Monsanto and Its Philanthropy

August 24, 2015

Over a period of several years Monsanto, a multi-billion dollar transnational corporation (TNC), has worked very hard to build its image as a champion of the poor. To legitimize this image it is engaged in a high profile effort through giving grants to some established NGOs such as the World Vision.

Monsanto established “Monsanto Fund” in 1964 as the charitable arm of the company. It states that “our philanthropic goal has been to bridge the gap between people’s needs and their available resources. We want to help people realize their dreams, and hopefully inspire them to enroll others in their vision.”

Monsanto has also Monsanto Fund Matching Gifts Program. This program “gives permanent Monsanto employees and active members of the Monsanto Board of Directors an opportunity to join Monsanto Fund’s support of not-for-profit institutions.” Monsanto makes it candid that the request for support of an NGO is honored “if the recipient organization adheres to the guidelines of the Matching Gifts Program.” “Eligible organizations include, but are not limited to: Colleges and universities, private and public elementary and secondary schools, organizations that serve youth, museums, libraries, health and human service agencies, environmental, community and cultural organizations.” World Vision is one of the recipients of the “matching gifts”.

Monsanto’s philanthropic activities are meant to not only improve its image, but also provide key relationships. It understands better than anyone that relationships, partnerships and network are the key for success of the company.

On November 1, 2006, in his 2006 IBM lecture at Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri, on “Sabina Xhosa and the New Shoes: Introducing Technologies into Developing Countries”, Hugh Grant, Chairman, President, and CEO of Monsanto, focused on agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa. He took Malawi as a model. Agriculture is the primary industry in Malawi. According to him, “seventy-two percent of the people’s caloric intake depends on maize, or corn.”1 Maize or corn is the staple food in most Sub-Sahara African countries.

Monsanto was seeking a foothold in the Sub-Sahara Africa. Grant said:

We haven’t broken through in Africa in any of the Sub-Sahara African countries. So what do we need? We need one African country to say yes. One African country to start field trials. We need to start the field trials and start testing this in African soil, and at Monsanto we’re ready to work with an array of partners to make happen.1

The opportune time for Monsanto arrived with the arrival of severe drought in Malawi in 2004. Any predator looks for a vulnerable prey. Malawi, after the drought, was just the kind of prey predator companies like Monsanto look for. According to Grant, Monsanto held “a discussion with relief organizations, non-government organizations, the Malawi government, and some of the relief agencies, particularly an agency called World Vision. We got together and said this is going to keep on happening unless we take a different approach. And that’s what we did.”1 On December 20, 2005 Monsanto announced its intention to donate 700 metric tons of “quality hybrid maize seeds” to farmers in Malawi. This “high quality seed” was “donated” to the farmers through “some of the NGOs and government and relief agencies working on delivery and distribution systems.”1

U.S. Ambassador to Malawi Alan Eastham praised Monsanto for its donation. He said, “The donation of hybrid seed to local farmers will potentially have a significant impact on the quality of next year’s harvest and represents the best tradition of socially responsible giving by the U.S. private sector.”2 A representative of World Vision Malawi, one of seven members of the NGO consortium, said, “This donation is addressing both the short-term and the long-term needs of the people in Malawi, and fits very well with our programs in this country.”2 The nexus between the US government and Monsanto is evident by not only the statement of the US Ambassador to Malawi, but also a highly positive report given by Charles Corey, Washington File Staff Writer. The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, US Department of State (Web site:

Therefore, Monsanto’s “donation” of seeds to Malawi farmers through its partners like the World Vision was to get a foothold in the Sub-Sahara Africa. What are its interests?

Monsanto pledges “Growth for a Better World”: “We want to make the world a better place for future generations.” Increased yields are the core of this agenda. To achieve this Monsanto provides “the products and systems” to farmers. Its main product is Roundup herbicide. Monsanto also produces GM seeds. The GM crop is resistant to the herbicide, Roundup, offering farmers a convenient way to spray fields with weed killer without affecting crops. These are known as Roundup Ready Crops. The genes contained in the GM seeds are patented.

Patenting means that farmers who buy GM seeds enter into a licensing agreement with Monsanto for the use of that particular gene. They are forbidden from saving seeds for the next season. They must buy new seed from the company each season. This denies farmers’ right to save seed. The implications of this are huge for poor farmers. Saved seed is the one resource that the poor farmers depend upon to carry them through the year. Denial of this right will greatly impact them economically. For they have to pay more each season to buy new seed. Although Monsanto purports to help farmers “improve their lives” through the supply of GM seed, the reality is that it places unbearable economic burden on the poor farmers. Teresa Anderson says, “Social and economic risks from GM crops are equally weighty. They will increase dependence on outside technologies, marginalize farmers from R&D, and consequently exacerbate the social and economic difficulties….”4

The implications of patenting of the gene in the GM seed go further than forbidding seed saving. If a GM crop cross-pollinates with a neighboring crop through the movement of wind, insects, birds, or accidental seed mixing, the neighboring harvest would be likely to carry the patented gene also. Monsanto could then claim that the neighboring farm has infringed their patent. The farmer, who was unintentionally contaminated by somebody else’s GM crop, would be breaking the law if he saved his seed and planted it. Monsanto goes after farmers, farmers’ co-ops, seed dealers or anyone it suspects may have infringed its patents of genetically modified seeds. Ever since commercial introduction of its GM seeds, in 1996, Monsanto has launched thousands of investigations and filed lawsuits against hundreds of farmers and seed dealers.

All this boils down to the dreadful result, that is, Monsanto controlling much of the world’s food supply. Control of food supply leads to control of people.

Genesis of Monsanto

Hugh Grant says, “As an agricultural and technology company committed to human rights, we have a unique opportunity to protect and advance human rights. We have a responsibility to consider not only how our business can benefit consumers, farmers, and food processors, but how it can protect the human rights of both Monsanto’s employees and our business partners’ employees.” However, this statement needs to be verified with the “gene” of Monsanto.

Monsanto was founded in 1901 by John Francis Queeny as a saccharin producing company. Giving his wife’s maiden name Monsanto to the company, he called it the Monsanto Chemical Works. His steady customer was a new company in Georgia named Coca-Cola.
Later Monsanto extended its list of products to vanillin, caffeine, drugs used as sedatives and laxatives, plastics, resins, rubber goods, fuel additives, artificial caffeine, industrial fluids, vinyl siding, dishwasher detergent, anti-freeze, fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. From 1929 to 1971, Monsanto produced PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) as industrial coolants and insulating fluids for transformers and other electrical equipment.

In the 1960s, Monsanto manufactured Agent Orange, a poisonous chemical toxin. Agent Orange is the code name for a powerful herbicide and defoliant. This is “a chemical that strips trees and plants of their leaves and is sometimes used in warfare to deny cover to enemy forces.” The US military used this toxin in Vietnam War. It sprayed an estimated 21,136,000 gallons of Agent Orange across South Vietnam to defoliate jungles.5 This chemical has been reported to cause serious skin diseases as well as a vast variety of cancers in the lungs, larynx, and prostate. Children in the areas where Agent Orange was used have been affected and have multiple health problems including cleft palate, mental retardation, hernias, and extra fingers and toes. According to Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 4.8 million Vietnamese people were exposed to Agent Orange, resulting in 400,000 deaths and disabilities, and 500,000 children born with birth defects.6

In February 2004, the Vietnamese Association of Victims of Agent Orange (VAVA) filed a class action law suit against Monsanto in a New York court. On March 10, 2005, Judge Jack B. Weinstein, who defended the U.S. veterans affected by Agent Orange, dismissed the suit, ruling that there was no legal basis for the plaintiffs’ claims.
During the 1970s, Monsanto shifted more resources into biotechnology. In the 1980s it decided to become one of the key players in the worldwide agricultural biotechnology market. In 1981 the company created a molecular-biology group for research in plant genetics. The next year, Monsanto became the first to genetically modify a plant cell. Over the next few years, it developed genetically modified seeds of cotton, soybeans, corn and canola.

In the late 1990s after restructuring the company, Monsanto was rebranded as a “life sciences” company. A new company Solutia was named for the chemical and fibers operations. Then after additional reorganization in 2002 Monsanto officially declared itself an “agricultural company”, dedicated to making the world “a better place for future generations”.

Reality Check

GTM (Gaming The Market) gives a short list of grievances against Monsanto5 :

1. 1917 US government suit against Monsanto over the safety of saccharin;
2. 1965-1972 UK landfill illegal toxic waste dumping;
3. Agent Orange chemical warfare;
4. 1979 dioxin chemical spill Kemner v. Monsanto longest civil jury trial in U.S. history;
5. Responsible for 56 contaminated Superfund sites;
6. Anniston, Alabama mercury and PCB-laden waste discharged into local creeks over 40 years;
7. Terminator seeds that lead to world food shortages, poverty, and death;
8. Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone Posilac (rBST) (rBGH);
9. Using coercive tactics to monopolize world markets;
10. Pursuing 500 cases annually against customers for “seed fraud”;
11. Andhra Pradesh Government vs. Monsanto on India seed price fixing;
12. US Department of Justice and US Securities and Exchange Commission criminal and civil charges for international bribing;
13. False advertising for “biodegradable” Roundup weed killer;
14. India child labor abuse in the manufacture of cotton-seeds;
15. Farmers suicides in India;7
16. Corporate tax evasion at Sauget, Illinois facility;
17. Campaign against dairies which do not inject bovine growth hormone from advertising.

On March 11, 2008 a documentary was aired on French television (ARTE – French-German Cultural TV channel) by French journalist and film maker Marie-Monique Robin, entitled The World According to Monsanto (Le Monde selon Monsanto). Over a period of three years Robin has collected material for her documentary, through numerous interviews with people of different backgrounds. She traveled widely, from Latin America, to Asia, through Europe and the United States, to personally interview farmers and people in influential positions. This documentary dealt a severe blow to the credibility of Monsanto.

The destructive effects of genetically engineered crops are worldwide, but the extensive damage done in India has been widely documented by Vandana Shiva, a physicist and environmentalist. She is an activist and author of many books concerning the nefarious consequences of GM farming as opposed to the wisdom of traditional family and biological farming. Commenting on the consequences on farms and human life in India due to the use of hybrid seeds, she said,

Recently I was visiting Bhatinda in Punjab because of an epidemic of farmers’ suicides. Punjab used to be the most prosperous agricultural region in India. Today every farmer is in debt and despair. Vast stretches of land have become waterlogged desert. And, as an old farmer pointed out, even the trees have stopped bearing fruit because heavy use of pesticides has killed the pollinators — the bees and butterflies…And Punjab is not alone in experiencing this ecological and social disaster. Last year I was in Warangal, Andhra Pradesh, where farmers have also been committing suicide. Farmers who traditionally grew pulses and millets and paddy have been lured by seed companies to buy hybrid cotton seeds referred to as “white gold”, which were supposed to make them millionaires. Instead they became paupers.

In India and China it has been proved that the promises of Monsanto that BT cotton (genetically engineered cotton) would produce a far higher yield and prove less costly in terms of herbicide and fertilizer required has been proved devious.

Monsanto (and its partners like World Vision) is not held back by any considerations of ethics. Monsanto does its business exclusively with the intent of increasing its own profit at the cost of farmers worldwide. If left to its own devices it will most certainly destroy not only the livelihood of millions of farmers, but also their very life.


Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds have transformed the company and are radically altering global agriculture. The company has produced GM seeds for soybeans, corn, canola and cotton. More products have been developed or are in the pipeline, including seeds for sugar beets and alfalfa. The company is also seeking to extend its reach into milk production by marketing an artificial growth hormone for cows that increases their output.

On April 25, 2009 Monsanto announced in India a special fellowship program for research on rice and wheat plant breeding. Under the program, the company will allocate $10 million to encourage young Ph.D. scholars to pursue their research in rice and wheat breeding. Edward Runge, Director of Monsanto’s Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars Program, told that the company was looking at attracting students from India and China, two of the fastest growing economies and the largest populated countries. Also rice and wheat are staple food in these countries.

1. Hugh Grant, “Sabina Xhosa and the New Shoes: Introducing Technologies into Developing Countries,” 2006 IBM Lecture at Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri, on November 1, 2006. [↩] [↩] [↩] [↩]
2. Charles W. Corey, “U.S. Company Donates Maize Seed to Farmers in Malawi: Monsanto’s Contribution Expected to Feed More Than 1 Million People.” [↩] [↩]
3. In order to understand the nexus among the US government, Corporations and NGOs one may read about US Global Leadership Campaign (USGLC). USGLC is an influential network of over 400 organizations and thousands of individuals. Corporations and NGOs such as Monsanto, Lockheed Martin, Mercy Corps, CARE, World Vision, Caterpiller, AIPAC, Motorola “joined together in a coalition with a common message and a common mission.” [↩]
4. Teresa Anderson, “Patented GM Crops: Making Seed Saving Illegal?” [↩]
5. “Monsanto: Profiting without Conscience.” [↩] [↩]
6. Watch the documentary on the effects of Agent Orange in Vietnam. [↩]
7. “Vandana Shiva on Farmer Suicides, the U.S.-India Nuclear Deal, Wal-Mart in India and More,”, 13.12.2006.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data record, there have been 166,304 farmers’ suicides in a decade since 1997 in India. Of these, 78,737 occurred in five years between 1997 and 2001. The next five years – from 2002 to 2006 – proved worse, seeing 87,567 take their lives. This means that on an average, there has been one farmer’s suicide every 30 minutes since 2002., 31.1.2008. [↩]

Monsanto, a Contemporary East India Company, and Corporate Knowledge in India

August 24, 2015

Economic growth, large technical workforce and lower research costs in India are attracting Research and Development (R&D) investment from multinational corporations (MNCs), particularly in agri-business. In the OECD economies, agri-business is the second most profitable industry, after pharmaceuticals. Contributing to its profitability is rapid development in biotechnology.

The Indian Biotechnology sector is gaining global visibility and is being picked for emerging investment opportunities. India has 40 state agriculture universities, five deemed universities, one central agricultural university and more than 200 agricultural colleges. These institutions produce about 14,000 graduates and 7,800 postgraduate and Ph.D. scholars every year.

With Monsanto’s progress in European markets frozen, growing economies like India and their markets took on greater significance. The company urgently needed to expand the market for its GM crops internationally. Monsanto’s agriculture division had already begun to focus on Asian, African and Latin American markets in the early 1990s, towards the goal of “transforming agriculture” in a number of countries, a target that became known as the “developing country goal”. Monsanto’s commercial vision has been projected as a benevolent vision for the world. When Robert Shapiro was appointed as Monsanto’s new Chief Executive Officer (CEO) in 1995, he engaged in a program to reorient the company’s business around “sustainability”. He linked the urgent need to grow enough food to feed a growing population with “inadequate” existing technologies and agricultural practices. So Monsanto’s “sustainability” vision, it is claimed, could be realized through GM technology.

Monsanto India (MI), which began its operations in 1949 as a trader of industrial chemicals and later an agrochemical company in 1975 with the launch of the herbicide, Machete (butachlor), has evolved into an agribusiness giant of GM seeds. The Monsanto research centre established at Indian Institute of Sciences (IISc), Bangalore in 1998 is the only R&D centre established outside the US.

The foundation for Monsanto to tap into the research potential of students as well as the research facilities available in Indian universities was laid by a trade agreement between India and the United States, known as the Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture (KIA) or Agricultural Knowledge Initiative (AKI). This trade deal was influenced by Monsanto, Archer Daniels Midland Company and Wal-Mart.

Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture (KIA)

The India-US Agreement on Agriculture and Science and Technology emerged from a joint statement by Dr. Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India, and George W. Bush, then US President, on July 18, 2005. This far-reaching bilateral pronouncement was the genesis of the Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture (KIA). Later, in March 2006 Singh and Bush signed a joint declaration on enhanced cooperation in agricultural education and research. This cooperation is based on the KIA.

