Category Theological & Spiritual

The Interrelatedness of All: Rites and Rituals

By Rev. Yangkahao Vashum

The creation myths are also about interrelatedness and connectedness of all beings. That we are all intrinsically related to one another and what one does affects each other, for good or bad. The underlying assumption is the peaceful co-existence of the whole creation and human kind. Because of the organic relationship that humans maintain with other creatures, what one does good or ill affects non-human creatures too. This interrelatedness between humanity and all of creation is reflected further in the performances of rites and rituals. Rites and rituals for the indigenous people are an integral part of life. They are performed for maintaining balance and harmony in the community. They convey the message of wholeness and unity. It is basically for this that, although the rituals are performed by an individual, it is done for and on behalf of the whole community.

For instance at the time of sowing the [rice] paddy, the village chief offered sacrifices and performed the paddy sowing rites a day ahead of the people. If in some rare cases, an individual by mistake [or willfully] did the sowing ahead of the village chief the entire village 110suffered from failure of crops that particular year and had to face famine. (1)

In the tribal perception, neither humanity nor creation is unique in itself. In this sense, there is a distinction but no separation between humanity and creatures, the being and beings and all other entities. A distinction is made only at the existential level. K. Thanzauva, a Mizo theologian, points out that the apparent hierarchy in the relationship of beings is not a social order or the idea of degradation. (2) He goes on to say that, though there are functional differences, God, human and world form a community in which they are interrelated and hence it is appropriate to describe this relationship as a “community model of relationship.”

Ref:

1) R. R. Shimray, Origin and Culture of the Nagas (New Delhi: Privately published by Mrs. Pamleiphi Shimray, 1985), 22f.

2) K. Thanzauva, Theology of Community: Tribal Theology in the Making (Aizawl: Mizo Theological Conference, 1997), 157.

What Can Public Theology Do in Asia?

By Rowena Robinson

It is clear from all the definitions, that public theology is understood as advising rather than advocating for society of any section of it. In so far as this is the case, it must rely on and work with other secular and religious institutions of civil society and seek to engage with them in a critical understanding of social and political issues in the light of its own spiritual insights into what constitutes the ‘good society’. At the same time, there is no reason to limit ourselves to the perception that public theology emerges only from the church.

In the plural religious contexts of Asian societies, it is certainly true that Christian theology will learn from other religious traditionsand use these to reflect on itself; but that alone is not what I refer to here. One must look for, reflect on and relate to other religious theologies in a dialogue that is not merely framed as “Christianity in an inter-religious context’ but as Christian theology in an inter-theological conversation.

As such, there is much labor for public theology in Asian societies: the work of justice; of decreasing profound economic and social inequalities and lessening social, political and religious conflict. The question has been raised of how ‘equal’ ‘the debates of the public sphere can be, when deep inequalities prevent large sections of the people — women, Dalits, tribals, religious, ethnic or sexual minorities — from having a voice on that terrain? It must hence be the effort of public theology to expand the sphere of public debate and to enable — really and discursively — the participation of marginalized sections. At the same time, nothing can be more destructive to the public sphere if it seeks to take over the work of the state or trample on its institutional and Constitutional framework. Certainly, emotions run high in areas of society outside the state. As Wilfred (1) suggests, the notion of the ‘public’ finds it difficult to accommodate elements that go beyond ‘reason’ and enter into the space of the ‘non-rational’ or of ‘pure affect’.

While certainly the public sphere must be made more sensitive to modes of thinking that lie outside the strict domain of Weberian rationality, it seems to me that the work of public theology is not only to make a space for the ‘non-rational’ within the ‘public’ but to persuade the ‘emotional’ to speak a language that may be communicable to all and that may allow ‘state’ and ‘society’ to converse. Society needs to listen to the anguish of the oppressed, but we should also recall Ambedkar’s discomfort with those who employ unconstitutional methods relying on forms of emotional coercion such as fasts or satyagraha to put pressure on the state. Ambedkar prescience discerned how these forms of protest could result in hero worship that subverts institutional structures and he referred to these as being nothing less than the ‘grammar of anarchy’.

The public sphere is certainly complex and plural; it may also be thought of as being multi-layered. Public theology can certainly do the work not only of creating the space for the voiceless’to speak but also of listening to and ‘feeling’ the agony of the deprived or of the victims of violence and injustice. At the same time, their labor will be directed to strengthening and engaging the Constitutional institutions of the state rather than bypassing these. Though a critique of the state is undeniably part of siding with the marginalized, this critique does not try to ignore or diminish the state but tries to make it more responsive. Public theologians will have the challenging task of mediating between the ‘subjective’ and the ‘objective’, the ‘individual’ and the ‘state’, the ‘personal’ and the ‘institutional’ so that these do not talk past each other, but instead engage in a continuing and more effective conversation. Without this mediation, ‘emotion’ and ‘reason’ may never be able to dialogue.

