Hindu Vivek Kendra
Liberal Christianity?

It has to be admitted that the blatantly vicious attacks on Hinduism are infrequent today. The reason for this has been well expressed by a Christian theologian, Shri Raimundo Pannikar:

"The first lesson history makes us aware of is that all our disquisitions are dependent on a temporal factor - that is, on historical circumstances. Were it not for the fact of the political decolonisation of the world, we would not be speaking the way we are today. Dialogue has not sprung out of pure speculation. Praxis conditions theory. Yet it is also wisdom to make a virtue out of necessity." (The Myth of Christian Uniqueness - Towards a Pluralistic Theology of Religions, John Hick and Paul F Knitter (eds), Orbis Books, New York, 1994, p 96.)

This clearly indicates that there is only a change in methods but not of heart. Since the dialogue has not 'sprung out of pure speculation', the objective of the dialogue becomes suspect. Pronouncements of senior cardinals make this clear. Cardinal Arinze said.

"Interreligious dialogue would be unnecessary if all men believed in Jesus Christ and practiced only the religion which he established." ("The Urgency of Dialogue with Non-Christians" in Origins 39/14, Washington (March 14, 1985), pp.641-50.)

He has reinforced the same thoughts recently when he said, 

If Catholics today won souls at the rate that the early Christians did as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, the Holy Father would very soon have to close down the Pontifical Council of Interreligious Dialogue because there would be nobody left to talk to. (Mark Pattison, "Primary Mission is to Evangelise", The Examiner, Oct 18, 1997.)

Since the Cardinal is the head of the Pontifical Council of Interreligious Dialogue, he would be soon out of a job, a situation that he seems to relish!

Cardinal Ratzinger has defined a dialogue thus:

"A true dialogue with other faiths should not be a journey into emptiness, but a search for the eternal truth revealed in Jesus." (Richard Owen, "The man to succeed the Pope?", The Times, London. Reproduced in The Statesman. Calcutta, April 26, 1997.)

The same definition seems to be acceptable to the Protestants as well. At least one of them said:

The use of dialogue in reaching people has to be carefully considered .... It must lead to proclaiming Christ as Lord..... The purpose of dialogue should be carefully and constantly borne in mind. It should not simply end in dialogue. (Christian Witness to Hindus, a paper emerging from the historic (sic) Consultation on World Evangelization (COWE) held in Pattaya, Thailand. in June 1980.)

When the monarch ascends the throne in England, he/she has to take a oath that he/she will be defender of the faith - namely, that of the Church of England. He/she cannot be the defender of other Christian sects, let alone non-Christian sects. The present crown prince, Prince Charles, said that he would like to change the oath to say that he should be the defender of all faiths. This provoked a very churlish reaction from the Church of England hierarchy. Lord Coggan, a former Archbishop of Canterbury, said,

"If (the Prince is) saying Christianity is equal with other religions, we should differ profoundly with him. As men we're all equal before God, but are you talking about religions and saying one is as good as another? I hope he is not saying that." ("Charles plans to break royal link with Church", The Sunday Times, London, June 26, 1994.)

The Christians have not given up their claim to have a unique way of salvation. At the same time, apologists, both Christians and non-Christians, spare no effort of trying to project that the Vatican Council II of 1969 has brought in an element of fresh air. To substantiate this claim they use the following quote:

The Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions. She has a high regard for the manner of life and conduct, the precepts and doctrine which, although differing in many ways from her own teaching, nevertheless, often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men. (Vatican Council II, St Paul's Publications, Bombay, p 654.)

This is supposed to have heralded an era away from exclusivist ideology that is the hallmark of proselytising religions. But, there is a qualitative difference between 'rejects nothing' and accepts everything, and between a ray of that truth' and fullness that the Church says exists only in Christianity. The statement also sounds like a certificate being given by the Roman Catholic Church, and one would like to know what has given it the authority! Like in most of the pronouncements with respect to all the other religions, the Roman Catholic Church exhibits a great deal of arrogance.

The denial of finding true salvation in other religion is clear when we read the very next sentence to the one quoted above. It says:

Yet she proclaims and is duty bound to proclaim without fail, Christ who is the way, the truth and the life (Jn 14:6). In him, in whom God reconciled all things to himself (2Cor 5:18-19), men find the fullness of their religious life. (ibid, p 654.)

At another place, the document says:

Everyone, therefore, ought to be converted to Christ, who is known through the preaching of the Church, and they ought by baptism, become incorporated into him, and into the Church which is his body. (ibid, p 722.)

When the deliberations on Vatican Council II were in progress, that there were serious theological differences. The then Pope, John XXIII, is recognised as one who tried to steer the Roman Catholic Church into an era of pluralism. But, the fundamentalists could not stomach even a situation of inclusivism. The above statements are a product of a sort of an uneasy compromise, with each side claiming that its viewpoint was upheld! The whiff of openness that was exhibited by John XXIII vanished with his death. The hard-liners are particularly important under the present Pope. The pronouncements of the Cardinals are in a post-Vatican II era.

This does not meant that the double-speak by the Roman Catholic Church has stopped. However, it has created confusion, even amongst the clergy working in Asia. Recently a seminar was organised by the FABC (Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences), Office of Ecumenical and Inter-religious Affairs. Entitled the First Formation Institute for Inter-religious Affairs (FIRAI), it was held in Malaysia from Sept. 6-14, 1998. Indian Currents (September 21-27, 1998), a Christian publication from Delhi, carried a report entitled "Frustration surfaces at inter religious affairs institute" sent to it by the Christian news agency UCAN.

