Neighbour Love (Luke 10.25-37)

September 12, 2014

To a question of a lawyer of the Jewish law about inheriting eternal life, Jesus answers him with another question about the teaching of the law on inheriting eternal life. The scholar of the Jewish law answers by saying one should love their God and love their neighbour. Jesus appreciates him for giving the right answer. When he asks him to go and do this, the lawyer asks Jesus another question, “Who is my neighbour?” (Lk. 10.29).

Doesn’t the scholar of the law know who his neighbour is? Of course, he knows who his God is, and who his neighbour is. According to Leviticus 19.17-18 neighbour means a fellow Israelite or a fellow member of the covenant community. However, the law to “love your neighbour as yourself” is extended to include the resident alien or resident foreigner (Lev. 19.33-34). Therefore, for a Jew, a neighbor is a fellow Jew and a resident foreigner. A Jew knows who his neighbour is. So there are set boundaries or limits to a Jew’s duty or neighbourly love.

The lawyer is confident that he has fulfilled the commandment. So in order to “justify” – to show himself righteous and acceptable to God – he asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbour?” (Lk. 10.29).

To this question, Jesus answers with a question after telling the parable of a compassionate Samaritan, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” (Lk. 10.36). The lawyer answers correctly, “The one who showed him mercy” (Lk. 10.37). This means by doing your duty or by doing your loving act you easily discover who your neighbour is. He/she towards whom I have a duty or an obligation to show neighbourly love is my neighbour, and when I fulfill my duty I prove that I am a neighbour.

Jesus does not speak about recognizing your neighbour, but being a neighbour yourself, about proving yourself to be a neighbour, as the Samaritan did by showing compassion.

Finding a friend or a partner is a hard and time-consuming job. But finding a neighbour or recognizing a neighbour is easy – if you yourself recognize your duty and be a neighbour.

Samaritan in the parable knew his duty when he saw a wounded person lying by the roadside. His compassion, not the identity of the wounded person, moved him to act. Identity of the “wounded person” is immaterial for neighbourly love. A neighbour is unlike one’s spouse or friend. A spouse or a friend is chosen on the basis of preference – education, complexion, social status, economic status …. However, a neighbour is not someone of higher social status, and you love him because he has higher social status. Or a neighbour is not someone of inferior social status, and you love him because he is inferior to you. No, a neighbour is every person, for on the basis of preference or distinctions he/she is not your neighbour. He/she is your neighbour on the basis of equality with you before God.

The fundamental equality in love lies in the category of neighbour. The one who is in need and the one who responds to the need come under the category of “neighbour”. Thus, there is horizontal relationship between both of them. This relationship is unlike the relationship between patron, the one who “gives”, and client, the one who “receives”, in the Greco-Roman society. Here the relationship is vertical, and because of that the client is obligated to the patron and the patron has power over the client. This is not so in the relationship between “neighbours”, where neighbourly love binds them. Both the “giver” and the “receiver” are neighbours and so are equal.

In a sense neighbourly love is blind. Perfection in the object (i.e. to whom you show neighbourly love) has nothing to do with perfection of love. Precisely because one’s neighbour has none of the attributes or credentials which the spouse, friend or an admired person may have. For that very reason love to one’s neighbour has all the perfections which other “loves”, such as love towards spouse or love towards a friend, do not have. Love to one’s neighbour is the most perfect love. It is determined by love and no other criteria. Since your neighbour is unconditionally every person, all distinctions are removed from the object of love. Your neighbour is absolutely unrecognisable between one person and another. It is eternal equality before God.

To love one’s neighbour, therefore, means essentially to will to exist equally for every human being without exception. Then whether you meet a rich person or a poor person, an educated or an illiterate, belongs to same religion or not, belongs to same caste or not – whatever his/her “outer garment” may be – you see them unconditionally equal – as neighbour.

Same Road, But Different Roads

Life is metaphorically compared to a road (Mt. 7.13-14; Ps. 1.1; Jer. 21.8). When life is compared to a road, the metaphor expresses the universal, that which everyone who is alive has in common by being alive. To that extent we are all walking along the road of life and are all walking along the same road. But when living becomes a matter of truth, then the question becomes: How one ought to walk along the road of life. The important thing is, not the road of life, but the road one walks along the road of life. In other words, the road is how the road of life is walked. This road is unlike the physical road. The physical road is external to the person who is walking on the road. However a person walks – whether keeping his head high or low, joyfully or sorrowfully, fast or slow- the road remains same and the road exists. But not the road of virtue. We can not point to the road of virtue and say: There is the road of virtue. Road of virtue does not exist outside of a person. The road of virtue exists only when a person walks on the road of virtue. We can only show the road of virtue by walking along the road of virtue, and if anyone refuses to walk along that road, he is walking along another road.

All the five persons – traveler, robbers, priest, Levite, and Samaritan – walked along the same road, i.e. the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. But each one walked his own road. The highway makes no difference, it is the spiritual – how they walked the road of life – that makes the difference and distinguishes the road.

In the parable, the first man was a peaceful traveler who walked along the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, along a lawful road. The second man was a robber (robbers) who walked along the same road, but on an unlawful road. Then a priest walked along the same road, saw the wounded traveler, but walked on a road of indifference. The Levite came along the same road, he too saw the wounded traveler, but walked on a road of indifference. Finally a Samaritan came along the same road, saw the wounded traveler, and walked on a road of mercy. He showed by example, how to walk along the road of life. The Samaritan demonstrated the road of a neighbour.

Therefore, a neighbour is determined by how a person walks along the road of life, or along which road he/she walks the road of life.

 

 

 

Source

 

Charles E. Moore, ed., Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard (Farmington, PA: The Bruderhof Foundation, 2002).

Christ Has No Doctrine

September 11, 2014

By Soren Kierkegaard

A true believer is infinitely interested in what is real. For faith this is decisive, and this interestedness does not just involve a little curiosity but an absolute dependence on the object of faith.

The object of faith, understood Christianly, is not a doctrine, for then the relation is merely intellectual. Neither is the object of faith a teacher who has a doctrine, for when a teacher has a doctrine, then the doctrine is more important than the teacher. The object of faith is the actuality and authority of the teacher; that the teacher actually is. Therefore faith’s answer is absolutely either yes or no. Faith’s posture is not in relation to a teaching, whether it is true or not, but is the answer to the question about a fact: Do you accept as fact that he, the Teacher, actually exists? Please note that the answer to this is a matter of infinite concern. Of course, if the object of faith is only a human being, then the whole thing is a sham. But this is not the case for Christians. The object of Christian faith is God’s historical existence, that is, that God at a certain point in time existed as an individual human being.

Christianity, therefore, is not a doctrine about the unity of the divine and the human, not to mention the rest of the logical paraphrases of typical religious thought. Christianity is not a doctrine but a fact: God came into existence through a particular human being at a particular point in history.

Christianity is not to be confused with objective or scientific truth. When Christ came into the world it was difficult to become a Christian, and for this reason one did not become preoccupied with trying to understand it. Now we have almost reached the parody that to become a Christian is nothing at all, but it is a difficult and very involved task to understand it. Everything is reversed. Christianity is transformed into a kind of worldview, a way of thinking about life, and the task of faith consists in understanding and articulating it. But faith essentially relates itself to existence, and becoming a Christian is what is important. Believing in Christ and wanting to “understand” his way by articulating it and elaborating on it is actually a cowardly evasion that wants to shirk the task. To become a Christian is the ultimate, to want to “understand” Christianity, as if it were some doctrine, is open to suspicion.

That one can know what Christianity is without being a Christian is one thing. But whether one can know what it is to be a Christian without being one is something else entirely. And this is the problem of faith. One can find no greater dubiousness than when, by the help of “Christianity,” it is possible to find Christians who have not yet become Christians.

Faith, therefore, and the object of faith is not a lesson for slow learners in the sphere of knowledge, an asylum for the ignorant. Faith exists in a sphere of its own. The immediate identifying mark of every misunderstanding of Christianity is that faith is changed into a belief and drawn into the range of intellectuality – a matter of understanding, of knowledge. Infinite interestedness in the actuality and authority of the Teacher, absolute commitment, becoming Christian – that is the sole passion and object of faith.

The Folly of Proving God’s Existence

September 11, 2014

“The fool says in his heart that there is no God, but he who says in his heart or to others: Just wait a little and I will prove it to you – ah, what a rare wise man he is! If, at the moment he is supposed to begin the demonstration, it is not totally undecided whether God exists or not, then, of course, he cannot demonstrate it. And if that is the situation in the beginning, then he will never make a beginning – partly for fear that he will not succeed, because God may not exist, and partly because he has nothing with which to begin.

“In short, to demonstrate the existence of someone who already exists is the most shameless assault. It is an attempt to make him ludicrous. The trouble is that one does not even suspect this, that in dead seriousness one even regards it as a godly undertaking. How could it occur to anyone to demonstrate that God exists unless one has already allowed himself to ignore him?

“A king’s existence is demonstrated by way of subjection and submissiveness. Do you want to try and demonstrate that the king exists? Will you do so by offering a string of proofs, a series of arguments? No. If you are serious, you will demonstrate the king’s existence by your submission, by the way you live. And so it is with demonstrating God’s existence. It is accomplished not by proofs but by worship. Any other way is but a thinker’s pious bungling.”

Love – The More Excellent Way (I Cor. 13.1-7)

September 8, 2014

After the argument in I Cor. 12.4-30 about the gifts of the spirit and various ministries, I Cor. 12.31 starts with an imperative: “Strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.” Notice I Cor. 14.1 also starts with an imperative: “Pursue love and strive for the spiritual gifts….”

Here Paul is not presenting love as the greater gift that all should pursue. Paul never calls love as a gift. He is not contrasting love with the gifts mentioned in I Cor. 12.4-30.

What Paul intends to explain is what he calls “an excellent way” (I Cor. 12.31), a way that is beyond comparison. Why is Paul intending to explain this “excellent way”? In order to know this, we need to understand the context.

A. The Context
Corinthians have given the gift of speaking in tongues an exalted position. Since they were speaking in tongues they considered themselves possessing the spirit and highly spiritual. Paul says, this way they are going is basically destructive to the church as a community. Because speaking in tongues without interpretation edifies only the speaker, but not the community.

Paul sets out to put their zeal for tongues within a broader ethical context that will ultimately disallow uninterpreted tongues in the assembly. That context is love, as defined by the cross of Christ as existing or living for others (this is what we learned yesterday). In I Cor. chapter 14 such love is specified in terms of “building up” the church.

Paul calls this the “more excellent way”. It is the way of seeking the common good (I Cor. 12.7), of edifying the church (I Cor. 14.1-5). That means one should seek or desire for spiritual gifts for the benefit of the community. Since love is acted out by Jesus Christ on the cross as living for others (II Cor. 5.14-15), love is the only context for exercising spiritual gifts. Without love, spiritual gifts are useless, or lose their purpose.

B. Description of the “Excellent Way”
Paul begins his description of “the way that is beyond comparison” with a series of three conditional sentences. He begins with tongues because that is a cause for the problem in the church. He then includes a variety of spiritual gifts from the list in I Cor. chapter 12: Prophecy, understanding, knowledge and faith. Finally he includes examples of self-sacrificial deeds.

In each case the conditional clause presupposes that the activity like speaking in tongues, prophecy etc., has value. These are good things. What is not good is the exercise of gifts by a person who is not acting as described in I Cor. 13.4-7. The problem is the person whose life is not governed by love.

What is underlying here is two opposing views on what it means to be “spiritual”. For the Corinthians it meant speaking in tongues, wisdom and knowledge, without corresponding or equal concern for truly Christian behaviour. Their spirituality showed evidence of all kinds of behavioural flaws. Their “knowledge” led to pride (8.1). Their wisdom led to quarrels and rivalry (1.10; 3.4). That means, theirs was a spirituality that lacked the primary evidence of spirit, that is, behaviour that could be described as “having love”. For Paul, to be “spiritual” means to be filled by the spirit, whose fundamental expression is “to walk in love”.
When Paul says “do not have love”, he does not mean to suggest that love is a possession of some kind. To “have love” means to “act lovingly”. To “act lovingly” means actively to seek the benefit of others as expressed by the cross of Christ.