There are different spheres in which the work of public theology is of relevance in Asia. To mention only one of the important areas, I refer to the threat of Hindu nationalism in India, which requires theologians not so much to close in on themselves, but to join together with civil society organizations (which are run by a wide-range of people of all religious faiths) and minorities to ensure the protection of India’s plural culture and its Constitutional commitment to political secularism. In this respect, I believe that the Christian Church in particular can play a central role. With the depth of its establishment, it has the potential for creating a strong network of those working for peace and conflict-management. The point here is that the Church has resources — institutional, intellectual and so forth — and these should be part of its work of public theology. Then, public theology will not be only about conversation, but also about the sharing and building of the social and cultural capital of those with whom theologians are engaged.

To conclude, I wish to say — drawing on Wilfred (2)theologians should consider the fields of the social, the political, the cultural and the economic as legitimate and viable ‘fields of action’. In my understanding, this should imply that if public theology responds to society, the most important need for Asian societies today is upright and ethical citizens in every walk of life. Corruption has, indeed, corroded public life. In such circumstances, public theologians must also work in the world, and not only reflect on it or critique it as members of theological bodies or institutions. In other words, we need also a considerable number of theologians to work from within — to participate in the-world-as trained economists, lawyers, doctors, engineers, professors — and to inform their work, their engagements with others and their commitment to their profession with the strong ethical, principled and moral stance that their spiritual training and insights will give them. I have the leadership and guidance that such persons can provide within secular institutions or groups and the ways in which they can transform the work of such organizations from within. They lead by example as well as by word and that might be the most transformative role that they can play in the somewhat floundering societies of Asia today.

 

Ref:

1&2 Felix, Wilfred, “Asian Public Theology”, Lecture delivered in ‘Trinity College, Dublin: 20 January, 2011. See also Felix Wilfred, Asian Public Theology: Critical Issues in Challenging Times, Delhi: ISPCK, 2011.

Rights Based Approach to Empower Women in Asia

By Sr.Mariola BS

Economic entitlements: Asian women by and large are made to be dependent on men all through their life even if they earn. Church based and other Faith based Organisations must focus on their economic entitlements.

Social equality: The equality of man and woman should be taught from womb to tomb so that everyone knows and accepts the social equality of man and woman in day to day life.

Cultural Entitlements: Women are often depicted as objects rather than subjects. This is due to the interference of men in their cultural entitlements to have their holistic developments. Their rights to learn and contribute towards the welfare of the society must be respected, protected and fulfilled both by the governments and by the private sectors.

Entitlements to Civil and political leadership: women have by an large proved their commitment to honesty and sincerity when they are given the responsibility to take care of the governance. The civic and political leadership among women would certainly end corruption by and large in the society.

The Church, as the sacrament of Christ, has been entrusted with the mission of proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God. This she has consistently done in the face of the concrete challenges with which she has been confronted. One such challenge has been the issue of the dignity and role of women in the Church and society. We conclude this Statement with our thoughts centred on the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and our mother; “therefore the fullness of grace was granted, with a view to the fact that she would become Theotokos, also signifies the fullness of the perfection of ‘what is characteristic of woman’, of ‘what is feminine’. Here we find ourselves, in a sense, at the culminating point, the archetype, of the personal dignity of women.” .

Through the true spirit of reconciliation, all women hope that they will be recognized as equal partners in the mission and ministry of the Church. Through the spirit of reconciliation, we hope that no woman will still feel devalued, not taken seriously, uncomfortable as a woman in the Catholic Church, which walks in the footsteps of Jesus, who showed us the Way, the Light and the Truth to true Human Liberation.

May Mary our model of discipleship, woman of courage, and woman of action, inspire and be with the Church of Asia in our journey towards fullness of life for all the peoples of Asia.

After Liberation Theology

By Rowena Robinson

Through the 1970s and 1980s, liberation theology continued to have a strong influence, including on the ecumenical movement in the Churches. Though the liberation theology movement is still alive today and remains very relevant particularly in the context of the concerns of Asia and India, it has to some extent lost the momentum of earlier decades It has been suggested, certainly, that the fall of socialism in Eastern Europe and the spread of capitalism across the globe has contributed to crisis in Marxist critical perspectives.

