The Church’s Mission and Post-Modern Humanism by M. M. Thomas
Dr. M.M. Thomas was one of the formost Christian leaders of the nineteenth century. He was Moderator of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches and Governor of Nagaland. An ecumenical theologian of repute, he wrote more than sixty books on Theology and Mission, including 24 theological commentaries on the books of the bible in Malayalam (the official language of the Indian state of Kerela). This book was jointly published by Christava Sahhya Samhhi (OSS), Tiruvalla, Kerela, and The Indian Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (ISPOK), Post Box 1585, Kashmere Gate, Delhi - 110 006, in 1996. Price Rs. 60. Used by permission of the publisher. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.
Chapter 4: A Christian Anthropological Approach To Globalisation
A Paper presented at the Seminar organized in connection with the tenth Anniversary of the Dept. of Social Analysis of the Tamilnadu Theological Seminary, Arasaradi.
Ten years ago, I was invited to open the Dept. of Social Analysis at the TTS (Tamilnadu Theological Seminary). I am grateful to the Dept. for their invitation to me to participate in the celebrations of its 10th anniversary. Thanks to the leadership of the Dept. and the relevance of it in our time, the concern for social analysis has taken root as an essential aspect of the Christian theological enterprise, not only in the TTS but also in most other Indian theological schools and in the Serampore University curriculum itself. The TTS can legitimately take the credit for being the pioneers in this trail.
I have been asked to speak here on “Power and powerlessness of Christian Faith in the present Indian political situation”. I have interpreted it in a broad manner, as an invitation to talk about the Christian Faith in its relevance to social analysis of the present political situation and social response to it. It was Augustine who spoke of Faith as the foundation for understanding. I remember that a long time ago I wrote on the evolution of my thought under the title Faith Seeking Understanding and Responsibility, which was not published; and later I published a book on my Ideological Quest within the Christian Commitment. Today, to be relevant to the theological dept. of social analysis, I am rephrasing the topic as “The Significance of Faith for Social Analysis and Responsible Action in the Indian Situation”.
My paper has two sections. One, a longer section on the theological basis of social analysis and social response; and two, a brief analysis and response to the present political situation created by globalisation.
Hinduism speaks of God’s three-fold action in the world as shriti, sthithi and layana, as creation, preservation and reabsorption into the Universal Spirit. In the Biblical scheme, it is shriti, sthithi and udharana, creation, preservation and redemption. Biblical anthropology is derived from this.
The Bible starts with three covenants of God with all Humanity (Gen. 1-12)- namely, with Adam. Noah and Abraham symbolizing God’s creating, preserving and redeeming activity in the world. At the same time they symbolize three aspects of the universal vocation of Humanity, namely its vocation to be creative, sharing responsibility with God in the continuing creation and re-creation of the world, in the preservation of the fallen world from chaos through the promotion of legal justice based on reverence for all life and especially human life, and in sharing the suffering of God’s Messiah mediating the Grace of God that redeems the creation. Thus human beings are persons called to responsible existence in the community of persons in the context of the community of all life on the earth. And in the Colossian Christology (Col. 1.15 -20). all these covenants and the accompanying human vocations and responsibilities are seen as fulfilled in the Divine Humanity of Jesus Christ. Through Him all creation comes into being and develops, and in Him all creation today remain united in spite of the forces of human self-alienation and disintegration, and by His Cross, He redeems, renews and perfects all humanity into a new community of persons in the context of the community of life and all creation. I find Henrik Berkhof’s combination of continuing development with continuing redemption of creation (of Tiehard de Chardin and Karl Barth) interesting. He defines the Gospel as “a great movement from lower to higher, going through estrangement and crises, but also through atonement and salvation, and so directed towards its ultimate goal, a Glorified Humanity in full communion with God, of which goal the Risen Christ is the guarantee and first fruits”.
It is from these Biblical truths that Christian anthropology and its various insights about the human situation are derived. What are some of the more important insights which are relevant to our current political situation? I list a few.
1. Faith and its opposite Unbelief presuppose a universal spiritual dimension of human selfhood in which the self sees itself as poised between the world and God i.e. at once as an integral part of the world of matter and the community of life governed by the mechanical and organic laws of development respectively on the one hand, and having a limited power to transcend these laws through its spiritual relation to the transcendent realm of God’s purpose on the other. This human self-transcendence provides the self its power of self-determination to choose its own path of self-fulfillment and to bring the world process to serve it. Since in the insecurity arising out of its awareness of its finite freedom, the self tends to absolutise itself and puts itself in opposition to its own nature as given by God in Creation and Redemption, self-alienation is an ever-present aspect of human reality.
