By Barnes Mawrie

These past few days, there have been a number of articles appearing in the Shillong Times criticizing the Christian MDA 2.0 leaders for seeking blessings from their church leaders. Some of these writings have put the church leaders themselves in bad light, as if they have committed a crime in offering prayers for these leaders. In this particular article I wish to clear the toxic air that is circulating around due to these writings.

First of all, we need to understand the socio-cultural and religious context of our country India. It is good to keep in mind that secularism understood in western countries is quite different from that of our country. Secularism in the west emerged as an offshoot of protest against the Church, advocated by freemasons and atheistic ideologues. Secularism which got a decisive stamp in the French Revolution of 1789, was in fact the ideology of freemasons like Maximilien Robespierre. Western ideology is characterized by dualism in every aspect, therefore the revolutionists succeeded in segregating the church from politics. This movement gained momentum since the French Revolution and gradually the church was forced to estrange herself from political life.

The Treaty of Lateran in 1929 between the Vatican and Benito Mussolini, however, should not be perceived as the church being cut off from mundane politics, but instead it was an affirmation that faith and politics cannot be separated. It should not be forgotten that Vatican is a political state with all diplomatic rights and privileges like other countries. The Pope is considered by the international community as the legal “head of state” and he appoints his representatives in different countries. So for all practical purposes the church is very much still in politics. It ought to do so because man as we understand cannot be dissected into two selves – a spiritual man and a material man – but he is an integral whole. Thus, it would be absurd to say that the church should cater only to the spiritual man for that would be a dangerous dichotomy. Religion works for the salvation of the whole person and not for part of him or her. For this reason those who advocate that religion should have nothing to do with politics, are being whimsical to say the least.

When it comes to India, we all know that our concept of secularism is not based on a philosophy of dualism. This is the reason why unlike in the west where philosophy and theology are two distinct disciplines, in India these two merge together. The eastern philosophy is one of unity and not of duality. To an Indian and much more to a tribal person, there is no such a thing as religion disconnected from socio-political life. Thus for an Indian or a tribal person, to separate religion from politics is something unthinkable and incomprehensible. Therefore when our political leaders seek God’s blessings from the church it is only a manifestation of our Indian or tribal characteristics. I am surprised why people are so frantic about this as if the whole world would collapse. We should be happy that our leaders still understand the necessity of divine assistance in their ministry.

When Mr. Modi, our honorable PM inaugurated the Kartavya Path on January 21, 2022, in New Delhi, there were Hindu hymns and prayers being sung and recited. I am sure when the new Parliament building would be inaugurated there would be Hindu pujaris who would offer prayers. We have also often seen politicians in UP and other Hindu dominated states going to temples and seeking blessings from their pujaris. Why are the same critics of religion not saying anything about these and why do they choose to pick only on Christian leaders of our state?

In our Northeastern tribal states where the majority of politicians are Christians, what is wrong with them when they go seeking prayers and blessings. Secularism in the Indian context is not doing away with religion. Our constitutional fathers, unlike their western counterparts, are not atheists but deeply religious persons. So secularism in India should be understood as “respect and tolerance for all religions and freedom to believe and propagate one’s religion.”

What the Hindu fundamentalists are doing today (destroying churches and mosques or attacking Christian religious services etc) are totally against the secular values that our constitution enshrines. With regards to praying before the assembly session, I fail to understand why people are so fidgety about it. I would be happy to see prayers being said before any parliament session. Since our MPs come from different faiths it would be more proper to have an interfaith prayer session. India is basically a religious country (the cradle of world religions) so praying in the parliament or in the assemblies should not be strange at all.

I do appreciate the initiative taken in Meghalaya to begin assembly sessions with a prayer. Since more than 95% of our MLAs are Christians so saying a Christian prayer should be a normal thing, or else an interfaith prayer could be held. That is left to our MLAs to decide among themselves for we the public have no right to comment on that for they are our representatives whom we have willfully elected.

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