Several participants said that they are confused by the Church's claim to uniquely possess the full truth alongside its openness to dialogue. For Sister Doreen from Singapore, the Christian duty to proclaim salvation confused her, since in the end "Jesus Christ remains the only source of salvation," she said. "How do you bring that kind of news to the dialogue table?" she asked.

A Malaysian lay woman, said that in the various documents of Pope John Paul II, he says one thing to adherents of other religions, which is unitive of religions, and then says something else to the Christians. She said, "Doesn't he know that adherents of both religions end up knowing the contents of his contradictory texts anyway?"

Annabelle, another Malaysian, said that "the pope has double standards." The Church's continued insistence on the supremacy of Christ shows that its claims of learning from other religions are only words, she said. "I am actually irritated that the Church hasn't changed," the lay woman said.

Julius, a layman from Manila, also agreed that instead of clarifying dialogue for Roman Catholics, Vatican declarations end up confusing them. "Pronouncements should be universal; one pronouncement for all. As it is, the Church teachings on inter-religious dialogue are very confusing, and that makes dialogue practically impossible," he noted.

Sister Meg from Thailand she said that it was disturbing to be reminded that as late as 1995, Pope John Paul said that all salvation comes through Christ. She said with the pope's "no salvation without the Church and through Christ claim "it seems we go back to what was proclaimed centuries ago."

Last year, Fr Tissa Balasuriya of Sri Lanka was excommunicated. His crime was that he did not follow the hard dogmatic line as set out by the hierarchy in Vatican. In justifying his position, Fr Balasuriya has used the pronouncement of Vatican II where it says that there is a possibility of salvation in other religions. But, this explanation was rejected and he was reinstated only after he gave an abject letter of apology.

The books of an Indian priest, the late Fr Anthony de Mello, are proscribed for saying much of what the Christian apologists have interpreted as the essential message of Vatican II. The way the books have been proscribed has clearly exposed the hypocrisy of the church. The Vatican document giving the judgement is enclosed herewith as Appendix I. The objections to the writing of Fr de Mello makes it very clear that the closed Christian dogma has not been given up. One is reminded of the notorious Inquisition, on which the Church has recently decided to make an inquiry.

On conversions, an interesting observation was made by Shri Rudolf Heredia (Humanscape, April 98). A Lecturer in Sociology at the St Xavier's College, and a frequent writer on theological issues, he observed that the proselytising programme is rejected by "those Christians who have moved beyond the theology of saving souls" and these Christians "see such programme as more political than religious."

The Christian activist quoted earlier on the anger she saw about conversions, made further comments on the subject. She said:

The tragedy is that the missionaries who are being targeted are the victims of a Church policy to which they do not subscribe. All they want is to love and serve the poor, and they are willing to pay the ultimate price: their lives. Truly following in the Master's footsteps. 'Conversion is not an issue for us,' says Fr Sopena S.J. 'All our centres oppose it. It would be immoral and unethical to directly and indirectly try to entice tribals. We concentrate on testimony proclamation by deed. Primarily by our own lives, the way we deal with the tribals, the words we speak.' Many would be content to make those they work with more committed to God's revelation in the religion of their birth. Unfortunately, such missionaries are caught between the Truth they experience in their relationship with believers of other religions, and the public image of the Church dictated by authorities, who more often than not live in an isolated, monocultural reality. (Astrid Lobo Gajiwala, Martyrdom The call for the new millennium, The Examiner, July 18, 1998.)

But her statement on conversion did not remain unchallenged for long. In fact, given that Christianity believes in an exclusive claim to truth, it could not go unchallenged. Fr Pablo Gil, a colleague of Pr Sopena wrote:

I guess Astrid has tried to give the gist of what Fr Sopena said rather than his very words. I happen to know Fr Sopena as my very good friend and old companion whom I highly admire and I am sure that he would calibrate exactly and nuance carefully his statements on an important matter like conversion. But if Sopena said what he is reported to have stated, then I dissociate myself from Sopena in this particular matter... At a personal level, I firmly believe that the greatest gift I can offer a man, Christian or not, is Christ Himself and faith in Him. And I do feel that if, being able to do it, I refrain from doing it I am inflicting a grave injustice on people who are destined to known the Saviour and love Him. And if the Holy Spirit inspires them, who am I to interfere with the work of the Holy Spirit? My duty as a missionary is to receive them with open arms. One of the purest joys for a missionary is to welcome people into the fold of Jesus Christ, when they come sincerely, with no strings attached. Hence the phrase attributed to a dear friend of mine, 'Conversion is not an issue for us, all our centres oppose it', sounded to me so alien to the Gospel and so little in consonance with the great work that he and other missionaries are doing today. (Pablo Gil, S.J., True and false conversions, The Examiner, August 22, 1998.)

Fr Sopena confirmed this opinion, when he said,

I sense (Fr Pablo Gil) thinking: 'What if my friend has lost touch with his spiritual roots, what if is swayed by the winds of secular development and has lost sight of the ultimate goal of all true, full, human development? What if he does not preach the Gospel to every creature, as a missionary is expected to do?' These are genuine concerns which keep us worried and make us take the person we love to the Lord in prayer. For wouldn't it be a matter of the greatest regret if the faith which has give meaning to one's own life were to be become blurred, dim at the end? I understand Pablo's concern.... Astrid's article makes reference to opinions expressed by me in the course of an informal conversation within a very definite and precise context. (Of friends and tribals, The Examiner, September 12, 1998.)

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