The Character of Love (I Cor 13.4-7)

With a series of fifteen verbs Paul describes the love that should be the context for exercising spiritual gifts. In other words, Paul describes the Christian behaviour. Exercising spiritual gifts is good. But it is imperative that the one who exercises spiritual gifts should have the Christian behaviour as described in 13.4-7.

“Patient” “kind” “envious” “boastful” “arrogant” “rude” “irritable” and “resentful” are verbs. Verbs denote action. For Paul love is not a sentiment. It is an act.

The description of love in 13.4-7 is basically in three parts: it begins with two positive expressions of love (patient and kind); these are followed by seven verbs expressing what love is not (envious, boastful, arrogant, rude, insists on its own way, irritable, resentful); these are followed by what love does not do (“love does not rejoice in wrong doing”), which is balanced by its positive counterpart (“love rejoices in the truth” v.6); finally there are four verbs (bear, believe, hope and endure) with the object “all things”. The last verb “endure” is a synonym of the first one “patient”.

1. In I Cor. 13.4 Paul uses two verbs positively: “patient” and “kind” (I Cor. 13.4)

Patience means “long forbearance”. Kindness means active goodness toward others. In Rom. 2.4 these are mentioned as the attributes of God. “Patience” and “kindness” appear together also as fruit of the Spirit in Gal. 5.22. They appear also in the description of Paul’s apostolic ministry in II Cor. 6.6.

In I Tim. 1.12-16 Paul succinctly describes how he experienced God patience and kindness in his life.

This is what we all have experienced. And this is what we are asked to show towards others.

2. In I Cor. 13.4-5 Paul uses seven verbs negatively: “envious”, “boastful”, “arrogant”, “rude”, “insists on its own way”, “irritable” and “resentful”. These verbs describe how love does not behave.

The first five verbs: “envious”, “boastful”, “arrogant”, “rude” and “insists on its own way” are the qualities of the Corinthians at present. It is as though Paul were saying, “You must have love; without it you are simply not behaving as Christians. And what is love? It is to behave in ways opposite to the way you are behaving now.”

a. “Love does not envy”
The adjective “envy” appears along with “quarrelling” in I Cor. 3.3 to denote rivalry found in the Corinthian church. Paul says, love does not allow fellow believers to be in rivalry or competition, either for positions or to gain favour of people or leaders.

b. Love does not boast
“Boasting” suggests self-centered actions in which there is an excessive desire to call attention to oneself. That means, it is not possible to love and boast at the same time. Boasting wants others to think highly of oneself, whereas love cares for the good of others.

c. Love is not arrogant
The verb literally means “puffed up”. This word is used more in this letter (I Cor. 4.6, 18-19; 5.2; 8.1).

d. Love is not rude
The verb means “to behave shamefully or disgracefully”.

e. Love does not insist on its own way (love is not self-seeking)
Love seeks the good of others.

f. Love is not irritable (love is not easily angered)
The one who loves is not easily provoked to anger. This is a further expression of patience or forbearance.

g. Love is not resentful (Love keeps no records of wrongs)
Literally it says that love “does not reckon/consider the evil”. Although it might mean “love does not devise evil against someone else”, most likely, the meaning here is “love does not consider the evil done against him/her, in the sense, no records are kept to settle the score.”

3. “Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth” (I Cor. 13.6)

The Greek word adikia means “injustice”, “wrong”, “falsehood”, “deceitfulness”. It literally means “love does not rejoice in injustice.” Love does not rejoice either in doing injustice to others, or in seeing injustice done to others.

Rather, love rejoices in the truth. The Greek word aletheia means “truth”, “sincerity”, “practice in accordance to the gospel truth”. Love rejoices in the behaviour that reflects the gospel truth – every act of kindness, every forgiveness offered. It refuses to rejoice in evil, either in its more global forms – war, exploitation, oppression of the poor, human rights violations-, or in failure of others, in gossiping about the misdeeds of others. Love stands on the side of justice, but not on the side of injustice.

4. The final stack of verbs (bear, believe, hope, endure) brings the description of love to a conclusion. In each case the verb is followed by the object “all things”.

“It bears all things” Paul uses the same verb in I Cor. 9.12 “We endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.” Here Paul is talking about “putting up with” all kinds of hardships for the sake of proclaiming the gospel to others. The sense here is, enduring hardship for the benefit of others. This is what the final verb “endure” also means.

In a way, it means, “you suffer for the benefit of others.” This is what we noticed in the two paradoxes: power in weakness and life in death.

When Paul says “love believes all things, hopes all things”, he meant “love never ceases to believe, it never loses hope.” That is why love can endure.

The best way to capture or understand Paul’s point in I Cor. 13.4-7 is to substitute our name for the noun “love”. As we substitute our name for the noun “love”, if we find any area of failure, let us take time to repent and ask God for forgiveness and for his grace and strength to live a life of love.

The Cross of Jesus Christ: The Basis of Our Perception and Value System

September 8, 2014

We have seen that the problem in the Corinthian church is factionalism and the root cause of that problem is that their basis of knowledge, perception and value system is “flesh”. In other words, their perception and value system belong to the old age, from which they were redeemed by their faith in Jesus Christ. That means, the members of the Corinthian church are trying to live in two diametrically opposite worlds.

After pointing to them the problem and the root cause of that problem, Paul turns their attention to the crucified Christ. Paul says that their basis of knowledge, perception and value system are in contrast with that of the cross of Christ.

So, today we discuss the significance of the cross of Jesus Christ.

II Cor. 5.14-17 “For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore, all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them. From now on, therefore, we regard no one from human point of view, even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new.”

Paul says this in the context where some were boasting “in outward appearance” (II Cor. 5.12) or “according to flesh” (II Cor. 11.18). Because of that Paul was directing Corinthians’ attention to the significance of the death of Jesus Christ.

Verse 16 starts with “Therefore”. However, the appropriate word is “Consequently”. Verse 17 also starts with the same word “Consequently”. That means, both verses 16 and 17 refer to the consequences or results of what is mentioned in verses 14 and 15. Vv. 14 and 15 mention the death of Jesus Christ.

What are the consequences or results of the death of Jesus Christ?

1. Epistemological Change
The simpler definition of epistemology is, it is the basis of knowledge or the window through which a person acquires knowledge. It is the window through which you look at or view things, people and the reality around you. In that sense it is also connected to one’s perspective or perception and value system.

V. 16 “Consequently we now know no one according to flesh; even if we knew Christ according to flesh, but now we no longer know.”

Three times the word “know” is used in this verse. Paul also used the word “know” in I Cor. 2.2: “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Once Paul knew Christ according to flesh. But NOW he no longer knows Christ according to flesh.

What does it mean when Paul said that “we knew Christ according to flesh”?

Before his conversion, the basis of Paul’s knowledge was the “flesh” or the old age. From that point of view, the crucified Christ was considered as the cursed one of God (Gal. 3.13: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on the tree”” Deut. 21.23). A crucified person can not be the messiah of God. Moreover, the cross of Christ has made the important Jewish customs or their identity markers insignificant: “But my friends, why am I still being persecuted if I am still preaching circumcision? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed” (Gal. 5.11). The cross has, thus, become a stumbling block for the Jews because it brought Jews and Gentiles together by making their important identity markers insignificant. That was why Paul persecuted the Christians and wanted to destroy the church. This was THEN. Before his conversion.

BUT NOW. Here “now” refers to the new age or new creation. After Paul’s conversion, his existence is no longer in the old age. He no longer belongs to the old age or the flesh. His existence is in the new age or new creation. So in this new age Paul’s basis of knowledge is no longer “the flesh” or the “old age”. Paul’s perception and value system are not according to the flesh or the old age.

For the one who is in Christ, knowing on the basis of the flesh is past. Flesh is no longer the window through which he/she gets the knowledge. Flesh is no longer the window through which you view or perceive things, people and the reality around you. The value system is not based on the flesh.

What brought this change?

Paul says, this is the consequence of the death of Jesus Christ. Now Jesus Christ is no longer perceived as the cursed one of God. He is the “wisdom of God” and the “power of God”.

Therefore, the first consequence of the cross of Christ is the epistemological change. It brought about a change in the basis of the knowledge. Paul’s basis of knowledge is no longer the flesh or the old age. It is the cross of Jesus Christ. It brought about a change in the perspective or perception and value system of those in Christ.

2. The New Creation
The second consequence of the cross is: v. 17, “Consequently if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away, behold! Everything has become new.”

The second consequence or result of the death of Jesus Christ is the new creation.

New Creation is characterised by reconciliation and unity

Paul mentions “New Creation” in only two places in his letters: II Cor. 5.17 and Gal. 6.15. In both the places new creation is contrasted with “flesh” or the “old age”.

Paul describes the nature of the new creation in II Cor. 5.18-21. He says that God through Jesus Christ has reconciled us to himself. By demolishing the wall that separated human beings from God, the death of Jesus Christ has brought God and human beings together.

In Galatians 6.15 Paul says, “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything.” Circumcision was significant in the old age. Circumcision, along with dietary laws and Sabbath, formed as important values in the old age. They have formed as walls of separation between Jews and Gentiles. By demolishing these dividing walls, the death of Jesus Christ has brought the estranged groups of people together.

So in the new creation the perception and value system of the old age or the flesh are not valid or significant. That is why Paul says, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3.28).

Therefore, the cross of Christ has reconciled not only God and human beings, but also the estranged communities and individuals. New creation or new age is characterised by reconciliation and unity.
Therefore, the implication are:

- Factionalism has no room in the new creation. It belongs to the old age. That is why Paul says: “For as long as there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations?” (I Cor 3.3).
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– Perception and value system based on socio-economic, culture, caste, creed and region have no place in the new age or new creation.

3. The Cross Introduces Paradoxes

II Cor. 5.14,15: “For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore, all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.”

The Greek word that is used for “therefore” is ara, which denotes transition from one thing to another by natural sequence and logical inference. The meaning is “therefore”, “then”, “consequently” or “as a result of”. The consequence of Jesus Christ dying for all is that we all have died. Died to what? V. 15 explains: “He died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.”

There are several important things that these two verses convey:

a. In II Corinthians the cross of Jesus Christ is characterised as “weakness”. II Cor. 13.4: “He was crucified in weakness.”

Paul also characterises his ministry in terms of “weakness”.

- I Cor. 2.3-5: “And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the powerful Spirit, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.”
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– II Cor. 4.8-9: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down; but not destroyed.”
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– II Cor. 6.4-10: “But as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labours, sleepless nights, hunger, by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left; in honour and dishonour, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying and see – we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing, as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”
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– II Cor. 12.7b-10: “Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weakness, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”

In all these references Paul introduces a paradox.

Paul says that according to the perception and value system of the old age or the flesh, the shameful death of Jesus Christ on the cross, and Paul’s hardships, sufferings afflictions, beatings, imprisonments and so on signify “weakness”.

Paul argues, this may be “weakness” according to the perception and values of the society. But this is not an evidence of powerlessness.

Rather paradoxically God’s power is at work or manifested in this weakness:
– II Cor. 13.4: “For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God.”
– The salvation of people manifests that the power of God is at work in the “weakness” of the cross of Christ: “But to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (I Cor. 1.18).

In Paul’s list of hardships he introduces a series of antitheses:
– I Cor. 2.3-5: “And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the powerful Spirit, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.”
– II Cor. 12.7b-10: “Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weakness, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”

All these references show that the “weakness” actually discloses the power of God. That is why, Paul says that he boasts in his “weakness” because of this paradox of power in weakness, rather than “outward appearance” or outward manifestations of power such as visions and revelations (II Cor. 12:1-10).
The paradox of power in weakness stands in contrast to Corinthians’ understanding of power. For them, power makes an individual powerful in some noticeable sense. For them weakness and power are incompatible. For Paul, weakness and power are not mutually exclusive, but are coterminous.

- The “weakness” of the cross of Christ and Paul’s ministry have an intended purpose of benefiting others
In II Cor. 5.14,15 Paul twice says “he died for all.” For Paul, the love of Christ is manifested in Christ dying “for all”. That means, the love expressed by the cross of Christ is defined as existence or living for others (II Cor. 5.15; Gal. 2.20, Rom. 14-15).

