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Ethical Issues in the Struggles for Justice by Daniel Chetti and M.P. Joseph


Daniel Chetti is Director of Programmes at the South Asia Theological Research Institute (SATHRI), Bangalore, India. M. P. Joseph teaches Ethics at the United Theological College, Bangalore, India. Published by The Christava Sahitya Samiti, Cross Junction, Tiruvalla 689 101, Kerala, in collaboration with The Board of Theological Text books Programe in South Asia, Copyright 1998. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.


Introduction, by M. P. Joseph


This volume, collectively produced by friends and students of Rev. Dr. K. C. Abraham, is to do him honor and express our deep gratitude for his leadership and contribution to both theological and social thinking in India and abroad. Kuruvilla C. Abraham, popularly known as K. C. Abraham (and KC to his friends) is an eminent theologian and one of the most talented ecumenical leaders and teachers that India has given to the world. Starting his ecumenical journey as the Youth Movement Secretary of the Church of South India, KC provided a new perspective to the Christian youth and challenged them to encounter the gospel in its totality. As a presbyter of the church in later years, KC reiterated the need for the total witness of gospel, and invited the church members and his fellow clergy to experience the liberative dimension of faith. During his time as a researcher at the Christian Institute for the Study of Religion and Society, KC initiated new avenues of research exploring the space where ideology and faith intersect to activate a process of social change. This research found an embodiment in the action programme of the St. Marks Cathedral in Bangalore when KC joined them as their presbyter. The Cathedral attempted to rediscover the meaning and practice of mission by identifying themselves with the poor and the marginalized in the city. KCís involvement with the Ecumenical Christian Centre was considered to be unique because of a shift in orientation that he initiated at the Centre. Instead of being limited in its programme being only a conference centre, ECC was transformed into being a centre for learning and action for the various peopleís movements. This shift in orientation can be attributed to the theological approach that KC has pursued throughout his illustrious career.

Though his leadership and contribution to the ecumenical and theological worlds are both unique and varied, he is most revered as a gifted theological teacher and writer. While guaranteeing an impeccable academic foundation and excellence for the doctoral degree programme of the Senate of Serampore, KC provided a genuine leadership to introduce an interdisciplinary approach to theological studies. The SATHRI doctorate is unique among those of the many theological institutions around the globe, because of its interdisciplinary approach incorporated in their research methodology.

Many of the contributors to this volume are members of the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians. Their participation is an expression of gratitude to its president who raised the association into becoming a formidable force to contend with in the contemporary theological world.

His wife, Dr. Molly Abraham, a trained medical practitioner, excelled herself in the field of social action. Her initiatives to provide care for the differently-abled children in Bangalore corresponds to the theological challenges that the Abrahams have taken up throughout their research and teaching careers.

KCís wholistic approach to the Gospel is a reflection of his understanding of theology. Therefore, any attempt to identify KC with one area of discourse will be limiting. Nevertheless, one may find four major areas of debates to which KC has offered new depth of meanings: 1) Re-definition of mission, 2) Theological and ethical articulation of ecological concerns, 3) Faith response to caste and, communalism, and 4) Ethics and economics with special attention to the question of poverty and development. All these debates reveal a deep concern for the freedom and liberation of the poor and the marginalized and are thus commonly referred to under the rubric of liberation theology. His passion for justice knows no bounds.

An ethical critique of globalization and the emerging global economic forces have received special attention in KCís recent writings. He has observed that the marginalization of women, racial/ethnic/minorities, Dalits, the poor, children, elderly and the sick, in short the majority of the people the world over, has escalated with the spread of the forces of globalization. There are basically two crises that we face at the present time: 1) A crisis of meaning, and 2) a crisis of faith.

Crisis of Meaning

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Herschel in one of his monumental treatises on the Sabbath argues that in a technological culture people expend time to occupy things in space. The Creation narrative, however, explicitly points out that time is holy. Holiness of time was introduced as a principle of equality. Nobody could make boundaries and own holy time. Time provides equal participation and equal enrichment. Marginalization has no scope in the concept of time. The Sabbath, according to the narratives, is the celebration of holy time and hence is a demand to practice equality. "You, your son or daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident shall observe Sabbath." Those differences are not pleasing to God. Therefore, the created world is advised to transcend these differences to celebrate the holiness of time and thereby participating in the holiness of God. The celebration of equality is what time has to offer.

Contrary to the concept of time, the concept of space denotes inequality. Those who claim ownership of space marginalize others. When a specified space is identified as holy, those who have the ability to maintain a control over that space alienate others from experiencing holiness. The practice of purity and pollution as a conceptual framework to maintain caste divisions finds its rationale in identifying space (and things) as holy. Those who are deprived of access to such space and things are destined to lead a life of exclusion. The operational principles for the marginalization of women from society and religion also find its justification within the concept of holy space. When the concept of time demands and guarantees equality, holiness in space justifies inequality.