The KIA is implemented through KIA Board, which consists of US and Indian members from government, universities, and the private sector. Dr. Norman Borlaug and Dr. M.S. Swaminathan are honorary advisors for the KIA. The US private sector members are: Monsanto, the largest seller of GM seeds in the world; Archer Daniels Midland, a US grain purchaser and trader and is, with Cargill, one of the companies that maintains “oligopolistic control of the American food-manufacturing and food-processing markets”; and Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer.

The Board has decided to focus initially on four core areas: agricultural education, food processing and marketing, biotechnology and water management.[1] “The KIA is part of the US comprehensive strategy on revitalizing the bilateral relationship in agriculture with India,” said Susan Owens, director of the FAS Research and Scientific Exchanges Division. A key feature of KIA is university-business partnership. Owen stated: “We want to broaden the scope of the AKI beyond just research…We want to use the AKI to increase agricultural production in India….”[2] That means, industry helps in not only reshaping the universities’ curricula, but also identifying research areas that have the potential for rapid commercialization.[3] This new Knowledge Initiative required development of “effective policy, regulatory, and institutional frameworks.”[4] As Owen said, “The AKI aims to promote science and technology to create a sound regulatory environment that promotes investment and trade.”[5]

The KIA Board discussed rights (Intellectual Property Rights) to products that the research in public-funded universities will develop. US land-grant universities and industry representatives are asked to help reshape the curricula of Agricultural education. Some of suggested new courses were in entrepreneurship development, agribusiness, biotechnology, international trade, patent regimes and environmental science in various disciplines. Under KIA endowment of industry-sponsored chairs in Indian universities are allowed.

However, there is fear that India’s Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights Act could face threats under US pressure. Along with multinationals such as Monsanto, the US has been lobbying for a change in India’s intellectual property laws, to introduce patents on seeds and genes and dilute the provisions protecting farmers’ rights. Vandana Shiva, a physicist and environmentalist, said,

“The Science and Technology Cooperation Agreement between the US and India establishes intellectual property protocols of research, bypassing consultation with Indian scientists and the Indian public which has been resisting IPR regimes that force countries to patent life, and create monopolies on seeds, medicine and software…For us, these agreements are instruments of corporate dictatorship; they are not instruments of democracy. And as dictatorship, they will fuel more anger, more discontent, more frustration.”[6]

The Protection and Utilization of Public Funded Intellectual Property Bill 2008

Yielding to the pressures of both the US government and the MNCs such as Monsanto, Indian government introduced in the Parliament a controversial legislation titled “The Protection and Utilization of Public Funded Intellectual Property Bill 2008”. The Bill is modeled on the US’ 1980 Bayh-Dole Act. It provides for the protection and utilization of intellectual property originating from public-funded research. It would alter the existing IP rules to allow government funded universities and autonomous research institutions, rather than the government, to patent their innovations and research outcomes, and to reward institutions and inventors with a share of the royalties and licensing fees generated from the commercial products that result.[7] It also recommends universities to have a committee, called an intellectual property management committee, to “identify, assess, document and protect public funded intellectual property having commercial potential.” The objective of the IP Bill, it is claimed, is to create an environment in which wealth can be generated from the university system, stimulate national competitiveness, and forge closer academia-industry partnerships.

The IP Bill has attracted considerable debate due to its perceived and potential adverse impact on the R&D, innovation and public interest.[8] Pushpa Bhargava, who resigned in 2007 as vice-chairman of National Knowledge Commission, an Indian government advisory body that recommended the Bill, says that there was no major open discussion at the commission and he was “taken aback” by the recommendation. The IP Bill also goes against the National Knowledge Commission’s policy objectives of promoting, sharing and using new knowledge to maximize public good.

Supporters of the Bill, mostly government officials and some section of industry argued that “protection of IP creates incentive for more knowledge and technology generation as innovators are recognized and rewarded.”[9] Officials from India’s Department of Biotechnology, which helped draft the Bill, say that the Bill will promote innovation in Indian universities and research institutes by generating funds through patents. According to Somenath Ghosh, managing director of India’s National Research Development Corporation, it has brought “much-needed change,” as “there was no mechanism or incentive to protect knowledge and their research networks have limited interaction with industry.”

IP Legislation and Corporate Knowledge

Since “The Protection and Utilization of Public Funded Intellectual Property Bill 2008” is modeled on the 1980 US’ Bayh-Dole Act, the latter’s impact on US universities imparts some important lessons to Indian academia.
Jim Patrico gives three reasons for bringing US public universities and private companies closer[10]:

1. Stagnant levels of public research funding by the Federal Government for agriculture research since 1980s. In 2008 National Budget under George Bush, surprisingly there was nearly one third cut in the public funding for agriculture research at the land grant institutions. This seems to be the government’s strategy to gradually eliminate regular public research funding. Giving the rationale for the massive reduction in grants, a USDA deputy secretary said, “We feel like our agricultural research should not be earmarked; it should be competitively awarded, and that’s how you’re going to get the most bang for the buck.”[11]

Due to increase in cost of research, universities had to find their own ways to raise the extra amount of money from outside sources such as big companies. Because of its partnership with Monsanto, University of Missouri was nicknamed “University of Monsanto”.

1. The 1980’s US Bayh-Dole Act gave US universities, for the first time, ownership of patents arising from government funded research.

2. The 1980 US Supreme Court verdict that life forms could be patented. This made agriculture a prime target for patents. Private industry and universities mainly focused on the promising field of biotechnology. Patrico notes, “Within months of that Supreme Court decision, faculty members of UC-Davis created Calgene, a private company and one of the first biotech companies of the chute.”

Although the university-corporate relationship existed even before 1980, Boyh-Dole Act gave public institutions a kick towards the market by encouraging them to patent their public funded research. A shift in universities’ research focus towards creation of marketable products has dawned. The habit of patenting their research has developed a taste for private business deals. This put the public funded institutions in a conundrum, because they no longer existed as “public” institutions. Paul Gepts, professor of agronomy and plant genetics at UC Davis, says, “Public universities are a contradiction.”[12]

Patenting of research and university-industry alliance raise troublesome questions about academic freedom, the purity of research and research agendas. Patenting of research necessitates confidentiality. Agricultural universities and research centers become no longer places of open academic sharing and collaboration. William Folk, a plant geneticist at the University of Missouri says, “When I started in the 70s, meetings were filled with people criticizing each other and sharing ideas…(But today) if you have an idea that has any potential commercial value, you are reluctant to share.”[13] Thus, colleagues are seen as potential competitors.

Moreover, scientists who perform industry-sponsored research routinely sign agreements requiring them to keep both the methods and the results of their work confidential for a certain period of time. As biotech and pharmaceutical companies involve more in funding research, confidentiality becomes very important for the funding company. From a company’s point of view, confidentiality may be necessary to prevent potential competitors from pilfering ideas. However, one of the basic tenets of science is open sharing of ideas and information. That is why Steven Rosenberg, cancer researcher of the National Cancer Institute, says, “The ethics of business and the ethics of science do not mix well.”

There is also genuine fear that university-corporate relationship might lead to tampering the research manuscripts to serve corporate commercial interests. In 1996 four researchers working on a study of calcium channel blockers accused their sponsor Sandoz that passages highlighting the drug’s potential dangers were removed from a draft manuscript. They wrote in a letter to the Journal of the American Medical Association: “We believed that the sponsor…was attempting to wield undue influence on the nature of the final paper. This effort was so oppressive that we felt it inhibited academic freedom.”[14]

As the research in the public institutions is market-driven, there is a potential danger that the research focus or agenda of universities converge with corporate agendas and interests. The one possibly negative impact of research collaboration with industry is the impact on public sector research priorities. Major victim will be the “minor crops”, which are commercially not profitable for the companies. Market-driven research also suppresses ideas that may not have immediate commercial value. Organic farming will get affected for lack of not only public funds, but also enthusiasm among agricultural researchers. Students, who wish to pursue their research in organic farming, will face a bleak future.

University-Corporation relationship gives legitimacy to the company and its products. The company can use this legitimacy to promote its products. In 2007 Monsanto gave royalty-free license of its GM papaya seeds to the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, India. License will be valid for ten years and royalty will be decided thereafter. “This is the first product delivery from Monsanto to the university, and Monsanto has been working on this for the past year,” said Bhagirath Choudhary, National Coordinator, International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications that assists universities acquire technology from private companies.[15] The reason for the collaboration between the university and Monsanto was that famers buy papaya seeds from the university.

Therefore, IP law makes public funded universities and research centers excessively focus on income generation and sharing of royalties. This may derail public funded academic institutions from their mission of unqualified pursuit and public dissemination of truth and knowledge. The university serves the broad public interest, to the extent that it treasures informed analysis, critical inquiry and uncompromising standards of intellectual integrity. However, university-industry alliance converts these public centers of knowledge into centers to serve the greed of private companies. However, Rob Hersch, Monsanto’s vice president of product and technology cooperation, disagrees. He says, “The No.1 issue for us with universities and with science is to get good information…unbiased, believable, reproducible information.”[16] Ignacio Chapela, a UC-Berkeley professor of microbial ecology, admits that a deal between university and company “institutionalizes the university’s relationship with one company, whose interest is profit. Our role should be to serve the public good.”[17] Therefore, there is a real danger of “business of the universities” becoming business. Consequentially, the knowledge of universities will help widen the gap between the rich and the poor by providing knowledge that helps rich to become richer, rather than bridging the gap between the rich and the poor. So, research will be geared towards making profit for the big corporations.

Thus, university education system is converted to essentially profit making commercial enterprise. It is structured like any other commercial enterprise that looks primarily at its bottom line. A deeper analysis of nature, which has no immediate commercial market, is now being downgraded in favor of what the industry considers as “lucrative” research. It shifts research priorities away from what society needs as a whole to the greed of the corporations. Science is no longer for advancing knowledge and the wellbeing of society but almost entirely for generating profits for the educational enterprise, and consequently to the funding corporations. Professor Steve Rose of UK’s Open University, succinctly puts it,

“Well I think there is a very real problem from the point of view of university research in the way that private companies have entered the university, both with direct companies in the universities and with contracts to university researchers. So that in fact the whole climate of what might be open and independent scientific research has disappeared, the old idea that universities were a place of independence has gone. Instead of which one’s got secrecy, one’s got patents, one’s got contracts and one’s got shareholders.”[18]

Stifling downstream R&D, hindering free scientific exchange of scientific information, data and materials and increasing opportunities for conflict of interest and other unethical practices not consistent with the best interests of science is not the way to go.

In India Monsanto has started country-wide campaign to attract research talent into the development of hybrid rice and wheat. For this, it has linked with some of the country’s premier universities and research institutes. In 2009 Monsanto announced $10 million grant to establish Monsanto’s Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars Program (MBBISP) to improve research on breeding techniques for rice and wheat. The program will be administered by Texas AgriLife Research, and agency of the Texas A&M University system, for the next five years. What is alarming is not that agribusiness giant Monsanto is seeking answers from the Indian public funded universities and research institutions. It is that Monsanto is the one asking the questions at Indian public funded institutions. As Andrew Neighbour, former administrator at Washington University in St. Louis, who managed the university’s multiyear and multimillion dollar relationship with Monsanto, admits, “There’s no question that industry money comes with strings. It limits what you can do, when you can do it, who it has to be approved by.”[19] This raises the question: if Agribusiness giant Monsanto is funding the research, will Indian agricultural researchers pursue such lines of scientific inquiry as “How will this new rice or wheat variety impact the Indian farmer, or health of Indian public?” The reality is, Monsanto is funding the research not for the benefit of either Indian farmer or public, but for its profit. It is paying researchers to ask questions that it is most interested in having answered.

Now, the basic role of the public funded agricultural institutions and research centers in a democratic society is at risk. The new developments in India are vehicles to empower food giants such as Monsanto, destroy small farmers, and harm the public health. In 1970 Henry Kissinger, former US secretary of state, said: “Control oil and you control nations; control food and you control people.”[20] What we are witnessing in India today are developments towards that end, under the disguise of “food security”. Concentrating control in the hands of the US Agribusiness company Monsanto (and few others) places Indian public at risk, and leads to its control of India, as the British East India Company did.

[1] Dinesh C. Sharma, “Preparing for New Challenges,” in Span (March/April 2007).
[2] Julia Debes, “U.S.-India Agricultural Cooperation: A New Beginning,” FAS Worldwide (September 2006).
[3] Sharma, “Preparing for New Challenges.”
[4] Sharma, “Preparing for New Challenges.”
[5] Debes, “U.S.-India Agricultural Cooperation: A New Beginning.”
[6] Rahul Goswami, “A Bargain-Basement Knowledge “Mandi”,” InfoChange News &Features (August 2006).
[7] Rahul Vartak and Manish Saurashtri, “The Indian Version of Bayh-Dole Act,” in Intellectual Asset Management (March/April 2009).
[8] “The Indian Public Funded IP Bill: Are We Ready?” in Indian J Med Res 128 (December 2008), pp. 682-685.
[9] Sharad Pawar, India’s Union Minister for Agriculture, at Conference of Vice-Chancellors of Agricultural Universities, New Delhi, February 16-17, 2009.
[10] Jim Patrico, “Universities for Sale?” in Progressive Farmer (November 2001).
[12] Patrico, “Universities for Sale?”
[13] Patrico, “Universities for Sale?”
[14] Patrico, “Universities for Sale?”
[15] Padmaparna Ghosh, “Monsanto’s Gift to Tamil Nadu University: GM Papaya Licence,”,india (October 24, 2007).
[16] Patrico, “Universities for Sale?”
[17] Eyal Press and Jennifer Washburn, “The Kept University,” in The Atlantic Monthly, 285/3 (March 2000), pp. 39-54.
[19] Patrico, “Universities for Sale?”
[20] Stephen Lendman, “Destroying America’s Family Farm: HR 2749. A Stealth Agribusiness Empowering Act,” in Global Research (June 12, 2009).

A Culture of Equality and Generosity

July 23, 2015

Paul, in the narratives of “collection” to the “saints” in Jerusalem, promotes a culture of equality and generosity as a counter to the greed culture in the society. He considers “remembering the poor” as an integral part of his apostolic mission. This can be seen in his repetition of the “collection” to the believers in need in Jerusalem in Galatians 2.10, I Corinthians 16.1-4, II Corinthians 1.15-16, II Corinthians chapters 8-9, and Romans 15.25-32. In Romans 15.25, Paul says that he is going to Jerusalem on a “ministry” (diakonia) to the “saints” in Jerusalem. The Greek word diakonia is also used for the ministry of the gospel in Rom. 11.13 and II Cor. 4.1, 5.18. That means, for him, “helping the poor” is not separate from the “ministry of the gospel”. Therefore, Paul is encouraging the Gentile churches to participate in the ministry to the “saints” in the Jerusalem church. Interestingly, he uses the Greek verb leitourgein in II Cor. 9.12 and Rom. 15.27. This verb has a secular sense (“to serve the need”) and a cultic sense (“to serve as a priest”). In Philippians 2.30 he employs leitourgein in the secular sense of “serving one’s need”. It is used to Epaphroditus (leitourgos) as he brought the “gift” sent by the Philippian church to serve Paul’s need (Phil. 2.25). In this service Epaphroditus even risked his own life. In II Cor. 9.12 leitourgia refers to the “collection” itself. Leitourgein in Rom. 15.27 may be understood in secular sense when seen in the light of Phil. 2.25, 30 and II Cor. 9.12.