Further the spread of and struggle for political democracy in different parts of the world in recent decades has created the space for more thinking with regard to the domain of the ‘public’, an element critical to the making of a public theology. It is possible for us to consider the subject of theology somewhat along the lines that Burawoy constructs the discipline of sociology. Certainly, if we do so we can think of liberation theology as combining – with respect to conventional theology 一 some of the aspects that Burawoj attributes to ‘critical’ as well as ‘policy’ sociologies. Because liberation theology is ‘critical’ it challenges the foundational premises of conventional theological thinking. Indeed, within the Catholic church, liberation theology is still perceived as threatening and its radicality is viewed as a ‘crisis’ as it offers a new interpretation of Christianity and a total picture of Christian reality which the church must oppose and negate. 1

Liberation theology may also be said to have something of a policy or perhaps we could say ‘advocacy 5 perspective in that in local sitxiarions it attempts to struggle against concrete realities and find practical solutions to specific concerns of injustice or inequality. As such, however, it has been critiqued — as have other theologies such as Black theology or feminist theology 一 for taking on a more particularistic bent. Public theology is the structural equivalent of public sociology in terms of the relationship it bears to its conventional and/or professional sibling. It is usually understood as the reflection on public issues in the light of theological convictions. Employing the discipline of theology, it invokes a way of practicing theology that contributes to productive and enriching dialogue with those outside of the congregation or seminary, and works together with these individuals or groups for, as Le Bruyns refers to it, the ‘common good’. 2

It is further, clear, that public theology envisions for itself less the role of advocacy than that of creating ‘better intelligence’; in other words, an informed society. For its realization and relevance, it must therefore assume the existence of the sphere of the public within which such informed debate can be carried on. According to Clint Le Bruyns, the idea of the ‘public’ in the context of public theology encompasses notions of ‘sociality’ and ‘relarionality’ .As such, public theology employs the idea of the ‘public’ in terms of Jurgen Habermas’ notion of ‘the public sphere’. In this understanding, the public sphere is a distinctively modern development and it is characterized by what Habermas calls ‘communicative action’. 3 It is the ‘critical’ sphere of the exercise of judgment by essentially private individuals.

According to Habermas, The bourgeois public sphere may be conceived above all as the sphere of private people come together as a public; they soon claimed the public sphere regulated from above against the public authorities themselves, to engage them in a debate over the general rules governing the basically privatized but publicly relevant sphere of commodity exchange and social labor. The medium of this political confrontation was peculiar and without historical precedent people’s public use of their reason. 4

The public thus does not involve merely the state: it in fact consists of all participants who engage in rational and participative discussions concerning the issues raised by the administration of the state. It may include agents of the state but is not exclusive to them. Why do I enter so closely into trying to understand the definitional boundaries of the idea of the ‘public’? I do this because it must be emphasized that ‘public theology’ quite like ‘public sociology’ assumes the existence of a particular framework and context. That is the context of a modern democratic structure within which the state is constituted as an impersonal locus of authority.5 When this happens, a separate domain is carved out — which is the domain of ‘civil society’. Civil society is another hard-to-pin-down term. For Habermas Civil society is made up of more or less spontaneously created associations, organizations and movements, Which find, take up, condense and amplify the resonance of social problems in private life, and pass it on to the political realm or public sphere. 6

For some scholars, ‘civil society’ consists of organizations outside of and independent of the state. For others, it includes only those organizations that are outside both of the state and of the market. Whatever the limits of one’s definition, for our purposes it is clear that both the organizations of civil society must be active in the realm of politics, and also that any notion of public theology must rely on the existence of a strong, active civil society. An effective civil society and a vibrant public sphere are both vital to the making of a public theology.

Ref:

Cardinal Ratzinger, as viewed on 16 August 2011, http://christendomawake.org/pages/ ratzinger/liberationtheol.htm

Clint Le Bruyns, as viewed on 16 August 2011,
http://www.ecclesio.com/2011/05/public-theology-on-responsibility-for-the-public-good

Jurgen Habermas, Between Facts and Norms: Contributions to a Discourse Theory of Law and Democracy. Cambridge: Polity Press, (1989): 27.

Ibid.

See Craig Calhoun, (cd.) Habermas and the Public Sphere, Boston: MIT Press, (1993): 8.

Jurgen, Hcbermas, Between Facts and Norms: Contributions to a Discourse Theory of Law and Democraty… op.cit. 367

Theology and Society: Development of Liberation Theology

By Rowena Robinson

If a ‘this-worldly’ discipline like sociology finds it hard to agree on its role in the public sphere — for Burawoy and his supporters have many dissenters — how much more difficult must it before an ‘other-worldly’ subject like theology to come to terms with its relationship with politics or social life? The Jesuit sociologist, Heredia 1) shows that, with the advent of modernity in particular, the Church had to contend with what its response should be to the ‘social’ question. Modernity obligated the Church to rethink the relationship between theology and the social world (faith and justice).

According to him, the first response of Catholic and Protestant Churches took the form of ‘liberal theology’ which came to be represented respectively by the efforts of the Second Vatican Council and the World Council of Churches (WCC). Liberal theology was not radical political theology and it frnctioned very much within the framework of capitalism and the welfare state. Certain forms of a ‘social gospel’ also permeated the Protestant and Catholic Churches from the early times and this response was considered inadequate by Christians in the developing world, for whom it appeared clear that any tackling of the ‘social’ issue would have to deal with the structural roots of social injustice and inequality. In particular, for those influenced by Marxist ideas, development was perceived to be a problem requiring an analysis of the class structures of society.

