Friday, 13 July 2012
FOUNDATIONS OF A MORAL THEOLOGY IN INDIA
MORAL THEOLOGY IN INDIA TODAY (Workshop of Moral Theologians in India: 12-15 July 2012) Department of Moral Theology, Faculty of Theology Dharmaram Vidya Kshetram, Bangalore Inaugural Message “Foundations for a Moral Theology in India” Saju Chackalackal CMI President, DVK At the very outset, I congratulations the organizers and the participants of this workshop of moral theologians in India, as it is, probably, a first of its kind in India, in its attempt to pool together persons and resources from across the country, with the hope that “Moral Theology in India Today” can be further developed, not in isolation, but in communion and continuity. I wish all of you, eminent moral theologians, best wishes as these four days workshop is expected to be a serious collective academic exercise with a definitive goal of tracking the historical development of moral theology, its responsible assessment in the present, and setting the directions of future course of action. You may be familiar with the importance of a collective exercise in gathering theoretical knowledge and determination to act: as Aristotle had put it, which has been endorsed by Thomas Aquinas, a human being does not succeed in acquiring knowledge by himself or herself; however, humanity as a whole does not fail, as each one contributes his or her share in the total pool of knowledge. Thus, there is a need for workshops of this sort and I am glad that our Dharmaram Vidya Kshetram, one the only two Pontifical Athenaeums in India, is instrumental in providing the venue and the logistics for this much needed workshop on “Moral Theology in India Today.” I have been involved in learning and teaching ethics over a period of two decades. During the introductory lessons, I openly share with my students of philosophy that the two mighty institutions that have been around to empower and ascertain the practice of ethical principles in our moral living, i.e., religion and the state, have not completely succeeded in accomplishing their task, despite the fact that they have been around from the very beginning of human social living; those institutions are as old as human moral striving. Although they tend to positively exercise their role in an ongoing manner, in many instances, they have been instrumental in bringing about and, sometimes even justifying moral decadence in various societies. Does it mean, therefore, that they are ineffective? Of course, insofar as they have failed in their task, they are failures; however, as we human beings remain free to the core, no institution, even the mightiest of all, may succeed completely in making us perfectly moral (for all of them are human institutions). Yet, as we continue to explore the methods of doing right actions and being good, it is natural that human beings involve in an ongoing process of search for moral principles. I am glad that this august assembly has been constituted by a number of eminent moral theologians, mostly from India, but also from other countries and continents, who are interested in understanding the dynamics of moral living by paying special attention to the fact that moral consciousness in India is also evolving, especially from the point of view of the life of Indian Christian community. Despite the advancements that we have made both in ethics, in general, and in moral theology, in particular, we cannot be complacent and claim that moral theology is settled for ever. As we human beings tend to involve in ongoing thinking and acting, both ethics and moral theology would continue to evolve; in fact, it should evolve, in its attempt to grapple with the ever unfolding human reality. Insofar as human beings remain free, the avenues of moral philosophizing and moral theologizing would remain wide open for all with an inquisitive mind. From such a perspective, I would like to pose for a while at the very start of this four day long workshop of Indian moral theologians with an insistence that moral theology for India should have at least five basic foundations. You may, in the course of your deliberations, add more of such foundational sources once they are identified. I would, however, like to propose these five to begin with. They are, 1. Centrality of Encounter with and Faith in the Person of Jesus Christ 2. Openness to the Ongoing Revelation of God in the Bible and in the World 3. Faithfulness to the Guidance Offered by the Christian Community 4. Importance of Family in Nurturing Values and Practising Virtues 5. Sensitivity to the Socio-Religio-Political Realities of India Centrality of Encounter with and Faith in the Person of Jesus Christ Christian life begins when a person encounters Jesus Christ in one’s life and affirms his or her faith in him. Although from a practical point of view or from a canonical point of view, we may say that someone becomes a Christian primarily through baptism, it is a religious fact that one assumes Christian life only when faith in Jesus Christ is kindled, and the kindling of true faith is impossible as long as a personal encounter has not taken place. The most important aspect of this personal encounter is the fact that it is transformative. That is, in a one-to-one affirmation of faith, there