On the other hand, Paul in Phil. 2.17 uses leitourgein in the cultic sense. Also in Rom. 15.27 it may be understood in cultic sense if seen in the light of leitourgos of Rom. 15.16. Paul employs the cultic language in connection with his taking the collection raised among the Gentile churches to the “saints” in Jerusalem (Rom.15.15-33): “priest of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles”, “perform a priestly function with regard to the Gospel of God”, “the offering of the Gentiles, sanctified by the Holy Spirit might be acceptable” (Rom. 15.15-16). The “offering” mentioned in Rom. 15.16 can be taken as the object of Gentiles (i.e. offering given by the Gentiles). This is supported by Phil. 4.18, where Paul describes the Philippians’ “gift” to him as “a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God.” Thus, Paul is depicting the economic relationship with a cultic metaphor of “offering”. “Offering” in the cultic context points to an exchange between God and the offerer(s), where the latter offers “an innocent and defenseless sacrificial victim” as a sacrifice to God. Rene Girard calls this “scapegoat mechanism”. The power of this mechanism lies in its deception and concealment. On the one hand, it deceives by depicting God as the one who is demanding “sacrificial victims”, and thus, portraying violence against the “victims” as a sacred act. On the other hand, it conceals the plight of the innocent and voiceless “sacrificial victims” and transforms the “violence against the victims” as a “good violence”. Thus, the cycle of scapegoating the “weak and vulnerable” continues. Raymund Schwager says that “according to its basic structure, the sacrificial cult is a ritual repetition of the scapegoat mechanism.” The OT prophets were opposed to all of the sacrificial rites in Israel. Amos denounced the cultic practices of the people: “I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon” (Amos 5:21-22). The prophets demanded, rather to “seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:17). Aligning himself with this prophetic tradition and depicting the sharing of resources with the needy as an “offering to God”, Paul is providing a counter culture where “offering” required by God’s justice is not “sacrificial violence” against an innocent and voiceless victim, but serving the need of the victim or sharing God’s resources with the victim of the structural violence. Dominic Crossan calls this “God’s distributive justice”. Far from demanding victims, God not only identifies with the victims, but also addresses the situation of their victimization.

1. Equality

Paul presents the Macedonian believers as an example of those who were pleased to participate in “God’s distributive justice”. In Romans he repeats twice that they were pleased to share their resources with the needy in Jerusalem (Rom. 15.26,27). The Macedonian Christians even “begged” Paul and his colleagues to allow them to be partners in this ministry of sharing their resources with the “saints” in Jerusalem. Testifying about them, Paul says: “(D)uring a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity” (II Cor. 8.2). Notice the contrast between the external situation and the character of the Macedonian believers: “a severe ordeal of affliction” and “abundant joy”, and “extreme poverty” and “a wealth of generosity”. The sharing is clearly not from “plenty” to “want” but from “want” to “want”. Their sharing is not a “charity” or a “free giving” of what is “extra” or “useless” or even “free giving” of tax money. It clearly challenges the existing stereotypes of “giver” and “receiver” in exchange relationship that assumes and assigns superior and inferior status to all participants.

Paul also informs the pure intent of the Macedonian believers in their sharing of God’s resources. He employs the Greek word haplotēs for the “generosity” of the Macedonian (and Corinthian) believers (II Cor. 8.2, cf. 9.11). Haplotēs does not mean merely “generosity”, but “generosity arising out of purity of mind”. In other words, this “giving” to those in need arose from pure intentions without any ulterior or malicious motives. It is sharing with pure intent of what God has given them with their fellow brothers and sisters who are in need.

Being conscious of the “obligatory” relationship between the “giver” and the “receiver” present in the existing society, Paul is cautious not to give it a foothold in the counter community of Jesus Christ. One thing that is not emphasized in I Cor. 16.1-4 and II Cor. 8-9 is the economic hardship of the “saints of Jerusalem church”. Even though one could speculate that the Gentile churches already knew about the situation of these believers in the Jerusalem church (cf. II Cor. 9.12), one wonders why Paul did not repeat this important information to gather sympathy from the Gentile churches, since the issue was a matter of urgency for him. In II Cor. 9.11-12, just as in II Cor. 8.13-14, by avoiding the mentioning of the economic hardship of the needy in the Jerusalem church in the context of “collection”, he is careful to see that the Jerusalem church, as a result of receiving the economic contribution, would not be placed in a direct obligatory relationship to the Gentile churches.

Rather, Paul is emphasizing two things: the principle of equality and the source of wealth. Paul speaks of “their need” in connection to equality or “fair balance” (II Cor. 8.13-14): “I do not mean that there is relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance.” The common interpretation of “their need” is “the material need of the Jerusalem believers”. If that is the meaning, what about the phrases “your need” and “their abundance”? The reference to Corinthians’ “need” is ambiguous here. It can not be understood as referring to material need because Corinthian believers are considered to be relatively rich and that is why Paul is writing this letter to share from their material riches, nor can it be taken as referring to “spiritual poverty” because in II Cor. 8.9 it is already said that Christ has made them rich. Also Paul in II Cor. 8.15 cites Exodus 16.18 which refers to the experience of the people of Israel in the wilderness when they gathered manna for themselves: “The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.” The implication is that it was God who made “equality” to happen. In other words, God is a God of “fairness” or “equality”. Here it is appropriate to take it as a general illustration of the principle of equality. Thus, Paul directs the focus of the Corinthian believers to God’s principle of “fairness” or “equality”. This should become the motivation for them to share their resources with the needy in the Jerusalem church. For Paul, it is a concrete demonstration of the God’s new creation. Crossan wonders: “What better deserves the title of a new creation than the abnormalcy of a share-world replacing the normalcy of a greed-world?”

Paul also focuses their attention to the source of their wealth, God. In II Cor. 9.11-12, Paul says that the Corinthian church is in a position to give because God the supplier has provided them with wealth (both spiritual and material, II Cor. 8.9, 9.10). The ultimate purpose of their giving is to render thanksgiving to God (II Cor. 9.11,12). In other words, their generosity is out of their gratitude to the Source of their wealth. Thus, by linking the generosity of the Corinthian church to God and not to the economic poverty of the Jerusalem believers, Paul has consciously disconnected the Jerusalem church as the “receiver” from the patronal power of the “giver” and dissuaded the economically rich from using their economic contribution to advance their patronal power.

2. Generosity

Paul gives two examples of “generosity” to the Corinthian believers: Macedonian believers and Jesus Christ (II Cor. 8.1-6; 8.9). He praises the voluntary “generosity” of the Macedonian believers: “(B)egging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry” (II Cor. 8.4)). This is linked to the “generous act” of Jesus Christ: “the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ” (II Cor. 8.9). In these two examples Paul is emphasizing their generous character and their focus on the welfare of the other. The generous character of the Macedonian believers is depicted by the paradox of “a wealth of their generosity” in “extreme poverty”. As explained above, the Greek word haplotēs denotes “generosity out of pure mind”, that is, without any malicious and hidden intent. That means, their “generosity” is purely for the welfare of the believers in the Jerusalem church. The generous character of Jesus Christ is expressed in his act: “though he was rich…he became poor” (II Cor.8.9), and the focus on the welfare of the needy: “for your sakes…so that…you might become rich.” Paul further says that the “generosity” of Jesus Christ exemplifies the “genuineness of love” (II Cor. 8.8-9). In other words, the “generous act” of Jesus Christ is the expression of the genuineness of love. Thus, the model for agape love is Jesus Christ (cf. Gal. 2.20). Paul in Gal. 5.6 exhorts that faith in Christ manifests itself through loving service, or “it erupts into communal life as love” (Gal. 5.6 “faith working through love”). A believer in Christ imitates the agape love of Jesus Christ, and thus breaks free from the culture of greed and becomes a part of the community of the new creation, whose concrete pattern of life is based on agape love (Gal. 5.13-14). It is the love modeled on Christ that becomes the distinctive character of the community of the new creation. It becomes evident, then, that the culture of the new creation becomes a critique and subversive of the existing greed culture.

Development of the Concept of “Hell”

July 23, 2015

In the state of Andhra Pradesh summer is the season for the “hell bent” messages. After suffering in the day-long heat of more than 40°C, people throng to the Christian gospel meetings in the cool evening. The summer weather, probably, prepares them for the messages on “hell”. These messages are usually preached by the “experts” in “hell”. In a coastal town of Andhra Pradesh a man went and sat on the sand to listen to the message. He was enjoying the cool sea breeze, after being in the oven-like house throughout the day. The preacher started to give a bombastic message on “hell”. He was describing the “hell experience”—unquenchable fire and eternal suffering of sinners in that fire. Incidentally, Jesus hardly spoke on this subject. His focus was more on the establishment of the kingdom of God (i.e. the rule of God) of justice, peace, love, unity and service on this earth. The man, who came out of the hell-like house to enjoy the evening cool sea breeze and the message, turned to the person sitting next to him and said, “The way this preacher is describing the hell and its experience so vividly, it looks that he has just returned from there!”

The idea of perpetual torment in hell is so prevalent in world religions, though it takes on different forms. Christianity also taught on concepts of judgment and eternal punishment in hell for those who fail to meet the necessary criteria. Augustine, the influential fourth century bishop of Hippo in North Africa, played a key role in the development of the Christian doctrine of an ever burning hell. He wrote that “hell, which also is called a lake of fire and brimstone, will be material fire and will torment the bodies of the damned.” He further wrote of “those everlasting pains which are to follow” the final judgment (City of God 21.10, 13).

But how did the concept of “hell” develop?

In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word often translated as “hell” is sheol, which actually means “the grave”. When we die, we simply go to the grave (Ps. 49.10-11; Eccl. 3.19-20). Sheol is portrayed as a place of “darkness” (Job 17.13). The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible comments, “Nowhere in the Old Testament is the abode of the dead regarded as a place of punishment or torment. The concept of an infernal ‘hell’ developed in Israel only during the Hellenistic period (beginning in the fourth century BCE).”

In the New Testament three Greek words are used for “hell”. In the Gospels the one most often used is geenna (English “gehenna”). The Greek word geenna is a transliteration of the Aramaic word gehinnam, which is derived from the Hebrew word ge hinnom (Josh. 15.8, 18.16). The Hebrew word refers to a valley located on the south slope of Jerusalem (Josh. 15.8, 18.16). It literally means “Valley of Hinnom”. During the reigns of Ahaz and Manasseh sacrifices were burnt here to the Canaanite god Molech, even to the point of sacrificing their own sons in the fire (II Kgs. 16.3, 21.6; II Chr. 28.3, 33.6). Because of this prophets condemned this valley, identifying it as the scene of future destruction of life and God’s judgment (Jer. 7.30-33, 19.1-13, 32.34-35, cf. Is. 31.9, 66.24; II Kgs 23.10; Lev 18.21).

In later Jewish literature the Valley of Hinnom came to represent the place of God’s end-time judgment of the wicked Jews by fire (I Enoch 26-27, 54.1-6, 56.1-4, 90.24-27). By the first century C.E. gehenna came to be understood metaphorically as the place of judgment by fire for all wicked everywhere (Sibylline Oracles 1.100-103, 2.283-312). It is located in the depths of the earth (Sibylline Oracles 4.184-186) and is described with “fire”, “darkness” and “gnashing of teeth” (Apocalypse of Abraham 15.6; Sibylline Oracles 1.100-103, 2.292-310). There is also the implication that punishment is an eternal one (Sibylline Oracles 2.292-310; Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 18.14, Jewish War 2.163, 3.374-375).

In Jewish Rabbinic literature gehenna is described as a place created before the creation of the world (b. Pesah 54a). It is reserved for the wicked (b. Erub 19a, b. Yebam 63b), including those who indulged in a variety of sinful acts: idolatry, immorality, arrogance, flattery, foolish speech, lack of compassion and listening too much to women!!! Those who fear God that follow the Torah in obedience and good deeds, and unfortunate in this life are spared from it.

In the New Testament all the twelve references to gehenna are used metaphorically as the place of fiery judgment (Mt. 5.22, 29-30, 10.28, 18.9, 23.15,33; Mk. 9.43,45,47; Lk. 12.5; James 3.6). Gehenna is pre-existent (Mt. 25.41). The New Testament does not describe the torment of gehenna.

Another Greek word used for hell is hades, the place of the departed, the grave, like sheol in the Old Testament (Mt.11.23, 16.18). In the book of Revelation, the word translated as “hell” is always hades meaning “grave” (Rev 1.18, 20.13,14). Hades is the place of the dead, not necessarily a place of torment for the wicked dead.

One other Greek word used for hell is tartaroo. This is found only in II Peter 2.4, where it is described as the place where wicked spirits will eventually be restrained.

From the above it is evident that references to “hell” in the New Testament draw on a rich and varied background. Beginning with the Old Testament, the concept of “hell” progresses through stages of increasing detail and description.

Why alarm bell matters: this could show the way for other ‘Hindu’ cases

June 25, 2015


Written by Sagnik Chowdhury | New Delhi | Updated: June 25, 2015 4:19 pm


  1. Malegaon 2006
    September 8, 2006: 31 dead,
    312 injured


ATTACK: Four explosions, three of these at Hamidia Masjid.


PROBE: Nine Muslim youths arrested by ATS, which chargesheeted them and four absconding accused under MCOCA on December 21, 2006. CBI took over in July 2007, filed a chargesheet against same accused on February 11, 2010. NIA took over on April 6, 2011, after Swami Aseemanand had made a confession in the Mecca Masjid blast case that Sunil Joshi (accused) had told him that the blasts at Malegaon were the handiwork of his men. During the NIA probe, all nine chargesheeted by the ATS and CBI retracted their confessions, alleging they were secured under duress. NIA filed a supplementary chargesheet against four accused, all Hindus, on May 22, 2013, in NIA special court, Mumbai.  The nine Muslims moved court and secured bail, unopposed by NIA.


ACCUSED (ATS and CBI chargesheets) : Noorul Hudah Samsudoha, Shabbir Ahmed Masiullah, Raees Ahmed Rajjab Ali Mansuri, Salman Farsi Abdul Latif Aimi, Farogh Iqbal Ahmed Magdumi, Shaikh Md Ali Alam Anamat Ali Shaik, Asif Khan Bashir Khan, Md Zahid Abdul Majid Ansari, Abrar Ahmed Gulam Ahmed (NIA chargesheet): Manohar Narwaria, Rajendra Chaudhary, Dhan Singh, Lokesh Sharma (Also accused by NIA): Sunil Joshi (murdered), Ramchandra Kalsangra, Ramesh Venkat Mahalkar, Sandeep Dange STATUS: Under trial at NIA special court, Mumbai, charges yet to be framed.


  1. SAMJHAUTA EXPRESS February 19, 2007: 68 dead, 13 injured ATTACK: Blast on the train near Panipat. Dead included Indian, Pakistani nationals.


ACCUSED (Chargesheeted): Swami Aseemanand, Sunil Joshi (murdered), Ramchandra Kalsangra, Sandeep Dange, Lokesh Sharma, Ramesh Venkat Rao Mahalkar, Kamal Chauhan, Rajender Chaudhary (Yet to be chargesheeted): Amit alias Prince, Sadhvi Pragya, Indresh Kumar, Devender Gupta and some others.


STATUS: NIA chargesheet on June 20, 2011, against 5 accused, supplementary chargesheets against three more in August 2012 and June 2013 before NIA special court, Panchkula. Trial on since February 24, 2014.



  1. MECCA MASJID BLAST May 18, 2007: 9 dead, 58 injured


ATTACK: A blast inside the mosque in Hyderabad during Friday prayers


ACCUSED: Devendra Gupta (RSS, Bihar), Lokesh Sharma (RSS, Mhow), Aseemanand, Bharat Mohanlal Rateswar, Rajender Chaudhary, Sandeep, Ramchandra Kalsangra, Sunil Joshi, Tejram Parmar a.k.a. Khalifa, Amit Chowhan alias Prince


STATUS: Chargesheet on December 13, 2010, by CBI against two accused before a Hyderabad court. NIA supplementary chargesheets in May 2011, July 2012 and August 2013, against five including two chargesheeted by CBI. On February 13, 2014, NIA special court, Namapally, framed charges and summonsed 72 witnesses. Investigation continuing against remaining accused. On March 12, 2014, Andhra High Court granted bail to Devendra Gupta and Lokesh Sharma.


