Chapter 14: The Christian Contribution to an Indian Philosophy of Being and Becoming Human

The Church’s Mission and Post-Modern Humanism
by M. M. Thomas

Chapter 14: The Christian Contribution to an Indian Philosophy of Being and Becoming Human

Based on a talk given at a Consultation on Christian Contribution to Indian Philosophy held at the Catholic Seminary in Madras in 1994 under the joint auspices of the Seminary and the Indian Philosophic Association. Published in Christian Contribution to Indian Philosophy, ed. Anand Amaladass SJ, Madras 1995.


The process of modernization of religious traditions is a contemporary social reality in India. The Christian contribution in this context should be in relation to the struggle of India to develop, through dialogue among the many religions, cultures and philosophies, a body of common insights about being and becoming human, that is, a common framework of humanism which will humanize the spirit of modernity and the process of modernization.

Modernity is represented by three forces- first, the revolution in the relation of humanity to nature, signified by science and technology; second, the revolutionary changes in the concept of justice in the social relations between fellow human beings indicated by the self-awakening of all oppressed and suppressed humans to their fundamental human rights of personhood and peoplehood, especially to the values of liberty and equality of participation in power and society; thirdly, the break-up of the traditional integration of state and society with religion, in response to religious pluralism on the one hand and the affirmation of the autonomy of the secular realm from the control of religion on the other’.

These forces of modernity have enhanced human creativity in many directions. But since they have been interpreted onesidely in the context of a mechanical materialist world-view, they have also become sources of destructivity and dehumanization. Technology has produced technocracy and totalitarian planning destructive of personhood and ecology. Revolutions devour their own children and produce new oppression. Secularization becomes closed secularism. And so on. Now that the destructive aspects of modernization have become pronounced in the world of the second half of the 20th century, questions regarding a more holistic philosophy and an alternative paradigm of modernization have been universally raised. It is with a view to humanize technology and social revolt as well as religious pluralism and secularism in the modem world. It is in relation to this contemporary historical challenge faced by all religions, all metaphysics and philosophies, and all secular ideologies, dialogue among them has relevance. And it is in relation to the ensuing dialogue about a genuine Indian Humanism that does justice to the mechanical, organic and spiritual dimensions of humanness and social history, that a Christian contribution to Indian philosophy acquires importance.

The basis of the Christian contribution is the faith that the crucified Jesus Christ by mediating divine forgiveness to all humans in the solidarity of their sinfulness, has made possible mutual forgiveness between persons and peoples and has brought into being in history a new human communion (Koinonia), transcending all religious, cultural and natural diversities and divisions. “Have put on the new humanity...where there is neither Greek nor Jew, neither circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, sythian, slave nor free (neither male nor female- Gal. 3.28)...Forgiving one another as the Lord forgave you(Col. 3.10-13.).

The communion/community is symbolized sacramentally by the fellowship of the Church of Christ at the Lord’s Table. But it is not bound by the organized church. It is a ferment universally present for the renewal of all communities, opening them to each other before God, in a mutuality of forgiveness and justice. This will enable them to build the common framework of a genuine Secular Humanism and an open secular culture of mutual dialogue, about building a richer and fuller humanness in community life.

It is significant that Vatican II (and also the Uppsala Assembly of the World Council of Churches) defines the church as the sacramental sign of the unity of all humanity, and also speaks of the presence of the Paschal Mystery among all peoples (see Decree on the Church, and the document on the Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World) This approach assumes that in Christianity, acknowledgment of Salvation (understood as the transcendent ultimate destiny of human beings) finds expression and witness in the universal struggle for Humanization (understood as the penultimate human destiny) in world history which is shaped not only by the forces of goodness and life, but also by the forces of evil and death. In fact, the nature of the penultimate historical goal of humanization within the hope of ultimate salvation, is the theme of moral philosophy in the Christian religion. Christianity in its more pietist, fundamentalist and conventional expressions, has confined its attention largely to the ultimate spiritual salvation forgetting its temporal witness in charitable social service and more than that, in social action to bring about justice in social structures. On the other hand, traditional Christian moral philosophies have been reluctant to recognize the creative positive aspects of the forces of modern technology and social change under the auspices of Secular Humanism. Both these have resulted in Christianity leaving the field of ethics of modernization to secularistic ideologies which reject the very idea of the transcendent spiritual dimension of human existence and pursue a reductionist interpretation of reality.

It is this situation that is sought to be remedied by Christian Ecumenism by its emphasis on Humanization as an essential aspect of Salvation (see M.M. Thomas, Salvation and Humanization 1971)

Neo-Hinduism has been involved in a similar endeavour of relating the Historical and the Ultimate in the context of the impact of modernity. In traditional Hinduism artha, kama, dharma and moksha are recognized as purusharthas, goals of life. But traditional Hindu metaphysics, as P.T. Raju points out, has been preoccupied with moksha, the ultimate realization of oneness and equality of all in the Spirit, mostly forgetting that it is necessary to bring witness of oneness and equality within the social structures created for the human pursuit of wealth (artha), temporal happiness (kama) and duty (dharma). The equality at the paramarthika level of moksha was allowed to coexist with rigid inequality of the caste-structure in the vyavaharika levels of artha, kama and dharma, without even a tension between the two levels.

