Tuesday, March 20, 2007

I'm not sure where to begin

Amy sent this link to me: Borrowing in faith: Kerala church creates ripples - NDTV.com - News on Borrowing in faith: Kerala church creates ripples. Just go read it.

If one wants to convert a church into a Hindu temple, well fine, but say that it's a Hindu temple, and don't pretend it's a church.

There is interreligious dialogue -- a central part of the Christian witness especially in a pluralistic society such as India -- and then there is a complete capitulation to the religious relativism that is a key motif of Hinduism.

Some things are quite unproblematic:
Even the Last Supper as portrayed by Da Vinci reflects a strong indigenisation.

Christ and his disciples are shown seated eating from banana leaves.
And some even admirable:
"Without any discrimination on the basis of caste or religion and seeing everyone as equals, it is a good thing," added Joseph, Devotee.
Absolutely, but that's what Christianity preaches. It doesn't need to pretend to be Hindu to do so! And then ...
And atop the Church is a huge "Om" where there's normally a crucifix. Father Antony insists there's a method to this confluence of religious symbolism.

"Most of the Rig Veda symbols are neutral. They do not pertain to any religion, not even to Hinduism. Say "Om" or the kirtans in Rig Veda - they go beyond religion and Gods. They are part of a universal religious search and can be practiced by all religions," he added.
Yes, definitely. And how many mosques does one see with the "universal" Om atop the minar?

How has this been received? Well I'm sure the general sense among the largely Hindu elite will be: oh good, finally someone among the Christians gets it. "No one path is better than another. All roads lead to the mountain" and all that are axiomatic here, where any kind of departure from this mantra is seen as dangerously sectarian, leading to violence. According to the news report however,
Public opinion is divided in this small fishing hamlet. While some see it as an attempt to convert people to Christianity, others view it as a dilution of the Christian ethos.
So, let's just pretend to be Hindu, and the Hindus will still think we're just sheep in wolves' clothing.

But who would want to convert to a Christianity that is, well, basically Hindu?

And why just Vedic Sanskritic Brahmanical Hinduism? In all my experience of top-down "inculturation" in India (mainly in long conversations with Jesuits at Pune's De Nobili College years ago), my constant question was -- why just this slice of Hinduism? What about other dimensions of Hindiusm? What about the Dalit experience? And what about that other Indian religion, which has coexisted with the majority in the subcontinent for a millenium: Islam? Why doesn't "inculturation" lead to some kind of Islamization of things? And what about the genuine culture of Latin Christianity that has developed in places like Goa, organically and unplanned over the past 500 years? Does that not count for anything? Is it all just colonial baggage?

I recall a conversation with John Allen in Rome, when we were talking about evangelization. He thought that there were many elements in the Indian church that didn't even think it was necessary. I nodded; I'd come across that sentiment often.

Well, here's a nice example (and I'm basing all of this on this NDTV report; I know nothing else of this project) of the dominant culture "evangelizing" Christianity.

And for a church that doesn't even display the crucifix, well, it might be wise for them (and for all of us) to remember St. Paul's words to the Corinthians about the Cross: foolishness to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Jews. And, it would seem, to some Catholics in Kerala as well.


St. Elizabeth of Cayce said...

The article further states:

It is yet another feather in India's secular cap. The Jagat Jyoti Mandir at Neendakara Panchayat is one of a kind - a church that assimilates the best of all religions - an example that others could well emulate.

No unbiased media, there, huh?

If everything is OK, why believe anything? Why make the effort to learn or follow a set of beliefs? Why get up on Sunday morning?

That's likely my Southern Baptist / Bible Church background speaking, but I don't see the point.

Also, from the article, it appears to describe a Christian Church, but not necessarily a Catholic Church. Is this possibly an Anglican (or other high church that called clergy "Father") assembly?

Gashwin said...

The article also states: It is an attempt on part of the Latin Catholic church to promote inter-faith dialogue and understanding, but it is has [sic] been received with caution. So, nope, not the Anglicans.

Besides, in India, the Anglicans banded with the Lutherans, Methodists and (I think) some Baptists in the 20th century to form the Churches of North India and South India, and operate as a kind of unified federation. I'm not sure this kind of stuff would be seen coming from CNI/CSI, but that's just instinct, I have no real knowledge of these denominations.

Mike said...

What WAS St. Thomas thinking anyway?

PixelChick said...

Believe me, relativist as I am, I'm equally mortified that a Malayali church would actually put the Om on top, but from the opposite direction. It is Christianity that has appropriated pagan holidays and symbols throughout history - Easter bunny and Halloween, anyone? Even Dec 25th is debated as the actual date of Christ's birth.