  1. AJMER SHARIF October 11, 2007: 3 dead, 15 injured


ATTACK: Blast during iftaar on the compound


ACCUSED: Devendra Gupta, Chandrashekhar Leve, Lokesh Sharma, Harshad Mukesh Vasani, Swami Aseemanand, Bharat Mohanlal Ratishwar, Sandeep Dange, Ramchandra Kalsangra, Sunil Joshi, Bhavesh Bhai Patel, Suresh Nair, Mehul a.k.a. Maheshbhai Gohil


STATUS: Rajasthan ATS chargesheet against three on October 20, 2010, before CJM, Ajmer. Three NIA supplementary chargesheets against 12 accused from April 2011 to October 2013. NIA special court, Jaipur, has framed charges; trial likely soon.


  1. MODASA September 29,2008: 1 dead, 10 injured IED in storage compartment of a motorcycle exploded in Modasa town of Sabarkantha, a 15-year-old boy died.


STATUS: On June 29, 2010, NIA took over probe, no arrest yet. NIA believes two absconding accused in Malegaon 2008 blast could be involved here too.

The meaning very clearly was, don’t get us favourable orders: Malegaon SPP Rohini Salian

June 25, 2015

Written by Sunanda Mehta | Mumbai | Updated: June 25, 2015 4:17 pm

Rohini Salian, special public prosecutor in the Malegaon 2008 case, talks about how she got the case from Hemant Karkare, the NIA’s message from higher-ups and her despair.


Since when have you been handling the Malegaon blast case of 2008?

I have been representing the state of Maharashtra since day one, when the case was being investigated by Hemant Karkare as chief of ATS. There was a notification put out appointing me as special public prosecutor immediately after the blast. After 26/11, NIA was constituted and the case was handed over to it. Before that the chargesheet against the 12 accused had already been filed. They also gave in writing that I should continue after NIA took over.

Given that you had resigned from being a public prosecutor in 2007, how did you come to represent the government in this 2008 case?

It was on Hemant Karkare’s insistence. When he called me to take over, I told him that I had just given this up after seven years and I was fed up. But he said, “No madam, you go through the papers.” His voice was shaking and he sounded very disturbed. Then I heard that the accused were all Hindus and I was surprised… From morning to evening I read the papers. I was shocked. I started crying and got emotionally upset. In that matter I also got to know about Samjhauta and Modasa. I started to talk to Karkare and was with him till 7 pm on 26/11 after deciding on the next day’s meeting too.

Long after his death, we were all very upset. Then one day I went to ATS and shouted at the police — what are we doing, we have to make that soul happy, let us go ahead. I told the officers, one thing we are going to do — not a single drop more or less — we have to be very impartial in the chargesheet. Rarely would you come across such a chargesheet, so tough, so complicated and intricate. Only later did we understand the story; initially we were not understanding.

 What was in the case papers that was so shocking?

There are conversations, kept in the laptop of Shankaracharya (Sudhakar Dwivedi). He used to record the conversation in secret meetings on his laptop, sometimes visuals too. I asked Karkare, why is he recording? He is a plant. He wants to show it to someone, a conspiracy hatched in the dark. From those conversations we got to know the actual story, they wanted a central Hindu rashtra, they don’t recognise the Constitution of India, had their own constitution written, their own flag — even their Bharat Mata was an armed one.

 How has the case progressed?
Till now the various bail applications, application of MCOCA was on. Finally, two months ago it was decided the case should be transferred to a special court with a special judge. So back to square one — very haphazard order. Now NIA needs to appoint a special judge and the specially constituted court and the trial will commence.

 When did you get the feeling that you are being asked to go slow?

Last year I got a call from one of the officers of the NIA, asking to come over to speak to me. He didn’t want to talk over the phone. He came and said there is a message that I should go soft. I told him I will always support the cause of justice. Then, when we got our date for the MCOCA hearing. A day before our day when Mr Mariar Puttam, a senior counsel, was to appear for us, an additional general from the state of Maharashtra came and said, “You cannot appear for us.” He started nudging Mariar.

Then another additional general for the state, Anil Singh, came and said he will appear for the state and Mariar cannot. Both started to nudge Mariar — in the open court, both were nudging him. I am sitting behind him. I told Mariar not to appear. It was so insulting. Mariar finally got up and said to the judge, “Your lordship may decide. This is my instruction. I may be allowed to go out.” The judge said you have been here for many months, we would like to hear you. He was heard, our affidavit taken. But the way NIA and the state of Maharashtra nudged him showed something very fishy. If they were treating a senior counsel like that, I knew then something was seriously wrong. Ultimately the order came, the judgment given. It was horrible; after the order came no one called me. NIA hasn’t called me till today to discuss. They were so unhappy because MCOCA was retained.

Then on June 12, the same officer came and said there are instructions from higher-ups; someone else will appear instead of you. I said very good — I was expecting this, was waiting for this, good you told me up front, please settle my bills. You brought the notification, I didn’t ask, I did it all free. Now get me denotified so that I can appear against NIA in future in other matters. He must have conveyed this but not heard from them; I am now waiting. They haven’t yet taken me out of the notification appointing me special pubic prosecutor for the state of Maharashtra.

 Who was the NIA officer who met you?
I would not like to name him. He is very senior. But I have nothing against him. He is just the messenger.

 Have you seen a clear shift since the new government came in?
Yes, yes, throughout.

 Why would they do this?

If you see my record, all favourable orders for the state. Hardly any gone against, except for these few bail applications… So the meaning very clearly was, don’t get us favourable orders. Unfavourable orders invited — that goes against society. I have a reputation; it’s not my baap ka raj. It’s an onerous duty.

 When is the next hearing?

I don’t know about the next hearing. I did not appear. Don’t know what happened, this hearing was just for a date and that the matter should come before a special court. They may want everything new, a new prosecutor, that’s their headache.

 Did the earlier government exert pressure on you?

Chidambaram has seen every paper of the case but never pressurised anyone. But he was following — he used to call for papers, I used to send him notes; he himself is an advocate. I never met him.

 Why are you asking to be denotified?

I want to come out clean. I don’t want any pressure. I have no inclination towards any party, any politician. I am a pucca Hindu. Hindu means what? You should be straight, not have bias against anyone — Hindus, anyone who commits an offence, is an offender. I am now in the midst of the Mulund blast – three matters clubbed together and 141 witnesses (examination) now over — in that, all are Muslims. Same with the Ghatkopar blasts. I have been appearing in blast cases from the beginning because I was with TADA and MCOCA Even for the (Lt Col) Purohit hearings the judge in the high court would be very careful — when I argued the case, he would drive everyone away, ask the clerk to shut the door. The Ulema had also engaged an advocate to see whether I am okay or not. Finally when they heard my arguments, they said they were happy and didn’t want to add to that.

Where Is God?

May 2, 2015

In the midst of adversity and affliction, and disease, disaster, death, despair and distress, and sorrow and suffering, where is God? Ever felt like that? Distress and depression make us feel cast down, helpless, hopeless and lonely – abandoned by family, friends and even God. This was the experience of the psalmist of Psalms 42 and 43. Both Psalms 42 and 43 are, in fact, a single Psalm.

The psalmist described his plight by envisaging a deer in a dry place thirsty for water. Like a thirsty animal in a dry land he desired for God. He longed for a refreshing drink, but tasted the bitter water of tears (Ps. 42.3). It would be enough had all he faced was the sense of absence and distance of God. But his distress was intensified by his enemies’ taunts: “Where is your God?” (Ps. 42.3). The psalmist’s misery was aggravated by the mockery of those who regarded his sickness as evidence that God had forsaken the sufferer. That was why the writer of Psalm 22 cried: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?” (Ps. 22.1 cf. 22. 6-8).

Further, the psalmist says, “My soul is cast down within me” (Ps. 42.5-6, 11). Literally it may be rendered, “My soul prostrates itself upon me.” Here the picture is “the soul bent double upon itself,” a vivid portrayal of a downcast and disconsolate person. Instead of refreshing water, the psalmist encountered overwhelming power of water. When the rains came and the water poured down the River Jordan, he realized the great power of water in the “cataracts” or waterfalls. He thought of even greater power of water of the deep ocean, and his troubles seemed like the waves of the sea rolling over him (42.7). “His woes were incessant and overwhelming. Billow followed billow, one sea echoed the roaring of another; bodily pain aroused mental fear…outward tribulation thundered in awful harmony with inward anguish; his soul seemed drowned as in a universal deluge of trouble” (Charles Spurgeon). He was powerless under his problems. The situation seemed hopeless.

When dark hours of life emerge, many cry out with Paul Laurence Dunbar:
A crust of bread and a corner to sleep in,
A minute to smile and an hour to weep in,
A pint of joy and a peck of trouble,
And never a laugh but the moans come double;
And that is life!

As the Psalm progressed, the psalmist’s despair also intensified: I can’t get to God (42.1-2), God had forgotten me (42.9), and God had abandoned me (43.2). “I came to you to take refuge, but you have shut the door and left me out at the mercy of my oppressors” (43.2).

Tears, downcast, disturbed, disquieted soul, helplessness, loneliness, feeling of being forgotten and abandoned even by God – these are the symptoms of a man in depression. Thrice the psalmist asks, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me?” (42.5, 11; 43.5). Remember Elijah when he battled the prophets of Baal on the Mount Carmel. This confrontation had sapped his energies. He was exhausted physically and mentally, and not ready for another challenge. At that very moment a new challenge came from the queen Jezebel: “So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow” (I Kings 19.2). The one, who faced four hundred and fifty Baal’s prophets on the Mount Carmel and witnessed God’s consuming fire that instantaneously made people to prostrate and acknowledge “The Lord indeed is God; the Lord indeed is God” (I Kings 18.38-39), ran for his life to Beersheba after the threat from Jezebel. Prophet Elijah was depressed. Notice the symptoms: he went to a solitary place, wanted to die, and had self-pity (I Kings 19.4, 10, 14). He needed food and sleep (i.e. rest), which God provided him (I Kings 19.5-8).

The most common symptoms of depression include :
• Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
• Feeling worthless, inadequate, bad
• A sense of self hatred. Constant questioning of thoughts and actions and a constant need for reassurance
• Feeling vulnerable and being oversensitive to criticism
• Sense of guilt
• Loss of energy and the ability to concentrate and be motivated to do even the simplest tasks
• Harming oneself
• Sudden loss or gain in weight
• Sleep disruption or a need to sleep very long hours
• Agitation and restlessness
• Physical aches and pains
• Violent behaviour
• Anger and frustration

Most people suffer only two or three of these symptoms at any one time. People with severe depression may also experience suicidal feelings, stop eating and suffer from hallucinations.

Although the Psalm appears to give an impression of depression as a static condition of the psalmist, the reality is that there is a movement from depression to surging confidence and hope.

The psalmist turned his mind from the disease to the cure, from despair to remembrance (42.4, 6, 8; 43.3-4). He pulled himself together and regained his composure to preach to himself. He deliberately recalled to mind God’s faithfulness and grace (that’s why he along with others praised God with “glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving”), and his joyous participation in the festivals at Jerusalem temple (42.4). This memory was, no doubt, bittersweet experience, for it would both aggravate his distress (because his present condition was that he was sick and far from the temple) and alleviate it (would give confidence that he would return again in the future).

Then the psalmist’s mind turned from remembering the good times of journeying with pilgrim crowds and participating in festivals at Jerusalem temple to remembering God (42.6, 8). There was a deliberate effort on the part of the psalmist in his depressed state to remember God: “Therefore, I remember you…” (42.6). This action was very significant, because at the heart of the psalmist’s despair was an awareness of the absence and distance of God. By remembering his experiences of God’s presence in the land of Jordan, Hermon and Mount Mizar (42.6), he wanted to dispel that sense of absence and distance of God. He reminded himself of God’s steadfast love (42.8).

Though the stress of his circumstances was still upon him, the pain was still present and adversaries still taunted him, he affirmed, “Hope in god, for I shall again praise him, my help and my God” (42.5, 11). Hope in God! Hope is not only being expectant, straining anticipation for God’s deliverance from the present ordeal, but also the ability at the lowest point in life to sense and feel a single string of hope (i.e. our unbroken relationship with God) that gives us strength to move forward in the darkest hour of life. Even if the harshest present reality twists and distorts our vision of God, God is still “God of my life” (42.8), “my rock” (42.9), “my help” (42.11), and “my God” (42.11). He is “the living God” (42.2). The psalmist’s outward situation had not changed but his outlook had. Outlook determines outcome, and attitude determines action.

The change in his outlook had made the psalmist to talk to God directly, because God was his God. The change from remembrance or introvertive reflection to an appeal to God for deliverance reflects an upward movement in the psalmist. First he prayed about his enemies, who were “ungodly”, “deceitful” and “unjust” (43.1-2). Rather than merely lamenting on their enmity, he asked God to act as his defense counsel and vindicate him in the face of their taunts and oppression. He wanted God’s healing of his sickness so that he might be vindicated before his detractors. The psalmist further asked God to “send his light and truth” not only to dispel the darkness of oppression, but also to lead him into divine presence (43.3). The prayer gave him confidence: “I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy; and I will praise you with the harp, O God, my God” (43.4). Though the situation that created anguish and depression in him had not changed, his prayer to God had not only strengthened his faith and hope, but also restored the life of praise and joy. The psalmist couldn’t change his circumstances, but he could change his focus from himself and his overwhelming situation to God. By the end of the Psalm his circumstances hadn’t changed, but his attitude had, because he had deliberately focused on God.

Although the question at the end of the Psalm is same, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? (43.5), the response was given with the conviction that God had heard and answered his prayer:


As some of us enter into the New Year dreary with low hovering clouds of despair, remember that God has a light to guide us into the unknown future. The beautiful beach of Cape Comorin is called “Land’s End”, because this is actually where the land of India comes to an end. Nothing stretches before you except the broad expanse of rolling waters. This is the place where three oceans meet – the Indian Ocean, the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. As day comes to an end, in the west we see the magnificent sun, a great cosmic ball of fire, as it appears to sink into the ocean. Just as it is almost lost from sight, we see another ball of scintillating beauty – the moon appears to be rising from the ocean. When the sun finally passed completely beyond sight, darkness engulfs the earth, but in the east the radiant light of rising moon shines supreme.

When the light of the day vanishes, leaving us in some dark and desolate midnight – moments when our highest hopes are turned into shambles of despair, during such moments our spirits are almost overcome by gloom and despair, and we feel that there is no light anywhere. But when we look toward the east and discover that there is another light which shines even in the darkness, “the spear of despair” will be transformed into “a shaft of light”.

As we continue our walk in the days ahead with an audacious faith and hope in God, let us gain some strength from the words of Charles A. Tindley:

Verse 1
Beams of heaven as I go,
through this wilderness below.
Guide my feet in peaceful way,
turn my midnights into days.

When in darkness, I would grope,
Faith always sees a star of hope.
And soon from all life’s grief and danger,
I shall be free some day.

I do not know how long ’twill be,
nor what the future holds for me;
but this I know, if Jesus leads,
I shall get home some day.

Verse 2
Often times my sky is clear,
joy abounds without a tear.
Though a day so bright begun,
clouds may hide tomorrow’s sun.
There’ll be a day that’s always bright,
a day that never yields to night;
and in its light the streets of glory,
I shall behold some day.

Verse 3
Harder yet may be the fight,
right may often yield to might.
Wickedness awhile may reign,
Satan’s cause may seem to gain.

There is a God that rules above,
with hand of power and heart of love.
If I am right, He’ll fight my battle,
I shall have peace some day.

Verse 4
Burdens now may crush me down,
disappointments all around.
Troubles speak in mournful sigh,
sorrow through a tear stained eye.

There is a world where pleasure reigns,
no mourning soul shall roam its plains,
and to that land of peace and glory,
I want to go some day.

Death – An Essential Condition For Discipleship

April 28, 2015

Discipleship and death are inextricably intertwined. Discipleship is not possible without death. A disciple should, first and foremost, learn how to die – learn to die to some of the inherited legacies, traditions, assumptions and worldview.