It is this compartmentalization of the ultimate spiritual and the historical social which Swami Vivekananda condemned as Pharisaic. In fact the whole history of the Neo-Hindu movements from Raja Rammohan Roy to Gandhi, Tagore and Radhakrishnan may be seen as an attempt to relate paramarthika level of salvation with the vyvahariaka level of social structures and goals (see M.M.T. Acknowledged Christ of the Indian Renaissance 1969).

The secularist ideologies of history like Liberalism and Marxism in their attempt to deal with the destructiveness which appeared in the process of modernization under their auspices, have been forced to give up something of their closed character and to open themselves to recognize, not only the conditional character of rationality but also the tragic contradiction in the spirit of human self-transcendence itself. For instance, Neo-Marxism became aware, after Stalinism, of sources of self-alienation beyond class, in the State, bureaucracy and technology, and beyond them in some cases in the human spirit itself. This was clear in the thought of Ernest Bloch and others of Eastern Europe even before the disintegration of the socialist regimes of the region.

All these show that ours is a historical context conducive, not only to inter-religious but also to religion-ideology dialogues on building a common body of insights about being and becoming human - a dialogue in which Christianity can make a contribution from its idea of reconciliation of humanity and the creation of a Secular Koinonia across religions, cultures and ideologies.  Christian contribution to Indian Anthropology may be marginal, but it need not be insignificant. In the reverse, the ways in which other religions and secular ideologies grapple with the truth and meaning of the humanity of Jesus Christ can help in developing a truly indigenous Indian Christology and Christianity (M.M.T. The Secular Ideologies of India and the Secular Meaning of Christ 1976).

Actually, it was the leaders of the 19th century Indian Renaissance and the political thinkers in the ideological leadership of the 20th centary Indian Nationalism who grappled with the person and teachings of Jesus Christ and assimilated the essence of Christian humanism into the religious and secular thought of modern India. Natarajan in A Century of Social Reform points out that the fear of Christianity has been the beginning of social wisdom in Hinduism. But certainly it was not merely the fear of Christian proselytism but also the intrinsic love and appeal of the person of Jesus Christ and Christian values, especially the Cross of Christ as the symbol of God’s identification with suffering and oppressed humanity, that led to the redefinition of the traditional Hindu spirituality, philosophy and social ethics. And it was in this setting that Indian Christians and Churches began to get concerned about a relevant Christian contribution to Indian philosophical and theological thought through inter-faith dialogue.

Of course, it is not merely professional thinkers. Hindu, Secular and Christian who have contributed to the Christianization/Humanization of Indian religion, ideology and philosophy in the light of the Crucified Christ, but also the local Christian congregations which in their worship and sacramental life, demonstrated a pattern of corporate life of fellowship, transcending traditional caste division impelled by their new sense of being made brethren through the death of Christ on the Cross. The Lord’s Table open to people of different castes and tribes and sexes challenged the traditional spirituality that divided peoples into the ritually pure and impure and thereby supported social structures of caste, sex and other discriminations. It does not mean that the church congregations did not make compromises with such structures themselves. They did. But they also promoted a spiritual vision and practice and challenged them, thereby acting as a transforming ferment in the larger society. In fact, the vision of Peter that God in Christ had destroyed purity-impurity divide between Jew and Gentile (Acts 10) was a turning point in the early church to build a new koinonia transcending religions. It is the extension of it in India in the idea and practice of the churches in the Indian village and city that challenged absolutising the traditional casteist, sexist and other structures of Indian society as divinely ordained. It had tremendous appeal not only to the outcaste, the tribal and the woman, but also to the nationally awakened Indian intellectual who saw in Christ the source of a new universal humanism.

I must hasten to add that Christianity has also introduced into Indian religious and secular philosophy the idea of Messianism that is, the idea of a Messiah who would bring history to fulfillment. Such Messianism, if interpreted outside the framework of the idea of the suffering crucified Servant, would naturally develop a historical dynamism with the idea of Messiah as Conquering King seeking power through aggression. In fact Christianity itself has often in its history succumbed to the Messianism of the Conquering King rather than of the crucified servant Christ. Christian communalism is an expression of it in India. The dangerous consequence of the impact of the Messianism of conquest introduced into India by the Semitic religions is that Hinduism has absorbed it and produced Hindutva, with its idea of Hindu communalism and Hindu Rashtra threatening secularism which is the foundation of national unity in our context of religious pluralism. Unless the Crucified Jesus is emphasized as the central symbol of Christian messianism, the contribution of Christianity to Indian philosophy may be the intensification of a philosophy of history which posits totalitarian statism of a religious or secularist kind as its goal (MMT. Man and the universe of Faiths, 1975).