Christianity, Challenges and Creativity: A Futuristic Response Amidst Violence in India Today

Cenkantal
6 min readFeb 7, 2024

A. Maria Arul Raja, SJ

Encountering Violence

One is aghast with the hostile experiences of increasing trends of trials and tribulations of attacking Christians, demonizing their works, and burning their worship houses in the past couple of decades in India today. Even when the people of good will in the civil society are alerting us about the ill-effects of the mounting intensity of excessive bursting of crackers and fire-works during the festive days, some of the rightist and fundamentalist outfits squarely blame the so-called ‘missionary conspiracies’. The rationality of promoting environmental health and protecting our common home is madly condemned as ‘destruction of indigenous religious culture of celebration’. Well-designed discourses and unfounded allegations of the so-called ‘forced conversion’ are habitually and frequently unleashed against Christians. Such stereotypical accusations blatantly set afloat occupy the prime slots in very many media houses and social media posts. Relying on such vociferous charges, some of the states in Indian Republic have legislated anti-conversion laws hunting down the simple Christians with punitive measures.

Appropriate Responses?

What are the responses across India to this disturbing phenomenon? The Indian society, by and large, seems to be settled down with stoic indifference. And the Christians themselves have been addressing such indictments with weak resistance, perhaps with piece-meal organizations of processions and demonstrations here and there. Similar challenges against the life and works of Christianity have been always encountered down the centuries in some form or other.

It is amidst such challenges and vulnerabilities, the people of good will are to be engaged in serious communitarian discernment on how one’s identity with the awareness of human vocation and commitment to building communion are to be activated. This attitude will construct pro-active, constructive and creative responses. Our human vocation is not a predetermined pathway, but an act of ongoing discernment through which our uniqueness, in freedom, is gradually unveiled before the Creator God. Often this view seems to echo that of many young people who perceive the growth of their vocation and identity as a dynamic process rather than a fixed state of life. We must remind ourselves that the divine is at work even in the deepest of wounds to bring healing even with gratitude.

All human experience, irrespective of its pleasant or negative impacts, holds a perennial vitality, no matter how long its significance may remain hidden from our eyes. Be it in the distant past or recent times, our saints and scholars of different traditions have taken the pulse throbbing at the heart of history and shown us how God has been at work. Their writings and contributions have measured the rhythm of that pulse and set it against the many challenges posed then and now. In doing so, they have given us a foretaste of our future trajectory, encouraging us not to grudgingly linger in the past, but to joyfully engage with God’s work (Missio Dei) here and now in our context. They have inspired us to move forward together with faith-inspired vision, hope-generating strategies, and compassion-centred programmes even amidst multiple conflicts.

Creativity amidst Conflicts

Let us take the case of such trends of creative and futuristic attempts by the Christian world in the Tamil cultural soil. Way back in the 16th century, St. Francis Xavier and Fr. Antonio Criminali approached the victimized people with the view point of protecting their life and livelihood by way of seeking the help of armed intervention and financial assistance from some of their friendly European colonizers. Some pioneers like Hendrique Hendriques forged ahead with democratization of the ‘culture of literacy’ through printing the stories for edification in the very language of the ordinary people with the ‘culture of orality’. In the 17th Century people like De Nobili attempted people-friendly discourses in the local languages. Such literary products were drawn from the world-views operative in the worlds of Tamil, Telugu, Sanskrit, Latin, Greek, Portuguese and Italian. These literary outcomes created a sense of local appeal with universal relevance.

The 18th century, the system of service of the Pandarasamis went ahead with the reach out to the majority of people reduced to be untouchables even amidst impenetrable caste system. At the same time, they attempted to integrate both the direct ministry to caste victims while gaining grounds in the classical literary field through creative poetic, prosaic and grammatical productions for the benefit of the local pundits, ordinary people and even foreign scholars. These are exemplified by the works of Vīramāmunivar, Bouchet, Arnos Pathiri, Zieganbalg, G.U. Pope or Robert Caldwell. The 19th and 20th century Indian Christian Theologies threw their lots with dialogical conversation with classical Indian traditions especially from Sanskritic world. The benefits of such attempts led us towards insights like cosmotheanthropic vision, sacred-secular continuum, engaged contemplation, or compassionate non-violence. They were emphasized in the elite quarters as intellectual discourses. But the issues like conflict-ridden evils like casteism, untouchability, patriarchy, feudalism, or hierarchicalism, though addressed with nominal charities, were left unchanged.

Towards Futuristic Responses

But in the later 20th and 21st centuries, with the growing awareness of justice-oriented reconciliation, it was necessitated to closely looking into the history of violence, asymmetry of power, and denial relational anthropology across Indian society. The subaltern and postmodern tools of critical historicity, hermeneutics of suspicion and ideological critique sharpened the analysis of the roles played by both classical and popular faith energies, religious traditions, spiritual practices, Bhakti Movements, creed, code, cult, social organization and power structures. And now, the written and oral texts, and aesthetic and ritual traditions, Astica and Nastica Movements from the underside of history are seriously looked into for embracing the life-affirming values and dismissing the life-negating ones.

Accordingly, any discourse addressing the problem of evil cannot be naïve without differentiating the imposed suffering from creative suffering. A-political perception of salvation is interrogated for ushering in the incarnational solidarity with the political struggles of the defeated people. The salvation for all can never be claimed to be attained without the salvation of the excluded ones. With this background, the inter-textual dialogue between Christian texts and other sacred and secular texts are attempted in the public space for promoting compassionate justice, fraternal freedom, egalitarian ethics, feminist sensibilities, and caste-breaking programmes. The works of Tiruvalluvar, Tamil Cittars, Vallalār, Kunangudi Masthan Saheb, Iyothee Thass Pandithar, Rettaimalai Sīnivāsan, Vaikunda Sami, Sri Narayana Guru, Ambedkar, Periyar, or Indian Constitution are deliberately accessed by Christian researchers, scholars, pastors, teachers, popular preachers, and common people with open mind. In such attempts the sacredness of self-respect, dialogical conversation, synodal interactions, radical relationality is much emphasized.

Any discourse on ‘nation’ or ‘nationalism’ that refuses to include the poor is to be dismissed. Any religion or ideology that neglects self-respect, human dignity, respect for women, and egalitarian ethics is to be interrogated. Any governance or education that defends caste system and corporate profiteering at the cost of the common good and environmental justice is to be banned. All such engagements are to be undertaken in the public space in collaboration with all people of good will. The epicentre of our convergence is none other than our human vocation constantly beckoning us to keep on growing as co-born with Nature and co-creators with the Divine, and co-workers with the Humans.

(Dr. A. Maria Arul Raja SJ (amarajasj1@gmail.com) is the Director of the IDCR (Institute of Dialogue with Cultures and Religions)- Loyola College- Chennai for the doctoral studies on Comparative Religions and Cultures affiliated to Madras University. He was the Dean of Studies for 20 years in Arul Kadal- Jesuit Theology Centre- Chennai while teaching Theology, Sacred Scriptures, and Religious Studies for 30 years in various centres of higher learning.

With his interdisciplinary approaches, he has authored 10 books and published over 180 research articles on subaltern studies and inter-religious dialogue in various international and national journals. He lectured and presented papers both in the east and the west. With his on-going dialogical engagement with various People’s Movements and Marginalized groups, he is engaged in motivational training and spiritual animation.)

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