Saturday, October 20, 2007

The uniqueness of Christ


With fundamentalist Hindus, discussion of the "uniqueness" of Jesus is as difficult as with fundamentalist Christians, who reject any adjective to qualify the noun the "uniqueness" of Jesus. Hindu fundamentalists today vigourously attack the exclusive claims of Muslims and Christians.
The future of Christianity in India lies in liberal Christians combating Hindu fanaticism and at the same time cooperating with Hindus. By liberal Christians I mean those who are committed to God through Christ and in the Spirit, who seek to live a life of obedience in accordance with this faith, who decline to take an exclusive position, who, while affirming the presence and work of the Spirit in the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth, also recognise the presence and work of the Spirit of God in the life of neighbours of other faiths and so cooperate with them for common purposes in society. It would be unfair to question their devotion to Christ and discipleship of Jesus. I regard my self as a liberal Christian in this sense. I am a Hindu by culture, Christian by faith, Indian by citizenship and ecumenical by choice.
Highly respected Hindu intellectuals and scholars have said: "The church will sound sincere only when it stops saying that Jesus should be accepted by all as the one and only saviour of mankind and Christianity holds a monopoly of the highest truth."
Christian fundamentalists merely oppose Hindu fundamentalists by repeating their claims for the "uniqueness" of Jesus. There is no discussion, no debate, and no dialogue. The air echoes with claims and counter claims. This puts the Christian fundamentalists on the same level as Muslim fundamentalists, who also oppose Hindu fundamentalists by putting forward their claims. This leads to unseemly wrangles and, at worst, to frequent violence.
Prof. U.R. Anathamurthy, is a respected academic and literary figure from Karnataka, who was the vice-chancellor of the Mahatma Gandhi University in Kottayam. Speaking to a group of Christians in Bangalore in September 1986, he asked the question: "What is the problem in the great encounter of Christ with the Indian renaissance, that is, between two great religions, Buddhism and Hinduism on the one hand, and Christianity on the other?" He put the question straight to the Christian audience: "How can I believe that Christ is the only incarnation of God?’…would be…the problem of a problem of a deeply religious Hindu who is fascinated by Christianity, but at the same time has problems at the philosophical level".
Ananthamurthy draws an interesting comparison between Hinduism and Christianity, arguing that Christianity as a religion has values and principles which are generally context-free while Hinduism has many values that vary depending on the context: "Hindus, thus, can hold seemingly contradictory values without any sense of hypocrisy. But a Christian can easily become a hypocrite because he has to believe in a certain "absolute". But this is less in the context-sensitive world. And hence, no Indian epic has the kind of intensity that a Christian epic can have. It has to be inclusive. Intensity is the result of a search for an absolute. Inclusiveness takes away intensity, but brings another kind of richness."
On the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Ananthamurthy makes a personal statement, which is shared by a large number of Hindu friends who read the Bible and are acquainted with the story of Jesus in the gospels: "I am fancied by Christ myself. So I want to see why I am fascinated, being born a Hindu…At best, Hinduism has responded to the suffering Jesus and not to the resurrected Jesus. The resurrected Jesus belongs to the Indian epic tradition, and so there is nothing new there, whereas the suffering of Jesus is something new".
With regard to the relationship between Hindus, Christians and Muslims he makes a very revealing remark: "Christianity has as much space for Hinduism within it as Hinduism has space for Christianity. I sometimes feel that it is only Islam which has no space like this.
At a time of severe tensions between different religious communities in India, this opinion, that has come from a person of Ananthamurthy’s stature and shared by millions of Hidnus, should not be dismissed – as Christian theologians (or the self-styled spokespersons of Jesus Christ) do- as "typically Hindu. It calls for a theological response, and attempts by Christian theologians to provide such a response should not be dismissed by other Christians as "appeasement" or "compromise".
The most precious freedom that Indian Christians enjoy today is to hold Jesus Christ as their saviour, as the Son of God, as the "only true divinity". It is their absolute right to cherish that belief – and if any Hindu outfit or government tries to impeach upon that liberty, then definitely, Indian Christians should fight tooth and nail for their religious privileges. They would be justified to speak about Hindu fundamentalism, saffron brigade or Hindutva. But the moment Christianity tries to impose this belief of "only one true God" - Jesus Christ- on the world, then it is itself impeaching upon the freedom of others. For this belief of onlyness of our God as the real one and all others are false is at the root of many misunderstandings, wars and terrorism.

Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue (BIRD)

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