CHANGE of the mind, like growth of the body, is generally imperceptible.
As the body sloughs off cells and forms new ones, so the mind quietly casts
aside thoughts and ideas and replaces them by others. Only occasionally --
at pubescence and middle age, for instance -- are there more dramatic changes.
Theologically, I seem during this past decade to have passed
through pubescence and come into a cantankerous and boisterous adolescence.
Not that I like too much to talk theology. My deliverance from childhood
-- that is, from Western tutelage -- has taught me above all the wisdom of
silence. That way, one’s contribution to the cacophony of nonsense is at
least drastically reduced.
I. Overcoming Augustinianism
A father-figure comes in handy for the adolescent’s discovery of self-identity
especially if the figure is dominant and powerful enough to make one’s revolt
look all the more heroic. For me, Augustine of Hippo was such a figure. What
a release it was to learn, in 1959-60, that he was the spring and fount of
all creative Western theology, and then to make the gratifying discovery that
this source was poisoned! I had already discovered that, as an Eastern Christian,
I did not even need to call Augustine a saint. His name appears neither on
our liturgical calendar nor in our manuals of theology. The Eastern tradition
had wisely ignored him and felt none the poorer for it. What if my supervisor
at Oxford insisted that only Western thinkers like Augustine could think
problems through? It was this well- known professor’s incapacity to understand
Eastern thought, together with his adoption of Augustinianism as a standard
by which to measure the doctrines of others, that prompted my revolt (I refer
to J. N. D. Kelly, whose Early Christian Doctrines summarizes his theological
Quite seriously, I believe today that Western theology cannot
reorient itself until it takes a second look at some of Augustine’s basic
ideas. This is not the place to enter into a full criticism. Let me merely
indicate five areas where re-examination could reveal basic flaws in Augustine’s
These five points (I state them in shorthand) are crucial for
the understanding of what Christianity is all about, and my change of mind
in the past ten years can be said to focus on them. Any dialogue between
East and West must begin on these points, and we may find that, Christianity
being after all an Eastern religion, the ancient Eastern approach Augustine
deviated from still has much to say to us.
- First, Augustine’s low view of matter leads him to a low
view of the incarnation of our Lord. Taking his cue from the early Athanasius,
the bishop thought of the incarnate body primarily as a come-on drawing us
to contemplation of loftier spiritual realities. The material body of our
Lord was but an instrument of revelation.
- Second, and probably because of the same vestigial Manicheanism
which undervalued matter, Augustine had a low view of this world. The polarity
in his thinking between the civitas mundi and the civitas Dei can only be
termed alarming. Western theology is still learning to correct this basic
error which has had so many consequences.
- Third, because his view of the human element in the incarnation
is so low, he holds a low view of man. By taking sin as almost constitutive
of human nature, Augustine led the Western church astray-- toward denial of
the freedom and dignity of all men, Christian or non-Christian. He makes man
so utterly dependent and slavish in relation to God that God is distorted
in to an arbitrary dictator like the Caesars-- a petty God whose glory has
to be vindicated at the expense of the glory of man. But only a God who can
be glorified in the glory of man is worth worshiping.
- Fourth, Augustine’s Soteriology went wrong because of his
preoccupation with individual and personal sin, original and actual. Salvation
is more than deliverance from sin. It is making man like God, bringing him
in to the fullness of humanity. We today are caught in a negative and individual
view of salvation.
- Fifth, by his failure to understand the sacramental principle
as integral to the human condition and to the incarnation (man is a citizen
of two worlds), Augustine contributed to a substantial distortion of the sacraments
as accommodations of spiritual realities to suit the grossness of man. His
misconception of the ordained ministry is also a result of his misunderstanding
of the true relation of word to sacrament.
“Augustine will survive your criticism,” another all-knowing professor told
me some time ago, without making any attempt to understand what I was saying.
Augustine probably will survive, for he deserves to. He was a great genius,
a spiritual and intellectual giant. My purpose is not to destroy his reputation
but to seek the renewal of theology in a truly ecumenical context, rather
than in the shallow atmosphere and narrow confines of a secular urban-technological
civilization in an Augustinian frame work. It is the survival of the Western
interpretation of the Christian faith that I have grave doubts about.
My reaction against Augustinianism did not lead me to a superficial liberal
theology (as it did to many in the West in the earlier decades of our century).
I now subscribe to a sacramental and ecclesiological humanism.
A second major change in my mind has been a growing skepticism
about the power of words. The printing press seems to have destroyed
the power of the spoken word long ago.
The theologian sometimes thinks that the problem of the church
today is the lack of the right words-- in short, of a relevant theology.