begins a process of transformation (metanoia), as a result of which a Christian adopts a new set of values and practice of virtues in tune with the life vision and plan of action cherished by Jesus Christ himself. It is only a matter of communication and confirmation that individuals who encounter and believe in Jesus would constitute a community, as they would come and associate together in the common essence of their consciousness; to my mind, constitution of a Christian community by the individuals who encounter and experience the transformative presence in Jesus Christ would be a spontaneous process. In other words, an encounter with Jesus Christ will not only change the individual person but also the community of Christians so much so that individually and collectively they would constitute a new creation in Christ wherein the values of the Kingdom of God and their corresponding practices would set the tone and texture of the life of both the person and the community. Openness to the Ongoing Revelation of God in the Bible and in the World It is an ongoing experience of humanity that it has been privileged to have access to divine revelations at various places and at various times. Although one or the other religion would assent only to a particular set of revelations, in the wider horizons of religious reality, the presence of divine revelation is an undisputable fact. As far as the Christian community is concerned, we have received and assented to the revelation received over a period of time, through the Patriarchs and Prophets of the Old Testament, and in the fulfilment of time, decisively and definitively in the person of Jesus Christ, a definitive record of which is available to us in the Bible. While the foundational fact of the Christian community is anchored in the revelation received in and through the person of Jesus Christ, it does not deny any further possibility of receiving God’s revelation through other mediums. In fact, Christian community should not dare to limit God’s ability to reveal; we ought to leave it open, as the innumerable number of ways of self-revelation for the omnipotent God would not even be perceived by humanity. Given this, it opens up the avenues for the ongoing revelation of God not only in Christian community, but also in other human communities and in the creation at large; such a revelation again is not restricted to the revelation received in Jesus Christ, but may come to us through many other mediums. This is not to relativize the revelation received in Jesus Christ. In fact, the ongoing revelations received would be accepted and cherished by a Christian not on the basis of the newer revelations, but decisively and definitively on the basis of the personal and communitarian encounter with Jesus Christ. Thus, a Christian disciple and a Christian community are invited to keep themselves open to the ongoing revelation that God offers us in the wider world of realities. Thus, while the definitive foundation for Christians would remain firm in the person of Jesus Christ enshrined in the Bible, in general, and in the New Testament, in particular, Christian communities’ collective search for divine guidance will remain open and dynamic so much so that the perception of values and practice of virtues would become ever dynamic and progressive. Faithfulness to the Guidance Offered by the Christian Community Encounter with and faith in Jesus Christ that constitute a Christian community and its ability to receive ongoing revelation of God both in the Bible and in the world equip Christian community – both in its local and universal communion – to have a definitive understanding of value perception and practice. For, the ongoing and collective practice of values enshrined in the person of Jesus Christ and available to us in the Bible and in the living traditions of the Christian communities, enable us to develop a dynamic but a definitive sense of values, especially in the communion of Christian disciples. As the communion of Christian disciples arises out of the perception of a commonly shared value foundation, arising out of their experience of incessant transformation (metanoia) in Jesus Christ, both in ordinary circumstances and in the wake of complex life situations, it is this Christian community which will offer guidance to its members. Moreover, over the years, the Christian community has developed certain patterns and structures in facilitating the discernment of right ways of perceiving values and living them in and through virtuous practices. Importance accorded to living and vibrant traditions, eternally valid teachings handed down to us through generations, and the specific effective leadership offered by the teaching and sanctifying office of Apostolic origin, etc., are certain major factors to guide a Christian community in its sojourn to the right path of value perception and practice of virtues. Generally speaking, as the collective moral wisdom of the community is to be accorded precedence over the individual discretion, without denying the possibility of an individual to have direct access to the divine revelation and right moral discernment, individual Christians are always called upon to faithfully follow the guidance offered by the Christian