This became the basis for ‘liberation theology’ and it is certainly critical for us to understand the form this theologizing took as well as its relationship with what we are dealing with — public theology. Liberation theology developed first in Latin America. If liberal theology essentially focused on individual freedom, liberation theology was rooted in Marxist social analysis.7) For one of the most prominent voices within liberation theology, it is possible to distinguish three levels of liberation,

Christ the Savior liberates man from sin, which is the ultimate root of all disruption of friendship and of all injustice and oppression. Christ makes man truly free, that is to say, he enables man to live in communion with him; and this is the basis for all human brotherhood” 3)

For, it is not possible to direct oneself only to purging one’s own sinfulness or renewing one’s relationship to God without attending to one’s relationship with other human beings.’ In this, the struggle for social justice is crucial. For the Christian, solidarity with the poor is essential; otherwise there can be no liberation for all. At the same time, this is not an anti-rich; stance; for the rich too are considered to be ‘alienated’ from their true humanity due to their hegemonic position as the class of exploiters. For the Christian in liberation theology, therefore, there must not only be an ‘option for the poor’ but ‘action for the poor’ on the basis of the Marxian analytic perspective. As he goes on to say:

The theology of liberation attempts to reflect on the experience and meaning of the faith based on the commitment to abolish injustice and to build a new society; this theology must be verified by the practice of that commitment, by active, effective participation in the struggle which the exploited social classes have undertaken against their oppressors.2)

It is true that after its initiation in Latin America, liberation, theology influenced both Catholic and Protestant Churches, to some extent, particularly in Asia to shift away from a perspective based on ‘charity’ to one which gave centrality to social justice and human rights.

As Heredia 4) points out, in India, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) affirmed the ‘right to development’ and began to call for the empowerment of Dalits and tribals. The Protestant Church of North India (CNI) began to shift from a perspective of social service to one of empowerment through a rights-based approach, while the Church of South India (CSI), which has a predominantly Dalit membership, made from its early constitution onwards a commitment to Dalits, and this began to be expressed from the 1980s onwards in efforts to articulate a Dalit theology.

Ref:

1) Rudolf, Heredia, “Development as Liberation: An Indian Christian Perspective”, in Gurpreet Mahajan and S Jodhka, (eds.) Rekgion, Community and Development. Changing Contours of Politics and Poly in India, New Delhi:Routledge, 2010.

2) Michael, Burawoy, “Public Sociologies: Contradictions, Dilemmas and possibilities”, in Social Forces 82, 4, (2004): 1603-1618.

3) Gustavo Gutiérrez, A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, and Salvation, New York: Orbis Books, (1973): 37.

4) Cf Rudolf, C. Heredia, op. ait.

The Pastoral Challenge for Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs)

Rapid Social Change

Asia, like the rest of the world, has been undergoing rapid social change, in particular since political independence (from the 1940s) and the globalising of the economy and communications (rapidly since 1989). New religious movements such as Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs) arise, then, as both one-dimensional modernity and stagnant religious practice have lost their ability to provide a source of spiritual meaning (Cox 1995: 300-301). Despite the rapid race to modernise, Asian societies are still seeking a guide to the quest for meaning in science, technology and rationalism (Michael 2004: 410). The rise of new religious movements, such as the Pentecostal-like churches and the more creative, liberational BECs, respond to this quest for meaning, identity, power, dignity and self-esteem.1)

Pakistani anthropologist Akbar S. Ahmed has condensed and codified post-modern culture into four basic elements, namely eclecticism, syncretism, juxtapositions and irony (see Michael, 411). In a fluid, multi-dimensional and transitory world any pursuit or claim to a unique truth is seen as a cover for domination. Religious fundamentalism within the majority religions of Asia is a reaction against the invasive, intrusive and threatening features of (post)-modernity.

Cultures and religions which stress the importance of family, community, traditions and social values find it extremely difficult to cope with high-speed change (Michael, 413). Heredia (2004: 36-37), quoting Sudhir Kakar, suggests that religious fundamentalism holds up a crumbling personality the way scaffolding holds up a collapsing building. Such a personality needs a hierarchical order wherein each one has someone to command and someone to obey. Fundamentalism provides stability, clarity and certainty.

Responding to Rapid Social Change

Mainstream Catholicism has been responding to rapid social change not by distancing itself from social upheaval, nor by withdrawing from the threatening multi-religious and multi-cultural landscape, but by encountering it in faith. In the language of John Paul II, our step-by-step approach is one of cultural respect and religious freedom, rooted in right relationships and informed by an appreciation of history; our basic attitude is cosmic in scope (Ecclesia in Asia, 20).

The pastoral vision of the Asian Churches over the past 40 years has been to foster Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs) as ‘a new way of being church’, a genuinely local church, ‘incarnate in a people, a church indigenous and inculturated (—) a church in continuous, humble and loving dialogue with the living traditions, the cultures, the religions — in brief, with all the life-realities of the people in whose midst it has sunk its roots deeply and whose history and life it gladly makes its own.’ (FABC I Taipei 1974) 2)

How are BECs Responding to Felt Needs?