The Greek term for “learning” or “education” is Paideia. This term denotes deep education, not cheap schooling, with an attention to what is authentic and important, not what is fleeting. So Paideia has to do with the formation of attention so the student moves from focusing on frivolous things to serious things, from superficial things to substantial things. In order for a student to do that he/she has to adopt a philosophy of Socratic questioning – Socratic unwillingness to accept convention without reflective evaluation. A student’s (or disciple’s) critical education should challenge his/her inherited legacies, traditions, presuppositions and worldview with an aim to learn what is authentic and important. It is an attitude of critical engagement with oneself and society – a proactive process of questioning and learning. In other words, deep education or learning has to do with a radical reordering of perception.

Jesus demanded the radical reordering of perception when he rebuked Peter at Caesarea Philippi, “For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things” (Mk. 8.33). This is in response to Peter’s reaction to Jesus’ prediction about his suffering, death and resurrection. Till this point, i.e. Mk 1-8.26, the disciples have witnessed tremendous displays of power and authority in the ministry of their master Jesus Christ, and people receiving new and astonishing teachings, liberation from oppression and restoration to wholeness. All of these characteristics begin to change in Mk 8.27-10.52, as Jesus makes a direct way toward Jerusalem and announces three times his impending death and resurrection.

The paradoxical yoking of Jesus’ powerful words and deeds of liberation and his self-giving powerlessness appears to be in contradiction to the disciples’ understanding of God’s Messiah. Thus far Peter and the other disciples have heard the kingdom of God announced and inaugurated only in victorious tones over nature, evil spirits, diseases and death. Not only were they awestruck by witnessing these powerful deeds, but they also participated in the same liberating ministry, having been appointed to preach the message of the kingdom of God and given authority over evil forces and diseases, just like Jesus (Mk. 3.13-15; 6.7-13). Jesus’ power and authority has corresponded well with their expectation or understanding of God’s Messiah. But the idea that the Christ is to suffer and die is in complete contradiction to their inherited Jewish tradition about the Christ of God. Also the disciples could not associate belief in resurrection with Christ (Mk. 9.9-10).

Moreover, the disciples are also the products of their environment. The standard preoccupation of the free male in the Mediterranean region is social status. The disciples of Jesus are no exception. They too seek for social superiority, namely “Who is the greatest?” (Mk. 9.35). This strong desire for personal advancement has motivated James and John, two of Jesus’ disciples, to request for positions of honor and privilege in the kingdom of God (Mk. 10.35-37).

At least on one occasion Jesus had to correct the disciples’ attitude of jealousy and intolerance. John reported to Jesus about a strange exorcist, an “outsider”, who is seemingly usurping a prerogative of the disciples. Earlier they were seeking for social status, and here they feel that their position is threatened.

In the Gospel of Mark on two occasions it is recorded that the disciples are given power to exorcise (3.15; 6.7,13). Immediately before the second passion-resurrection prediction Mark has shown the inability of the disciples to drive away the destructive spirit from a boy whose father brought him to the disciples to be cured (Mk. 9.14-19). The somewhat insecurely held prerogative of the disciples is threatened by the outsider.

Like the dispute about greatness, the episode of the strange exorcist reflects an attitude of the disciples that leads to conflict. In both cases Jesus intervenes. The disciples’ exclusiveness is rejected, as is their self-seeking!

Although the twelve have responded to Jesus’ call for discipleship and been accompanying their master for quite some time, there is so much that separates them from their master. The disciples are confounded again and again by the newness of deeds and teachings. They have repeatedly exhibited their obtuseness concerning Jesus (Mk. 4:41; 6:52; 8:14-21). Mark calls this their lack of understanding (Mk. 6.52; 8.21). The disciples’ proximity to Jesus did not automatically bring clarity about their master and their discipleship. Like the blind man at Bethsaida, the disciples too need to be restored in their vision (Mk. 8.22-26). They need to be transformed from a lack of clarity to a sharper focus on who Jesus is and consequently the nature of their discipleship. So Jesus had to tell them quite openly about the nature of his messiahship and of discipleship (Mk. 8.32, 34-38).


The Central Elements of Discipleship 

When Jesus called Andrew, Peter, James and John, he called them to “follow” him. The verb “follow” characterises the central quality of existence as a disciple. Discipleship demonstrates a close association with Jesus himself.

However, a clear distinction needs to be made between “following” and “imitation”. Discipleship means entering into a lifelong relationship with the person of Jesus, not merely to his teaching (Mk. 3.14: “to be with him”). The disciple not only learns from his teacher, but also shares his/her life with him without reservation. However, the qualitative difference between the master and disciple always remains preserved. It can, therefore, never be the goal of a disciple to become like the master.

When Jesus calls a person to follow, the focus of the follower should be the kingdom of God that Jesus embodies. Jesus has seen the embodiment of the in-breaking of the kingdom of God in his own person and ministry (Mk. 3.22-30; Lk. 11.20, 17.21). Since his own desires and ambitions are focused on doing the will of the Father, this becomes the goal of even the disciple. Discipleship is a radical way of life, radical also in obedience to the will of God, as is interpreted by the life, words and deeds of Jesus Christ.

In Mk. 8.34 Jesus seems to be saying that those who wish to follow should indeed follow. He emphasises the central elements – self-denial and cross-bearing – as constitutive of what it means to follow.


  1. Self-Denial

The term “to deny” appears in only one other context in the Gospel of Mark, i.e. Mk. 14.30,31,72. It refers to Peter denying Jesus three times. Peter’s action throws light on what it means to deny oneself.

Peter’s denial begins in response to an accusation made by one of the slaves of the high priest that he was “with” Jesus (Mk. 14.67; cf. 3.14). His response is not direct. He, rather, redirected the attention from acknowledgement of Jesus to the incredulity of the girl’s accusation: “I do not know or understand what you are talking about” (Mk. 14.68). The same slave girl utters a similar charge, “This man is one of them” (Mk. 14.69). Peter denies his membership in the company of Jesus’ followers. After sometime bystanders repeat the accusation: “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean” (Mk. 14.70). At this point Peter responds directly, getting to the heart of the question of his relationship with Jesus by denying Jesus himself: “I do not know this man you are talking about” (Mk. 14.71). Here Peter repudiates Jesus and not simply his affiliation with him. He severs himself from Jesus and all that he represents. In other words, Peter disowns the whole person of Jesus for the sake of his security in a hostile environment.

Just as Peter’s words to his accusers come to focus on the whole person of Jesus, so also the repetition of denials suggests the disciple’s intent to disown and not merely dissociate himself from Jesus. Peter moves from discrediting the content of an accusation to denying his allegiance to a group, to a profession of complete ignorance (“I do not know this man”). His confession of not knowing Jesus indicates complete separation between Peter and Jesus, and Peter’s refusal to entertain any sense of obligation to Jesus. That means, Jesus has no claim over Peter’s life either in the present or in the future.

The third characteristic of Peter’s denial is its public context and public implications. Peter’s denial consists of acts that openly declare no connection whatsoever between him and Jesus. His public denials define him and his standing with regards to Jesus within a social context.

What does it mean to deny oneself as a follower of Jesus?

  1. Just as the focus of Peter’s denial goes beyond renunciation of a relationship or obligation and targets Jesus himself, likewise Mark 8:34 calls a follower to something more radical than denying obligations to oneself or the desires that originate within oneself. Peter’s story suggests that Jesus’ imperative concerns the disowning of one’s own person. This extends beyond mere self-discipline. It calls every would-be follower no longer to live on one’s own behalf.
  1. The finality of Peter’s denial implies that Mark 8:34 calls for permanent and complete severance. Just as Peter claims not to know Jesus, so the self-denial that Jesus demands involves the renunciation of any obligation to oneself. In Eduard Schweizern words, “It indicates a freedom in which one no longer wills to recognize his own ‘I’.”
  1. Third, as Peter’s actions in Mark 14 involve a public context and public consequences, so too does the self-denial envisioned in Mark 8:34. To deny someone, including oneself, includes the public demonstration of disavowal and the willingness to enjoy or suffer the public effects.

One who follows Jesus continually enacts self-denial through living without regard for the security and priorities that people naturally cling to and that our society actively promotes as paramount. This enactment is not a matter of private piety but of public testimony.

Self-denial obviously involves the relinquishment of an individual’s autonomy, running counter to human habits of self-preservation and personal advancement (cf. 9:35; 10:42-44). In addition, the following verse (8:35) offers an explication that underscores the gravity of Jesus’ summons: the imperatives of 8:34 are tantamount to losing one’s life for the sake of Jesus and the gospel. The paradoxes of 8:35-38 describe surrendering one’s self, one’s being, in response to Jesus in order to gain or experience true and authentic life.

However, one should be clear that it is the call of Jesus to discipleship that demands the break from self-centered life, and a break from the past in order to experience a new and authentic life. But the break from the past should not be equated with discipleship.

  1. Cross-Bearing

The image of cross-bearing, which immediately follows the command to deny oneself in Mark 8:34, reinforces and complements the characteristics of self-denial.

People living in the Roman empire understand the purpose of cross. It is an instrument for a particular form of execution reserved by the Roman empire for slaves, criminals and insurrectionists – the lowest of the low in the society. It is a public spectacle accompanied by torture and shame – one of the most humiliating and cruel deaths ever devised by human beings.

Cross identifies those judged of setting themselves menacingly against the ways of the Roman empire and, by Mark’s account, against dominant and oppressive religious, political and ideological structures. In other words, cross signifies a person who, on account of his life, attitude, worldview, values and actions, set himself/herself against the standards of this world and as a consequence incurs the wrath of dominant forces.

The cross, which the followers are to bear according to Mk. 8.34, is not Jesus’ cross. Every follower is to take up his/her own cross, each declaring the forfeiture of one’s life and self-preservation. Cross-bearers embrace a way of life that threatens the existence of dominant, oppressive and exploitative systems, structures and ideologies.

Thus, cross-bearing complements the notion of self-denial, and informs the three characteristics of self-denial.

  1. As an instrument of death, cross threatens a person’s being.
  2. Cross performs its function with finality.
  3. Cross-bearing occurs in public. Just as one can not deny oneself without denouncing ways of self-interest, self-preservation and self-advancement, so too cross indicates that Jesus’ followers have devoted their lives at any cost to the public demonstration of God’s kingdom or God’s reign and its righteousness.


Thus, the demand of Jesus in Mk. 8.34 is absolute, summoning his followers away from inclinations of personal aggrandizement and from loyalty to the world’s canons of status, power, self-preservation and self-promotion, to an inclination of an authentic life of humility, neighbourly service and peacemaking (Mk. 9.33-50, 10.42-45). A disciple dies to the individualistic and self-seeking life, and lives a new, authentic life of neighbourly love (Mk. 10.42-45).

Jesus’ imperatives to anyone to deny oneself and take up one’s cross reveal a thoroughly prospective orientation – one that points ahead to the future and calls its hearers to regard their lives, securities and ambitions according to their association with Jesus and participation in God’s kingdom. It is a call to live “against the grain” of whatever is taken to be distractingly or deceptively normative in a given cultural context, in order to experience here and now an authentic life.



Hans Weder, “Disciple, Discipleship.” The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol. 2 (D-G), David Noel Freedman, ed., (New York: Doubleday, 1992), pp. 207-210.  

Harry Fleddermann, “The Discipleship Discourse.” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 43 (1981), pp. 42-75.

Kent Brower, “’We are Able’: Cross-Bearing Discipleship and the Way of the Lord in Mark.” Horizons in Biblical Theology 29 (2007), pp. 177-201.

Leif E. Vaage, “An Other Home: Discipleship in Mark as Domestic Asceticism.” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 71 (2009), pp. 741-761.

Marvin Mayer, “Taking Up the Cross and Following Jesus: Discipleship in the Gospel of Mark.” Calvin Theological Journal 37 (2002), pp. 230-238.

Matthew L. Skinner, “Denying Self, Bearing a Cross, and Following Jesus: Unpacking the Imperatives of Mark 8:34.” Word & World 23/3 (Summer 2003), pp. 321-331.

Sanders L. Willson, “Discipleship according to Jesus: A Sermon on Mark 3.13-19.” Presbyterian 16/2 (1990), pp. 73-80.

Theories of Atonement and the Theory of Mimetic Violence and Scapegoating

April 7, 2015

Violence, both coercive and systemic, reigns in the world. This is institutionalized in modern social structures. The myth of redemptive violence undergirds popular culture, civil religion, nationalism and foreign policy. It lies at the root of the system of domination that has characterized human existence. Religious traditions promise to heal the wounds of human existence by uniting human beings to ultimate reality and to one another. Through centuries church has claimed the atoning significance of the crucifixion of Christ. Theories of atonement have interpreted Jesus’ death in order to argue for its universal significance in reconciling human beings to God and to one another. However, a theology that affirms the salvific power of violence results in denigration of people, who are not part of the “saved community”, permitting discrimination and violence. This reality is reflected in the violent history of the institutional church marked by Inquisition, Crusades, Slave Trade , Segregation and collaboration with Colonialism, to name a few. Collaboration of the church and imperial power in violence against native peoples around the world is vividly illustrated by David Stannard:
At the dawn of the fifteenth century, Spanish conquistadors and priests presented the Indians they encountered with a choice: either give up your religion and culture and land and independence, swearing allegiance ‘as vassals’ to the Catholic Church and the Spanish Crown, or suffer ‘all the mischief and damage’ that the European invaders choose to inflict upon you.

The collaboration with imperial power in violence undermines the claims of the church about the significance of the Christ event in relation to all forms of violence and itself as an alternate nonviolent community. The history of religions is also steeped in blood, sacrifice and scapegoating. The brutal facts of the history of religions pose stark questions about the intertwining of religion and violence.

Due to violence embedded in general understanding of the significance of Jesus’ death and the violence-seeped history of the institutional church, dominant theories of atonement have come under intense scrutiny. The impetus for this inquiry has come particularly in the late twentieth century from the perspectives of victims of violence, the marginalized. The Theory of Mimetic Violence and Scapegoating, as it relates particularly with the question of sacrifice, proves illuminating with regards to the general understanding of the significance of the death of Jesus Christ.

The Theory of Mimetic Violence and Scapegoating provides an important analysis of the function of violence in human society. This theory is concerned about the role of religion and violence in the formation of human culture. Rene Girard views violence as the foundation of religion and social system. It is the violence that generates a mechanism, which he calls “scapegoat mechanism”. This mechanism is generated to protect social order in a community. Girard believes that in the mechanism linking violence and religion lies the origins of culture. It is the death of Jesus Christ, the victim of the scapegoat mechanism that exposes the sacrificial structures of society. Girard develops his theory in his books: Deceit, Desire and the Novel, Violence and the Sacred, Things Hidden from the Foundation of the World, The Scapegoat, and Job, the Victim of His People.

A. Theories of Atonement

Twentieth century experienced sharp debates, sparked primarily by contextual theologians such as black, womanist and feminist about the traditional understanding of the death of Jesus Christ. These contextual theologians have criticized the atonement theology that delineates the meaning and significance of the death of Jesus Christ, because it starts with divinely sanctioned violence, namely killing of an innocent person Jesus Christ. The atonement theology assumes that the killing of Jesus has resulted in something good, that is, the salvation of sinful humankind. Thus, the traditional understanding of the significance of the death of Jesus Christ has glorified divinely sanctioned violence against the weak, poor, women and marginalized.

Three major theories of atonement are prominent in the church to interpret the death of Jesus Christ.

1. Theory of Christus Victor
Power and military imagery dominates the articulation of the theory of Christus Victor. This theory stresses on the theme of victory. It uses the image of cosmic battle between forces of God and forces of Satan. Gustav Aulen discusses how influential this view of atonement was in patristic thought.

According to the theory of Christus Victor the fundamental human predicament is that human beings are enslaved to the powers of sin, death and Satan. The classic Christus Victor, which is identified with Irenaeus and other early church fathers, and several versions of it emphasize on the cosmic battle between forces of God and forces of evil. They see in the death of Jesus Christ victory over cosmic powers such as sin, death and demonic powers that held human beings in bondage. The emphasis on Christ as victor makes Jesus’ death a turning point in the battle against evil powers that enslaved human beings. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead assures final victory. Thus, the struggle is cosmic and the victory of Christ is cosmic. The overriding emphasis of the theory is that God alone, through Christ, accomplishes victory. Therefore, the redemption of human beings from the enslaving cosmic powers is to be understood as a gift bestowed by grace alone.

