A Proud Indian

T. V. R. Shenoy

Tamasoma Jyotirgamaya - Let me go from the dark unto the light. It is not a bad prayer for 1997. Both literally (I’m writing this by candlelight) and metaphorically.

That latter task has been made just a bit harder by the loss of one of our guides, Paulos Mar Gregorios, Metropolitan of Delhi and the North in the Malankara Orthodox Church (I should have written a tribute to him earlier, but wasn’t in India when he died).

Six months ago, we saw and heard our elected representatives come up with varying definitions of ‘secularism’ in the LokSabha. Perhaps we should also see what a man of God and a proud Indian thought of all such subjects.

Let it be said that the Bishop possessed a truly fine intellect. But if his brilliance was unchallenged, his integrity was a little more suspect. I think it is fair to say he wilted in the Emergency.

Again, he flirted closer to Communism than was needed (There by earning the nickname of the ‘Red Bishop’). Towards the end, however, he confessed that they too became “dogmatic, corrupt, and power hungry” as anyone else.

But it isn’t for his dubious politics that the Bishop should be remembered. It is for his research and his writings in his own chosen field of religion.

I would like everyone to read and ponder over two pieces in particular, an article for the prestigious India International Quarterly and an essay for the book Ultimate Visions entitled why am I an Eastern Orthodox Christian?

This is what Mar Gregorios wrote of the concept of ‘tolerance’ when speaking of Inter-faith relations. It was “condescending”, something like saying, I know I’m right, yet I tolerate you.”

This wasn’t anything really new (It was propounded by Swami Vivekananda, who pointed out that there is no Sanskrit equivalent for the word ‘tolerance’).

And on ‘secularism’? “I am convinced that until humanity sees that the secular civilisation, which denies the centrality of God, has been the greatest mistake in our history, it cannot find the way forward” (This from the same man who once opined that being anti - communist was to be anti - Christ!).

So was he a fanatic Christian? Not in the least. He gloomily described the Christians of the west as “shameful, narrow-minded men of European Christianity.” And those were charitable words compared to what he wrote of his own orthodox version. What Mar Gregorios demanded was something far subtler. He didn’t want ‘tolerance’ but ‘respect.’ And he damned ‘secularism’ altogether, correctly identifying it as an alienation from God.

The Bishop practised what he preached. Having lived in the Christian tradition for half a lifetime, he set about studying other faiths. And in the seventy third year of his life, he wrote what he called “a confession of my faith.”

He spoke of all that he had learned from them - the concept of ekam advitiyam from the Hindu tradition, the anekanthavada of the Jains, of the Buddhist concept of reality, and from all the other faiths. All this seemed to make him a better Christian.

I hope every Indian, Christian or otherwise, takes the time to read the Bishop (Westerners too, of course!). In the months to come, I am sure we are going to hear more about ‘secularism’ and its virtues. Let us recognise it for what it is - a divisive force that separates man from God.

Paulos Mar Gregorios died too soon. “I hope I am still learning”, he wrote in his seventies, “and will continue to do so until the end.” What a change from those know - it - all secularists!

(Courtsey: The Week, January 1997)

T. V. R. Shenoy: Columist and Journalist.