The “weakness” of the cross of Christ has an intended purpose of benefiting others. Christ died for the benefit of others.

In all the lists of “weakness” or sufferings that Paul enumerates in II Cor. 4.8-10, 6.4-10, 11.23-33, the notion of “service” is included. Paul is not rejoicing in his “weakness” or sufferings per se, but because of their constructive purpose of serving Christ and the community. Paul maintains that his “weakness” in his apostolic ministry has an intended purpose of community building (II Cor. 10.8; 12.19; 13.10).
That means “weakness” refers to a mode of existence, marked by willingness to endure suffering and hardship for the purpose of building others up.

b. The second important thing that the death of Jesus Christ conveys is:
II Cor. 5.15: “And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.”

In II Cor. 4.10,11 Paul characterises his ministry as “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus” and “always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake”. The purpose is: “so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies” and “the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh.”

This is what we see in II Cor. 5.15: “And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.” Jesus died for all, so that his life, i.e. the existence or living for others, may be imparted to us.

The cross, thus, introduces second paradox, i.e. the paradox of life in death. Paul states this briefly in II Cor. 4.12: “Death is at work in us, but life in you.”

Thus, the paradox of power in weakness and the paradox of life in death are very much evident in the cross of Christ. The paradox of power in weakness and the paradox of life in death are fundamentally associated with Christian life and ministry. Therefore, the cross of Christ is intrinsically associated with the concrete existence of Christians who belong to the new age or new creation.

Wisdom of This World and the Wisdom of God

September 8, 2014

1. Problems in the Corinthian church:
– Groupism (1.11-12): These groups are formed around influential figures such as Peter, Apollos, Paul. The members are boasting about their leaders (3.21). They are“puffed up in favour of one against another” (I Cor. 4.6). They are involved in comparing their leader with other leaders.
– There was also quarrelling and jealousy in the church (I Cor. 3.3).

2. Root cause for this situation

I Cor 1.17 “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.”

In this verse Paul mentions “wisdom” for the first time. The words “wisdom” and “wise” occur over twenty five times in the first three chapters. Paul calls the wisdom mentioned in 1.17 as “wisdom of word (eloquent wisdom)” (1.17), “wisdom of the world” (1.20), “human wisdom” (1.25, 2.13), “wisdom of this age” (2.6), and “wisdom of the rulers of this age” (2.6).

This is the wisdom which Corinthians claim to be possessing: in 3.18 Paul says “If you think that you are wise in this age…For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.”

What is this “wisdom”?

“Wisdom” refers to rhetorical wisdom, which is characterised by eloquence and logic – logical and clever arguments, rhetorical skills or oratorical skills. Wealthy people and people of high status learned rhetorical wisdom. In the Greco-Roman society rhetorical wisdom indicates high socio-economic status. This is a highly valued feature for recognition and reputation.

That means human wisdom had connotations of importance or worth or valuable in the Greco-Roman society. In other words, there is a social value and power associated with this kind of wisdom (I Cor. 2.5 cf. 1.17). Thus, it constituted a social definition of power rooted in the values cultivated by those in the society, who had wealth, status and honour.

The Corinthian church has made “human wisdom” its value. That means, wealth, status and nobility acquired significance in the church. Thus, the church allowed the value system of the outside society to control its life. The influence of the Greek rhetorical wisdom made them to value wealth, power and status. That means, the root cause for factionalism in the Corinthian church is the influence of the value system of the outside society. The result is “quarrelling and jealousy” within the church (3.3) and “boasting about human leaders” (3.21) or “puffing up in favour of one against the other” (4.6).
What do their present behaviour and value system signify?

I Cor. 3.1-4

Paul charges that “jealousy and quarrelling” among them express that they are “of flesh” and “behaving according to human inclinations” (3.3). The literal translation is “walking according to man”. Their sloganeering conveys that they are “merely human” (3.4). In Paul’s letters “walking” usually refers to one’s way of living or lifestyle (cf. 7.17). Their behaviour confirms that they are “people of the flesh” (3.1).

“Flesh” refers to “this worldly existence” or living with the perspective and value system of this world. That is why human wisdom has become valuable in the church.

“Wisdom” is in contrast with God’s wisdom

Paul says that human wisdom is in contrast with God’s wisdom. In I Cor. 1.17 Paul contrasts the “wisdom of word” with the cross of Christ. Paul explains this contrast from 1.18 onwards. That is why v. 18 starts with “For”. In 1.18-2.16 Paul elaborates on this contrast by making a series of arguments.

Paul wants to make them realise that their present perspective and value system associated with the human wisdom are in contradiction to God’s perspective and value system: I Cor. 1.18-2.5

1. Paul first turns their attention to the content of the gospel, which is the cross of Christ. The cross of Christ is “foolishness” and “weakness” for the human wisdom, whereas it is “wisdom of God” and “power of God” (1.18, 23-25).

2. Then he turns their attention to Corinthians themselves whom God has called (1.26-28). Paul is asking them, “Consider your own call”. Although this refers to their call to salvation, Paul is concerned more about their status at the time of their call. I Cor. 1.26 “Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.” “Human standards” qualifies all three – wise, powerful and noble birth.

God chose what was considered “foolish” “weak”, and “low” by human standards (1.27-28). That means, when God called them he did not show any regard to their present value system – human wisdom, wealth, status and nobility. That means, God’s perspective and value system are different from their present perspective and value system.

3. Paul turns their attention to the basis of their faith when they first heard the gospel (2.1-5).

Paul gives the existence of Corinthians as Christians as an evidence for the power of the gospel of the crucified Christ. He says, it was not his rhetorical skills that persuaded them (2.4). He further says, “I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling” (2.3). However, his proclamation was “with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (2.5). Here “Spirit” and “power” are not two separate words. Paul uses these two words interchangeably. To speak of spirit means to speak of power. So here, it is not “spirit and power” but “spirit, that is, power”. The evidence for the power of the Spirit in the gospel of the crucified Christ lies in the very conversion of the Corinthians.

Paul tries to make Corinthians to see that their own existence as Christians stands in total contradiction to their present perspective, value system and conduct.

So, what is evident in the Corinthian church?

In I Cor 2.1-2 Paul says, “When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”

In I Cor 2.2 Paul uses the word “Know” (oida). The same word is used in II Cor. 5.16: “From now on, therefore, we know no one from a human point view, even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way.”

What Paul is talking about, here, is two mutually exclusive bases of knowledge. Our perspective and value system come from the basis of knowledge. One of the bases is “flesh”. Before conversion Paul had “flesh” as the basis of his knowledge. Paul viewed Jesus Christ from this perspective. He saw crucified Christ as one cursed by God. That was why he rejected Jesus Christ as God’s messiah and so persecuted the church. However, his conversion changed the basis of his knowledge. Now the basis of his knowledge is “the cross of Jesus Christ”. His perspective and value system are based on the cross of Christ. That is why for Paul, the crucified Christ is the wisdom and power of God.

So what is the problem of Corinthians? I call this epistemological crisis. Even though the message of the crucified Christ has led them to faith, their basis of knowledge is not the cross of Christ, but flesh.

That means, there is an existential tension in the Corinthian church as a result of trying to live in two diametrically opposite worlds (I Cor. 3.1).

Lynching: Public Celebration of Painful Experience of the Marginalised

September 2, 2014

On 15th October 2002, between 9 pm and 10 pm, five Dalits –  Dayachand, Virender, Totaram, Raju and Kailash – were lynched in Duleena village, Jajjar district, Haryana, by a frenzied mob for the “speculated crime” of cow-slaughter, while the police and administrative officials – DSP, SHO Sadar, Jajjar, and three executive magistrates: the City Magistrate, BDO, Naib Tehsildar – stood by and watched.[i] These Dalits, who were leather traders and were arrested on the same day by the police and kept in the police station for carrying the corpse of a cow, were dragged out (or allowed by the police to be dragged out, or handed over by the police to the mob?) of the police station onto the main road by the violent mob, armed with iron rods, spears etc, and beaten to death. This mob was led by the Hindu communal forces like Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bajrang Dal, Shiv Sena, Jhajjar Gurukul and Gauraksha Samiti, who controlled the mob and directed their ire against the Dalits.[ii]

The very first response of the VHP and the Gauraksha Samiti was to glorify the killings as just retribution for the “sin” of cow-slaughter.[iii] The social identity of the victims appeared unimportant, except that they were possibly cow-slaughterers. For them human life was not valuable. This was confirmed by the statement of the VHP President Giriraj Kishore, “The life of a cow is more precious than that of a human being.”[iv] Mind you, only the lives of Dalits (and Muslims) are less precious than that of a cow.

In the wake of the lynching of the Dalits a postmortem was conducted on the cow and the report disproved the allegations made by the Hindu communal forces that the Dalits were engaged in the cow-slaughter! What is questionable is: why didn’t the police verify the allegations before the innocent Dalits were lynched? Why didn’t they shift the Dalits to a safe place in view of the perceived threat to their life?

The lynching of the five Dalits is neither the first nor the last in the casteist Indian society. The lynching of Dalits exposes the fact that the caste based violence is still alive and kicking and ubiquitous even in the 21st century “modern” and “developed” India.

Discrimination, oppression, subjugation and violence are diseases of a culture. No matter what culture you are talking about, it is always a problem when human beings treat other human beings inferior or as less than human, and expect them to stay in that state only. Such mindset contributes to atrocities such as lynching. That’s why lynching happens in the casteist Indian society….. lynching happens in the racist American society![v]

 

  1. What is Lynching?

Lynching is a term that can be applied to whipping, shooting, stabbing, as well as hanging. It is an extralegal or extrajudicial execution carried out by a violent mob. In most cases this is done in order to intimidate a minority group, or to punish an alleged transgressor. It is an extreme form of social control by a dominant community.

Lynchings have been more frequent in times of social and economic tensions, and have often been a means for a dominant group to suppress challengers from a minority group. However, it has also resulted from long-held prejudices and practices of discrimination and domination based on caste or race or class that have conditioned societies to accept this type of violence as normal practices of popular justice.

In India Dalit men are beaten to death, and Dalit women are stripped, paraded, mocked, spat upon, raped and hanged to death, often in the full public view. That means, lynching is a “ritual celebration of “high caste” supremacy and dominance”, as in the US it is a “ritual celebration of white supremacy and dominance”. This ritual used to attract upto 20000 celebrants, including women and children in the US. African Americans were stripped, paraded, mocked, whipped, spat upon and tortured for hours in the presence of jeering crowds. Often the victim’s body parts were taken as souvenirs to show to those who were absent for the spectacle.[vi]

Public celebration of pain, agony, torture and death of a fellow human being is a symptom of sickness at the core of a human being and a society. Only in a sick culture pain, agony, torture and death of a fellow human being become a public entertainment and an exhibition of supremacy and dominance of a dominant community.

The purpose of lynching is similar to that of crucifixion in the ancient world – to exhibit supremacy and dominance through violence. However, lynching is carried out by a violent mob of the dominant community with the tacit approval of the state and its agencies, whereas crucifixion was employed by the state or the occupying empire.

 

  1. Crucifixion in Ancient World

In the ancient world the supremacy and dominance of the state or the ruling powers was displayed through various forms of punishment to criminals, insurrectionists, slaves and foreigners. In order of increasing severity, the aggravated methods of execution were decapitation, burning and crucifixion.

Crucifixion was an act of nailing or binding a living victim or sometimes a dead person to a cross, or stake, or tree. It was practiced throughout the ancient world. As a method of execution, crucifixion was employed among Persians, Indians, Assyrians and others, and later among Greeks, Jews and Romans.[vii] Crucifixion was a public spectacle accompanied by torture and shame – one of the most humiliating and painful deaths ever devised by human beings.[viii]

The act of crucifixion was heinously cruel. The crucified person experienced slow death due to either shock or a painful process of asphyxiation as the muscles used in breathing were exhausted. That’s why Roman citizens, particularly members of the upper class, were generally spared from this form of execution, no matter what their crimes were. Crucifixion was largely reserved for those of lower status – dangerous criminals, slaves and foreigners.[ix] The state or the rulers used it as a deterrent against open resistance to its authority and power.