But the world is not waiting for new words; it is waiting for Godot – a pattern
of life, a type of personality, a way of living, being, doing, thinking.
It is our professional bias that makes us think a new theology will solve
our problems. Only God is going to solve our problems. Perhaps, however,
a new pattern of living the Christian life may open the way.
This faulty reliance on words and forms of words is found not
only in the West. Here in India, too many people talk and talk about an indigenous
theology as the cure-all, but never produce one. For a fresh theology has
to come out of a new way of living the Christian life in Indian conditions.
Such a new way of life is both the matrix and the authentication of a new
theology anywhere. Young people especially are looking for a person or a
type that is authentic, not for new words.
What a misunderstanding it is to think that communication takes
place mainly by words! Voice and ear and even the conscious mind form but
a part of the communication system between human beings. Psychologists have
been long at work on the role of kinesic and paralinguistic information in
communication. Our actions, our gestures, the very lines on our face, all
Thus I have come to believe that being and doing are more important
than speaking in communication. And anyone can see how that belief in itself
devalues theology considerably.
A third area in which my mind has changed in the past ten years
is in regard to the dialectic between structural relations and personal
relations. I had never quite seen how the larger framework of society
substantially affected personality. But by observing the faces of people
of various nationalities and religious groups, I began to see that structural
values and national ethos can change a person’s face and also that a facial
change is always the result of change in personality. This conclusion was
reinforced as I watched those of my own countrymen who had spent five or
six years studying abroad. I discovered that each country sojourned in produced
a different type of personality. Even the particular institution attended
made a difference.
But more important for me was the middle level -- that between
large structural relationships, as in the nation, and intimate personal relationship,
as in the family. The small group, in which intimacy and a degree of independence
are combined and structural relations are consciously accepted, seems to me
the milieu in which the new humanity can be most effectively shaped, both
as a social structure and as individual persons. Such a group must be a school
for its members, a place where work, worship, study, play, property relations,
recreation and repose are all suitably balanced in order to shape a new type
of personality which will work actively for the transformation of society.
More than any new theology, we need many such pioneering, committed, socially
A fourth area in which my mind has changed is closely related
to the third. I have come to a new – or rather, a very old - understanding
of freedom. Freedom in the positive sense means creativity that is spontaneous,
not caused by external pressures; it is the capacity to conceive the good
in new forms and then to create that good. To be free also means not to be
directed by one’s passions and ambitions or deterred from action by false
inhibitions and complexes. Freedom is something given to man so that, while
being part of creation, he can himself become a creator and alter the shape,
the direction and the meaning of creation.
The fresh insight for me lay in understanding freedom in a structural
context. Not that I had chosen sides in the argument between Claude Levi-Strauss
and Jean-Paul Sartre, between structuralism and existentialism. On the contrary,
I saw that individual freedom is inseparable from the freedom of the collective
(the community) to choose its own goals as a society and to work to achieve
them. Ultimately it is humanity that must be free. The measure of freedom
that a Gandhi, a Sartre, or a Jean Genet goes wrong simply because they have
insisted on their individual freedom without in the same act choosing also
the freedom of mankind. The individual quest for freedom takes place in alienated
framework. It can bring only misery so long as my intention is to establish
my identity over against the masses. No matter if I become one of the masses
provided that thereby the masses would become free; for in their freedom --
i.e., in their capacity to conceive, choose and attain the good -- I shall
find my own fulfillment. My fairly total abandonment of the two extremes of
existentialist and structuralist philosophy and theology may be understood
in this context.
A fifth area of significant change is in my understanding
of mission and missions. For a long time I had suspected that modern
Catholic and Protestant missions were expressions of the cultural and economic
aggressiveness of the West -- though probably a certain aggressiveness has
always characterized Christian mission. However, during the past ten years
I have had occasion to watch the show from inside, and my negative reaction
to the mission of the Western church has developed to a high pitch. The basic
mistake of Western mission is not so much cultural aggression as missionary
colonialism. Never before in church history has mission been as completely
institutionalized as in the years since 1500 which saw the expansion of the
West. In the previous centuries when a missionary went to another country
to evangelize he preached the gospel, established the church and probably
died there. There was no need for a second generation of missionaries, though
occasionally a teacher or a bishop might visit the mission field.