There are variations of the theory of Christus Victor. One variation is God defeating Satan through deception. Failing to perceive the divine nature hidden behind the human nature of Jesus Christ, Satan swallows the human nature of Christ and is caught by the deity hidden under it. As Douglas John Hall summarizes:
Christ, the Victor, cloaking for the time being his divine omnipotence beneath the apparent weakness of the flesh, deceives and finally destroys the forces of evil that are responsible for human misery, and delivers the human victims from the bonds of sin, death, and the demonic.

Another variation of the theory of Christus Victor is the Ransom Theory. According to this theory, the death of Jesus Christ is described as a ransom price paid to Satan in exchange for freeing the sinful humankind from the bondage of Satan. With the resurrection, Jesus Christ escaped the clutches of Satan and at the same time freed sinners from the bondage of Satan. Thus, Jesus constituted the payment God owed to Satan in exchange for the release of human beings under the captivity of Satan. In this image, God sanctioned Satan’s violence against Jesus as a price for freeing human beings from the clutches of Satan.

The basic weakness of the theory of Christus Victor is that it locates the cause of evil in “an objectifiable, transhistorical demonic power, separable from human community.” The cosmic powers become the cause of Jesus’ death. As a result, the theory ignores the violence of the “lynching mob”- religious and political authorities, and populace. By sanctioning Satan’s violence against Jesus, the Ransom Theory intrinsically contains divinely authorized violence. Joanne Carlson Brown and Rebecca Parker rightly criticize the Christus Victor theory for the divinely sanctioned violence and abuse. Because God delivers the son for Satan to kill in exchange for freeing the humankind in Satan’s bondage. Brown and Parker further say that “suffering is a prelude to triumph and is in itself an illusion,” because Jesus’ suffering and death are understood as mere “divine trickery” in a plot to “deceive the deceiver”. This “divine trickery” expresses the essence of mimetic theory, where God mimes the original action of Satan (that is, deception), and thus, becomes mimetic double.

Further, Brown and Parker contend that a divine model of submission to victimization can have dangerous consequences for those who live in abusive and oppressive situations. They declare:
Victimization never leads to triumph…(rather) it can lead to destruction of the human spirit through the death of a person’s sense of power, worth, dignity, or creativity….By denying the reality of suffering and death, the Christus Victor theory of atonement defames all those who suffer and trivializes tragedy.

2. Theory of Satisfaction

A great change took place in understanding the death of Jesus Christ with Anselm’s book Cur Deus Homo? Anselm rejected specifically the ransom version of Christus Victor theory. He removed Satan from the atonement equation and made human beings responsible to God. Anselm’s theory of Satisfaction maintains that the basic problem in the world is disorder. This disorder is introduced by human sin into the cosmic order governed by divine justice. Human sin did dishonor to God. Now God’s honor is to be satisfied in order for the universe to remain just. According to the theory of Satisfaction, the death of Jesus Christ has satisfied the honor of God, and thus enabled salvation to humankind. As Williston Walker summarizes:
Man, by sin, has done dishonor to God. His debt is to God alone. God’s nature demands “satisfaction.” Man, who owes obedience at all times, has nothing wherewith to make good past disobedience. Yet, if satisfaction is to be made at all, it can be rendered only by one who shares human nature, who is himself man, and yet as God has something of infinite value to offer. Such a being is the God-man. Not only is his sacrifice a satisfaction, it deserves reward. That reward is the eternal blessedness of his brethren.

A post-Reformation variation of the Satisfaction theory is the Penal Substitution theory. According to this theory, Jesus’ death is understood as substitution for sinful humankind in bearing the penalty of the divine law incurred by them. In the Penal Substitution theory God’s law, not God’s honor, becomes the object of the death of Jesus Christ.

The theory of Satisfaction assumes that God’s retributive justice demands compensatory punishment for human sin. The premise is that justice is accomplished by inflicting punishment. The theory assumes that “doing justice consists of administering quid pro quo violence.” By bearing the punishment on behalf of the sinful humankind, Jesus paved way for human salvation. Thus, the theory of Satisfaction links atonement with the system of retributive justice or violence of God. In other words, this theory models the assumption that doing justice or making right depends on compensatory punishment or sanctioned violence. The implication of this is that the “lynching mob” in the killing of Jesus Christ – religious and political authorities, and people- is, in fact, aiding God in providing satisfaction for the divine justice or honor. Therefore, the Satisfaction theory promotes divine sanctioned violence.

Further, the human condition described in terms of human sin against God’ justice or honor naturally conceives the death of Jesus Christ as a sacrifice, which enables the sins of the humankind to be forgiven. In other words, Jesus’ death is understood as a penal substitution for human sin and to satisfy the violence (or vengeance) of God. If the violence of God is not satisfied, God’s absolute revenge or wrath takes place. If the wrath of God is not appeased, it would overflow into the world. In this harsh reality the need for a scapegoat would be pressing and permanent.

However, the argument of satisfying an angry and vengeful God overlooks the evidence in the New Testament that God is not the object of Jesus’ death, but rather sin. Peter Abelard criticized the theory of substitution for imagining a vindictive God. He deplored, “How cruel and wicked it seems that anyone should demand the blood of an innocent person as the price for anything…still less that God should consider the death of his Son so agreeable that by it he should be reconciled to the whole world.” Contextual theologians have also challenged the theory of Satisfaction as not only offensive, since it portrays God as violent and vengeful, but also a potential source of oppression. Black, feminist and other liberation theologians have shown how certain interpretations of the cross can promote a cult of suffering. As a result, oppressed groups passively identify with Jesus’ death as though suffering itself were part of God’s redemptive plan, rather than seeking to overcome injustice. James Cone criticizes the theory of Satisfaction that it is an abstract theory, which lacks ethical dimensions in historical arena. He comments, “A neat rational theory but useless as a leverage against political oppression. It dehistoricizes the work of Christ, separating it from God’s liberating act in history.” Cone argues that the abstract legal formula enabled “white” Christians to claim salvation through the death of Jesus Christ, while actively accommodating chattel slavery and racism. Womanist and feminist theologians also criticize the theory of Satisfaction as divine child abuse or divine surrogacy. Brown and Parker write:

Christianity is an abusive theology that glorifies suffering. Is it any wonder that there is so much abuse in the modern society when the predominant image of the culture is of “divine child abuse”- God the Father demanding and carrying out the suffering death of his own son? If Christianity is to be liberating for the oppressed, it must itself be liberated from this theology. We must do away with the atonement, this idea of a blood sin upon the whole human race which can be washed away only by the blood of the lamb.

Brown and Parker point out that Anselm’s view of justice is “not that wrong should be righted but that wrongs should be punished…God’s demand that sin be punished is fulfilled by the suffering of the innocent Jesus, whose holiness is crowned by his willingness to be perfectly obedient to his Father’s will.” The theory that glorifies suffering of the innocent for the liberation of others can be dangerous in an abusive society. This conditions the abused to accept their situation. As Brown and Parker notes, “This glorification of suffering as salvific, held before us daily in the image of Jesus hanging from the cross, encourages women who are being abused to be more concerned about their victimizer than about themselves.”

Thus, the abstract legal formula of the theory of Satisfaction not only accommodates violence of the sword and various forms of systemic violence, but also perpetuates suffering, oppression and marginalization of the poor and marginal communities by appealing to the suffering of Jesus or submission of Jesus to suffering required by a divine mandate. As a result, this theory condones the plight and suffering of the poor and the marginalized.

3. Theory of Moral Influence

Abelard rejected the Satisfaction theory of Anselm and its variation, Ransom Theory. He proposed Moral Influence theory. The Moral Influence theory assumes that human beings are to be enabled to engage in agape love. Abelard in his book Know Thyself argues that human beings are capable of deciding what is good through the use of natural reason. Therefore, what they need are knowledge of what is good and strength of resolve to do it. This is what human beings get from the death of Jesus Christ. Christ’s death provides a compelling and inspiring example to follow. Jesus, in persevering through humiliation and cross, embodies God’s agape love. God gave him over to die in order to display God’s agape love for sinful human beings. Thus, the Moral Influence theory features the death of Jesus Christ as a loving act of God for sinful human beings. When sinful human beings perceive this love of God in Jesus’ death, it inspires human heart so that they are empowered to follow the same example of agape love. This, in turn, results in reconciliation with God and with one another. It is the psychological or subjective influence worked on the mind of sinner through demonstration of God’s love in the death of Jesus Christ that reconciles sinner to God and to one another.

However, Moral Influence theory also promotes divinely sanctioned violence. The display of God’s agape love is in the form of God giving up God’s son to die. This interpretation of the death of Jesus Christ ignores its cause, the violence of the “lynching mob” – religious and political authorities, and people. It makes God the cause of Jesus’ death with the purpose of showing God’s agape love to sinful human beings. This demonstrates the intrinsic divine sanctioned violence in the theory. Like the Christus Victor theory and the Satisfaction theory, the Moral Influence theory implies that the “lynching mob” is aiding God’s will to fulfill.

Brown and Parker rightly observe that the Moral Influence theory is another image of divinely sanctioned abuse. By suggesting that the cross represents the highest form of love, the theory leads to further victimization of oppressed people. As Brown and Parker note, on the basis of the image of the cross as representing the highest form of love “races, classes, and women have been victimized…(and) their victimization has been heralded as a persuasive reason for inherently sinful men to become more righteous.” Victims become means “for someone else’s edification”.

Thus, the dominant atonement theories contain elements of divinely sanctioned violence. They are intrinsically violent, in that they make God the ultimate source of violence, and portray the “lynching mob” as aiding God’s will to fulfill. The traditional interpretations of the death of Jesus Christ use transactional analogies such as satisfaction, substitution and ransom, where death of an innocent person is required either by a just God or a divine law or Satan in order to save the sinful humankind. Such interpretations of the death of Christ trade in the language of sacrifice. If Jesus’ death is regarded not as a revelation but as only a violent event brought about by God in order to either satisfy a just God or a divine law or Satan or to inspire human heart, it is misunderstood and turned into an idol. Not only does this not make sense, but it is scandalous in a variety of ways. Mark Heim says that this kind of understanding of God and the death of Jesus Christ leads “to a fatally skewed faith, revolving around a central narrative based on sacred violence and the glorification of innocent suffering.”

Therefore, a nonviolent perspective that exposes and rejects violence in Jesus’ death is required. This perspective provides a basis to subvert the dominant theories of atonement, which formed a framework for the interpretation of Jesus’ death in Paul’s letters. Nonviolent perspective also offers a new interpretation of Christ’s event. This perspective is shaped by the Theory of Mimetic Violence and Scapegoating. According to this interpretation, violence that fulfils God’s agenda is not a factor in the death of Jesus Christ. Rather Jesus’ death reveals victimage and thus, exposes the violence of scapegoating. The revelatory aspect of Jesus’ death posits violence and its correlates (substitution, satisfaction, ransom) as an anthropological datum, not a divine one. It exposes the lie about the divinely sanctioned violence. The death of Jesus Christ, in one sense, is like all other events of victimization “since the foundation of the world.” But it is different in that it reveals the meaning of these events going back to the beginnings of humanity: victimization occurs because of mimetic violence, victim is innocent, and God stands with the victim and vindicates him or her. In other words, the violent death of Jesus Christ reveals that it was mimetic violence that is the generative power behind the sacrificial structures, which are responsible for Jesus’ death or any victimization, which Girard calls “scapegoat mechanism”.

B. Theory of Mimetic Violence and Scapegoating

For the theory of Mimetic Violence and Scapegoating mimesis is the starting point. According to Girard, human culture has been founded on two principles, which he calls “mimetic rivalry” and “scapegoat mechanism”. The anthropological characteristic that Girard sees as most fundamental to human behavior is mimesis. Without mimesis, there is no human culture. From his study of mimetic desire in the modern novels written by novelists such as Cervantes, Stendhal, Dostoevsky and Proust, Girard conjectures that human desire is mimetic. He delineates, “Mimesis is the basic human drive to copy what the other person finds valuable; it is the ambition to acquire as one’s own what is deemed desirable by the other.” Girard argues that no object has any value in and of itself, rather objects derive value “insofar as they are charged with desirability on the basis of another’s attachments to the same.” In other words, “the value of the article consumed is based solely on how it is regarded by the Other. Only Another’s desire can produce desire.” That means, desire is always mediated by the other’s (whom Girard calls “mediator”) desire.

Since the origins and mechanisms of desire are controlled by the other, the subject of desire is no longer in control of his/her own destiny, but becomes a slave of the other’s desires and preferences. As Mark Wallace explains,

Because the self formed by the other’s desires can neither understand nor control the direction of its own appetites and infatuations, the mediated self is fated to an existence within a nightmare-world of culturally constructed needs and desires that it cannot comprehend. Everything that generates the culture of a particular social group – from tastes in food and fashion to codes of behavior and division of labor – operates within the same gravitational space of mimetic desire. Generally, however, this gravitational activity exists just beneath the threshold of conscious choices and activities. Thus, mediated desire is the source of all acquisitive and addictive cravings, the foundation upon which the hierarchy of cultural values is established, and the criterion by which most interpersonal decisions are made in social groups.

In imitating the other (model), the subject may come to approach the power and threaten the position of the model. Thus, mimesis leads to competition at the most intimate level of existence. The model tells the subject not to imitate him/her, and becomes an obstacle and rival to the subject in acquiring the object of desire. Mimesis, thus, inexorably leads to rivalry and rivalry sooner or later to violence. Violence (called mimetic violence) that results from mimesis poses a fundamental threat to the community. Escalating violence renders humans more and more like each other, leveling distinctions and sweeping people up into ever greater paroxysms of violence. Since human societies maintain their order through a system of differences, erosion of differences threaten the order and peace in society. Mimetic rivalry and violence threaten to overflow into society. This results in “mimetic crisis”.

Thus, the configuration of desire is triangular. Subject’s desire of an object is mediated by the model (or mediator) of the object of desire. When the angle between the plane of the subject and that of the model is large, the distance between two planes will be proportionately large and the relationship between the subject and the model is a good imitation without rivalry. However, when the angle between the two planes is small, the distance between them will be proportionately small. As the distance between the two planes becomes smaller, mimetic rivalry begins to grow proportionately. When the planes of the subject and the model draw very closer, model becomes an obstacle, in the sense of a rival, to the fulfillment of the object of desire. At this point desire shifts its aim from the object to the model-turned-obstacle and acquisitive desire becomes mimetic rivalry, which contests for recognition and status, rather than possession of the object of desire. It renders the subject to be more like the model. This, in turn, begins to erode the differences between the subject and the model-turned-obstacle and they eventually become the doubles. This stage is called the “mimetic crisis”. At this stage violence erupts, where they want to destroy each other.

Mimetic crisis threatens the social structure, that is, society’s order of differences and values. In this mimetic crisis society’s order is normalized by diverting the violence of the community onto an “unprotected other” (a scapegoat) accusing it as the cause of the violence and social disorder. According to Girard, each society is engaged in some form of sacrifice to control this violence and to establish a social order. Through a controlled act of violence, that is, killing of a scapegoat, flood of overwhelming violence and its effects are controlled. As Girard notes, “If left unappeased, violence will accumulate until it overflows its confines and floods the surrounding area. The role of sacrifice is to stem this rising tide of indiscriminate substitutions and redirect violence into proper channels.” Thus, the purpose of sacrifice is to restore communal harmony and to reinforce social fabric.