In order to send a stern warning to public, crucifixion was made a public affair. Naked and fastened to a stake, cross or tree on a busiest road, the executed was subjected to savage ridicule by passersby.[x] Moreover, under Roman practice crucified was denied burial. The corpse was left on the cross as carrion for the birds or to rot. In this way, the general populace was reminded of the fate of those who resisted or challenged the authority and power of the state.

Among Jews, crucifixion was occasionally practiced during the Hellenistic-Hasmonean period. The Sadducean high priest Alexander Janneus (in office 103-76 BC) had 800 Pharisees crucified and ordered their wives and children slaughtered before their eyes as they hung dying. According to Jewish law, the corpses of executed idolaters and blasphemers were hanged on a tree to show that they were accursed by God (Deuteronomy 21.22-23).[xi]

Whether living or already dead, the victims suffered brutality, shame and a degrading loss of all dignity by being bound or nailed to a stake or cross or tree in public view.

 

  1. Lynching and Caste

Lynching of the five Dalits by the violent mob in Duleena, Haryana, reflects widespread crimes and atrocities against Dalits not only in Haryana, but also in the entire country over the years. Raping of minors as young as five year Dalit girl, gang-rapes, murders, and mutilating and cutting hands, legs and genitals of children, adults and old, and parading Dalit women naked in broad daylight in the presence of the entire village are a few examples of thousands of organised caste brutality against Dalits.[xii]

Crimes and atrocities against Dalits in Haryana have gone up by about two-and-a-half times during 2004-2013, compared to 1994-2003 period. Figures compiled by National Confederation of Dalit Organisations (NACDOR) from National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) reports suggest a manifold increase in the number of cases related to assault, murder and sexual assault of Dalit women, especially incidents of gang rapes. According to data released by NACDOR, a total of 3198 cases related to atrocities on Dalits have been registered between 2004 and 2013 as against 1305 from 1994 to 2003.[xiii]

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) Report for the year 2013, the total number of crimes committed in India against the SCs (Scheduled Castes) in 2013 is 39408 as against 33655 in 2012. Thus there is an increase of 17.1% in crimes committed against the SCs. In terms of number of crimes committed against the SCs, the states that top the list are: Uttar Pradesh (7078), Bihar (6721), Rajastan (6475) and Andhra Pradesh (3270). However, in terms of the rate of crimes (number of crimes as against the SC population in the state) the states that top the list are: Rajastan (52.98%), Goa (47.1%), Bihar (40.2%), Odisha (36.1%), Gujarat (29.2%). A total of 2073 rapes of SC women were reported in India in 2013 as compared to 1576 cases in 2012. There is an increase of 31.5%. In this Madhya Pradesh tops the list with 397 reported cases, followed by Uttar Pradesh with 391 reported cases. A total of 189 cases of arson were reported in 2013 as compared to 214 cases in 2012, thus there is a decline of 11.7%. Bihar has reported the highest number of 51 cases, followed by Uttar Pradesh (29 cases) and Rajastan (26 cases). These three states accounted 56.1% of total arson cases reported in the country. However for various reasons, not every crime against the SCs is reported by the victims to the concerned authorities.

Beating, killing, and rape and sexual violence of Dalit women and damaging their property are pervasive, systematic and routine in India. A Dalit can be lynched for any perceived “offence” in the eyes of the “high castes”. Now-a-days it seems the killing of Dalits is not so extraordinary an occurrence that it requires an explanation. It has become so normal that it no longer surprises or attracts attention. Their caste status alone is licence enough to beat them and rob them of every vestige of dignity. Karamchedu (AP), Tsunduru (AP), Khairlanji (Maharashtra), Badaun (Haryana), Bhanwari (Rajastan), Mirchapur (Haryana)– different states at different times …… and the story is same throughout the vast expanse of the “largest democracy” in the world.

Bearing witness to countless incidents of caste violence mirrors the caste-ridden Indian society where “castes form a graded system of sovereignties, high and low” and power is asserted through various forms of violence along the ladder of graded inequalities. Caste system gets its strength through subordinating the dominated castes, and in turn sanctions power to the dominant castes over the dominated castes.

Caste, an age old social hierarchy, enjoys sanction of Hindu religion. It stratifies and discriminates more than 20 crore Dalits in India. The purity and pollution concept, based on Varna theory and geared up by four-fold creation theory of Hinduism – as defined in Rig Veda[xiv] – bred casteism and untouchability that dehumanises Dalits to undergo social exclusion, occupational segregation, economic and political power deprivation.[xv] The Varnashramadharma formulates where Dalits should reside, their occupation, access to resources and powers, whom to marry and where to be buried. It denies Dalits the right to touch and to be touched and forces to remain as “untouchables”[xvi], to live mainly as manual scavengers, sweepers, gutter/drainage cleaners, cobblers, cremators, drum beaters for the funerals of dominant castes.[xvii]

Thus, Dalits are the deprived, dispossessed and dehumanised section of Indian society. They are deprived of human dignity and rights and privileges that are being enjoyed by nonDalits, dispossessed of access to and control over resources, and dehumanised by being outcasted and made untouchables. Further, in terms of culture, Dalits are also deprived of their own way of thinking, behaving and living. The perception about themselves and the society is imposed upon them by the dominant castes.

It is this individual and collective social and historical experience of exclusion, oppression and exploitation, and shame and brutality which sum up the lynching of Dalits by the dominant castes in India. Therefore, lynching is an event of “high caste” supremacy and dominance and the Dalit oppression, sanctioned by the Hindu religion and patronised by the Indian state.

Lynching is the “high caste’s” way of forcibly reminding Dalits of their inferiority and powerlessness. Thirsting for blood in the name of God and in defense of segregation, “high caste” supremacy and the purity of the “high caste”, lynching is used against the Dalits in order to remind them of their status and to remain “in their place”. Dalits are publicly humiliated, subjected to utmost indignity and cruelty. They are stripped in order to be deprived of dignity, then paraded, mocked and whipped, pierced, derided and spat upon, raped, killed and hung from a tree. The purpose is to strike terror in the subject community. It is to let the rest of the Dalit community know that the same thing will happen to them if they do not stay “in their place”. Lynching is a form of public service announcement: Do not engage in subversion of the caste hierarchy as this person did, or else your fate will be similar. The point of the exercise is not the death of the “offender” as such, but getting the attention of those watching. Lynching is first and foremost addressed to an audience. It is intended to instil paralysing fear, silence and passivity in the Dalit community.

Nothing, absolutely nothing, is uglier and terrifying than lynching in all of its forms: dragging, beating, burning, hanging, and shooting, as well as rape, torture, mutilation and murder. Lynching represents the worst in human beings. It wonders how the dominant castes can live comfortably with that absurdity! The dominant castes have acted in a superior manner for so long that it has become difficult for them to recognise their arrogance, brutality and inhumanity. That’s why in the dominant caste communities there is very little empathy regarding Dalit suffering. Lacking empathy, they lack the passion to engage the unspeakable evil of lynching Dalits.

In the casteist Indian society in which the dominant castes are conditioned to see themselves as superior over Dalits, cruelty and degradation of Dalits fit easily in their mindset and value system. To see Dalits as persons deserving respect and dignity – to see them fully and equally human – would change the status quo!

 

  1. Dalit Experience

For centuries Dalits have been treated in inhuman manner. They are considered as “things” to be used, not as “persons” to be valued and respected. Dalits are literally “untouchables” for the “high castes” or socially excluded groups. They are, in fact, “casteless” people, as they don’t come under the caste structure of Hindu religion (only four castes come under caste structure: Brahmins, Kshathriyas, Vaisyas and Sudras). They are traditionally assigned menial and degrading jobs. This is still followed in the present day Indian society. Thus, Dalits are physically and psychologically oppressed and excluded people. The word “Dalit” connotes not just the “caste” of people, but a history of people who have been socially, economically, politically and religiously crushed, and whose dignity, value and rights have been trampled upon.

Dalits have been experiencing legal and extralegal “high caste” terror for long. Deep wounds have been inflicted on them. The pain and suffering of Dalits did not end with Constitutional provisions and laws (Prevention of Atrocities (SC/ST) Act of 1989 and Protection of Civil Rights Act 1955 as amended in 1976). The violence and oppression of “high caste” supremacy took different forms and employed different means to “keep them in their place”.

In temples, schools, colleges and universities, and in the political and social life of the nation, people of the dominant castes do not want to allow “untouchables” to associate with them as equals. They feel that if lynching is the only way to keep the Dalits subservient, then it is necessary. For them lynching is an efficient and honourable act of justice. Impunity is guaranteed to perpetrators through police complicity or calculated inaction, through prosecutorial negligence, through judicial misdemeanour and through the disabling of justice claims in constitutional courts with easy recourse to legal technicalities.

Assured of no governmental interference, the “high castes” are free to stop Dalits from attaining social, economic and political equality by resorting to mob violence – excluding Dalits in the decision making bodies, forcing them to work in their field with low wages, resorting to social boycott, creating a rigid segregated society in which being a Dalit is a badge of shame and suffering with no meaningful future.

When Dalit men are lynched, Dalit women not only suffer the loss of their sons, husbands, brothers, fathers, uncles, nephews and cousins, but also endure public insults and economic hardship as they try to carry on, to take care of their fatherless children in a patriarchal and casteist society in which dominant castes can lynch them and/or their children with impunity at the slightest whim or smallest infraction of the Indian castesist etiquette.

Dread and powerless in the face of ever present threat of death impelled Dalits to silently bear the oppression, shame and pain. It is to go down into a pit of despair, of nothingness, what the Dutch theologian Soren Kierkegaard called “sickness unto death”, a “sickness in the self” – the loss of hope that life can have meaning in a world full of trouble.[xviii] Trouble follows them everywhere, like a shadow they can not shake. Dalits have come to know what it is like to be crucified. They very well know that they do not deserve it.

When Dalits are challenged by “high caste” supremacy with lynching, where else can they turn to for hope that their resistance would ultimately succeed? Penniless, landless, and with very little or no political and social power in the society, Dalits can do very little to protect themselves from “high caste” violence that has tacit state support. To keep hope alive is not easy for Dalits, facing state-endorsed terrorism nearly everywhere in India. Trouble follows them everywhere – in the morning, at night, and all day long – keeping them awake and stalking them in nightmares, like a wild beast, waiting to attack its prey. These are the ones who are mocked, stripped, paraded, raped, shot, burned, tortured and hung. Dealing with centuries of ongoing shame and suffering, and living with the sword of Damocles hanging over the head all the time in the history of Dalits is enough to make any Dalit to lose meaning in an absurd world of dominant caste supremacy.

What is the meaning of this unspeakable Dalit suffering – suffering so deep, so painful and enduring th words can not even begin to describe it?

It is difficult to escape bitterness when we have eyes to see and heart to feel what others are too blind and too callous to notice. Most of us have eyes to see the Dalit suffering, but lacked the heart to feel it as our own. Majority of Indians have exhibited a staggering level of irresponsibility and immoral washing of hands. This reflects a deep moral crisis in India. Under these tragic circumstances bigotry and hatred are not the most urgent problems. The most urgent and most disgraceful, the most shameful, the most tragic problem is silence. This is the national crime!

The struggle to survive in a dominant caste supremacist society is a full time occupation for Dalits. But how to survive with one’s dignity intact ….. that’s the challenge! Women have an additional challenge of assuring not just their own survival but also the survival of their families.

 

  1. The Cause for Lynching of Dalits

The essence of casteism is high caste supremacy and power. It is the “high caste” supremacy and power to keep Dalits out of a home, out of a job, out of a village or town, out of a worshipping place, out of access to resources. It is the “high caste” supremacy and power that suppresses the voice of Dalits, exploits their cheap labour, and blocks their upward mobility. It is the “high caste” supremacy and power that crushes the dignity, values and rights of Dalits. The “high caste” supremacy tries to ensure that they remain supreme, and Dalits will not reach their level and remain subservient. It creates barriers for the upward socio-economic mobility of Dalits by depriving them of education, property and political power. Thus, caste system is not just a religious system, but also a socio-economic system much worse than slavery.