Therefore no human situation can be analyzed in its totality purely as the working out of a mechanical or organic necessity, or for that matter, purely as a relation between Divine Spirit and the human souls. No doubt, scientific analyses have their relative validity and help understanding provided they are recognized as partial. But a full analysis requires that we interpret the situation in the light of a theological anthropology which takes seriously the dimension of human spirit’s orientation and disorientation to God’s purpose active in the situation in its interaction with and taking hold of the mechanical dynamics of matter and the organic processes of life in the world of nature.
Actually the rational scientific analyses of the situation will not only be partial but also be distorted, because the human reason seeking to observe the situation is not unconditioned enough to see the full objective truth of the situation. Marx, Freud and Nietzche have proved that reason is conditioned by the unconscious urges of the individual or the collective self for power and self-justification in its self-alienated state and that they distort the truth. Therefore any rational knowledge to be true must overcome the self-alienation of human existence. Theological anthropology would agree with this but would add that it is too superficial to interpret the self-centredness in human beings as a mechanical disorder or as an organic maladjustment easily corrected by the mechanical or organic processes to come; and that the condition of rational objectivity also requires overcoming of the spiritual alienation of the self from God which is behind all psychic and social alienations. He who does the Will of God shall know. It is in this sense that Faith is a condition for true understanding.
2. The interpretation of the present nature of human beings in any situation, as “made in the image of God” and as “brothers for whom Christ died” should be as Persons-in-Relation and destined to become Persons-in-Loving-Community with each other in the context of the community of life on earth through the responsible exercise of the finite human freedom reconciled to God. Since the Christian Faith holds that as a law or an ideal, it is impossible of realization because of human alienation from God and that where it is realized even partially in history, it is realized as the result of the Divine Forgiveness freely given in Christ providing the motivation for mutual forgiveness among persons and peoples in their historical setting. “Forgive one another as the Lord forgave you”.
This leads Christian anthropology to a Moral Realism which recognizes the Human Community in the ultimate sense, like the human experience of friendship and love, is a gift of Divine Grace, and that therefore there is no final path towards it through technological, political or legal organization. What such organization can do is to make the structures of our corporate life more just, that is to say, able to check the forces of exploitation, corruption, tyranny and war and minimize their threat to human life and also maximize the space for mutual responsibility so as to receive the spiritual gift of communion. Moral Realism inherent in this approach is to avoid two absolutist positions of utopianism- one, the approach of political religions which seek to bring perfect community on earth through political action, which ends in tyranny because it asks the impossible from power-politics; and the other, a withdrawal from politics because it cannot bring perfect community on earth, which ends by tolerating the worst tyranny and oppression without resistance. Utopianism is based on the conviction that human beings can justify themselves before God without God’s saving Grace. This, to Christian Anthropology, is also quite unrealistic.
We humans are called to be involved in the use of imperfect means to realize less than perfect ends of justice which alone history offers. God’s covenant with Noah which asks fallen humanity to establish a society based on reverence for life and a legal justice that protects the innocent human beings from the murderer who is around; and God’s call to Moses to liberate the Israelite people from Pharaoh’s slavery; and God permitting monarchy with new perils of oligarchy to destroy the more human Tribal Federation to liberate the Israelites from the technically superior Philistines in Palestine; and Paul’s doctrine that the Roman State, which he knew had its role in crucifying Jesus. was ordained by God and given the “sword” to punish the evil and promote the good in society as His Minister of Justice (Rom. 13)- all these point out that politics of law and justice has a positive role in a sinful world in relation to the ultimate human destiny.
The State is indeed the reflection of human imperfection. Though a stateless society is the ultimate goal of human community. it is never put forth by Christian anthropology as a realistic possibility in history where sin and death exist. But since the State tends of become the Beast that makes war on the saints (Rev. 13), i.e. to become totalitarian, it needs the checks of tradition, law and judiciary as well as opposition and revolution, to keep it a servant of justice.
In fact one has the feeling that the New Testament sees realms of society and state as both capable of being transformed by the ferment of the church, the community of Divine forgiveness and the hope of the coming Kingdom, to become foretastes and signs of ultimate human destiny, namely the Kingdom of God.