But this idea that missionaries must go in every generation,
that they should be organized, their finances looked after, life and medical
insurance provided, cars, bungalows and compounds furnished – all that seems
to me to kill mission. Today it is economic imperialism or neocolonialism
that is the pattern in missions. Relief agencies and mission boards control
the younger churches through the purse-strings. Foreign finances, ideas and
personnel still dominate the younger churches and stifle their spontaneous
My disgust with this pattern has made me suspect even the ecumenical
movement. Catholic and Protestant seem to be collaborators in this neocolonialist
domination and Western cultural imperialism in the ecclesiastical sphere.
So now I say, “The mission of the church is the greatest enemy of the gospel.”
I began to say it 15 years ago, rather softly. Very rarely did I find any
creative response. Therefore I have decided to be rude and rough about this
matter. I still do not have much hope that the Western churches (or even
the dependent non-Western churches) will see the point, because to see it
is to be pushed to most drastic changes in church life both in the West and
in the rest.
A sixth area in which my mind has changed in the past ten years
is that of the relation between sacrament and society. Today I can
accept only a sacramental-ecclesiological social ethics. The stuff that comes
out of ecumenical conferences claiming to be Christian social ethics bores
me no end. I can understand human society only on the analogy of the church.
My notions of social justice come from my understanding of the communion
of saints. And I can understand the ministry of the church in the world only
in terms of a fresh understanding of the sacramental principle and the sacramental
ministry. But how can I even indicate here the scope of my book-length thoughts
in these areas?
Finally, my mind has changed in relation to the nature and
destiny of man. I now firmly believe that the destiny of man is to be
like God. God is the source of his own being, but man’s being will always
be derived from God. Yet in love, wisdom and power, as well as in holiness
-- which is after all something more than the combination of these three
-- man must become like God. That alone gives me a new perspective for understanding
the human vocation on earth and beyond-- again, a book-length idea.
Without being pedantic and academic, one could say that what
God has done in Christ has consequences for all men. To use Roman Catholic
terminology, all men, Christians and non-Christians, are in the realm of
“supernatural grace” stemming from the incarnation. The death and resurrection
of Jesus Christ make a difference for the history of the world and the destiny
of mankind. All the secular ideas and forces smacking of salvation that are
in vogue today come from the Christ event and the Judeo-Christian tradition.
Man’s attempt to build a tower of Babel was reprimanded and frustrated
by God. Today, God allows man to build many towers of Babel -- to go to the
extremes of hubris and blasphemy, to defy the divine and erect a secular city.
That is, man always goes to the edge of catastrophe -- “brinkism” is his
delight. Yet God has lengthened man’s rope, so that even in the misuse of
freedom he can travel far. Will God finally let go? He well may. Catastrophe
is quite conceivable, and even the resurrection of Christ (pace Moltmann and
Pannenberg) does not provide insurance against it. For the same Lord predicated
both his own resurrection and the apocalyptic denouement of creation. Nor
does the fact of hope (a Ia Bloch) provide a sufficient basis for the notion
that things will work out for mankind in history.
In other words, there is no basis for the liberal hope of building
the urban technological paradise. There was a time when I thought that the
movement toward the Kingdom of God and the movement toward the urban technological
society would merge somewhere. I now have second thoughts. Certainly neither
the affluent society with its pressure for consumption and the resultant bloated
egos, nor the regimented society with its repression of so much that is creative
in man, shows us the way to paradise. Alienation and nuclear destruction
are twin giants threatening mankind.
These days I think of disarmament and reconciliation as the proximate
goals which would lead us in the direction of the Kingdom. Science and technology
now have their own momentum and can go on without assistance from the church.
Disarmament and reconciliation are integrally related in my mind.
Alienation should be tackled at all its four levels: the chasm that separates
urban-technical man from God should be bridged; man must regain control of
the structures-- economic, social and political -- that now hold him prisoner;
nations, groups and individuals must learn again to trust and have compassion
for each other; man must find himself, not in a whirl of activity but in
the depths of silence. These four elements together I call “disalienation”.
A concrete place to begin is the third area--the disalienation
of nations and groups. Here disarmament is to be seen as a positive program.
Centralized and widely controlled power should eliminate group conflicts,
and resources now wasted in building up arms reserves should be diverted
to science, education, the elimination of poverty and the enhancement of
human creativity. Only in trying to build a united and unified humanity can
we rediscover the way to God as well as our own being. Regaining control
of economic, social and political structures is a key task for which we need
more than revolutionary techniques and global strategies. Only a corps of
men and women, distributed all over the world, ready to labor and die for
the cause, can pioneer the movement for disalienation. And the spiritual
dynamism for such a pioneering movement (such as the communist movement once
was) can come today only out of a more profound understanding of Semitic
I have made no attempt here to be systematic, thorough or detailed.
The mind keeps changing, and changing still.