Forty years later questions arise: in this time of rapid social change, are BECs responding to the need of perplexed Catholics for certainty and stability? Are BECs proclaiming the whole gospel in all simplicity without being simplistic? Are they reading the bible critically but without emptying it of its supernatural power? Are BECs acknowledging the world of spirits, shamans and miracles, the felt need for physical and psychological healing, while also responding to the real need for societal and cosmic healing? Are BECs continually encouraging their members to move beyond the personal and familial cares of their own, to live out the social gospel in the wider society?

Are they creatively developing non-authoritarian team-leadership? Are they maximising lay participation, nurturing warm fellowship and proclaiming a gospel of hope and empowerment to the bewildered and the marginalised? Pastoral styles emerging from positive responses to (some of) the above questions would characterise our local churches as living in solidarity with the marginalised, being engaged in inter-faith dialogue, sensitive to cultural change and open to ongoing liturgical creativity.

Ref:

1) See my presentation tomorrow morning, “Spirituality of Pentecostal Groups.”

2) FABC, ‘Statement of First Assembly, Taipei 1974.’See, Rosales & Arevalo 1992, 12-19. The expression ‘A New Way of Being Church’ is found in FABC documents since the 1990 Bandung General Assembly. Basic Ecclesial Communities are being fostered through the Office for Laity’s Asian Integral Pastoral Approach (AsIPA) workshops.

The Social Problem is Now Global and Interdependent

By Fr. Desmond De’Sousa CSsR

International Disproportions: A number of countries have a gross disproportion between land and population. In some countries arable land abounds, but there is a scarcity of population; whereas in other countries the position is reversed: the population is large, arable land scarce.

Surpluses and Scarcities: Again, some countries use primitive methods of agriculture, with the result that, for all their abundance of natural resources, they are not able to produce enough food to feed their population; whereas other countries, using modern methods of agriculture, produce a surplus of food which has an adverse effect on the economy.

Solidarity: It is therefore obvious that the solidarity of the human race and Christian brotherhood demand the elimination as far as possible of these discrepancies. With this object in view, people all over the world must co-operate actively with one another in all sorts of ways, so as to facilitate the movement of goods, capital and men from one country to another. We shall have more to say on this point later on.

Obligation of the Wealthy Nations: Probably the most difficult problem today concerns the relationship between political communities that are economically advanced and those in the process of development. Whereas the standard of living is high in the former, the latter are subject to extreme poverty. The solidarity which binds all men together as members of a common family makes it impossible for wealthy nations to look with indifference upon the hunger, misery and poverty of other nations whose citizens are unable to enjoy even elementary human rights. The nations of the world are becoming more and more dependent on one another and it will not be possible to preserve a lasting peace so long as glaring economic and social imbalances persist.

Social Issue in America – World Atlas

International Aid: Justice and humanity demand that those countries which produce consumer goods, especially farm products, in excess of their own needs should come to the assistance of those other countries where large sections of the population are suffering from want and hunger. It is nothing less than an outrage to justice and humanity to destroy or to squander goods that other people need for their very lives.

We are, of course, well aware that overproduction, especially in agriculture, can cause economic harm to a certain section of the population. But it does not follow that one is thereby exonerated from extending emergency aid to those who need it. On the contrary, everything must be done to minimize the ill effects of overproduction, and to spread the burden equitably over the entire population.

Scientific, Technical and Financial Co-operation: Of itself, however, emergency aid will not go far in relieving want and famine when these are caused—as they so often are—by the primitive state of a nation’s economy. The only permanent remedy for this is to make use of every possible means of providing these citizens with the scientific, technical and professional training they need, and to put at their disposal the necessary capital for speeding up their economic development with the help of modern methods.

We are aware how deeply the public conscience has been affected in recent years by the urgent need of supporting the economic development and social progress of those countries which are still struggling against poverty and economic disabilities.

International and regional organizations, national and private societies, all are working towards this goal, increasing day to day the measure of their own technical co-operation in all productive spheres.

Some Additional Counsels

In the first place, those nations which are still only at the beginning of their journey along the road to economic development would do well to consider carefully the experiences of the wealthier nations which have traversed this road before them.

The developing nations, obviously, have certain unmistakable characteristics of their own, resulting from the nature of the particular region and the natural dispositions of their citizens, with their time-honored traditions and customs.170. In helping these nations, therefore, the more advanced communities must recognize and respect this individuality. They must beware of making the assistance they give an excuse for forcing these people into their own national mold.

Offering Disinterested Aid: There is also a further temptation which the economically developed nations must resist: that of giving technical and financial aid with a view to gaining control over the political situation in the poorer countries, and furthering their own plans for world domination.

