

It would be interesting to hear what my coreligionists think. When I get a moment, I'll create a blog post on this.

This does not change anything that I wrote in my previous comment, though!

PixelChick said...

And this is where we obviously differ of course. I believe, and quite strongly, that all roads do lead to the mountain top. You could take the scenic route, you could walk under the weight of a cross, or you could roll piously doing pradakshinas, and hit the Antartic, the Equator and every point in between and reach the Everest a few hundred years later, all disheveled and bloody from your efforts. I know you disagree, but that's ok, I'm quite happy with my worldview, and while I'm happy talking about it at some length ;) I'm not here to convince you otherwise. If anything, I would say your view is but a sub-set of mine.

Re. that hymn, yes, on a literal level, its giving you a Christian view - salvation comes from Christ's blood. But rarely, given our histories and cultures and present day events, are things so simplistic. The problem I see with Abrahamic faiths is that they view God, religion, salvation as a zero-sum game, and unfortunately as with many things in life, zero-sum games rarely if ever exist in nature.

If we're talking exclusivity, it exists in the Gita too. After all Krishna said:

sarvadharman parityajya mam ekam saranam vraja
aham tva sarvapapebhyo mokshaisyami ma sukah

Forsake all religions and come into my protection
I will deliver you from all your sins and lead you to salvation and happiness

These lines Iskcon people have used quite cleverly to peddle a Christianized version of Hinduism, full of familiar symbols and terminology - salvation and a savior figure, personal relationship with Krishna etc. Eastern spiritualism with Christian salvation for those who can't quite make the complete jump.

Anyhoo, if two (and more) people say the exact same thing, who am I to believe? In my life, I had to ask myself the question: everything that I am now, who or what influenced me to be that way? And my pasts experiences led me to conclude that I had seen God and faith, as diluted as they are, through Krishna's eyes, and I can't see a point in changing the way I worship. But knowing this still doesn't answer my questions. Say there is an independent observer - an atheist say, unsaddled with any religious/irreligious baggage, if many religionists come to him, all with claims of exclusivity, who is he to believe? What makes one version truer than the other? You could give him religious literature to read, and try to convince him of your viewpoint, and if he was fair minded, he might want to test each version for himself, but in the end it could very well boil down to personal experience. And much of experience is difficult to communicate with another but words are such insufficient tools of expression.

I think this battle for souls is on throughout the world. I've dabbled in Nichiren Daishonin Buddhism and had discussions with Muslim converts, and everywhere I see the same desperation to put their experential realities into words and it can be quite frustrating when you realize that the listener can't understand/experience what you are saying.

Encyclopedia or no, it's been quite an interesting discussion. I've tried reading Amy Wellborn's blog several times, but it's far too Catholic in terminology and I find that most of what she writes slides over my head. Think of this as your job: to serve as a bridge between her and me, to use your past religion and your present reality to explain to someone who genuinely wants to know.

PS: Pram/Pixelchick, what's in a name? I don't mind either.

PixelChick said...

PPS: Gash... Yes, not all views are correct. But if the Christian version is right, then that means the Hindu version is wrong. But if the Hindu version is right, it means the Christian version could also be right. Life and religion as a zero-sum game vs. a realization that all of us are seekers of the same truth, however imperfectly we experience/understand it.