Religious nationalism threatens the “stability of India and the whole world”

November 17, 2015 by  
Filed under newsletter-india

secularismTirana, November 11, 2015: Mgr Felix Machado, Bishop of Vasai and President of the Office for Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC), spoke before the ecumenical meeting that took place in Albania on 2-4 November.

In his address, he stressed that holding firm to one’s beliefs helps interfaith dialogue and openness in the world, but only if one keeps an open mind. Conversely, if one focuses solely on one’s identity without letting in the world, one ends up with fundamentalism. His full address follows.

Practically in every part of the world, Christians have become victims of unprovoked violence. If some are directly targets of this violence, others are indirectly victims of subtle anti-Christian hatred. By and large, following the teaching of Jesus in his Gospels Christianity champions the cause of mutual respect and interreligious dialogue and yet, there are about 100 million persecuted Christians throughout the world (according to the World Evangelical Alliance, the problem has worsened dramatically since the turn of the millennium: about 200 million Christians are now under threat).

It is no time to seek refuge in fear and trembling. To resort to panic is unbecoming of us Christians. I suggest: 1) Following some principles to be observed by every Christian believer in bearing witness to the Christ’s Commission for evangelisation (Mt 28:19-20); There is first ever endorsed document by a majority of Christians throughout the world, namely, Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World, Recommendations for Conduct (WCC, PCID, WEA, 2011). 2) We all Christians should together uphold Religious Freedom for all. Religious Freedom constitutes the very heart of human rights. Its inviolability is such that individuals must be recognised as having the right even to change their religion, if their conscience so demands. 3) Mutual respect for the dignity of every human person. Religious plurality is to be accepted and efforts should be made to promote “all positive and constructive interreligious relations with individuals and communities of other religions which are directed at mutual understanding and enrichment”.

Pope St John Paul warned: “Either we learn to walk together in peace and harmony, or we drift apart and ruin ourselves and others. (we are) to be aware of the common origin and common destiny of humankind, Let us see in it in an anticipation of what God would like the developing history of humanity to be: a fraternal journey in which we accompany one another toward the transcendent goal which he sets for us”.

Dignity of the human person is “a transcendent value, always recognised as such by those who sincerely search for the truth”. Failure to respect this dignity leads to the various and often tragic forms of discrimination, exploitation, social unrest and national and international conflicts with which we are unfortunately so familiar in these times. Without the element of freedom, any definition of religion risks being dangerously restricted and weak. Respect for human dignity finds one of its expressions in religious freedom and “Religious Freedom, if it means the right freely to choose one’s beliefs about the meaning and purpose of life, is a fundamental freedom, arguably the most important human right of all”.

Religious Freedom is not only about our ability to practise religion in the private sphere but it is also about whether we can make our contribution to the common good of all people in society. Without Religious Freedom properly understood, people of all religions suffer because they are deprived of the essential contribution, especially the Christians are making, in the field of education, health-care, feeding the hungry, giving voice to the voiceless in society.

Sadly, religious freedom in many parts of the world is in great peril. Unless believers of each religion, whether in majority or minority population, defend religious freedom robustly, no religion will escape the great plight that all religious believers face around the world. In India, assassinations, burning of sacred places, torching of religious institutions, etc., all these because systematic denials of basic human rights are found in the acts of persecutions, especially of Christians.

The Hindu nationalist ideology that has arisen over the past century in India (Hindutva) begins with a conception that India is a Hindu nation, in which Hinduism is a default way of life for Indians. This model entails a distinction between conversions away from Hinduism, which are seen as a threat to the national integrity of India and key contributor to the alleged decline of Hinduism, and conversions to Hinduism, which are described by the term ‘ghar vapsi’, translated as ‘homecoming’ to where one belongs, or ‘reconversion’ to one’s own original religion. Thus, the issue of Religious Freedom has become extremely complex in India in recent years. Several States in India have passed anti-conversion bills; ironically, these State-level bills are formally known as Freedom of Religion Acts!