Social Problem

Let us be quite clear on this point. A nation that acted from these motives would in fact be introducing a new form of colonialism—cleverly disguised, no doubt, but actually reflecting that older, outdated type from which many nations have recently emerged. Such action would, moreover, have harmful impact on international relations, and constitute a menace to world peace.

Necessity, therefore, and justice demand that all such technical and financial aid be given without thought of domination, but rather for the purpose of helping the less developed nations to achieve their own economic and social growth. If this can be achieved, then a precious contribution will have been made to the formation of a world community, in which each individual nation, conscious of its rights and duties, can work on terms of equality with the rest for the attainment of universal prosperity.

Respecting the True Hierarchy of Values

Scientific and technical progress, economic development and the betterment of living conditions, are certainly valuable elements in a civilization. But they are essentially instrumental in character. They are not supreme values in themselves. There is a complete indifference to the true hierarchy of values shown by so many people in the economically developed countries.

Spiritual values are ignored, forgotten or denied, while the progress of science, technology and economics is pursued for its own sake, as though material well-being were the be-all and end-all of life. This attitude is contagious, especially when it infects the work that is being done for the less developed countries, which have often preserved in their ancient traditions an acute and vital awareness of the more important human values, on which the moral order rests.

To attempt to undermine this national integrity is clearly immoral. It must be respected and as far as possible clarified and developed, so that it may remain what it is: a foundation of true civilization.

Liberating Hagar: Liberating Migrant Domestic Workers

By Dr. Rose Wu

Let me now draw your attention to the slave woman Hagar in Genesis 16. In these texts, Hagar is introduced as the solution to a problem confronting a wealthy slave-holding family composed of Sarah and Abraham. Sarah was not able to bear children. She was distressed and often wondered how she could increase her standing in the community and keep the wealth she and her husband had acquired in their family; for in her world of the ancient Near East, a barren woman lost status.

Consequently, Sarah said to Abraham, “Listen now! Since Yahweh has kept me from having children, go to my slave-girl. Perhaps I shall get children through her.” And subsequently, Abraham had intercourse with Hagar, and she became pregnant. We have to understand that it was quite common in the Mediterranean region for wives to give their slaves as concubines to their husbands so that they might have descendants.

Under these circumstances, Hagar was a person facing triple oppressions. Firstly, Hagar, as a slave-girl, would have been under the complete control of her owner, Sarah. Secondly, Hagar, as a virgin woman, had no choice in matters of forced motherhood, but the law provided options for her wealthy slave-holders, like Sarah, who were barren.1) Thirdly, Hagar, as a foreign slave, was exposed to all forms of discrimination without any protection.

Credit Image: ILO

Here is a scenario familiar to many migrant domestic workers today―the brutal or cruel treatment they receive from their First World female employers, long working hours and unjust wages. Some of them are also sexually abused or raped by their owners and have borne children who their masters seldom claim.

Hagar, however, resisted the brutalities of slavery by running away. She no longer feels herself to be a slave without the right to make decisions. She was not interested in trying to win Sarah’s goodwill by suffering abuse in silence. Hagar preferred to die in the desert. Hagar becomes the first female in the Bible to liberate herself from oppressive power structures. Like Hagar, many migrant domestic workers have had to flee their employers due to the abuse they have endured at the hands of their employers. Instead of being passive, they too take the risk rather than endure more brutal treatment. What was God’s response to Hagar’s predicament? Were her pain and God’s response to it congruent with migrant domestic women’s predicament and their suffering?

Among many feminist theologians’ interpretations, I find Delores S. Williams’ Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk the most inspiring. Exploring the themes implicit in Hagar’s story―poverty and slavery, ethnicity and sexual exploitation, exile and encounter with God―Williams suggests that God’s response to Hagar’s story in the Hebrew testament is not liberation. Rather, God participates in the survival of Hagar and her child on two occasions. 2)

When she was a runaway slave, the angel of Yahweh met her in the wilderness and invited her to speak and told her to resubmit herself to her oppressor Sarah, that is, to return to bondage. Many feminists cannot help but question this response given to Hagar by the angel of Yahweh. Nevertheless, the angel of Yahweh makes a promise to Hagar similar to the promise Yahweh makes to Abraham in Genesis 15:2–6: “I shall make your descendants too numerous to be counted.”(Genesis 16:10) Here Hagar was given hope, not only for the survival of her generation, but also hope for the possibility of future freedom for her seed.

Then, when Hagar and her child were finally cast out of the home of their oppressors and were not given proper resources for survival, God opened Hagar’s eyes, and she saw a well so she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink. (Genesis 21:18–19) God gave her new vision to see survival resources where she had seen none previously. Finally, in Hagar’s story, there is the suggestion that God will be instrumental in the development of Ishmael’s and Hagar’s quality of life. (Genesis 21:20).