community. As the axis of Christian moral life is nothing but the metanoia experienced in Jesus Christ – personally and collectively – Christian communion is fundamentally anchored in the person of Jesus Christ and insofar as this foundational source is confirmed, guidance offered by the Christian community in any vicissitude of life would remain a firm and sure guide. Importance of Family in Nurturing Values and Practising Virtues Identification, practise, and dissemination of values and their practice in the form of virtues are primarily and most effectively facilitated in the ambience of a family. This is all the more so when it comes to the context of Christian moral living. The strong support offered by the family both in value perception and practice is undeniable. It is clear that the elementary aspects of Christian faith are initially picked up by children in the family, by perceiving how the elders cherish and practice their faith. If the Christian faith of the parents and elders in the family is strong and vibrant, it is natural that the children also would cherish the same and accept it as their own basic frame of life. Moreover, family sets up a strong network of human relationships and such a network provides a firm anchor for its members in sailing through the rough and tough waters of life. If such a network of the family is infused with a strong sense of values and virtues, it would offer the best nurturing ground for right living and attainment of goodness. In fact, the parents and elders have a responsibility not only to provide for the physical and material growth and upkeep of their wards, but also to facilitate their human development which necessarily includes religious faith and moral uprightness. As society could be seen as an extension and expansion of families on a larger horizon, the success in imparting value consciousness in the family will have lasting impact upon building a solid moral foundation for the larger society. Thus, from a Christian point of view, the growth and flourishing of an individual moral person is to be primarily facilitated in the family, which, then, would organically give rise to a morally upright society. Looked at on the reverse, the failure of a society in being and becoming moral will have its basis in the failure of a family to set the moral foundations within its own ambience. Hence, it can be categorically stated that the context of family is the best nurturing ground for both value perception and practice of virtues from a Christian point of view. Sensitivity to the Socio-Religio-Political Realities of India Although the family provides the ambience for initial value perception and practice, an individual human being is destined to be a member of the larger society and he or she is called to develop and get established in a moral consciousness in relation to the latter; hence, sensitivity to the socio-religio-political realities of a society is of utmost importance in the moral landscape of Christian life lived anywhere. As the geographical, historical, and cultural milieus differ across different societies, it is essential that both moral living and moral theorizing are sensitive to those realities which significantly affect the human life at large. Moreover, Christian moral theology has to be necessarily paying attention to the socio-religio-political realities, as Jesus Christ himself, the anchor and the axis of Christian living, was placed in the actual context of a community wherein he initiated transformation; his sensitivity to the needs of the people, his reaction to the evils of the status quo, his readiness to reject the life-denying structures, his openness to the newer dimensions evolving in human sagacity and generosity, etc., set the paradigm for a Christian response in any existential situation. So, Christian moral living is inherently connected to the living reality of a society so much so that our sensitivity to those realities would open up new avenues of better moral reflection, more accurate value perception, and more effective practice of virtues. As we look at the Indian socio-religio-political realities, it becomes obvious that a Christian moral theology could be developed only in relation to and in response to the existential realities of the people of India. Otherwise, it would be a redundant and sterile application of both our reason and faith. Realities such as the oppressive structures of caste and gender inequalities, plurality of religions and the rivalries emerging from the growing religious fundamentalism that sweeps the entire Indian religious landscape, the instability of governance and the malice of corruption among the members of the legislature, executive, and judiciary, and at every level of administration, etc., pose a number of complex problems which a Christian moral theologian should address if his or her moral deliberations were to be of any relevance to the people of India and to make sense out of his or her faith in the person of Jesus Christ. Development of a moral theology, or any trend of moral theology in India would be relevant only if the faith perspective of Christians becomes a powerful tool to tackle these issues, not through force of propaganda or any other coercive mechanism, but