During the course of evolution, Girard believes, repeated primal murders taught early humans that the death of one or more members of the group would bring a mysterious peace and discharge of communal violence. Societies had learned to contain mimetic violence from overflowing into society by channeling the tensions of mimetic rivalry and violence onto a scapegoat. That means, the opposition of “everyone against everyone else” was replaced by the opposition of “all against one”. Scapegoating channels and expels violence so that communal life and existing social order may continue. This pattern is the foundation of “scapegoat mechanism”. Since human socialization itself originates from scapegoat mechanism, it can be said that “human culture (is) an effacement of bloody tracks, and an expulsion of the expulsion itself.” It becomes evident, then, that scapegoating is the basis of society, and mimesis leading to violence is central energy of the social system.
Fearful that unrestrained violence would return, early humans sought ritual ways to re-enact and resolve mimetic crisis in order to channel and contain violence. “Good violence” was invoked to drive out “bad violence.” That is why rituals from around the world call for sacrifice of humans and animals. At a later stage of social development, animal sacrifice is instituted. In principle there is no difference between human and animal sacrifice. The important thing is that the sacrificial victim should resemble members of the community, but not be identical. Girard says that the crucial element is choosing a sacrificial victim. Distinguishing between suitable and unsuitable sacrificial victims is essential for an effective sacrifice. As Girard notes, “Between these (suitable) victims and the community a crucial social link is missing, so that they can be exposed to violence without fear of reprisal. Their death does not automatically entail an act of vengeance.” Usually people, who belong to minority communities or have different marks such as color, disease, religious affiliation and class status, become potential sacrificial victims. Domestic animals that have close association with the community such as cattle and goats are sacrificed.

Therefore, mimetic crisis generates scapegoating mechanism, where it rediscovers an object, not to possess but to destroy. The rivals get united in attributing the cause of the social disorder to a victim. Thus, they transfer their violence on to the victim. Thus, violence and lie become twins in scapegoating mechanism. Killing of the scapegoat victim restores communal unity and social order. In that process not only the guilt of “mob” as the cause of social disorder, but also its violence against the innocent victim is obscured. In other words, the lynching of victim must not be seen for what it is. The violent basis of transformation of social disorder into social order, however, is concealed from those involved. Both the cause of social disorder and the restoration of social order are attributed to the scapegoat, who is seen as having power not only to cause social disorder but also to restore social order. This makes the scapegoat victim “the supremely active and all powerful victim”, because of its power to cause and to cure violence. The victim is apotheosized as a god. Hamerton-Kelly says that “god is the transformed victim…(and) the mob makes the victim a god…the mob’s stupefaction turns to awe.” Thus, scapegoating is the foundation of religion. Girard says that at the origin of any religious society stands the murder of a person selected as a scapegoat. For him, the “Sacred” first appears as violence directed at a sacrificial victim, a scapegoat. As Girard writes, “Now the victim/god is the processor of bad violence into good violence, the violence of disorder into the violence of order. Thus the victim/god is the personification and reification of the mob’s violence through the victim.” In a mimetic crisis, the distinction between the Sacred and violence is lost. The victim is transformed into the Sacred, the mighty one who can cause disorder and bring order in the society. Thus, “the double transference” transforms the victim into the Sacred with its powers of threat and promise, corresponding to mimetic rivalry and surrogate victimage respectively. Both threat and promise represent two forms of violence: bad violence disrupts social order and good violence restores order. Thus, “Violence is the heart and secret soul of the Sacred”.

The conception of the Sacred is based on violence turned on scapegoat, then attributed to God. This is sacred violence. The system of sacred violence is based on self-deception that the energy of the system is not our violence but the violence of God. It pretends that God demands victims in order to maintain communal peace and unity. Thus, the order of existing culture is an order of sacred violence centered on the place of sacrifice and sustained by threat (prohibition), promise (ritual) and lie (myth).

In Girard’s view, myths from around the world recount the primordial crisis and its resolution in ways that systematically disguise violent origins of culture. Girard attempts to explain the origin of myth in terms of a historical event in which each community commits a mob murder of a scapegoat in order to establish social order. According to him, mythical language presumes that human violence “is always interpreted as an act of divine vengeance, as God’s punitive intervention.” Human beings get so caught up in these stories that they lose sight of the basic truth that scapegoats are innocent. Even though societies no longer practice sacrifice directly, they still continue to target certain individuals or groups as scapegoats. These societies blame them for all problems, resulting in marginalization and even extermination of these individuals or groups, so that violence will not overflow into and threaten the society. Thus, the lynching mob is at the foundation of social order. According to Girard, every culture arises from the incessantly repeated patterns of mimetic violence and scapegoating.

Religion conceals the violent origins of society. In order to stop violence in community it has to conceal violence against victims. That means, it has to conceal the truth of innocent victimage. Charles Mabee says, “Thus, truth becomes second victim, after the innocent victim.” This victimage of truth is perpetuated by myths and rituals. As Girard argues, “This concealing aspect of religion and the culture that it generates results in its idolatrous nature, that is, its propensity for creating fake gods out of society’s victims.”
However, unlike myths of every other culture, God’s revelation of Jesus Christ, the victim of sacred violence, unmasks the mechanism of sacrificial violence found in myths, cultural systems, social practices, political ideologies and interpersonal relationships. Jesus’ death is not a sacrifice. Viewing Jesus’ death in terms of sacrifice, as presented by the dominant atonement theories, to effect human salvation reflects mythification. Such a view of the death of Jesus Christ reinforces divine sanctioned violence. Wink comments:

The nonviolent God of Jesus comes to be depicted as a God of unequaled violence, since God not only allegedly demands the blood of the victim who is closest and most precious to him, but also holds the whole of humanity accountable for a death that God both anticipated and required.

Thus, viewing Jesus’ death as a sacrifice posits violence as divine sanctioned one, whereas it is human violence that is projected as God’s violence. God’s revelation of Jesus Christ, the victim of sacred violence, reveals the falsehood of sacred violence and God’s rejection of it. It makes clear that sacred violence is not from God, but from human beings. Jesus’ death is not God’s act of scapegoat violence; it is human violence. Jesus was swept up into a process of sacred violence whereby the existing social order could be maintained. Thus, the death of Jesus Christ reveals the sacred violence that humans use to maintain social order.

Therefore, Jesus’ death is “significant more for its historical content than as a basis for an ideology of sacrifice.” The cross of Jesus Christ points to the shameful death of an innocent person through an act of human violence. Jesus’ death does not destroy the sacrificial structures, but it discloses and demythifies “the victimage process, which is detrimental to the liberation of victims and the human community intended by God of love and justice.”

Therefore, the gospel of Jesus Christ is the opposite of myth, because it tells the truth about scapegoating mechanism. It offers the new creation/kingdom of God as an alternative. Girard says:
Once the basic mechanism is revealed, the scapegoat mechanism, that expulsion of violence by violence, is rendered useless by the revelation. . . The good news is that scapegoats can no longer save men, the persecutors’ accounts of their persecutions are no longer valid, and truth shines into dark places. God is not violent, the truth of God has nothing to do with violence, and he speaks to us not through distant intermediaries but directly. The Son he sends us is one with him. The Kingdom of God is at hand.

However, the gospel affects but not changes the structures of sacred violence in this world. The structures of the Sacred and the customs of scapegoating will continue. But through the disclosure of sacrificial structures by the gospel of Jesus Christ, God establishes a nonviolent society. The cross of Jesus Christ is salvific because it discloses sacred violence, not because it displays God’s love as regarded by the theory of Moral Influence. The cross saves when human beings recognize scapegoat mechanism operating in the death of Jesus Christ and become aware of the violent legacy of the mimetic process. The members of the nonviolent society of the new creation relate to the system of sacred violence differently. Faith in Christ leads believers away from the system of sacred violence into a community of the new creation characterized by agape love.

B. History of Interpretation of the Death of Jesus Christ in Galatians

In Gal. 3.13 Paul affirms the significance of the death of Jesus Christ in human redemption from the curse of the law. However, he does not describe the specifics of the connection between Christ’s death and human redemption. Therefore, Christian theologians have used one or the other theories of atonement to explain Paul’s words. The church fathers, who employed the Christus Victor theory of atonement, understood Paul’s words in terms of Christ’s victory over the powers, including the law with its curse that kept human beings under bondage. Jesus, by undergoing law’s curse on the cross and raising from the grave, liberated humankind from the curse of the law. The proponents of the theory of Penal Substitution or Satisfaction have interpreted the death of Jesus Christ as Jesus taking upon himself the curse of the law that was threatening all sinful humanity and thus redeeming human beings from the curse. Jesus, through his death, satisfied the righteous judgment of God that was looming on the entire human race. Martin Luther’s comment on Gal. 3.13 in his commentary on Galatians gives an indication of the influence of both the Penal Substitution theory and the Christus Victor theory. He wrote that Christ became a curse for us by taking upon himself all our sins. Otherwise the law had no right over Christ, for the law condemns only sinners and holds them under the curse. For Luther, the curse of the law is the wrath or punishment of God. When Jesus Christ became a curse for us, he came under the wrath of God as sinner on our behalf. Luther comments, “He (Jesus) thus bearing the sin of the whole world in our person, was taken, suffered, was crucified and put to death, and became a curse for us.” He further says, “But because He was a person divine and everlasting, it was impossible that death should hold Him.” Thus, Luther sees in the death of Jesus Christ victory over the powers of sin, death and the curse.

Those who have opposed the Satisfaction or Penal Substitution framework have used the Moral Influence theory to understand Gal. 3.13. Mostly it was the liberal theologians of the nineteenth and early twentieth century who followed this framework. According to these theologians, Jesus’ death redeemed human beings from the curse of the law by providing them with an example of obedience and agape love. This example has inspired human beings to follow an alternate way of life where they are no more under the curse.

The biblical scholars have also used one or the other theories of atonement as a framework to interpret the death of Jesus Christ in Paul’s letters. Some have found support for the satisfaction or penal substitution mainly in Paul’s contemporary Jewish literature. On the basis of the support in Jewish literature, scholars have argued that Paul got the idea of vicarious satisfaction or penal substitution from Jewish sacrificial practice, ‘cultic juristic’ thinking, or martyr-theology. Rudolf Bultmann understands the death of Jesus Christ in terms of cultic-juridical terms. Jesus’ death is not only a sacrifice that takes away the guilt of sin, but also becomes a means by which one is liberated from the powers of this age, the law, sin and death. That is why Bultmann translates huper hēmōn as “in our stead”. He supposes that Paul was influenced by Hellenistic mystery religions (in which the initiated also participated in the death and resurrection of the deity) and the Gnostic myth. According to the Gnostic myth, there existed a cosmic unity between the redeemer and the believers redeemed by him, a soma, so that what happened to the redeemer also happened to those who belonged to his soma. By using this, Bultmann contends that Paul characterized the redemptive significance of Christ’s death and resurrection not only as a sacrifice offered once and for all on our behalf or as a punishment suffered in our place, but also as a redemptive event that could be interpreted as an event that indeed happened to human beings.

Lenski understands the imagery in Gal. 3.13 as a substitution of blood sacrifice. He also renders huper hēmōn “in our stead”, which represents substitution. Lenski argues that Jesus Christ assumed our curse. So he explains:

Christ bought us ‘out from under’ the curse of the law by becoming a curse ‘over’ us…In a word, we were under the curse; Christ took the curse upon himself and thus over us (between the suspended curse and us), and thus rescued us out from under the curse.

The curse of human beings, which Jesus took over him, “crushed Christ in death” and thus “his death satisfied the law and…ended the curse.” For Lenski, this curse is the curse of God. N.A. Dahl and G. Vermes believe that the substitution theme of Gal. 3.13 relates to Gen. 22, that is, the binding of Isaac. However, they are relatively tentative. No one argues explicitly that Gal. 3.13 reflects a vicarious, sacrificial death of Isaac. Dahl admits that this typology equates Jesus and the ram, rather than Jesus and Isaac.

Herman Ridderbos contends that the basic thought behind Paul’s understanding of Jesus’ death is found in the cultic-juridical aspect. Jesus’ death should be understood in sacrificial terms. It is an atoning sacrifice. In Gal. 3.13 and 4.5 Paul speaks of Jesus’ death as ransom. It is a costly price paid for those under the curse. As Ridderbos notes, “As the one sent of God, he takes the curse upon himself and he dies, burdened with it, in place of men on the cross.” Christ “becoming a curse for us” (Gal. 3.13) expresses the thought of substitutionary (atoning) sacrifice. The thought of substitution “constitutes the fixed content of the ransom concept. For this reason the expression “became a curse for us” not only means “in our behalf” but “in our place” as well.” In Paul’s letters, Ridderbos argues, the idea of atoning sacrifice is closely related to a concept of forensic justification, where God as a righteous judge condemns sin in Christ’s death and justifies those who have faith in Christ. Although Paul does not say that Christ has redeemed his own from God, yet God is the one whose holy curse was executed on Christ in their place. Thus justice is satisfied. Even though the substitutionary satisfaction terminology is absent, “the idea of substitutionary satisfaction is materially present here.” Thus, “substitution and justification are closely related so that it can be said that Christ has delivered us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse (i.e. one cursed by God) for us (Gal. 3.13).” Ridderbos further maintains that “no matter how much people have been responsible for Christ’s death” it was God who delivered Jesus Christ to death. It was our sins, he says, that moved God to hand over Jesus in order to make atonement for human sins. Thus, Christ substituted himself for humankind in order to atone for their sins.

James Dunn also supports the understanding of Jesus’ death in terms of cultic sacrifice. However, he confesses that there is no clear rationale in Judaism concerning sacrifice. M. Barth admits, “It seems necessary to admit that we do not know or understand what the Old Testament and ‘Judaism’ really believed and taught about the mystery of expiating sacrifice.” However, Dunn supposes that Paul had an understanding of sacrifice, in terms of which he understood Jesus’ death. He argues that Jesus’ death is both sacrificial and representative in the sense that it is a “sin offering in someway representing the sinner in his sin.” According to Dunn’s understanding of redemption through the death of Jesus Christ, Christ redeemed human beings by uniting his divinity with the fallen humanity and destroying the power of sin and death in that “sinful flesh”. He bases his proposal on a particular understanding of Jewish sacrifice and argues that for Paul the “malignant, poisonous organism of sin” was destroyed in our fallen flesh when Jesus died and rose. He explains, “Jesus’ death was the death of the old humanity, in order that his resurrection might be the beginning of a new humanity, no longer contaminated by sin and no longer subject to death.” Jesus died as a representative of fallen human beings and “to say that Jesus died as sacrifice for the sins of men is for Paul to say the same thing.”

However, Ernst Kasemann contends that Paul’s letters give no support to the idea of substitution with regards to the death of Jesus Christ. He criticizes that the idea of the sacrificial death has often been unduly emphasized. Kasemann says that even though Paul was aware of the concept of substitution, he did not understand Jesus’ death in the sense that Christ offered sacrifice in our stead or carried the punishment for our sin. Kasemann contends, “Paul never definitely called Jesus’ death a sacrifice, particularly since it was in general accounted as God’s action and God can not very well sacrifice to himself.” He downplayed the idea of sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. He says, “The idea of the sacrificial death is, if anything, pushed into the background….” Rather, he argued, Paul’s thought was determined by the effect of Jesus’ death on human beings.

J.C. Beker has used the Christus Victor theory to interpret the significance of Jesus’ death in Gal. 3.13. He claims that Paul, basing on the Jewish apocalyptic idea, understood that Christ has inaugurated a new age by submitting to the curse of the law and then raising. Christ died “to break the power of the law itself, because the law had cursed him, whom God had vindicated.” This resulted in “the end of the dominion of the law and our transfer to a new lordship that saves us from the law’s condemnation and grants us new life in Christ.” Beker says that Paul rarely blames Jesus’ death on human authorities or rulers, because, for the apostle, spiritual powers of evil operate behind them (I Cor. 2.8).

David Seeley uses the theory of Moral Influence as a framework to understand Gal. 3.13. For him, Gal. 3.13 expresses Jesus’ innocence and his obedience. Jesus fully participated in the human condition, but lived obediently. The curse was attributed to Christ because he hung upon a tree, not because he broke the law. The emphasis is on Jesus’ obedience as the most important aspect of his death, and “it is the obedience which enables Jesus’ death to become salvific.” Seeley argues that Jesus’ death is vicarious in the sense that by imitating his example of obedience unto death, believers in Christ are redeemed from sin and the curse of the law.