Globalization is a culture of space, where we exchange or transfer time for things that could occupy space. What counts as valuable in society under the ethos of globalization are only things that could occupy space, that is, commodities and money.

Globalization of the present type is fundamentally a market process where the primacy of space is accepted. Market survives because of its ability to convert all realities into commodifiable things. Therefore, in a market society, people, land, knowledge, faith, religion, our abilities for creating pleasure and other faculties are transformed into things that occupy space. Moreover, things in space are measured on a valueís scale of money. The value of everything, including that of a person, is counted in terms of money. What we have determines what we are. Having determines the being. If we have nothing, we are nothing. Value and reality itself have been monetized.

This means that those realities which refuse to assume or submit themselves to be valued in monetary terms as commodities have no place in society. This could be considered to be one of the major ethical crises of globalization. Meaning is determined by the measure of commodities and money and that amounts to a total loss of meaning to life. The concept of freedom, equality, compassion, heteronomy and other rich meaning systems have lost their legitimacy and spiritual strength within the prevailing market principle. People who are lower on the economic and social valuation have become redundant. They are considered as being expendable in the global economic process.

Crisis of Faith

The concept and practice of space also manifests a deep crisis in our faith. Within the commodity culture those realities that refuse to assume the form of things, forfeit their value. Only things that occupy space have any value. This means that the reality of God has to appear from within the form of things to make its presence known. Turning God into an idol is one of the demands of commoditization. The value and power of divinity are measured according to the measurable categories at the present time. The measurable could be the number of people who are healed or the amount of material blessings that are bestowed upon, and so on. The measurable is that of space and not of time. And only that which is measurable has value and acceptance.

As Fr. Kappen has prophetically reminded us the cultural expression of the market process is the. worship of an "ungod". An ungod who will be often invoked for material blessings, for the legitimation of hegemonic power. hierarchical structures and exploitative economic, social and religious relationships. This ungod will not be disturbed when death and injustice prevail as the order of the time. This ungod is a re-creation of the god of Pharaoh. The Exodus narratives observed that the god of Pharaoh provided legitimacy to a flourishing economy of their times. They have more numbers to quote than the emerging global economy of the present time. The growth in their treasure cities, Pithom and Rameses, was faster than that of New York and they sought priority of space over time. Therefore, exploitation and slavery was found to be acceptable for the sacred.

The God of Moses, on the other hand, was a critique of that perverted form of the sacred. Moses rejected the god which was part of a system of space and provided justification for slavery. Moses instead offered a new language of divinity after negating the existing concepts of the sacred. To Moses, the god of Pharaoh was a god of space. This newness of language led the slaves to the realization of freedom and liberation.

This is the function of theology in our times for which KC has given leadership. Like the priests in Pharaohís courts, traditional theology had assumed the burden of re-defining the god concept in order to satisfy material wants and self interests, the wants of body and the greed for power and wealth. KC reminds us that to be spiritual is to profess the God of life, God of justice and the God of righteousness. This is a celebration of the holy time and the principles of equality and community. This celebration is a new politics of our time. This is the politics of meaning through which we attempt to embody the face of God in the face of the people around the globe. Life of the other, particularly the marginalized will assume priority in our decisions.

We submit this volume in honour of our friend and teacher, Dr. K.C. Abraham, with the hope that the debate in this volume will lead to the strengthening of our search for a newness in language. Recalling the practical recommendation of John Cobb for an ecologically sensitive praxis, one may argue that there are at least three steps towards identifying a newness in faith language.

(1) The recognition that something is wrong in history. The Human Development Report of 1998 observed that well over a billion people are deprived of basic consumption needs. Of the 4.4 billion people in developing countries, nearly three-fifths lack basic sanitation. Almost a third have no access to clean water. Worldwide, two billion people are anæmic, including 55 million in industrialized countries. The report does not shy away from exposing the reasons for this colossal depravity. "When 20% of the rich accounts for 86% of total private consumption expenditure, the poorest 20% a minuscule 1.3%. Marginalization of the majority from the resources of this created world is sign of a deep crisis in the body politic of our society" It is also important to accept that most of the present problems, poverty, ecological destruction, gender and caste marginalization and other issues are interrelated.

(2) The second act is to create a consciousness, that the present form of crisis has evolved from human actions and is not divinely ordained. The marginalization of people and nature is due to our insistence on worshipping a deformed god presented by a deformed society. Since these are human creations, people have the responsibility to correct it or change it. The engagement to practice the social condition of our time is therefore a theological priority.

(3) And thirdly, theological discourses need to create a sense of hope. a hope that there is a new history ahead of us, and is possible. To hold the present as eternal is anti-divine. Humanity is not simply trapped in the present stage of perversion but has a future. That is the promise of God.

The rediscovery and articulation of the holiness of time by rejecting the claims of holiness bound in space is the challenge and task of our times.

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