The instrumentalization of religion by politicians is at the root of the grave concern for Religious Freedom in India. More precisely, it is a movement for nationalism appealing to religious sentiment. It is a violent reaction which is sparked off by fear to ‘Indian secularism’.

While Christians and their institutions are attacked systematically by the proponent of Hindu nationalist ideologists, there is a subtle, but strongly growing movement among neo-intellectuals who, influenced by the West, are spreading secularist ideas. The tide of secularism in post-modern society has marginalised religion; consequently, freedom of religion is restricted, if not altogether prohibited.

Secularism conceives that the world in which we live may be understood entirely on its own terms; there is no need to refer to any other point beyond, ‘history’, ‘society’ or ‘the state’ in order to understand their meaning and their value. Eternal Truth is relativized, particularly through recourse to historical investigation, falling into error of ‘nihilism’, which ultimately ends up in a sort of ‘totalitarianism’ of the ideological world. It is a complete absolutisation of the act of reason, bringing rise to atheism. All those who follow God and religion are ridiculed and are labelled as ‘blind’ in their belief.

Unfortunately, it cannot simply be denied that with mushrooming of various Christian groups throughout the country, an aggressive propaganda, denigration and vilification of neighbours’ religions, operating often in competition one against the other to gather as many adherents as possible, winning adepts by inducement, attracting members by allurements, etc. or working in complete isolation, has given visibly a sad picture to the world of a still more divided Body of Christ; preaching of the Gospel is placed in jeopardy because this ‘division of the Body of Christ’ plays into the hands of those who look for opportunities to destroy any trace of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This kind of situation also disrupts efforts to promote peace and harmony.

I wish to submit that the spirit of the Catholic Church’s teaching on Religious Freedom should become norm, at least for every Christian of every denomination. In unequivocal terms, the Church distinguishes the double meaning of freedom from coercion: that no one is to be forced to act contrary to his/her convictions; and that no one is to be restrained from acting in accordance with one’s own convictions.

Dignitatis Humae warns followers of all religions, in no uncertain terms: “. . . in spreading religious faith and in introducing religious practices, everyone ought at all times to refrain from any manner of action which might seem to carry a hint of coercion or of a kind of persuasion that would be dishonourable or unworthy, especially when dealing with poor or uneducated people. Such a manner of action would have to be considered an abuse of one’s own right and a violation of the right of others”. The Second Vatican Council does not speak merely of religious individuals. Freedom of Religion is a right of the individual human person as well as that of every religious community. Religious Communities should “not be prevented from publicly teaching and bearing witness to their beliefs by the spoken or written word (DH, 4).

The core of all religions teaches promotion of interreligious harmony; there is in every religion a golden rule, which favours Freedom of Religion. Religion, by its very nature, cannot be but an instrument of peace. Subjectivism, a mistaken notion of freedom, which exalts the isolated individual in an absolute way, is to be questioned. Ethical relativism, fallout of subjectivism, is precisely this, that people think everything is negotiable, everything is open to bargaining, even the first of the fundamental rights: the right to life.

Once the fact of religious plurality is accepted, the path of dialogue becomes obligatory. In this dialogue, openness to other is not separated from the fidelity to Christ. Being open to dialogue means being absolutely consistent with one’s own religious tradition. The Catholic Church has made interreligious dialogue an obligatory path for its followers: “Interreligious dialogue is part of the evangelising mission of the Church . . . Dialogue is fundamental for the Church . . .  All Christians are called to dialogue . . . Dialogue finds its place within the Church’s salvific mission”.

However, it must be said that the path of dialogue is never an easy one. It is important that believers have an open mind and a welcoming spirit. This means that two extremes should be avoided: on the one hand a certain ingenuousness which accepts everything without further questioning, and on the other hand a hypercritical attitude which leads to suspicion. Being open minded does not imply being without personal convictions. On the contrary, rootedness in one’s own convictions will allow for greater openness, for it takes away the fear of losing one’s identity. While on the one hand, openness without rootedness almost always ends in relativism, on the other hand, rootedness without openness leads to fundamentalism.

– asianews

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