However, a revolutionary change has taken place in the perception of Dalits of their own nature and destiny. Once they thought themselves as inferior and patiently endured injustice and exploitation. That Dalit perception of themselves has begun to change slowly, but steadily. A myriad of factors have come together to cause Dalits to take a new look at themselves. Individually and as a group they have begun to re-evaluate themselves. And they have come to believe that they are somebody, and the important thing about a person is “not his specificity but his fundamentum”, not his “caste” but the quality of his person – his attitude, worldview, values and conduct. They have realised how the biased interpretation of religious scriptures, and the money, muscle and political power have “assigned” them an inferior place in the society and continued to keep them in their “assigned place” for so long. This realisation has naturally prompted them to actively oppose the religiously and politically sanctioned injustice, inequality, oppression, exploitation and marginalisation, and to assert their humanity, rights and worth. This perception and active opposition of Dalits is subverting the status quo of the caste-infected Indian society.

Circumstances have forced and also motivated Dalits to work hard to come out of their “assigned place”. As a result their economic life has begun to rise gradually, their crippling illiteracy has begun to decline gradually.

As long as Dalits maintained their subservient attitude and accepted their “assigned place”, a sort of “casteist peace” existed in the caste-infected Indian society. But it was an uneasy peace in which the Dalit was forced to submit to insult, injustice and exploitation. It was an uneasy peace in which Dalit was forced to keep silent as Dalit dignity, value and rights were crushed. It was a negative peace. True peace is not merely the absence of some negative force like tensions. It is the presence of some positive force – justice, equality and brotherhood.

The sense of self-respect and sense of dignity, the assertion of their constitutional rights, particularly the right to equality, and the determination to come up economically and educationally on the part of Dalits have undermined the Indian society’s negative peace, since the “high caste” refused to accept the change. The tensions in caste relations and lynchings that are witnessed today can be explained in part by this revolutionary change in the Dalits’ perception of themselves and their determination to struggle and sacrifice until walls of segregation, injustice and exploitation have been finally crushed by the battering rams of justice.

The tension is between justice and injustice. Privileged groups rarely give up their privileges without strong resistance. When Dalits demand for justice and resent “high caste” dominance, they are met with violence, and threatened with reprisals to “teach Dalits a lesson” that they should “keep to their place”.[xix] The beginning of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) was more a reaction to low castes coming up in the society. With independence and the coming into being of Indian Constitution the march of Dalits towards equality took the next step aided by the affirmative action provided by the Indian Constitution. The changes in social scenario by 1980s led to a situation whereby “high castes” felt that this undeserving section is being treated like “sons-in-law” of the governments in matters of education and jobs. They felt that their “deserving” children are not able to get their due share of admissions and jobs. The result was anti-Dalit violence in Ahmedabad in 1980s.

The “high caste” tries to do anything, even lynching if it requires, to stop Dalits grow economically and educationally, so that the latter will never reach their level and challenge “high caste” supremacy. This is the underlying cause of some of the lynchings that have happened across India and of the real situation in educational institutions.

 

  1. Inter-Caste Marriages

The recent development of Dalits economically and educationally due to moving from farm labour into various forms of urban or migrant work is creating a situation of conflict with the landowning higher castes. Quietly and gradually, Dalits are escaping forms of dependence and in so doing are posing a challenge to the caste hierarchy. One factor fuelling the animosity of the dominant castes is that Dalits no longer act as submissive agricultural labourers in their fields. This resentment feeds into a sense of insecurity. This sense of insecurity is intensified as the Dalit men marry dominant caste women. This intensified insecurity may be captured in the slogan, “First our jobs, and now our women.” Women’s bodies, here, serve as the embodied markers of caste purity. When a Dalit man marries a dominant caste woman, it threatens the caste identity and its purity. Caste prejudice and caste as a relationship, as Baba Saheb Ambedkar pointedly asserted, rest upon endogamous marriages.

In the “high caste” imagination, Dalits are the most serious threat to the virtue of “high caste” women and the sanctity of the “high caste” home. Because of their threat to “high caste” womanhood, Dalits must be carefully watched and violently kept in their place, segregated and subordinated. Sexual intercourse between a Dalit and a high caste woman is the worst crime that a Dalit could commit against “high caste” purity. This is used as justification for lynching. It is the moral responsibility of “high caste” men to protect the purity of their caste by any means.

Inter-caste marriages have always been resented by casteists all over India – parents, caste organisations/societies, and political parties. The recent death of Illavarasan, a young Dalit man in Tamil Nadu’s Dharmapuri district, highlights once again the vice-like grip of caste prejudice.

Illavarasan, 23 years old, who belonged to the Nathan Dalit colony, had eloped and married the Vanniyar woman Divya on 14th October 2012. Vanniyar Sangham, caste organisation of Vanniyars, coupled with Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), the political party, took the issue of this particular marriage in a big way and tried to weave an anti-Dalit coalition of “higher castes” in the area claiming how Dalit youth are weaning away “our daughters”. By invoking a sense of “wounded masculinity”, PMK has established a new role for its youth, that of “boundary setters”, assuming a vigilante role.[xx] For women, seen as transgressing community norms, there is a high price to pay. The marriage of Illavarasan and Divya had become a pretext to “teach Dalits a lesson”. PMK founder S. Ramadoss expressed his ire on Dalits and demanded dilution of the law aimed at curbing anti-Dalit atrocities (i.e. Prevention of Atrocities (SC/ST) Act of 1989).[xxi]

Weeks after the marriage of Illavarasan and Divya, the Vanniyars had a meeting in Divya’s natal village of Sellankottai, and constituted a kangaroo court consisting of members of the Vanniyar community. This court instructed the Dalits to send back the girl. Divya firmly refused to return to her parents’ house and on the same evening her father Nagarajan committed suicide over this “humiliation”. On 7th November 2012 three Dalit colonies of Natham, Kondampatti and Annanagar Inaikkankottai, Dharmapuri district, faced an organised attack at the hands of Vanniyars. Of the 500 houses in the three colonies, over 268 were damaged/burnt. The mob, armed with deadly weapons and petrol bombs, indulged in a four-hour-long rampage. They broke cupboards, stole gold jewellery and cash before setting the houses on fire. It was not a spontaneous outburst of anger, but a planned attack. The political outfit PMK had been accused of spearheading the attack.[xxii]

All reports of the mayhem pointed to a single fact. Apart from giving verbal assurances and holding out promises, the police took no preventive action. Dalit leaders and intellectuals have seen in this violence signs that it was the economic prosperity of the Dalits that was the real target of such attacks.[xxiii]

Coming under the tremendous pressure, and perhaps with a guilt feeling that she has been a cause of her father’s death, Divya finally decided to sacrifice “my love and my marriage” for the sake of a society that is caste-obsessed, and returned to her mother.[xxiv]

On 4th July 2013 the dead body of Illavarasan was found on a culvert adjoining the railway track in Dharmapuri. His death has been a focus of debate, as police claimed it to be a “suicide”, while his family suspected it to be a “murder” dressed up as “suicide”.[xxv] This brutally underscores the continuing tragedy of young married couples being wrenched apart by caste and political pressures. When one of the partners is a Dalit, “high caste” mob fury comes as an inheritance.

Krishnan, Divya’s village landlord, said, “The lower castes are now well educated and they are better off financially, which is a good thing. Love happens at a certain age. This one became tragic because of outside interference.”

Lakshmanan, assistant professor at the Madras Institute of Development Studies, who organised a seminar to look at the history of various commissions which were set up to look into cases of Dalit atrocities, points out a very startling fact. According to him, not a single person has been punished for atrocities against Dalits in the last 70 years, though a dozen or so enquiry commissions have been set up. To top it all, not even one member of these commissions has been a Dalit![xxvi]

The deep rooted caste prejudices prevalent in the populace were best underlined at the time of Tsunami when Dalits were discriminated against by the “higher castes”, though both the communities were the victims of Tsunami. A newspaper reported: “Tsunami can’t wash this away: Hatred for Dalits: In Ground Zero, Dalits thrown out of relief camps, cut out of food, water supplies, toilets….” The main news in another newspaper revealed it all, “The centuries old prejudice against the ‘lower communities’ was perfectly intact despite an unprecedented tragedy called Tsunami.”[xxvii]

 

  1. Economic Success of Dalits

The plight of Dalits’ economic position has been the issue of landlessness. In an agricultural society like India, land is an important consideration. Dalits are predominantly rural people. About 89% of them still live in villages. More than half of them are landless, 26% are marginal farmers. It is widely acknowledged that the caste issue is entangled with the skewed distribution of land or the high incidence of landlessness of Dalits. The landed “high caste” has deprived Dalits of owning land or property of any kind. This is to ensure continuous supply of permanent cheap labour force. Landless and dependent, Dalits lead an economic unfree and impoverished life.

It is also an undeniable fact that Dalits have suffered displacement from land through the ages. The land occupied by them has always been seized at the flimsiest excuse, forcibly or through economic strangulation. The right to hold land of these groups has always been tenuous at best.

The powerful “high caste” peasantry in India, particularly in Haryana, Western Uttar Pradesh and Rajastan, have forced the land reforms in India to fail. Dalits have been demanding their land rights for years, but the powerful Jat community in those states is influencing the government not to respond to their demand.

On 21st May 2012 Dalit families were thrown out of the village of Bhagana, Hissar district, Haryana, by the powerful “high caste” Jats, as Dalits have demanded their land rights. As a response Jats had imposed economic and social boycott on them. It was clear that Jats were not happy with the growing assertion of the Dalits. Villages in these parts of India are ruled by “khap panchayats” or “high caste panchayats”. Huge village land is available in Haryana everywhere. First Rs. 1000 was collected from Dalits in the name of land allotment, but that never happened. The khap panchayats of 58 villages have asked government not to distribute village community land to Dalits.

Dominant castes can not tolerate if Dalits grow economically, in particular. The cause of lynching is often the envy of economic success of Dalits. Nothing is more detested by the dominant castes than the idea that Dalits are equal to them. The Bhotmange family paid dearly for their resistance to the “high caste” supremacy. The struggle that led to the annihilation of the entire family, except one, was a struggle against caste domination by challenging its supremacy through education and small attempts at building family assets in their native village Kherlanji.

Kherlanji is a village of 780 people, about 170 households, in Bhandara district of Maharashtra. Bhotmange family was one of the three Dalit families in a village dominated by “high castes”. The family consists of Bhaiyyalal Bhotmange, his wife Surekha Bhotmange (45 years), two sons Sudhir (23) and Roshan (21) and daughter Priyanka (17 years). Bhaiyyalal and Surekha had the courage to live like their “higher caste” peers by sending their children for higher studies and acquiring a plot of land. Although Roshan was blind and Sudhir, a university graduate, they helped in farming. Priyanka was more ambitious – a class XII topper and a National Cadet Corps cadet. The Bhotmange family originally had 7 acres in which they grew paddy and cotton. Two acres were taken away in 1996 to build a road so that neighbouring farmers from the “high castes” could drive their tractors through the land.[xxviii]

All these indicators of upward mobility seemed to have earned the wrath of the “high caste” villagers. The Bhotmange family was facing oppression from the entire village for 17 years.