through the practice of the fundamental values and virtues that Jesus Christ has bequeathed to us; Indian moral theologian will be successful only to the extent that he or she is able to respond to the vicissitudes of Indian realities with the vision or perspective of Jesus Christ himself, but attuned to the contemporary scenario, without losing its inner strength and dynamism. Among the five foundations I have listed above, the first two seem to be specific to the Christian existence; in fact, as I have explained them, they take the central stage as far as the value perception and practice of virtues are concerned. For, it is the personal encounter with and faith in Jesus Christ based on the revelation received in the Bible that would significantly constitute not only Christian existence of an individual, but also a Christian community and the foundations of a Christian life vision. While a Christian must be open to the ongoing revelations received in the living world, it is within the matrix of a Christian community that one would be able to test the validity of his or her own moral choices. From such a perspective, Christian moral life constantly evolves and it is open to new avenues and explorations. The last two foundations, such as the family and the socio-religio-political realities of India, are also of great significance, as a Christian’s moral choices are not to be made in a vacuum, but within the living ambience of a family and the larger society. However, moral responses and solutions to every problem on the part of a Christian must be founded on the first two, lest there will not be any uniqueness as far as Christian moral response is concerned. A Christian moral theology has its relevance and justification only when we are able to prove the uniqueness of the Christian value consciousness and the emphasis on the practice of Christian virtues. If so, then the unique thrust of the moral deliberations and practice should well up from the foundational source in the person of Jesus Christ himself vis-à-vis the dynamic living contexts of human societies. The five foundations that I have listed constitute a dynamic process. For, if they are taken together as constituting a single foundation, they would provide us with a comprehensive and cohesive system of moral principles; if they are taken in isolation, they would lead us only to fundamentalist viewpoints and would most likely fail in animating and inspiring Christians in India to develop a sensitivity to a moral consciousness and a consistent pattern of virtuous practices that would make them a creative community within the larger social spectrum. From this point of view, I would like to present these five foundations as constituting a sign of the cross, which is a symbol of redemption as far as any Christian is concerned. While the Centrality of Encounter with and Faith in the Person of Jesus Christ needs to be seen as the most important foundation, it shall be located as the centre of the cross; Openness to the Ongoing Revelation of God in the Bible and in the World, the second foundation, shall be seen as the lower tip of the Cross, especially as these sources would provide the first and most solid encounter that God in general and Jesus Christ in particular had made in and through the divine revelation. Faithfulness to the Guidance Offered by the Christian Community shall be placed on top of the cross; further, Importance of Family in Nurturing Values and Practising Virtues and Sensitivity to the Socio-Religio-Political Realities of India shall be seen as the two horizontal tips of the cross. Thus, while the vertical tips would be covering both the revelations received in the Word and the world, the horizontal tips would cover the family and the societal realities; both of these converge in the central foundation, i.e., in our faith in and encounter with Jesus Christ. A value consciousness and a programme of practising virtues that intersect in the person of Jesus Christ would constitute a system of Christian morals; theologizing upon such a system of Christian morality would, as long as it follows these foundations, would provide us with a valid and effective moral theology for India, which would be both Christian and conducive to establish the people of India in leading a morally upright life in the Kingdom of God. The development of moral precepts from such a Christian perspective would, then, not only offer guidance to Christians, but to the entire Indian society, by playing the role of a catalyst that would remove the evils that have become inherent in the social and cultural practices of the Indian people. Indeed, Christian moral theology has to be universally redemptive in its codification of precepts, in its attempts to disseminate those precepts in the form of values and virtues, and in making theological investigations into the morals. Let all our deliberations of these four days take these foundations seriously into account. Let our evaluation of the past trends that moral theology in India has developed, our assessment of the present moral scenario, and our aspirations for the morally upright future of the whole of humanity, particularly of India become, redemptive for both the people at large and for us moral theologians.