Dangers of post-Christian world – Matters India

By chhotebhai
Kanpur, Sept 7, 2023:
I recently read an article “Why are Christians Persecuted Today?” by Mumbai Jesuit Myron Pereira. It was a brilliant analysis that, unfortunately, offered no solutions. It forced me to think.
Are we indeed living in what Pereira describes as a “post-Christian” world? If so, then what are the implications and the solution? I am reminded of management guru Shiv Khera’s words, “If you are not a part of the solution then you are part of the problem”.
Pereira quotes statistics to highlight the increasing attacks on Christians. He observes that these are mostly in the global south – Asia, Africa and Latin America, “where most Christians are poor and in a minority,” hence a soft target.
He further observes that Europe and the USA are perceived as being Christian countries though they are in fact “post-Christian, highly secularised, where the Christian faith is seen as obscurantist and so despised.” He continues that “governments are motivated more by a sense of real politik than by the values of a given religion”. (Christian expectations from the recent Biden-Modi meeting are a case in point). He therefore concludes that “the appeal to human rights has come to the fore … the universal practice of human rights, rather than any faith system, has become the way to go forward”.
There are three takeaways: 1. Christians are persecuted because they are poor 2. Erstwhile Christendom has become so secularised as to be termed “post-Christian.” 3. Human rights are the way forward. They need scrutiny.
Poor Christians are persecuted: This may be true of sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. What about Christian majority nations in South and Central America and the Philippines, the only Christian majority country in Asia? Who is persecuting the poor Christians; it is the powerful Christians, not the Muslims. So, what went wrong with Christianity in these countries?
They are all Catholic nations colonized by the Spanish and Portuguese. What brand of Christianity did they convey or impose on these peoples? It would have been a cultic form of religiosity as distinct from a lived faith. Jesus had forewarned about such forms of proselytisation where the second state of the convert is worse than his previous one (cf Mat 23:15).
Ralph Martin, in his book “The Catholic Church at the end of the Age”, has made a study of the Catholic Church in various countries. For South America he says that the Catholic missionaries liberated the poor people. Now those same poor have moved to the evangelical churches, while the well-heeled patronize the Catholic Church. This is symptomatic of what in psychology is described as the “Karpman’s Triangle”, where the victim, after liberation, turns upon the liberator, rather than the erstwhile persecutor.
Some 40 years ago the Mexican ambassador to India visited my parish in Kanpur. I interviewed her for what was then SAR News. She said that Mexico, like France, was a fiercely secular country, where the Church had little role in society. Even here in Goa, during the rule of Portuguese dictator General Salazar, the Catholic clergy’s activities were limited to the church premises.
What about the Philippines, again a very poor country, where dictators rule over democracy; as in South and Central America. Far from being post-Christian, these nations may have been Catholic in name, but far from Christian in their social praxis. Hence, I do not see material poverty as the problem. It seems more like spiritual bankruptcy.
Post-Christian Europe: I have travelled westward on three occasions – to Jerusalem in 1980, Austria/ England in 1994 and Italy in 2017. All three visits confirm Pereira’s brilliant analysis of a post-Christian era.
I was in Jerusalem during Holy Week. For the official Catholic Way of the Cross on Good Friday, along the Via Dolorosa, there were not more than 400 “faithful.” There were many more that number taking photographs!
I had gone to Austria as the national president of the All India Catholic Union to attend a meeting of the International Council of Catholic Men. We were taken for a tour of various basilicas – beautiful, but empty! I was told that the Catholic Church and its monasteries once owned vast swathes of land, but no longer. In England, at Mass the pastor was an Irishman who was more interested in cricket than anything else.
Viva Roma! There were Indian priests and nuns everywhere. The “guides” that swarm the Vatican were also Asian or African. Convents and monasteries had been converted into bed and breakfast guest houses for tourists.
My wife and I were at Assisi on Ash Wednesday, again a blessed occasion. For the official Mass in the Basilica of St Francis there were about 50 friars and just three lay people – the woman who ran the souvenir stall, my wife and me. When we walked up a hill in the Florence region for the Sunday Mass, we found the village church locked. Post-Christian indeed.
Human Rights: Where do they stem from? I have many good comrades who are nominally atheist. (Indian communists are not atheists). They are often better human beings than our so-called “religious” types. But, by and large, a human being without God is a beast.
Hence I do not believe that human rights can be divorced from Christian values. When former Union Minister George Fernandes visited my home I asked him point blank, “Does not your commitment to social justice and concern for the poor stem from your Christian upbringing?” He gave me a wry smile.
The way forward: A small limerick will answer the question. A traditional Christian recites his Credo, “I believe in God the maker of heaven and earth”. The Marxist says, “I believe in man the maker of heaven on earth”. As a committed Christian I choose to say, “I believe in man the maker of heaven on earth, by the grace of God”. This requires a living and enlightened faith, not a merely cultic religiosity.
The pre-Christian world: Let us also turn our gaze to the times before the birth of Jesus, or rather his Sermon on the Mount (cf Mat 5:1–7:29). This was the turning point in history. It could no longer be an eye for an eye. The Jesus era was one of “Love your neighbour, even more than yourself” (Mat 22:39).