The “high caste” dominated village panchayat had consistently refused to enter Bhaiyyalal’s name in the revenue records, thereby preventing him from building a pucca house. On the two occasions when he tried to build it, the construction was forcibly demolished and he was threatened with dire consequences if he ever attempted to build his house again. As a result they lived in a thatched hut.[xxix]

Siddharth Gajbhiye, a police patil (an associate of police hired on an honorarium), lived in the neighbouring village Ghusala. He was also a Dalit. He used to help the Dalit households who lived in constant fear of the “high castes”. Sidharth also helped Bhotmange family protect a portion of their 5 acre land from being grabbed by villagers who wanted it for a waterway to their own fields. He also owned some 50 acres of land and employed labourers out of which quite a few were “high caste” men from Kherlanji, which the “high castes” found hard to digest. This too had compounded to the harassment of the Bhotmange family.[xxx]

On 3rd September 2006 Sidharth was beaten up by 15 people of Kherlanji on some petty cause. He complained to the local police. On 16th September 12 culprits were arrested by the police due to the eyewitness accounts of Priyanka, Surekha, Sudhir and Bhaiyyalal. This did not go well with the arrested. After released on bail on 29th September 2006, they assembled around 40 villagers and planned to attack and murder Sidharth and his brother Rajan. But somehow Surekha and Priyanka got a hint of it and they informed this to Rajan. Not finding Sidharth and his brother, and learning that they were intimated about the proposed attack by the Bhotmange family, the villagers got furious and turned their hoodlums to Bhotmange’s house with weapons of bicycle chains, axes, daggers and sticks. Seeing such a mob Bhaiyyalal ran away. At home were Surekha who was cooking and the children studying. They dragged all of them out of the house and stripped them and paraded them naked at the square of the village as the entire village watched. They forced Priyanka and Sudhir to copulate. When they refused, the villagers crushed Sudhir’s genitals. They gang-raped Priyanka, thrusted the sticks in her genitals and thrown her dead body in the nearby canal with the help of a bullock cart. The other three dead bodies were hid in the houses and later were thrown in the canal. This was celebrated by them like a festival.[xxxi]

When this crime was about to happen around 6-7 pm, Sidharth intimated the local police, but the latter did not take immediate action. Next day when Bhaiyyalal narrated the story and filed an FIR, the police found the four bodies of the Bhotmange family. The medical officers did the autopsy hurriedly and only reported that the death was due to trauma and wounds on her body. Although there was a large incision on the head of Surekha, they did not report. The local politicians were suspected to be involved in inciting the villagers of Kherlanji against Bhotmanges.[xxxii]

The reason for the lynching of Bhotmange family was not very complex at all. Though Dalits, Bhotmange family was economically independent through farmland and unwilling to be bullied by the “high castes”. They even provided education to their children. Thus, they had undoubtedly acquired some upward mobility – economically, educationally and socially. “High castes” do not take kindly when they see Dalit families being equal to them.[xxxiii]

The penalty for defiance of any kind by the Dalits across India, particularly subversion of the status quo, has often been a public lynching by bloodthirsty “high caste” mobs. For Dalit women it is far worse – humiliation, rape, mutilation and a painful death.

 

  1. Education

Baba Saheb Ambedkar was convinced that education, particularly higher education, was a powerful instrument of social change that could liberate the Dalits from centuries old prejudice, discrimination and denial of access to common resources and public facilities and economic exploitation.

Because of their economic conditions, 99% of Dalit students study in government educational institutions, most of which lack basic infrastructure.[xxxiv] It is in such abysmal and oppressive conditions that Dalit boys and girls pursue their studies. The role of educational institutions has also been dubious. Ranging from overt discrimination and hostility in elementary schools, to covert discriminatory practices and policies at higher education institutions, Dalits continue to be subjected to a culture of hostility and indifference.

In 2009 India passed Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act. It provides free and compulsory education for children between 6 and 14 years of age. The Act also requires that every local authority ensure that children belonging to disadvantaged groups “are not discriminated against and prevented from pursuing and completing elementary education on any grounds.”

However, Navsarjan, a grassroots Dalit organisation working in more than 3000 villages and cities in Gujarat, produced Voices of Children of Manual Scavengers, a survey of caste based discrimination faced by children of manual scavengers (They are Dalits). Between 6th July and 9th August 2009, Navsarjan interviewed 1048 children between the ages of 6 and 17. The survey, which was conducted across 11 districts in Gujarat, reveals that teachers, local governments, and community members routinely subject the children of manual scavengers to discrimination and forced labour as part of their daily experience of attending school and living in their communities. They are forced to perform cleaning and scavenging work at schools. The testimonies reveal that teachers, school administrators and other students deny Dalit children access to an equal education by systematically excluding them from opportunities and school activities and treating them as unequal, often resulting in an effective exclusion from school altogether. Discrimination undermines all aspects of their education and often causes them to drop out of schools altogether. “I used to sit in the front row of my class” explained one Dalit girl. “But the students complained that they were getting polluted. So the teacher started making me sit at the back… When I was grade 6, unable to bear anymore, I dropped out. I wanted to become a Nurse or a Doctor. But now all my dreams are broken.”

Even the 2012 study, commissioned by the government’s flagship education programme, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, found exclusionary practices in schools. The Human Rights Watch Report 2014 titled “They Say We’re Dirty”: Denying An Education To India’s Marginalised finds that discrimination takes various forms, including teachers asking Dalit children to sit separately and making insulting remarks. Teachers and other high caste students address the Dalit students using derogatory terms for their caste. Dalit students are asked to sit separately for the mid-day meals in schools, and are not allowed to drink water from the same water container. In some schools Dalit children are not considered for leadership roles. Many students are expected to perform unpleasant jobs such as cleaning toilets. Schools in marginalised neighbourhoods often have the poorest infrastructure and least well-trained teachers. Many have fewer teachers than required.

Such discriminatory treatment in schools discourages Dalit children from attending school regularly. The children stay away from school, fall behind in classes, and eventually drop out. An education activist in Bihar told Human Rights Watch, “Dalit children are made to feel inferior in schools and schools reinforce caste norms. When it comes to any manual work such as cleaning of classrooms or picking up garbage, it’s always the Dalit children who are asked to do it.”

These practices endanger children’s health, welfare and education, and help to perpetuate a caste system that continues to keep millions in a state of poverty and underdevelopment.

Despite the abolition of Untouchability by the Constitution of India, and despite the passage of numerous legislations classifying untouchability in any sphere as a cognizable offence, the heinous practice lives on and takes on new expressions.

The other instrument that the “high caste” uses to dissuade Dalit children from attending school is rape. Rape is not only an instrument of “high caste” supremacy, but also a ploy to desist Dalits to attend school. Some organisations working for Dalit welfare termed atrocities as a ploy of “high caste” to deprive the Dalits from getting good education. Kalyani Menon Sen, an activist attached with an NGO “Women against Sexual Violence and Repression”, said, “Dalit children going to government schools in villages are the first layer of victims. They stop going to school after any girl falls victim of sexual offence. They are not rich enough to go to any other school. Hence, they will remain educationally backward. Once they are educationally backward, they will not be able to compete with upper caste or those socially superior to them. Hence, sexual offences against Dalits are being used as a tool now.”[xxxv]

 

  1. Police and the State

The police, as custodians of law, have a special role to protect the vulnerable sections of the population, in particular Dalits. However, physical and verbal abuse and intimidation of individuals by police on the basis of caste is commonplace not only for detainees but also for those who visit the police station to make a complaint.

There are many incidents in which police have reportedly beaten Dalits, including women, following requests by members of “high caste” communities that they be punished. Dalit women are particularly vulnerable to sexual torture by law enforcement officials, often as a means to punishing male relatives or “teaching their community a lesson.” Many times the police have failed to register complaints of violence against Dalits to pursue investigations under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989 – even though well documented.[xxxvi]

60-year old Moolchand, a resident of Ballabgarh in Haryana, has lost faith in the police. Landlords of a nearby village have kept his 16 year old daughter hostage for three months. Whenever Moolchand approaches police, the policemen start beating him up and sometimes senior officials make derogatory remarks because he is a Dalit. He says, “There is nobody in the village who will help me, simply because I am a Dalit. I know that my daughter is in the custody of landlords. Even the local police know that. When the landlords kidnapped my daughter, I lodged a complaint with the local police, but no action was taken against the landlords. After lodging several complaints, I requested police officials several times to rescue my daughter. But now the policemen have started abusing me. Sometimes they beat me and pass derogatory remarks against me and my community. Now with the help of the local police, the landlords have threatened me with dire consequences. I am worried about my wife and the other four children. The landlords sometimes threaten my family in my absence. I don’t know what to do.”[xxxvii]

The present police structure encourages discrimination by allowing police to act on the behest of particular powerful groups rather than to act lawfully in the interests of society as a whole. The prevalence of political interference and the influence of powerful individuals and groups on policing glaringly prove that the most socially and economically weak members of society are most vulnerable to abuses including torture and ill-treatment by police at the behest of these groups. Victims have nowhere to turn but to police to enforce laws designed to end discrimination. But police are not equipped or willing to do so. It is an enduring problem which can no longer be overlooked.[xxxviii]

Added to this is the State’s apathy in regards of Dalit rights. State’s attitude has been lackadaisical regarding cases of Dalit atrocities. Instead of taking action against the guilty, the state has pressurised the Dalits to come to terms with the guilty. In the administration of justice, police, prosecutors and judges fail to properly pursue cases brought by Dalits concerning discriminatory acts. This is evidenced by the high rate of acquittals and the large number of cases involving offences and atrocities against Dalits still pending before the courts.[xxxix]

 

Conclusion

Our national crime is Dalit lynching. It is not the sudden outburst of uncontrolled fury, or the unspeakable brutality of an insane mob. It represents the cool, calculating deliberation of intelligent people who openly avow that there is “unwritten law” that justifies them in putting Dalits to death without complaint under oath, without trial of jury, without opportunity to make defense, and without right to appeal. The lynchers very well know that they have the blessings of the law-makers, the law-enforcers and the administrators of justice.

“High caste” supremacy has been the central organising principle of Indian life. We have it at our core that a certain group of people, who belong to certain “castes” must always be at the bottom of society – socially, economically and politically. We should confront the religion-sanctioned institutional casteism that continues to pervade our society. From segregation to lynching of Dalits, we need to examine our motives more intently and reconcile the moral debt and psychological and economic damage inflicted upon generations of Dalits. A Dalit child that comes into this world is, because of the prevailing culture in this country, going to arrive with injuries that a “high caste” child just isn’t. Until we directly confront the problem of casteism, we don’t get at it. To ignore the fact that the largest democracy in the world was erected on a foundation of “high caste” supremacy is to cover the sin of national lying.

If “high caste” Indians can look at the terror they have been inflicting on their own country men, women, and children – slavery, segregation and lynching – and repent, then one can expect and experience democracy in India.

However, moral persuasion alone will never convince “high castes” to relinquish their supremacy over Dalits. Only Dalit power can do that. Because power concedes nothing without struggle. As Frederick Douglass said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it never will.”[xl]

Kaj Munk, a Danish pator killed by the Gestapo (Official secret police of Nazi Germany) in 1944, said, “What is therefore, our task today? Shall I answer: ‘Faith, hope and love’? That sounds beautiful. But I would say – courage. No – even that is not challenging enough to be the whole truth. Our task today is recklessness. For what we Christians lack is not psychology or literature…we lack a holy rage – the recklessness which comes from the knowledge of God and humanity. The ability to rage when justice lies prostrate on the streets, and when the lie rages across the face of the earth…a holy anger about the things that are wrong in the world. To rage against the ravaging of God’s earth, and the destruction of God’s world. To rage when little children must die of hunger when the tables of the rich are sagging with food. To rage at the lie that calls the threat of death and the strategy of destruction peace. To rage against complacency. To recklessly seek to change human history until it conforms to the norms of the kingdom of God (and its values of justice, love, compassion and equality).”[xli]

[i] “Lynching of Dalits at Jhajjar, Haryana.” http://www.pucl.org/Topics/Dalit-tribal/2003/jhajjar.htm

 

[ii] “Lynching of Dalits at Jhajjar, Haryana.” http://www.pucl.org/Topics/Dalit-tribal/2003/jhajjar.htm

 

[iii] “Dalit Lynching at Dulina: Cow – Protection, Caste and Communalism.” People’s Union For Democratic Rights, New Delhi, February, 2003.

 

[iv] “Dalit Lynching at Dulina: Cow – Protection, Caste and Communalism” People’s Union For Democratic Rights, New Delhi, February, 2003.

 

[v] James H. Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2014), p. 163.

 

[vi] James H. Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2014).

 

[vii] Joel B. Green, “Death of Jesus,” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. by Joel B. Green and Scott Mcknight (Downers Grove, Il: Intervarsity Press, 1992), p. 147.

 

[viii] James H. Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2014), p. 1.

 

[ix] Joel B. Green, “Death of Jesus,” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. by Joel B. Green and Scott Mcknight (Downers Grove, Il: Intervarsity Press, 1992), p. 148.

