The last three decades have witnessed unprecedented conflict within and among nations, and religion has often been misused and invoked to justify sectarian strife. The United Nations, which was created Ã¢â‚¬Å“to save succeeding generations from the scourge of warÃ¢â‚¬Â sees interfaith dialogue and cooperation as an important step towards global harmony. The U.N. General Assembly adopted last year a Resolution on Ã¢â‚¬Å“Promotion of Inter religious and Intercultural Understanding and Cooperation for PeaceÃ¢â‚¬Â. The Resolution emphasizes the importance of promoting understanding, tolerance and friendship among people in all their diversity of religion and belief and calls upon the Secretary General to bring the promotion of interfaith dialogue to the attention of all Governments. The United Nations Summit on Religions convened in the Millennium Year felt that all religions offer helpful means to advance the cause of justice, reconciliation and peace, though, at times, religion has also been used to fuel hatred and armed conflicts.
Christian theologians of Asia make a positive contribution to the Culture of Peace. The Federation of the Asian BishopsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ Conferences (FABC) is the voice of the Asian Christians. Its pronouncements go beyond and often stand in tension with what we hear from the Vatican and from mainstream Catholic theologians. The FABC as well as the Catholic BishopsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ Conference of India (CBCI) stress on inter religious dialogue, local decision-making and enculturation. Ã¢â‚¬Å“The motivation to engage in (inter religious) dialogueÃ¢â‚¬Â says the FABC Ã¢â‚¬Å“comes about as a result of a whole new way of thinking, seeing and reflecting upon the world and its meaning. A prerequisite for dialogue is that the partners come with an open mind, which appreciates differences and pluralism. All forms of exclusiveness have to be shed. Implicit therefore, is an end to exclusivist and triumphalistic attitudes, the sense of superiority and Ã¢â‚¬ËœchosennessÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ and the notion that oneÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s own religion is the one and only which deserves absolute and formal statusÃ¢â‚¬Â. (1)
Michael Amaladoss, Director of the Institute for Dialogue with Cultures and Religions at Chennai observes, Ã¢â‚¬Å“Many traditional doctrines of the Church are being questioned by Asian theologians. For some Europeans this is threatening. In the liturgy, except for a few adaptations, we are not free to pray as Indians or Asians. Our prayers are translations. I do not see any theological or spiritual principle for this. In India, most Christians live the popular religion and live as Indians in their ordinary way of life. But when it comes to official liturgy, we suddenly become non-Indian or non-AsianÃ¢â‚¬Â. He adds Ã¢â‚¬Å“not only in Asia but also in Europe, the Church is unwilling to adapt to the new circumstancesÃ¢â‚¬Â. In reply to a question as to whether the Asian Church is too dependent on Western Churches, Fr. Amaladoss says Ã¢â‚¬Å“To some extent the dependence is imposed from outside. Finance from abroad has led to a state in which it is said that the Church as people is poor but it is rich with institutions. We should live within our means. If the Asian Churches were less dependent on the Western Church financially and culturally they would be freeÃ¢â‚¬Â. (2)
Enculturation is the process by which a religion becomes inserted into the local culture. During the first decades, Christianity was a Jewish sect; it then spread to parts of West Asia and adopted that cultural milieu. When Christianity reached Europe, it accepted the Greco-Roman culture prevailing there and with the Reformation, the Protestant denominations assumed the cultural elements of the different European nations. However, when Christianity was imposed on the colonized peoples it maintained the Western garb and promoted the culture of the colonial powers. Kuncheria Pathil, former President of Dharmaram Vidya Kshetram says: Ã¢â‚¬Å“The Indian churches should seriously think together about rediscovering once again the authentic spirit of enculturation and make the Church both authentically Indian and genuinely ChristianÃ¢â‚¬Â. (3)
Dharmaram Vidya Kshetram at Bangalore is one of the several Catholic seminaries, which emphasize the Indian and Eastern cultural, spiritual and philosophical heritage. Dharmaram has also a Center for the Study of World Religions, which promotes inter religious dialogue in the context of IndiaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s religious pluralism. Such institutions do make a significant contribution to unity in spirituality and could be emulated by similar organizations of all the diverse religious traditions in the country.
(1) FABC, Resource Manual for Catholics in Asia, p.337
(2) Interview to Asian Focus (www.ucanews.com)
(3) Trends in Indian Theology, p.154
(The writer is a former Union Minister and presently holds a Cabinet Minister rank in the Government of GAO)