A Hindu-Christian Conversation 4: Some Final Exchanges

Cambridge, MA. Here is Mr Manohar’s latest entry to our conversation, following upon my recent reply to him. The following are his comments, with my additions clearly marked and italicized:
    “In this post, I wish to consider two difficult issues – dialogue and the proselytizing imperative, and a Hindu understanding of ‘mediation through Christ’. A few of you have already alluded to the proselytizing imperative of Christianity in your comments; this argument has its adherents, it has its detractors even within Christianity, it predisposes dialogue to familiar arguments and responses, it disturbingly evokes the past, and in the mundane grunge of the present, it creates stereotypes along with the attendant inhumanity, sentimentality and unintelligent characterization of the other’s theology and scholastic traditions. These are important issues.
“However, I seek to also understand the nature of dialogue, when this proselytizing imperative and the response to it are explicitly not the defining motives. Behind this proselytizing imperative is the Christian understanding and expression of salvation, in particular when one is not explicitly united with the ‘Body of Christ’. Fr. Clooney referred to the fact that here ‘salvation is mysteriously mediated through Jesus Christ’. In this post, I seek to understand this a little, in Christian terms but informed by my Hindu pluralism. (Fr. Clooney, could you please comment along the way, as you see fit? Comment: I will add just a few! FXC)
     “There are many articles and scholarly works on the effects of proselytizing – both during colonial India and since. Fr. Clooney asks, “Is the problem that too much interreligious learning is Christian-initiated, with too much of a bad history of colonialism in the background?” There is this, but there is also the fact that much of dialogue, in routine daily life when it occurs, is dominated by the undercurrent of conversion. Ultimately, such dialogue where the argument and response is predetermined, is boring and perhaps counterproductive. One of the persistent effects of such proselytizing appears to be progressive secularization and abandonment of religious traditions. Comment: As you know, Mr. Manohar, I live and work here in the United States, where the situation is different from that in India. Although I visit frequently, I cannot comment on how dialogue is carried out in particular places in India. But here, where I am stressing interreligious learning of a deeper sort, I do not see that the effort to convert is dominant; nor, if the learning is real, is the result predictable. FXC.
     “We know the motives of this kind of dialogue, but what are the meaningful motives for a dialogue where conversion is definitely not the motive? I can think of a few: Our children routinely encounter other religious traditions, how are we to educate them in respectful ways, without reducing the traditions of the other to literature or culture bereft of piety? When children question us about conflicting practices (cremation vs. burial), how should we answer intelligently regarding the other? How are we to recognize equivalent symbolism? Comment: These are important reasons for interreligious learning, and Catholic documents too have stressed the value of learning about our neighbors, and learning better to live as neighbors. As believers, how are we to understand together the validity of particular doctrines, and learn how to discern the essential aspects from the accidental ones?  Such an encounter calls for the revival and appreciation of scholastic traditions of both religions. Comment: Yes! This deeper learning, which requires study, is very important! But it takes work, on both sides, and does not lead to any predictable conclusions. Even as we engage in this study, however, our ideas are subtly changed, because we are learning to think in new ways. FXC.
     “Many Hindus are tentative about such dialogue, in part because of how they see the Christian understanding of salvation. Fr. Clooney mentioned that “in recent decades the Church has made it clear that God’s salvation is available to all, and does not teach hell or damnation for non-Christians. Yes, that salvation is mysteriously mediated through Jesus Christ”. (While this may be true, the letter from the ‘Sacred Congregation of The Holy Office’ regarding Leonard Feeney still appears to see this salvation in a limited way – available only because of the other’s ‘invincible ignorance’.) As a Hindu, how am I to understand this mediation? Comment: This was an important period in Catholic thinking about other religions, and indeed the time when we rejected the idea that non-Catholics all go to hell. Damnation for all non-Christians is not a Catholic doctrine. But the Church has also learned a great deal in the 50+ years since then; and I grew up in a post-Feeney Church where interreligious respect was becoming an ordinary part of the Catholic way of life. FXC.
     “But I next turn my attention to a letter by then Cardinal Ratzinger, where he explains things this way: ‘Christianity must always remember that it is the religion of the ‘Logos.’ It is faith in the ‘Creator Spiritus,’ in the Creator Spirit, from which proceeds everything that exists. Today, this should be precisely its philosophical strength, in so far as the problem is whether the world comes from the irrational, and reason is not, therefore, other than a ‘sub-product,’ on occasion even harmful of its development or whether the world comes from reason, and is, as a consequence, its criterion and goal. The Christian faith inclines toward this second thesis [over against a first thesis, earlier in the Cardinal’s document, favoring reliance on reason separated from faith], thus having, from the purely philosophical point of view, really good cards to play, despite the fact that many today consider only the first thesis as the only modern and rational one par excellence. However, a reason that springs from the irrational, and that is, in the final analysis, itself irrational, does not constitute a solution for our problems. Only creative reason, which in the crucified God is manifested as love, can really show us the way. In the so necessary dialogue between secularists and Catholics, we Christians must be very careful to remain faithful to this fundamental line: to live a faith that comes from the ‘Logos,’ from creative reason, and that, because of this, is also open to all that is truly rational.’ Thus Cardinal Ratzinger. Comment: This is  vastly important, and I am glad you have picked upon the Pope’s remarks: There is no radical opposition between faith and reason, and we do no service to the faith by refusing to be open to learning; and we do no favor to learning by disconnecting reason and Logos. But this is a venerable Indian teaching too: study, learning, asking honest questions — are all religious activities. I see no reason to do this only within the bounds of my own religious tradition. FXC.
     “We can also refer to St. Augustine where is he says: “the very thing that is now called the Christian religion was not wanting amongst the ancients from the beginning of the human race, until Christ came in flesh, after which the true religion, which already existed, began to be called ‘Christian’.” Comment: This is representative of a long Christian tradition, that the truth of Christ is as old as the world, and it should open our minds. But I do not see a necessary dichotomy, as if the arrival of the true religion is also a declaration that all other religions are false religions. By the way, see the recent volume, Augustine and World Religions, edited by Brian Brown, John Doody, and Kim Paffenroth. FXC.
     “To me, in light of these two positions, mediation through Christ, is not about the historical accidents, but of the eternal essence of Christ as Logos, as when he says in John 8:58, “Before Abraham was, I am.” This is something that resonates with me as a Hindu, as a refrain heard several times in many Hindu texts. Fr. Clooney, am I reading these texts too conveniently seek a pluralism?” Comment: To be honest, I do not think the Catholic tradition separates history and the eternal; in Christ they have come together. But you are right, the Christian tradition does not reduce the work of God to what has happened at certain moments in history. There is an eternal truth and wisdom to God’s work in the world, and no one can say that God does not work elsewhere, among other peoples. FXC.
     Closing Comment by Frank Clooney: Such is our Hindu-Christian conversation for now, unless you, the reader, pose some burning questions we cannot resist. But we will surely return to conversation after some time. I would like to thank Mr. Manohar for his willingness to take the time to write so thoughtfully in this way.