 

[x] Joel B. Green, “Death of Jesus,” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. by Joel B. Green and Scott Mcknight (Downers Grove, Il: Intervarsity Press, 1992), p. 147.

 

[xi] Gerald G. O’Collins, “Crucifixion,” in Anchor Bible Dictionary, ed. by David Noel Freedman, Vol. 1 (New York: Doubleday, 1992), p. 1207.

 

[xii] Narinder Kumar, “Dalit Atrocities in Haryana.” http://sikhinstitute.org/oct_2012/7-narinder_kumar.html

 

[xiii] “Crimes against dalits rise 245% in last decade.” Times of India, 9 August 2014. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Crimes-against-dalits-rise-245-in-last-decade/articleshow/39904583.cms

 

[xiv] Ralph T.H. Griffiith, The Hymns of the Rigveda, tenth book, hymn 90,verse 12, Vol. II, Second ed. E.J. Lazarus and Co. Benares, 1897, p. 519.

 

[xv] Satish Deshpande and Geetika Bapna, Report prepared for National Commission for Minorities, India, Delhi, 2008.

 

[xvi] M.E. Prabhakar, “The Search for a Dalit Theology” in A Reader in Dalit Theology, ed. by Arvind P. Nirmal and V. Devasahayam (Madras: Gurukul Lutheran Theological College & Research Institute, 1996) p. 41.

 

[xvii] Irudayam A., JayaShree  P.M and Joel G, Dalit Women Speak Out, NCDHR, 2006, p. 22.

 

[xviii] James H. Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2014), p. 19.

 

[xix] Ghanshyam Shah, Harsh Mander, Sukhadeo Thorat, Satish Deshpande and Amita Baviskar, Untouchability in Rural India (New Delhi: Sage Publication, 2006), p. 12.

[xx] P.V. Srividya, “Lost in Caste Politics, A Woman’s Right to Choose Her Partner.” http://www.thehindu.com/news/states/tamil-nadu/lost-in-caste-politics-a-womans-right-to-choose-her-partner/article4181881.ece

 

[xxi] “Fighting Caste Fighting Patriarchy.” in Economic and Political Weekly, vol xlviii, no 29, july 20, 2013 p. 6.

 

[xxii] “Fighting Caste Fighting Patriarchy.” in Economic and Political Weekly, vol xlviii, no 29, july 20, 2013 p. 6.

 

[xxiii] “Fighting Caste Fighting Patriarchy.” in Economic and Political Weekly, vol xlviii, no 29, july 20, 2013 p. 6.

 

[xxiv] SUBHASHINI ALI, “Killing love with violence and politics” http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/killing-love-with-violence-and-politics/article4881833.ece

 

[xxv] Subhash Gatade, “Pabnava To Natham: Whatever Happened To The Struggle For Annihilation Of Caste!” http://www.countercurrents.org, 18 July, 2013, http://www.countercurrents.org/gatade180713.htm

 

[xxvi] Subhash Gatade, “Pabnava To Natham :Whatever Happened To The Struggle For Annihilation Of Caste!” www,countercurrents.org18 July, 2013, http://www.countercurrents.org/gatade180713.htm

 

[xxvii] Subhash Gatade, “Pabnava To Natham :Whatever Happened To The Struggle For Annihilation Of Caste!” http://www.countercurrents.org18 July, 2013, http://www.countercurrents.org/gatade180713.htm

 

[xxviii] “Atrocities against Bhotmange Family in Khairlanji” www.vakindia.org/pdf/khairlanji.pdf

 

[xxix] “Atrocities against Bhotmange Family in Khairlanji” www.vakindia.org/pdf/khairlanji.pdf

 

[xxx] “Atrocities against Bhotmange Family in Khairlanji” www.vakindia.org/pdf/khairlanji.pdf

 

[xxxi] “Atrocities against Bhotmange Family in Khairlanji” www.vakindia.org/pdf/khairlanji.pdf

 

[xxxii] “Atrocities against Bhotmange Family in Khairlanji” www.vakindia.org/pdf/khairlanji.pdf

 

[xxxiii] “Atrocities against Bhotmange Family in Khairlanji” www.vakindia.org/pdf/khairlanji.pdf

 

[xxxiv] Narinder Kumar, “Dalit Atrocities in Haryana.” http://sikhinstitute.org/oct_2012/7-narinder_kumar.html

 

[xxxv] “Crimes against dalits rise 245% in last decade.” Times of India, 9 August 2014. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Crimes-against-dalits-rise-245-in-last-decade/articleshow/39904583.cms

 

[xxxvi] Narinder Kumar, “Dalit Atrocities in Haryana.” http://sikhinstitute.org/oct_2012/7-narinder_kumar.html

 

[xxxvii] Narinder Kumar, “Dalit Atrocities in Haryana.” http://sikhinstitute.org/oct_2012/7-narinder_kumar.html

 

[xxxviii] Narinder Kumar, “Dalit Atrocities in Haryana.” http://sikhinstitute.org/oct_2012/7-narinder_kumar.html

 

[xxxix] Narinder Kumar, “Dalit Atrocities in Haryana.” http://sikhinstitute.org/oct_2012/7-narinder_kumar.html

 

[xl] Johnnetta B. Cole and Beverly Guy-Sheftall, Gender Talk: The Struggle For Women’s Equality in African American Communities (New York: The Random House Publishing Group, 2003), p. 217.

 

[xli] Shane Claiborne, The Irresistible Revolution Living As An Ordinary Radical (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2006), p. 241.

 

Stewardship as the Ministry of Service and Inclusion

August 6, 2014

For most churches stewardship has to do mostly, if not solely, with money. This connection is valid, as the Greek term oikonomos (related to economy) is used for the crafty manager in Jesus’ parable of the unjust steward (Lk. 16). But we realize that stewardship is much broader than economics. The environment has become a pressing concern. We have all heard sermons about using our time and talents for the Lord. As it turns out, the biblical understanding of stewardship is very wide. It involves everything we have and everything we are, all in relation to God. For the faithful steward, it is a way of life, a life of discipleship.

Stewardship is a way of life, as it is grounded in God’s creation of human beings. The story of creation emphasizes that God created human beings in His own image. Though the traditional understanding of image of God emphasizes soul that enables human beings to think, reason and interact with God, the text of the story indicates that being made in God’s image has to do with our role or function: “Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea…” (Gen. 1.26). Human beings are commissioned as God’s stewards or agents to manifest God’s rule on earth. The responsibilities of naming the animals, and filling and subduing the earth show that they are being given an ambassadorial reign as God’s vice-regents.

God’s rule is vividly portrayed in Genesis 2. The focus is primarily on God’s care and concern towards his creation. God planted a garden and caused a river to water the garden. God’s care and concern towards Adam is seen in the creation of “every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food” (Gen. 2.9), and creation of a partner, Eve. When Adam did not find a suitable partner among animals and birds, He created Eve. Generally the theological significance of this story of Gen. 2 is understood that God’s intention for the creation of human being is to glorify or worship him. However, this understanding overlooks the essence of the story, i.e. God’s service to human beings – creator serving His creation. The story emphasises an essential quality of God, i.e. the desire of the creator for the best of his creation. Therefore, the rule of God should primarily be understood in terms of God’s care and concern for the welfare of His creation.

This rule of God or the kingdom of God was manifested in the life, words and works of Jesus Christ. The content of Jesus’ words and deeds was the kingdom of God. His Galilean ministry started with the proclamation of the coming of the kingdom of God (Mk. 1.15). His miraculous deeds were the indicators of the presence of God’s kingdom. In Mt. 12.22ff when Jesus healed the one who was mute and blind, the Pharisees said that Jesus did that with the power of the Beelzebub. But Jesus responded by saying that “If it is by the spirit of God I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you.”

What is this kingdom of God or rule of God? Mt. 12.22-32 indicates that bringing healing and wholeness to the body of the person demonstrates the presence of the kingdom of God. In this passage Jesus said two things that are interrelated: binding the strongman and the healing of the person. It was already said that the sickness was caused by the evil spirit. Jesus was dealing with the cause that caused pain and suffering in the person. Jesus was making right the wrong done by the demonic and oppressive forces. It was this transformative action of God in the lives of people and the society that was evident in the ministry of Jesus Christ. It is to this transformative ministry that the disciples of Jesus are called.

Presence of the Kingdom of God in Jesus’ Words and Deeds

Service to those in need

Jesus’ message of the kingdom of God proclaimed through words and deeds signifies service and inclusion. In Mark Jesus was described as touching the hand of people in the context of healing: a leper (1.41), Peter’s mother-in-law (1.31), the dead body of Jairus’ daughter (5.41), a deaf man (7.33), the blind man (8.23), and the dumb and deaf boy (9.27). There were also several instances of people touching Jesus: the woman with haemorrhage (5.27-28) and the crowd seeking healing (3.10, 6.56). Among these healings by touch, leper, dead body of Jairus’ daughter, and woman with haemorrhage were generally considered unclean.

The bone of contention between Jesus and the Jewish religious authorities was the unregulated contact with the unclean. Therefore, it is reasonable to suggest that Jesus’ deliberate gesture of touch and contact with the impure was part of his ministry of inclusion and service. His understanding of holiness was different from that of Jewish religious authorities. For them, holiness meant separation. For Jesus, it meant loving one’s neighbour as oneself or service to those in need.

Ministry of Inclusion

Jesus’ ministry did not confine to Jewish dominated areas. His ministry of exorcism, healing and teaching included the Gentiles. That means, his ministry of the kingdom of God was an inclusive ministry, not an excluding one. Jesus associated with tax-collectors and sinners and ate with them (Mk. 2.14-17). He exorcised a person in the Gentile territory (Mk. 5.1-20) and healed the daughter of the Syrophoenician woman (Mk. 7.26). Thus, he demonstrated that God’s rule had no boundaries.

Therefore, Jesus deeds demonstrated God’s rule in the service of the needy. They not only showed Jesus’ divine power, but also illustrated the character of his power, the way he used it in the service of others. The intense kindness, sensitivity and unfailing benevolence of Jesus aligned him with common people, particularly the marginalized groups, and contrasted him with the powerful religious and political leaders who never showed any interest in the welfare of these groups, except lording over them.

Jesus’ Teaching on Service

The primacy of service is emphasized in Mk. 9.33-37 and 10.42-45. The disciples’ discussion on greatness provides an occasion for Jesus to teach about true greatness in terms of service: “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all” (Mk. 9.35). Such service should be rendered to those marginalized in the society such as children (Mk. 9.36-37) and “little ones” (Mk. 9.42). The contrast between setting mind on “divine things” and on “human things” can be seen between Jesus’ understanding of greatness and that of his disciples (cf. Mk. 8.33).

The disciples’ understanding of greatness represented that of the society. In response to the request of James and John for places of honour in the kingdom of God, Jesus instructed:

You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers, lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many (Mk. 10.42-45).

The disciples knew how rulers used their power and authority to dominate and make people serve their greed. Their knowledge of the way power and authority operated in society was used by Jesus to teach them the alternate way that power and authority should be used by the community of the kingdom of God. He clearly stressed that the behaviour of rulers was the model that should be avoided by his disciples. The way the rulers rule and the great men exercise their authority and power is unacceptable in the kingdom of God. Self-seeking, self-promotion, and abuse of power and authority for self-interests are improper in the kingdom of God. “Greatness” and “being first” involve inversion of familiar models.

In contrast to the familiar models of greatness in the society, Jesus becomes the model of greatness to his disciples. Greatness is redefined in the kingdom of God. Jesus taught greatness as service. He commanded those who wanted to be great among his disciples to be servants and those who wanted to become first to be slaves of all.
Paul says that the church has been entrusted with this gospel of the kingdom of God, which he called “the mysteries of God” or the mystery of “the manifold wisdom of God” (Eph. 3.9,10). Related to this was his use of the word “stewardship” (oikonomia) to describe his preaching of the gospel (I Cor. 9.16,17).

Faithful stewards are involved in Christ’s ministry of reconciliation, inclusion and service. Obeying Christ’s commandment to love the unloved and the unlovable, to pray for our enemies, and to care for outcasts is part of our stewardship obligation.

How Much Is Enough?