3. Christian Faith has in it a positive affirmation of the human vocation of creativity. The calling to create, recreate and develop cultures arises out of the involvement and transcendence of the human self in relation to nature and to other human selves under God’s purpose. At the same time, since human creativity is involved in the spirit of self-alienation, creativity has in it the seeds of turning it into destructivity. Human shriti sakti is good but it tends to turn almost inevitably into samhara sakti which in history needs to be constantly checked by law and redeemed by Grace. Nicholas Berdyaev the Russian philosopher was most critical of the traditional Christian ethics which confined itself to the ethics of law and ethics of grace and ignored the ethics of creativity, while secular modernity to which Christian modernism succumbed, elevated the human vocation of creativity as supreme and as capable by itself of solving the problem of destructivity within it without the need of grace and even of law in the long run Anthropology got perverted on all sides by converting Creation into an order of static laws which are only to be obeyed and perfected by grace in Catholic thought and by getting validated for collective existence without criticism but to be rejected as totally irrelevant in the realm of existence in grace in Protestant thought.
This means that any society that is static or stagnant will be disturbed by the human spirit waking up to its vocation of creativity. Reinhold Niebuhr says that medieval religions and societal ordering under it in Europe could not comprehend the new creativity of Renaissance and Enlightenment and therefore had to break up. Marx and Engels emphasized the creativity of capitalism and prophesied that it would break down because it would soon become a fetter on production, that is, on further creativity. In fact Stalinism broke down in Eastern Europe partly for the reason that it became a fetter on production and other creativeness of human freedom. I have the feeling that so long as the Multinational Corporations remain the sole source of technological creativity, it is impossible to replace it however inhuman they become, unless a similar technical creativity is shown by an alternative human pattern of society.
Rammanohar Lohia used to compare the western spirit which had creativity but produced strife with the Indian spirit which was quite peaceful but produced stagnation. He was in search of a spirit which would enhance creativity without producing strife . It is simply unrealistic to speak of returning to a pre-modern tradition of community life lacking dynamism and creativity as an answer to the tragic perversion of the dynamism of modern technological and cultural creativeness. We have to go forward to a post-modern humanism that takes the dialectics of the human spirit at work in human creativity and destructivity more seriously. We have to build up structures of law which will control destructive uses of human creativity more effectively and conceive of new ways of relating the ferment of Grace to redeem human creativity from its perversions. At the same time we have to work towards a more humane alternative pattern of creative technological and social development. One hopes that this is possible within the framework of the movements of peoples like that of the dalits, the tribals, the fisherfolk and women who are today victims of modernity turned destructive.
4. Christian anthropology’s emphasis on human personhood fulfilling itself in interaction with persons, leads it to give priority to preserve and develop small-scale social institutions which enable face to face relations to promote personal values and humanize people. A Papal Encyclical calls it human ecology. Hannah Arendt writing on the Human Condition speaks of three elements which make the lives of people truly human- namely “social life in its plurality. ..relationship with the earth...and a relationship with time”, that is, the other, earthiness and sense of participation in contributing to a meaningful historical future. Only social institutions like the family, village and neighbourhood community and decentralization of modern big functional organizations like the State and Trade Union can provide them. This has been the emphasis of Gandhism. Therefore politics and economics should be seen as means to social development as the end, rather than reverse it as modern politics and economics tend to do.
Now, how do these anthropological insights apply to our Indian political situation, created by the new economic policy of Globalisation and Liberalization?
1. Firstly, Market-economy has made its contribution to economic growth in the world. Its contribution to economic creativity and dynamism cannot be denied. Christian anthropology as I have defined it does not allow us to oppose it for its utilization of self-interest and profit-motive. That would be succumbing to utopianism which I have rejected in the name of the Christian understanding of reality. In fact, it is the resurgence of the utopianism associated with the traditional laissez fare capitalism in the contemporary globalisation that we have to oppose as idolatrous in the name of Christian realism.