The above brief survey demonstrates the influence of the dominant theories of atonement on the interpretation of the meaning and significance of the death of Jesus Christ. However, Ernest Burton brings a fresh understanding of the meaning and significance of the death of Jesus Christ as he interprets it as a revelatory event. Commenting on Gal. 3.13 Burton argues that the curse Paul spoke of is not the curse of God, but the curse of the law. The curse of the law, according to Burton, expresses the verdict of legalism, which falls on those who fail in their legalistic obedience to the statutes of the law. The verdict of legalism reflects not “God’s attitude now or at any time or under any circumstances,” but that “which the legalist must, to his own undoing, recognize as (that) of the law interpreted as he interprets it, and which on the basis of his legalism he must impute to God.” Therefore, curse is not an expression of God’s attitude towards people, but a false human conception of God’s attitude that God deals with human beings on a legalistic basis. Those who are of “works of the law” are under the curse of the law, which falls on all who do not fully satisfy its requirements. Legalism understands Jesus’ death as accursed. Deliverance from the system of legalism through the death of Jesus Christ is not “a judicial act in the sense of release from penalty, but a release from a false conception of God’s attitude, viz., from the belief that God actually deals with men on a legalistic basis.” The death of Christ is “a demonstration of the divine character and attitude toward men.” Burton insists that the deliverance from the system of legalism through the death of Jesus Christ is an epochal event. God through this epochal event “announced the end of that system of legalism which in the time of Moses came in to achieve a temporary purpose,…(and) revealed his own attitude toward men, and so gave evidence that legalism never was the basis of his judgment of men.” Thus, the death of Jesus Christ reveals not only the falsity of the system of legalism, but also the divine character and attitude towards human beings. It reveals that the system that perpetuated a misconstrued perception of God as a God of violence is based on a lie.
The significance of Jesus’ death for human beings is also understood in terms of “participation” and “representation”. Christ’s death is significant for the human beings in the sense that they “participate” in it. As Karl Barth notes, “For then and there, in the person of Christ taking our place, we were present, being crucified and dying with him.” Christ died as our representative. Many scholars have emphasized “participation in Christ” as a key theme in Paul’s soteriology. However, there is diversity of views about the nature of “participation”. Bultmann claims that Paul took the idea of participation from mystery religions and is partly behind Galatians 3.13. He describes, “Participation in the fate of the mystery-divinity through baptism and sacramental communion grants the mystes (initiate) participation in both the dying and the reviving of the divinity; such participation, that is, by leading the mystes into death delivers him from death.” Thus, Christ’s death provides believers with “the means of release from the powers of this age: Law, Sin, and Death” because they are granted “a share in Christ’s death.” E.P. Sanders remarks that for Paul the notion of participation in Christ or in his death is “the heart of his soteriology and Christology.” For Sanders, “participation” in Christ’s event is a reality for members of the community of Christ. However, he confesses his inability to delineate the nature of this “participation”. Sanders admits:

It seems to me best to understand Paul as saying what he meant and meaning what he said: Christians really are one body and Spirit with Christ…. But what does this mean? How are we to understand it? We seem to lack a category of “reality” – real participation in Christ, real possession of the Spirit – which lies between naïve cosmological speculation and belief in magical transference on the one hand and a revised self-understanding on the other.

Richard Hays, T.L. Donaldson and N.T. Wright have tried to explain the death of Jesus Christ in Galatians with the imagery of representation. Hays emphasizes that in Gal. 3.13 Paul understood Christ as a representative figure. Jesus, by taking the curse upon himself and then being vindicated by God at the resurrection, has at the same time redeemed from the curse all those who participated “in his same story or identify with it.” Donaldson argues that “Christ himself makes the passage from ‘this age’ to the ‘age to come’” functioning “not as an individual but as a representative figure.” Those who participate with Christ in death and resurrection are delivered from the curse and receive the blessing of justification and the life of the age to come. Building on these ideas, Wright interprets Galatians 3.13 on the basis of “Paul’s corporate Christology”. He delineates:

Because the Messiah represents Israel, he is able to take on himself Israel’s curse and exhaust it…The Messiah has come where Israel is, under the Torah’s curse (see 4.4), in order to be not only Israel’s representative but Israel’s redeeming representative. That which, in the scheme of Deuteronomy, Israel needed if she incurred the curse of the law, is provided in Christ: the pattern of exile and restoration is acted out in his death and resurrection. He is Israel, going down to death under the curse of the law, and going through that curse to the new covenant life beyond.

Wright understands Jesus’ death in terms of not only participation, but also the Penal Substitution theory: Jesus took the curse of Israel. According to him, Jesus took the curse of Israel as her representative and exhausted it. Both Wright and Dunn argue for some type of “Adam-theology” in Jewish tradition that led Paul to interpret the death of Christ in representative or participatory terms. John Ziesler criticizes the idea of “corporate personality” in Jewish tradition:
While the Old Testament and later Judaism easily conceived of representative figures, it is not clear that they ever envisaged corporate figures, whether kings, patriarchs, Adam, or anyone else. It is now very doubtful whether there ever was a Hebrew idea of corporate personality which could explain Paul’s language.

J.C. Beker tried to explain the significance of the death of Jesus Christ by “transfer” imagery. Beker supposes that the preposition huper denotes the image of “transfer”. By becoming a “curse for us”, Jesus Christ broke the power of the law. Thus, Christ put an end to the dominion of the law, and enabled “our transfer to a new lordship that saves us from the law’s condemnation and grants us new life in Christ.” Beker is influenced by the Christus Victor theory in his explanation of transfer of believer from one lordship to another and thus, of discontinuity between the old age and the new. The influence of the Penal Substitution theory may also be seen in his delineation of Christ’s death “for us” in terms of Jesus “(taking) upon himself the curse of the law and (expiating) its punishment because of our transgression.” For Beker, “this expiation is primarily a sacrificial expiation.” He further says that Christ’s death eradicated not only the curse of the law but also the law itself. However, this does not find support in Galatians, where Paul talks about fulfilling the law or the law of Christ. E.P. Sanders uses the term “transfer” to denote believer’s shift from one community to another. In the case of Paul, according to Sanders, this “transfer” from his Jewish community to the community of Christ was due to his basic conviction, which Sanders summarizes as follows:

God revealed his son to Paul and called him to be apostle to the Gentiles. Christ is not only the Jewish Messiah, he is savior and Lord of the universe. If salvation is by Christ and is intended for Gentile as well as Jew, it is not by the Jewish law.

That means, Paul’s critique of the law religion is Christological and soteriological. It is derivative of his fundamental conviction. According to Sanders, Paul does not see any “problem” with Judaism, except that it is not “Christianity”. However, the problem with this conclusion is that it does not take into consideration the fact that Paul’s way of life in Judaism perceived the message of Christ scandalous in some significant way, which resulted in his active persecution of believers in Christ and his determination to destroy “the church of God”. And also his experience of God’s revelation of God’s son resulted in a striking transformation of his convictions about Jesus Christ and his way of life in Judaism. Since Paul’s persecution of those who proclaimed the message of Jesus Christ, the “cursed of the law”, and his determination to destroy the “church of God” was linked to his zeal for the law, his “transfer” from the Jewish community to the community of Christ would not have occurred without his rejection of Judaism, or the way of life in Judaism represented by “works of law”.

Using the Theory of Mimetic Violence and Scapegoating, it can be shown that Paul’s experience of God’s revelation of God’s son exposed that Judaism was a sacrificial structure of sacred violence, which was expressed in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, persecution of those considered to be apostates, and exclusion of Gentiles. It also revealed that Paul’s way of life in Judaism was not a life for God, as was evident in God raising Jesus Christ, the victim of the “curse of the law”. This conviction effected his “transfer” from Judaism to the community of Christ, the victim of the sacred violence. As Hamerton-Kelly describes, “The transfer from one community to another signals a change in the function of desire, because those who have entered the realm of Christ have “crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5.24).” The transfer of a believer in Christ from the system of sacred violence to the community of Jesus Christ, the victim of the sacred violence, means “to refuse the unanimity of conflictual mimesis” and participation in the nonacquisitive and nonconflictual desire of Christ, that is, the agape love. Thus, believer in Jesus Christ breaks free from the system of sacred violence, and becomes a member of the community of the new creation, which is governed by the nonacquisitive and nonconflictual agape love. Thus, the Theory of Mimetic Violence and Scapegoating explains believer’s participation in Christ event better than Bultmann’s “mysticism” or Wright’s “corporate personality”, and believer’s transfer from one social order to another better than that of Beker and Sanders.

A String of Hope

February 12, 2015

In 1886 G. Frederick Watts titled one of his paintings Hope. It was painted shortly after the death of his adopted daughter Blanche. In this painting a woman is depicted sitting on the top of the globe, plucking at a wooden lyre with her head leaning towards the instrument. At first glance it gives an impression that she is in an enviable position, sitting on the top of the world, playing lyre and enjoying the music. But when you look at the painting closely, the ILLUSION gives way to the REALITY. The woman in the painting is blindfolded (probably symbolising that the world around her is dark for her) and in tattered clothes, playing the lyre with all but one of its strings broken (probably symbolising the condition of her life). Her head is leaning towards the instrument so that she can hear the faint music she can make with the sole remaining string. Commenting on his painting Watts says, “Hope need not mean expectancy. It suggests here rather the music which can come from the remaining chord.” It is the ability of people, at their lowest point in life to sense and feel a strand, a single string of hope that gives them strength to move on even in the darkest hour of life.

Hannah in I Samuel 1.1-18 was like the woman in the painting. She was a wife of Elkanah. Her husband loved her. Whenever Elkanah, along with his family, went to Shiloh to worship and sacrifice to the Lord, he gave a double portion of the sacrifice to Hannah, “because he loved her”. He loved her more than his other wife Peninnah and her children. In fact it was his love towards Hannah that caused Peninnah to be jealous of her.

Elkanah loved her “though the Lord had closed her womb” (I Sam. 1. 6). In that culture a woman, who was barren, was looked down. Such women did not have respect both in their families and society. But Elkanah loved her, although she was barren. For him the “baggage” she carried was immaterial. He loved her as she was.

Elkanah was also an understanding person (1.8). He was there whenever she was down. He consoled her and comforted her whenever she was sad.

People in the society must have known about Elkanah’s love towards Hannah. Most of them must have thought that she was lucky and blessed. Her husband loved her. Hannah’s position seemed enviable. Outwardly she looked as if she was sitting on the top of the world.

When we look from a distance at some people, families and countries, it gives an illusion that they are happy, comfortable and peaceful. They wear designer clothes, drive latest model vehicle, live in a posh locality, a well paid job, a rich family. We think they have everything. On the outside they give an illusion of being on the top of the world.

This is the illusion Hannah’s life gives to the outside society. But this illusion gives way to the reality when we look at her life closely.


The Reality of Hannah’s Life

  1. Most probably, the attention of Elkanah to Hannah caused Peninnah to be angry and jealous. When jealousy gets hold of us, we can’t let it go because it won’t let us go. A jealous person tries to make the life of the other miserable by hitting at the areas where it hurts the most. Peninnah knew her target area. Every year when they went to Shiloh to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord, Peninnah constantly stayed on her, hurting her, making her cry and taking her appetite away, because the Lord did not give her a child (1.6-8).
  2. Then there is the pain of a barren woman. The story of women in those days (even today) with no children was a story of deep sorrow and despair. Her respectability was tattered and torn. Hannah was “deeply distressed” and “wept bitterly” (1.10). She confessed that she was “deeply troubled” and in “great anxiety and vexation” (1.15-16).

Hannah was deeply hurt and in pain. Outsiders could not see that pain and sorrow. This deep pain and sorrow made her vexed with life. Moreover, her heart was bruised and bleeding with constant attacks of a jealous woman. This had affected her psyche, which was visible in her crying, refusing to eat anything. She was deeply hurt.

When we look at Hannah’s life closely she was in a living hell. What looked like heaven, the illusion of having everything, the illusion of sitting on top of the world, was actually existing in a quiet hell.

Deep distress, sorrow, anxiety and vexation lead a person, usually, into depression and isolation. At times they may also be symptoms of depression. Remember Elijah in I Kings 19.4: “He went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now O Lord, take away my life.” He did not eat. These are the signs of depression. It drives us into isolation and death.

However, in the case of Hannah, she found the single string that was not broken, that is, her relationship with God. She was definitely alone. But alone with God. Because she did not lose hope.

Notice what she did before God: she wept bitterly and confessed that she was in distress (1.11); she “poured out her soul before the Lord” (1.15); she spoke out her “great anxiety and vexation” (1.16). That means, she was honest before God. She just poured out before God what she had on her mind and heart. Expression of our feelings, emotions, doubts, questions and hurts before God and a trusted person is not unspiritual.

The other thing which Hannah did was she cried bitterly before God. That means she had pent up emotions/feelings. She did not have a let out. She did not have a window to vent out her feelings and emotions. We usually let out our deep emotions/feelings before a person, whom we trust and who loves and cares for us. This is what Hannah did. Because Hannah trusted God and believed that God loved her and cared for her, she let out her emotions/feelings. When we vent out our emotions/feelings, it will have a therapeutic effect on us. It lightens our heart and mind.

Notice the change in Hannah’s appearance: “Then the woman went to her quarters, ate and drank with her husband, and her countenance was sad no longer” (1.18).

In her darkest hour of life, Hannah had the ability to sense and feel the sole string that was intact. In her deep distress and sorrow, she found that one string of hope, i.e. God. Hannah had a strong relationship with God. Though she was barren in her womb, she was fertile in her relationship with God. Year after year when they went to the Lord’s temple in Shiloh, she kept on praying, although there was no visible sign of change in her condition. She prayed so fervently that Eli thought she must be drunk.

It is very easy to hope in God when there is evidence of God’s goodness all around us. But it is difficult to hope when the love of God is not plainly evident, or there is absence of God. There is a documentary titled The Day My God Died. This documentary presents the stories of young girls whose lives have been crushed by child sex trade. They describe the day they were abducted from their village and sold into sexual servitude in Mumbai, shattering their dreams and hopes, as The Day My God Died. These children are “the commodity consumed by the voracious and sophisticated international sex trade. Recruiters capture them, smugglers transport them, brothel owners enslave them, corrupt police betray them and consumers rape them and infect them. Every person in the chain profits except for the girls, who pay price with their lives.”

In a situation where there is no visible evidence of God’s love, care and presence, it requires courage, audacity to trust God, to hope in God.

There is an African American Spiritual titled “Over my head”. African American Spirituals were originated in the American South. These were created by mostly slaves whose names history never recorded. These were sung by slaves during their work in fields, factories etc. The theology conveyed in these songs is a powerful mix of African spirituality, Biblical narrative, an extreme human suffering, and hope. These were written in extreme pain and suffering. In the midst of that they express Hope in God.


Over my head, I hear music in the air;

Over my head, I hear music in the air;

Over my head, I hear music in the air;


  1. Leader: oh, when the world is silent,

People: Hmm, I hear music in the air;

Leader: oh, when the world is silent,

People: Hmm, I hear music in the air;

Leader: oh, when the world is silent,

People: Hmm, I hear music in the air;


All: There must be a God somewhere.



Over my head, I hear music in the air;

Over my head, I hear music in the air;

Over my head, I hear music in the air;


  1. Leader: And when I’m feeling lonely,

People: Hmm, I hear music in the air;

Leader: And when I’m feeling lonely,

People: Hmm, I hear music in the air;

Leader: And when I’m feeling lonely,

People: Hmm, I hear music in the air;


All: There must be a God somewhere



Over my head, I hear music in the air;

Over my head, I hear music in the air;

Over my head, I hear music in the air;


Even when the world remains a mute spectator to our hurts, sufferings, pain, agony and cry, and we feel lonely in the valley of the shadow of death, we can still hear the music from the divine musician!


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