Credit Image: BBC.com

Williams concluded that the female-centered tradition of African-American Biblical appropriation could be named the survival/quality-of-life tradition of African-American Biblical appropriation. 3) Today many migrant domestic workers, like Hagar, have to leave home and go to a foreign land to make a living for herself and her family. They suffer from poverty, economic exploitation, racism, sexual abuse, homelessness, isolation and also a radical encounter with God. They believe God is involved, not only in their struggle for survival, but that God also supports their struggle for a better quality of life.

Rereading the story of Hagar and reflecting upon and analyzing migrant domestic workers’ lives have taught me that Asian feminist scholarship in theology needs to do more than borrow the vocabulary of First World feminism to describe Third World women’s suffering and liberation. We must search deeply into the hidden and multiple layers of oppression of our sisters who are struggling to survive in this globalized and violent world.

We have been silent about race- and class-privileged women who have been oppressing the poor and outcast women. We have been silent about privileged, middle class men and women working together to maintain supremacy and privilege. When this is clearly seen and anticipated, perhaps First World feminists will become more conscious of the ways in which their lifestyle and work perpetuates the oppressive culture of neo-liberalism and economic globalization.

Though differences exist in cultural contexts, social locations and experiences, First World feminists and Third World feminists hold in common a belief that we must work together to overcome globalized violence in transnational labor. Women are not solely victims and objects of the development agenda, however, for it is argued that women’s unique perspectives on the global economy have enriched the groundwork for defining alternatives to economic globalization and have therefore much to contribute to the Church and the world’s vision of building just and sustainable communities.

Ref:

1) Gerhald von Rad, Genesis: A Commentary (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1972), 186.

2) Delores S. Williams, Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk (New York: Orbis Books, 1996), 4.

3) Ibid., 6.

Indigenous Peoples’ Cosmology: God-Human-World Relationship

Indigenous Peoples’ Cosmology: God-Human-World Relationship

By: Rev. Yangkahao Vashum

The fact that indigenous people see themselves as interrelated in all their life totality to the whole creation can be seen from the creation myth and other practices and beliefs. I have identified three tribal traditions of the Northeast India for our purpose. The first one is a Tangkhul Naga creation myth which tells the story of the great assembly of all the creatures. It goes like this.

The great assembly of all creatures was convened by Kasa Akhava (God) to determine the duration of day and night. Kasa Akhava invited the opinions of the creatures. After a spell of silence the mole came out with a suggestion that day and night should each be one year in length. This suggestion was rejected by all due to its impracticality. The discussion continued, but no acceptable proposal was forthcoming. The rooster was then left with the responsibility to determine the length of day and night. The rooster should crow when he is exhausted and needed rest. This would signal the end of the day. Again the rooster should crow after he had sufficiently rested by night, heralding the dawning of the day.

The rooster, hence became the timekeeper for the world. Soon a scene was created by a hungry flying fox who disturbed the peaceful sleep of his fellow creatures at night. He was seated on a tree enjoying a walnut. By mistake the walnut fell from his hands and hit the crab lying below. The crab, filled with fury, destroyed the nest of the giant ants, who in turn stung a sleeping wild boar. The agonized bear went wild and destroyed a banana tree. This disturbed the tiny bat sleeping peacefully on a banana leaf. The angry bat sped about wildly and landed in the nostrils of a sleeping elephant.

The agitated elephant then went wild resulting in the death of a man. Kasa Akhava called all the creatures for an explanation and found that the flying fox was responsible for the unruly scene which ended in the death of a man. The flying fox was punished by having one of his legs amputated and given to the magpie, who was considered to be the eldest among the creatures. (1*)

The second story comes from the Khasis of Meghalaya. The Khasis believed that their ancestors descended from heaven/sky world. According to the Khasi origin story, God created sixteen families in heaven and allowed them to live with Him in heaven.(2*) God also gave them the freedom to move between heaven and earth through a golden ladder. On one such occasion, seven families decided to settle down on earth leaving behind the nine families in heaven. “These seven families came to be known as Ki Hynniew Ha Tbin (The Seven Below) and those who remained in heaven as Ki Khyndai Ha jrong (The Nine Above).”(3*)

The Khasis claim they are the descendents of these seven families. Then there is the log-drum of the Wanchos of Tirap district of Arunachal Pradesh. Log-drum constitutes as one of the finest symbols of the Wancho people’s culture. It is a drum curved out of a huge tree. In the past, log-drum is used for a number of purposes and occasions ranging from organizing defense mechanism, announcing natural calamities to heralding the beginning of community festivities and celebrations.

A number of different beats symbolized different meanings to the villagers. Construction of such huge drums involves series of sacred and secular activities. But when this is dragged to the village from the distant forest the Wanchos sang songs through which they beg pardon from each and every creature of the forest expressing how inevitable that tree was to them for which they had to cut and disturb their habitat. (4*)

All these stories speak for themselves. The creation myth explicitly brings out all that is concerned with our lives, our human relationship with Kasa Akhava and with non-human creation. Kasa Akhava is in the profoundest way asserted as the creator and sustainer of the universe. The Kasa Akhava is seen as respecting the creations and their roles in shaping and caring the created world.