I would hate to imagine that 1500 years from now, Christmas has moved to an August celebration around Jansmashtami, and the Christ child has a blue hue and a peacock feather tucked into his curly locks. Neither of us will be around, but I'm sure the world will have lost something precious - both ways - if this ever comes to pass.

Gashwin said...

@ Mike: St. Thomas was obviously a deluded zealot, a [gasp] fundamentalist! [/gasp] :-D

@Pixechick: I see your point. I wouldn't mind a blue-skinned Christ really, as long as he wasn't going around chasing gopis :) Yep, Christianity has been notorious for adapting "pagan" customs (I'd put caste in this category!)... Halloween almost certainly started out as a Christian commemoration (All Hallow's Eve) which has only recently taken on neopagan connotations. (And there's the modern American evangelical Protestant critique that it's about Satanism and evil and devil-worship).

The date of Christ's birth is not a matter of dogma, and the New Testament doesn't mention it. It's generally the common view among scholars that the Dec. 25 date is a 4th century creation in competition with the Roman Saturnalia ... but this has been challenged as well.

PixelChick said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
PixelChick said...

Gash, something is screwing up your comments, it might be Google for all I know. I'd begun to think you'd banned my IP address or something, being as prone to arguing as I am.

Now that you mention caste... I don't think caste/dowry could really be termed appropriation. I think of those as human flaws acquired from the social milieu that none - not Christianity or Islam or communism or Hindu reform movements - have successfully rooted out. And it is not like Christians have taken those traditions and made them their own, so to speak.

But I'm less charitable about the others - those are appropriations in the true sense simply to make the conversion to Christianity easier. And now the ownership of those holidays resides entirely with the church/Christians.

I don't have a problem with Christ chasing gopis. To me, Krishna's sexuality is an acknowledgment of the real force that keeps this race of going, and to me it is something worth celebrating. But I can understand where talk of Christ's sexuality would be blasphemy and offensive to a lot of people.

Quick question: I was at a Syro-Malabar RC baptism in Philly a coupla years back. the priest started with Asato ma sadgamaya. Whaddya make of that?

Gashwin said...

Hmm -- I'm not doing anything to ban anyone. (Yet :-)). So it's gotta be Google.

Appropriation/absorption/adoption/acquired flaws. I guess it depends on how one looks at the "thing" that's being "taken in." Most of these are not top down things, some bishop saying, "Oh let's introduce caste here" or "that pagan custom there." I would suspect these are part of an organic process that happens at the boundaries of cultural encounter.

If you're talking about festivals alone -- well, the Saturnalia doesn't exist anymore because, well, there aren't any Roman pagans around. Yes they all became Christian. However appropriation from surrounding culture is a much larger thing that just adopting a festival and "Christianizing" it.

About gopis: my point really was -- giving Christ an indigenous appearance is unproblematic. It happens all the time (African Christs, native American Christs, heck even the blond-haired blue-eyed Jesus is a European representation of Christ). What would be problematic would be a syncretistic conflation of the two figures, so that Christ began to be perceived just like Krishna. I chose the gopis for that reason actually, and not because I have any issues with Krishna chasing gopis per se.

Christ was human, and therefore he was a sexual being. As a Christian who also believes he was divne, and the human and the divine coexisted in harmony in his person, what this meant is that his sexuality was fully and completely in sync with God's will, and free of the distortions that have affected all aspects of human nature -- including sexuality -- since the Fall.

Sure, I can imagine some would be a bit alarmed at putting "Christ" and "sexuality" in the same sentence, but that reflects a kind of Manichean strain that has dogged Christianity since antiquity.

Now to the Syro-Malabar service: I'm a bit surprised, for sure. I have no knowledge of the Syro-Malabar liturgy and do not know if this is something that a) the priest did on his own, b) was something introduced into the liturgy after Vatican II or c) is a much older appropriation. (The Oriental rites have a much longer history of interaction with India than the Latin rite.) My guess is either a) or b). Those particular verses from the Brihadarnyakopanishad are, in my experience, used quite commonly be Christians in a variety of circustances (yours truly included, on this blog too!), because the imagery is powerful, and is consistent with Christian sensibilities -- heck, I can see how it can be quite appropriate for a baptism!

In general, my instinct is -- let's not bring elements of other religious traditions -- however appropriate -- into the Christian liturgy. Not knowing the history of Syro-Malabar liturgical development, I can't say much more.

PixelChick said...

I actually need to retract that Philly description. It was not during the baptism per se, but more a Christian themed Indian style programme later with Bharatanatyam etc... I guess it was surprising for me personally to hear it in a Christian context.

Regardless, interesting discussion.