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Marie Rehbein
9 years 3 months ago
     It seems that the Hindu perspective on the cosmos developed from observation of nature and human nature, leading to an awareness of higher beings or a higher being.  On the other hand, the Christian perspective is that God initiated contact with Abraham and created the Jewish people as part of the process of revealing "him" self to humanity, thereby taking the initiative in establishing personal relationships between individual humans and God.
     In Christianity, God is virtually a person, instead of a life force or a concept that unites everything.  It is not simply that humans exist and that they endeavor to be ever more aware of their connectedness to all.  In Christianity, God has a will that applies to what humans choose to do in their day-to-day for eschatological reasons.  In Christianity, life as we know it is not eternal.  Christians believe the world will end, they just do not know when.  
     It would seem to be quite a lot to ask a Christian to give up this belief in an individually personal relationship with God that has eternal repercussions if not tended properly, especially if that Christian has had experiences that seem to confirm this relationship.  However, it would not be impossible for that Christian to believe in reincarnation and karma, except for the fact that, in the absence of Biblical references to these, the Catholic Church has determined them to be false.
     One might argue that determining that something does not exist because it has not been referenced in the Bible is flawed reasoning.  There are, after all, references to a state of being after death that is not heaven or hell.  Who is to say that this, which is called purgatory in Catholicism, is not carried out through reincarnation and karma?
     In reading over this four-part dialogue between a Christian and Hindu, I am struck by how few specific beliefs are discussed.  It seems that the discussion is all about whether there is reason to have the discussion.  However, it seems to me that specific beliefs regarding life after death in the two religions would be an intriguing topic.


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