Indigenous PeoplesThe whole creation is depicted as a family with Kasa Akhava as its head. In tribal society one most prominent practice is that important decisions are taken by the family sitting around the hearth-fire. This is indicative of the universal family which requires the participation and cooperation of all family members in decision making and carrying out the given responsibilities. The whole creation is depicted as co-workers – responsible partners – in caring for Kasa Akhava’s created world.

While the second story unravels how from the very beginning God and human family are connected to each other, the third story brings out how human and nature maintain their interdependent living relationship, especially humans towards the nature. The tribals have a sober view of anthropology. There is no myth, legend or belief which teaches that human beings are superior to other created beings.

Human beings are seen as co-workers with other creatures. Hence, the human relationship with the whole creation is characterized by mutual respect and mutual dependence. Further, their relationship is accentuated by the common responsibility they share in caring for God’s created world.


Ref:

1) R. Luikham, Folktales and Tales of the Nagas (Delhi: Immanuel publishers, 1983), 77ff; Cf. Yangkahao Vashum, “A Tangkhul Creation Myth: Implication for a Holistic View of Human Rights,” in The Tribal Worldview and Ecology, Tribal Study Series no.2, eds. A. Wati Longchar and Yangkahao Vashum (Jorhat: Tribal Study Centre, 1998), 34-40.

2) R. Tokin Roy Rymbai, “Evolution of Modern Khasi Society (Babu Jeebon Roy),” in J. N. Chowdhury, ed. The Khasi Canvas: A Cultural and Political History (Shillong: Srimati Jaya Chowdhury, 1978), 415.

3) Ibid.

4) Sarit K. Chauduri, “Folk Belief and Resource Conservations: Reflections from Arunachal Pradesh,” in Indian Folklife: A Quarterly Newsletter from National Folklore Support Centre, Serial No. 28, January 2008, 5. Of course, log-drum is not unique to the Wanchos alone; it is a cultural symbol of most the tribals in the region.

A Theology of the World

Theology of The World

By: Fr.Michael Amaladoss, S.J

Two of the challenges that theology faces today are the problem of secularization and ecological destruction. An Asian theology of the world can offer a different perspective in these areas. Secularization is the growing dichotomy and distance between the sacred and the secular. This is facilitated by the autonomous growth of science and technology, on the one hand, and the creationist gap between the Creator and the creature. In a mechanistic theory of creation, an autonomously functioning machine does not depend on its maker to explain its functioning.

The Asian religious traditions keep a link between God and the world through the common theme of life and continuing inter-dependence. This view is not pantheistic, as it 1s often alleged, but adual or advaitic. What is wrong is not the world, but our attachment to it. Our salvation/liberation can be achieved only by our life in the world. The development of the world is an integral dimension of the development of the humans. So it has to be positivel valued and promoted.

A positive view of the world – creation – also opposes its exploitation to satisfy selfish consumer needs. The goal of ecology is not only to improve the quality of life. We have to respect the world and live in harmony with it. Creation is for the whole community of the humans, present and future. It has to be used in a spirit of justice and equality. Living in. harmony with creation the humans also live a holistic life in their bodies. Asian methods of sadhana like the yoga celebrate human life in the body. The body is our mediation to creation and to other humans. The Buddha recommended the middle path between consumerism and deprivation.

The dichotomy between the sacred and the secular withdraws the humans from the world and directs them vertically to the Absolute. Life centres round sacraments and rituals, not other humans and the world in which we all live. Jesus’ new commandment was not a repeat of the old commandment to love God above all things. It was rather to love one another as he loved us. It is in the other that we love God as John explains in his letters. Jesus’ criterion of judgement is not how many rituals we have celebrated, but whether we fed the hungry and clothed the naked humans.

All this should lead us to find God in the world. We have to secularize the sacred. Our concern should be life in the world, not the rituals and their ministers. The rituals should be symbolic celebrations of life. Without life they would have no meaning. Life without sacraments can still be meaningful. Sacraments without life will be empty. I am reminded of the Mahayana Buddhist aphorism: Nirvana is Samsara. It is not self-evident, but an object of realization.

From this point of view we may have to revisit our theologies of liberation. Often inspired by Marxist theory they focus on economics and politics and speak a language of revolution, even justifying violence. Life is more than economics and politics. It also includes persons, society, culture and religion. An integral analysis of society must take into account all these elements.

Our goal is to establish a free and just community of equals. Our option for the poor may lead us to dialogue with the non-poor who are often the real change makers. Non-violent dialogue may be a more effective change maker than revolutionary rhetoric. Liberation theologies, operating in a conflictual mode, have no place for forgiveness, reconciliation and community building. They tend to narrow their context to their experience of oppression. The Buddhist notion of inter-being and compassion may help us to develop a more Asian perspective on liberation.