Come out of your minority complex

In Asia, and as a matter of fact in all the countries in the world today, the population is multi-religious. Some Islamic countries, especially in the Middle East, may have a state religion, namely Islam.

Nov 15, 2019

By Fr Michael Amaladoss SJ
In Asia, and as a matter of fact in all the countries in the world today, the population is multi-religious. Some Islamic countries, especially in the Middle East, may have a state religion, namely Islam. There are some countries, like the United Kingdom, where the head of state is also the head of a religion. But even in these countries, the population today is multi-religious.  In such situations, the question of the relationship between the majority and the minorities in the religious sphere is bound to arise. There are some countries like India and Indonesia who claim to be secular according to  their Constitution. Other countries may not talk about religion at all or may be anti-religious, like China. In Asia, the only country where the Christians are in a majority is the Philippines. In other Asian countries, Christians are in a minority. In this seminar, we are focusing on situations where the Christians are in a minority. The question before us today is ‘how can the Christians live as minorities in such situations and contribute to the common good?’

My first suggestion is that we should get rid of a ‘minority complex.’ In whichever country we are, whether our  numbers are big or small, we are primarily citizens of the country, with all the rights and responsibilities that the citizens of that country have. Equality of citizenship is something basic to the political organization of any country, at least at the level of ideology, if not of practice. Such political equality must always be affirmed. But political equality does not always translate into equality in other spheres like economic, social, cultural and religious.  Some countries recognise this and make provisions to make up for the inequalities that may exist or arise.

From the Church to the Kingdom of God
What is interesting is that the Catholic Church is affirming such an equality also with regard to the other religions. In the past, mission or evangelisation meant to convert others to Christianity and to build up the Church.  But in the last 20 years or so, the goal of mission has shifted from the Church to the Kingdom of God. The Church itself is seen as the symbol and servant of the Kingdom.  The other religions too are seen as ‘ways’ to the Kingdom of God. So all the religions, including Christianity, are seen as copilgrims towards the Kingdom. If I may permit myself a quote from a theologian who used to work in the Philippines, John Fullenbach:

The saving grace in other religious traditions is seen within the context of God’s larger plan for the whole of creation, a plan expressed in the Bible with the symbol Kingdom of  God. Since the Kingdom is not to be identified with the Church now because the Kingdom is operative beyond the realm of the Church as well, God’s saving power is, therefore, available to all human beings inside and outside their respective religious traditions.  The question is no longer how do world religions relate to the Church but how do they relate to the Kingdom.  Since the Kingdom aims at the transformation of the world and is already present, not only in the Church, we have to regard followers of other religious traditions as members of the Kingdom already present as a historical reality.

The Kingdom itself has been described by Geroge-Soares Prabhu, from India:  When the revelation of God’s love (the Kingdom) meets its appropriate response in man’s trusting accept ance of this love (repentance), there begins a mighty movement of personal and societal liberation which sweeps through human history. The movement brings freedom inasmuch as it liberates each individual from the inadequacies and obsessions that shackle him. It fosters fellowship, because it empowers free individuals to exercise their concern for each other in genuine community. And it leads onto justice, because it impels every true community to adopt the just societal structures which alone make freedom and fellowship possible…

This vision of the Kingdom empowers us to work together with all people of good will, whether religious or not. The challenge, therefore, is how we can work together to promote freedom, fellowship and justice and build community among the people.

Towards Multi-religious Human Communities
We can note three developments here. We can see how interreligious dialogue has moved from to:

a. an intellectual focus
b. a spiritual focus and then to
c. a liberative focus.

The liberative thrust has led to some involvement in society to bring about change. From an ecclesial and theological point of view, we can see that the goal of the mission of the Church has shifted  from the Church to the Kingdom as a community of freedom, fellowship and justice and that this mission is necessarily interreligious. Corresponding to this development, there has also been a shift of interest in Asia from Basic Christian Communities to Basic, Multi-religious  Human Communities.

The problem is that all this has not touched the wider Church, but only a few small groups here and there. Our  task then would be to launch an Asian or even a global interreligious liberative movement.  At this stage minorities and majorities will not matter because such identities have been transcended.

--Fr Amaladoss is a professor of theology at Vidyajyoti College in Delhi and director of the Institute for Dialogue with Cultures and Religions in Chennai.

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