From its very beginning in Adam Smith the Free-market was set within the framework of an idolatrous utopianism, individualism and mechanistic world-view which were characteristic of the ideology of humanism that informed the political and economic movements of that period. According to Goudzward and Harry de Lange in their book Beyond Poverty and Affluence (WCC. 1995), ‘the fine working of the market is close to the heart of western society’s self-definition” and they speak about its underlying presuppositions thus: “Indeed for Smith, the market played a role in all forms of human progress. It stimulated industrial culture and desire to save. Moreover the market itself, led as if by an Invisible Hand ensured the participation of the poor in the expanding wealth....These premises ...are misleading in content, displaying the colours of the Enlightenment’s naive belief in human progress and a Deistic vision of society. They have in their undertone the mechanistic world-view that suggests that a good society must function like a machine whose operation is controlled by the laws of nature” (pp. 44-5). Ronald Preston who argues that the market is an efficient mechanism for the limited purpose of economic growth. and should be used as such by the Third world countries also, agrees that the original and continuing premises of the market was that “if each pursued his own advantage through the automatic device of the market, an Invisible Hand would ensure that the result was the promotion of the common good”. Further, he adds that it is bound to a “possessive individualism” which is clearly false. Preston comments, “It is important to separate (the premises) from the concept of the market as a useful mechanism for solving some economic problems if it was set within a different value commitment and an extensive structural framework” (Church and Society in the late 20th Century. 1983, p.42). According to him, the capacity of the market to maximize the productivity of relative scarce resources “above any other consideration” makes it useful if it is limited to that function and made to serve other considerations through State control of it. He says: “The institution of market needs to be put into a fine political framework. Left to itself it is cruel and callous”. He adds, “In short, the market is a human device set up to serve human purposes, to be servant and not master. We must not bow down to the idol we ourselves have created. It is a political decision as to which areas of economic life are left to the impersonal verdict of the market and which to be decided by public discussion, as it also is to decide the broad parameters of economic guidelines within which the economy has to operate. No government however devoted to laissez fare can escape that responsibility” (pp. 114-5).
Preston’s almost looks like Jawaharlal’s economic policy. But in the present policy of globalisation and liberalization the function of the state is only to make the climate safe for the market and withdraw almost completely from the realm of economic goals, leaving the market alone to determine them. This means that economic goals like liquidation of poverty and unemployment, distribution of welfare, narrowing the gulf between the rich and the poor, people’s participation in the economic process, accountability of economic centres to the people, economic self-sufficiency and similar other economic purposes are jeopardized because the market is not concerned with them. M.A. Oommen says that globalisation achieves along with economic growth, globalisation of poverty.
More importantly, issues of ecological justice, and justice to the weaker sections of society and specifically development of social institutions cannot be taken up by the economy directed only by the market-profit mechanism.
As Rajni Kothari points out, high-tech industrialism under the market system (one should add, within the framework of individualist and mechanistic ideology) not only globalises pollution of soil, air and water but especially also it “leads to a wanton exploitation of the natural resource base of the country, especially based on the forest and the sea. In human terms, this has a disastrous consequence for certain groups of people like the tribals, scheduled castes, traditional fishermen and such other groups who depend on them to eke out a living... They would also be torn away from their natural roots as well as from their community and cultural ties - producing in them a sense of isolation” (Quoted from ISA Journal Dec. 94). The social objectives of the peoples are destroyed for the sake of economic growth.
It is here that the state as the organ of the whole national community has to intervene rather than withdraw. As C.T. Kurien has written, the State has to discipline capital both domestic and international if capital is not to discipline the state to serve its purposes; and for it the State needs not only political power but also some economic power derived from public corporations. Today Manmohan and Rao have surrendered the state to the ideology of the free-market with the backing of the greedy middle class (which includes also a good part of the organized working class) who have coopted Indian Nationalism to serve their vested interests.
Where then is the source of power to discipline the nation-state and through it the national and transnational capital in the name of social justice? The peoples’ movements of dalits, tribals, fisherfolk and women in India are too feeble politically to make a dent. But it is possible that such movements acquire a transnational character, because the problem we encounter in globalisation is world-wide.
In fact this has been evident in the Copenhagen summit on Social Development. The reports on the Summit indicate that the market economics of the G7-TNC-IMF-WB-WTO combination dominates through their “global governance” not only the political UN but also the UN Special Agencies for social development and justice like ILO,UNESCO,FAO, Commissions on Human Rights, Women’s Development, Indigenous People etc for their goal of economic growth.
The seeds of a transnational opposition to that dominance is also present in the world situation. Perhaps the time of relevance of the nation-state is past with the smaller micro-units of peoples within the nations and the transnational united peoples expressing their political awakening in relation to each other in new ways of mutual protection.