August 6, 2014

In the chaos of the Indian street, pedestrians, honking cars, bikes, auto rickshaws and buses battle for road space. In the glass-walled fortresses of “India shining”, it’s a whole different kind of chaos. Shopping malls are where India’s exploding consumerism is witnessed.

Changes are happening in India at a rapid pace since the Indian market was opened for the international trade two decades ago. One of the changes is mushrooming of shopping malls, particularly in urban India. This change is due to the influence of “American Dream”, a myth, characterised by high consumption, compulsive acquisition and instantaneous gratification. The “American Dream” is nurtured by the American economic system that has created a culture in which people are encouraged to accumulate and show off material wealth, to the point where it defined their self-image and their status in society. “American Identity” has, thus, become defined by its relationship with consumer goods.

Emulating this American culture, people in India are embedded in an ever expanding consumerism. They are increasingly persuaded to focus on materialistic pursuits, to acquire “that next want” which goes far beyond a genuine need for sustenance, safety and security. Most people, especially the young, give in to the pressure to possess all the latest fashionable gadgets and consumer goods. Youth find in spending, a way of gaining autonomy and identity, and of overcoming their insecurities. Those who can afford and those who cannot, all seem to have been caught in the ever widening tentacles of consumerism.

Consumerism is economically manifested in the chronic purchasing of new material goods with little attention to their true need, durability, product origin or environmental consequences of manufacture and disposal. It is the desire, pursuit and acquisition of consumer goods. Consumerism is like the greedy man in the story of Leo Tolstoy “How Much Land Does a Man Need”:

After slowly accumulating more and more property, a greedy Russian named Pahom hears that the Bashkirs, a minority race in Russia, are practically giving their land away. He decides to visit them and they offer him as much land as he wants, provided he can walk its perimeter in one day. Pahom agrees and goes out on his trek, but when the sun starts to set, he finds he has walked too far. Running back, Pahom collapses at the starting point just as the sun disappears behind the horizon. The Bashkirs try to congratulate him, only to find him dead. In answer to the question posed in the title, the Bashkirs bury him in a hole six feet long by two feet wide.

The greedy man finds himself driven by an endless desire to acquire as much area before the sun sets and ultimately finds himself lost in his incapability to control his greed.

Similarly consumerism is an insatiable desire for things and money to buy them with little or no regard for their utility. Greed and acquisitive tendencies have grown due to unhealthy influence of consumerism along with scientific and technological development. As N. Radhakrishnan says, “Globalisation has pushed humanity to the cut-throat world of consumerism with utter disregard for human and ecological concerns. And we justify all this in the name of ‘enlightened self-interest’.” Moral principles and ethics have no place in the world of consumerism. The most corrosive impact of consumerism is on human relationships. Consumerism thrives by promoting use-and-throw culture. Attitudes formed towards things (use-and-throw) eventually get transferred to people. As things are discarded after use, people are also thrown out once they lose the capacity to participate in the cycle of consumption, because in consumeristic culture human beings themselves do not possess value. Their value and worth are measured merely on the basis of their purchasing power, thus turning human beings into commodities. The irony is, living beings find their value, worth and identity in non-living things.

The “philosophy” of consumerism is embedded in the slogans and images of the advertising agencies and display designers, who welded human physical needs, impulses and fantasies to consumer goods. Consumerism is driven by advertising, which is designed to create desire to follow trends, fantasies and value system based on acquisition of consumer goods. The advertisers bombard people with images and allurements of status, self-worth, satisfaction and happiness through acquisition. They make people captive in imagination and desires: “I can imagine it, therefore I want it. I want it, therefore I should have it. Because I should have it, I need it. Because I need it, I deserve it. Because I deserve it, I will do anything necessary to get it.” By making people slaves to their imagination and desires, the advertising industry indulges in “proliferation of unnecessary necessities”. It makes one feel insecure, since the advertising industry has turned one’s sense of self-worth into a symbolic presentation of possessions. In the world of consumerism one is captive and unaware. When the prisoner is unaware of his/her chains, then it is hopeless.

Advertising industry has invaded home and family through electronic and print media. During their free time, children and adults occupy themselves with mass media filled with advertisements of consumer goods with enticing promises of good feelings. Their purpose is to stoke further desire for more things. Television programmes and advertisements generally depict a way of life well above the norm and beyond what most people can afford. In this climate, almost everyone is vulnerable to “affluenza”, an infectious disease in which one becomes addicted to having more. Thus, there is no private retreat from the world of consumerism.

The important question, however, is whether consumerism delivers happiness and satisfaction promised by advertisers? In The High Price of Materialism American psychologist Tim Kasser investigates whether materialistic values really produce happiness and well-being. He cites and agrees with studies showing that once people have met their basic needs of food, clothing and shelter, there is little benefit in accumulating more. Using statistical studies Kasser shows how those who place a high value on acquiring wealth and material goods aren’t as happy as their less materialistic counterparts. The “paradox of affluence” is that “richer is not better.” Happiness can’t be purchased in the market place, no matter how much advertising tries to convince us of it.

What’s disturbing is how we continue to shop when it doesn’t make us happier. Kasser argues that our hyper-consumerism is a response to insecurity. In the highly competitive market-driven economies the sense of insecurity has increased. Advertising industry has exploited this human malady and enticed people with false promises of security, satisfaction and self-worth through acquisition of consumer goods. However, the lack of consumption restraint may result in feelings of insecurity, guilt, anxiety, frustration and loss of control, financial hardships and domestic discord. The broader socio-economic consequences associated with unrestrained consumption include global resource depletion and increasing environmental problems.

Kasser found that “existing scientific research on the value of materialism yields clear and consistent findings…The studies document that strong materialistic values are associated with a pervasive undermining of people’s well-being, from low life satisfaction and happiness, to depression and anxiety, to physical problems such as headaches, and to personality disorders, narcissism, and antisocial behaviour.” Jane Hammerslough, a journalist, says, “Faith in material solutions has a funny way of renewing and reproducing itself. Once you sail into the mythical land of Consumer Satisfaction, Where products fulfil every desire, pretty soon you notice another ship setting sail for a place where there’s the potential for even more satisfaction. The product you own is okay, but think of how much greater the satisfaction could be with something else you can buy! It’s hard to resist the urge to hop on.”

What is ignored in this world of consumerism is the fact that the real sources of lasting human fulfilment, security and satisfaction are stable family, healthy relationships, community and self-acceptance. Our worth is determined not by what we have or don’t have, rather what we are as individuals. In an essay, “Gandhian Economy and the Way to Realise It”, J.C. Kumarappa pointed out: “Our life is something higher than material possessions and our life is also to be looked at from the possibilities of development of personality. The personality of an individual does not require for its development the satisfaction of a multiplicity of wants. In fact the simpler (the) life the more conducive it is (to) exercising the higher faculties.” True wealth lies in the scarcity of one’s wants, as opposed to the abundance of one’s possessions. Having fewer things means enjoying what we have more and actually getting to use it, thereby raising its intrinsic value. As it is said, “The less clutter that one has in their surroundings, the fewer distractions there are from the essentials such as family, friends, food, nature and study.” Self-control prevents us from falling into the black-hole of consumerism. Self-absorption, self-gratification and living for now should be overtaken by thrift, contentment and simplicity. As the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu said, “He who knows that enough is enough will always have enough.”

Who Am I?

August 6, 2014

In 2005, Liz Beattie, a retired British school teacher, proposed to her union, the Professional Association of Teachers, that the word failure should be banned from classrooms and replaced with the phrase deferred success, as the former was not good for building self-esteem in school children. Building self-esteem in students has been a primary focus in schools, especially in the western world.

Not only schools, advertising industry also focuses on self-esteem, because people need self-esteem. It gives them a sense of self-worth. Advertising appeals to this need in people to sell its products.

What does advertising do? It tells us what it means to be a “desirable” or “ideal” woman or man. It uses different strategies depending on whether the target audience is female or male.

Advertisements of cosmetics, hair colouring and skin products aimed at girls and women show their models as “beautiful”. Unfortunately, skinny models, with skimpy rags at times, are presented as if everybody is supposed to look that way. Advertising presents a very narrow and limited image not only of beauty but also of women roles. Girls and women in advertisements show concern mostly about their physical appearance – their clothes and their body – in order to attract boys and men. Seldom are women shown in roles of authority and responsibility. The relentless barrage of advertising with the narrow and limited images of beauty and potential programmes our minds to a limited understanding of self-image and self-worth.

The “flawless appearance” of models with airbrushed blemishes and wrinkles, bleached teeth and eyeballs, created by makeup artists, photographers and photo retouchers, captivates girls and women. What happens when a girl or a woman is exposed to these artificial, manufactured images? She will be dissatisfied with her real self. Poor self-image results in higher levels of anxiety and depression. It can cause her to avoid activities she normally enjoys, lower her confidence and self-esteem, and at times lead to eating disorders.

The “highly processed look” of models in the advertisements, thus, creates anxiety and depression, promoting envy and fostering feelings of low self-image and low self-esteem.

Advertising also targets boys and men. It presents boys and men having an aura of power, physical strength and dominance. Personal grooming products, such as deodorants, colognes, shaving aids, hair colouring, etc., are sold using self-esteem through improving appearance. Most of these advertisements use the idea of drawing the attention of “attractive” women, because of a smoother face, sexier smell, or younger-looking hair. The implied message to the viewer is this is the way a boy or a man should be. This is again a very narrow and limited image of masculinity. Traits like sensitivity, compassion and vulnerability are never shown in the male image.

When the self-image of boys and men do not align with that of handsome, muscular and clear complexioned men in advertisements, their self-esteem gets damaged.
Advertising, thus, creates a “problem” in viewers by presenting a new image of “perfect person” and consequently denting in their self-image and self-esteem. It also offers a “solution” to this “created problem” saying, “To become “that perfect person” you should consume our products.”

Self-esteem and Character

What the advertising industry is trying to do is to instil in us an obsession of “self”. The focus is so much on “self”: “I should be the best”, “I should have the best”, “I should be the prettiest”, etc. This produces selfish, dissatisfied people with a distorted self-image and an unrealistic view of the world they live in. If the “self” is allowed to become the overriding focus of our lives in a misguided pursuit of self-esteem, the results can be disastrous, experts say. The extent of greedy, egocentric, careless behaviour observable in our consumeristic societies seems to confirm that pursuing self-image and self-esteem as created by the advertising industry is catastrophic both to individuals and communities.

While no one denies the importance of having a healthy self-esteem, overemphasis on it would lessen the focus on another, perhaps more important one – character. This is a rare commodity in the present consumeristic world. People no longer talk about character. Nor do families, educational institutions and religious centres emphasise on it.

However, I believe that a healthy self-esteem comes from developing a firm, good character. One should focus on building character. Self-esteem will naturally follow.
Character refers to “the moral dimension of one’s self understanding or self-definition.” People of good character place moral concerns at the center of their identity. Conduct flows from character. Also attitudes, motives, perception and value system are based on character.

Although people of good character derive self-esteem from many sources, their self-esteem is deeply influenced by their moral behaviour. Self-esteem results from good conduct. In other words, you feel good about yourself because you have done something right.

Building character involves having integrity and honesty, and becoming a neighbour. Self-esteem should come from love for others. This is outgoing love, which is opposite to selfish love promoted by the advertising industry. Love for neighbour concerns for the wellbeing of the other. This is the core of healthy self-esteem. As we do things for the welfare of others, we begin to experience feelings of true worth.

The worth-based self-esteem comes from a firm belief of being created in the image of God. This belief gives a sense of intrinsic self-worth or self-dignity. If one has a sense of inherent self-worth or self-dignity, then one may be motivated to behave in ways that brings this worth or dignity into realization.

Since everybody is made in God’s image, everyone has an intrinsic worth. Individuals have value and worth apart from their age, gender, race, educational status, vocation, etc. This notion of personal worth leads to a judgment that individuals have a right to life and wellbeing. The belief of intrinsic human worth, therefore, ought to be expressed through compassion and love to enhance life and wellbeing of ALL.

A firm belief of being created in God’s image, therefore, forms the basis of a healthy self-esteem, which in turn prompts one to bear the fruit of that inherent self-worth or self-image.


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