The Jesus era was the foundation of real secularism when he said “Give to Caesar what is Caesar, and to God what is God’s” (Mat 22:21). The Jesus era was the eternal cry from Calvary “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34). The Jesus era is “First seek the kingdom of God and its justice, and all else will be given to you” (Mat 6:33).
Any talk of a post-Christian era is fraught with danger. Merely espousing human rights is a poor substitute. It is true that many in Europe have stopped going to church because they see it as “obscurantist.” Who is to blame, if not we Christians and our religious leaders?
We become obscurantist when we behave like purists, condemning all others to hell and damnation. We are obscurantist when we consider any pre-marital or extra-marital sex as a passport to hell, or when we stubbornly insist on Natural Family Planning, that is infact unnatural. We are obscurantist when we repeatedly deny priesthood to women and married persons.
Vatican II: I am an unabashed believer in the radically teachings of Vatican II; too much to describe here. Suffice it to say that it is based on Jesus’ teachings and modern realities. For example, where once we exhorted slaves to obey their masters (Eph 6:5), we now acknowledge the legitimacy of trade unions and even the right to go on strike (GS No 68).
Vatican II ushered in three powerful movements – 1. Liberation theology, a preferential option for the poor 2. Inculturation, sowing the seeds of faith in the soil of local culture and language 3. Freedom of the Spirit as partly manifested in the Charismatic Renewal. Unfortunately, over a period of time, the tentacles of the obscurantist hierarchy and clergy have stifled these movements, to our peril.
If we don’t want a post-Christian world then we have to adopt post-Vatican II ecclesiology. That is the primary way forward for a humane society and a just world order.
Writing in La Civitta Cattolica, the Jesuit periodical from Rome, its deputy director, Giancalo Pani reminds us that “It was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians” (Acts 11:26). This was less than 20 years after the Resurrection. Pani continues that it is through a name “that an individual or social group becomes aware of its existence, distinguishes itself from others and matures its own identity”.
However, I believe that “Christian” is more than just a name. It is a way of being. A post-Christian world order would be akin to the pre-Christian one, replete with an eye for an eye and Caesar declaring that might is right. I shudder at the thought.
(The writer is the Convenor of the Indian Catholic Forum)
Chotebhai has excellently analyzed the present day religio-social scenario. Reading the last paragraph, “A post-Christian world order would be akin to the pre-Christian one, replete with an eye for an eye and Caesar declaring that might is right” sent some shivers across my spine. The three salient contributions of Vatican II mentioned by the author are pointing to the way ahead. Relating to this I must share what I witnessed yesterday in Mau district of Uttar Pradesh: a catholic priest, a zealous preacher, along with seven others was arrested on false charges of conversion, and detained in the police station for almost 24 hours. A large crowd of devotees of Christ, all of them belonging to the Hindu community, sat for hours in front of the police station singing devotional songs praising Jesus Christ, in the local dialect, in local tunes, singing alleluia and praying loudly. Their number started swelling up. They were not Christians but disciples of Christ with courage and zeal. It was not a church group, but community of believers, rooted in the soil, fully aware of their human rights. Pressurized by the swelling crowd of supporters, finally the police had to release the priest and his companions. It is a big lesson for all of us. The people are our resources, not the institutions. This incident should challenge the leaders of the institutionalized catholic church staying in their comforts zones, but in total discomfort and fear.
There are no facile explanations for the persecution of Christians in countries of the world. Global South and North included.
To begin with, it us a different world when mapped by majority religion or ideology. And persecution will vary in Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist and Communist regions. Even in Christian countries, Christian sects are persecuted by catholic and episcopal majorities.
Response to persecution in India among the Christians is very divided. Few catholics have any empathy for evangelical and Pentecostals who are victimised in central and north India. Even otherwise nice bishops will open their mouth and out their foot in it announcing the pastors invite trouble or Court persecution.
The CBCI in thirty years have no office to even document persecution. Nor does it seem interested unless a Bishop is threatened with arrest, a priest arrested or a Nun molested.
In turn, non Catholics have deep suspicion and distrust of the powerful denomination, with good reason.
There us need gir introspection
Catholics, in whichever country they live, are called or like to be called or forced to be called ROMAN CATHOLICS. Are Catholics in India FREE to live as Indian Catholics (without any dictates, rules/laws and paraphernalia of the Roman Church)? This question is applicable for every country in the world. When Indian Catholics live like Roman Catholics, then, they are ALIENATED from their own soil, culture and spirituality. Today Christ and his values is absent from “Christianity” and hence what is left is only a “churchianity”. This is the bitter reality.
Both Chhotebhai and Myron SJ have actually presented reality. In fact, on my Eastern Europe Pilgrimage in September 2022, the group was both delightede and surprised to meet Indian priests posted at various places, the Prague shrine having a goan!
Yes, a Post-Christian world will indeed be akin to the pre-Christian world – an eye for any eye and a tooth for a tooth. Clearly, humanity is fast losing it if it hasn’t already! And what’s to be done about it remains a million-dollar question mark with the kind of spiritual leadership we have at the Vatican and the kind of political acumen in evidence in India-Bharat-Hindustan?
Catholic Church is besieged with rigid and pompous hierarchy which has gone corrupt.. Governments with similar features survive because of is laws and coercive powers… Church has to have high standards of moral moorings and leadership of it is to survive…
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