Thursday, May 2, 2013

Institutionalized Christianity : Experiences that Sadden Me !

I feel happy to declare that I am a follower of Jesus Christ. But at the same time I am not so sure to say whether I feel happy to be member of an Institutionalized Christian Church of India which proclaims to uphold the religion established after the name of Jesus Christ.

I belong to a Christian Church denomination now well established with its roots in the south Indian state of Kerala. It is called the Mar Thoma  Syrian Church of Malabar . In Malayalam language it is commonly known as the Malankara Marthoma Suriyani  Sabha ( മലങ്കര മാര്‍ത്തോമ സുറിയാനി സഭ ) In Malayalam language of Kerala, Malankara means Malabar, Suriyani means Syrian , Marthoma means Saint Thomas and Sabha means Church.

No one clearly knows the roots of the Christians traditions in Kerala. Elite Kerala Christians prefer to call themselves as descendants of the higher caste brahmins whom apostle Saint Thomas himself got converted to Christianity some two thousand years ago. In a way they still prefer to project their caste superiority in the caste driven Indian society. There are no authentic historical evidences that prove the visit of apostle Saint Thomas to reach Kodungallore in Kerala coast by sea route to convert the seven and a half brahmin families to Christianity and to proceed to the east coast of India to be killed by Hindu zealots somewhere near Chennai. It could be true that during the Holy war between the Christians and the Muslims for control of the Holy city of Jerusalem over a millennium ago, some non Muslim Persians and Christian Syrians had to flee their home countries to take refuge in Indian coasts. The Syrian Christian culture got established in Kerala from the descendants of these refugees.

The traditional Christians of Kerala had relations with the orthodox church of Antioch in the Middle East. After the arrival of the Europeans in India  Catholicism and its after effects also made its impact on the Christian traditions and cultures of India. As it stands today, Kerala too has its share of Christian churches. Divisions in Christianity exist on account of cultural and canonical differences.

Any organization, whether it is social, political or religious, would tend to become bureaucratic with no compassion to its common members when affluence and influence begin to make it leadership forget its values and principles.

Marthoma church of Kerala is no exception.  

My father, late Shri T. M. Mathew, was a Hindi language teacher of the Mar Thoma High School at Pathanamthitta, Kerala during the period 1952-1982. This school happened to be one of the oldest educational ventures of the Mar Thoma Church in Kerala managed by a corporate body under the church. I remember my father, a regular church goer, abruptly stopped going to the church for many years later. However, he used to give all the dues that are payable to the church without fail and also never discouraged any one at home from going to the church. He never elaborated the reasons why he stopped attending the church. But I guess, he became disillusioned of the church leaders whom he later realized as not so true disciples of Jesus Christ, but as clever opportunists who promoted nepotism within the Church organizations.

I remember him telling later in his life about the necessity of being with the church whether you like it or not. In India, the political leadership that determines the fate of the country are bound to appease the heads of various religious groups because the former are not sure of the actual mass appeal of these religious leaders. Just as the political parties, the religious groups also depend on the muscle power of some select group of followers who are at their disposal to make disturbances in the society whenever certain things are not in the liking of their respective leaders. Due to this, no political party is in a position to make any laws which are for the common good of the citizens of India regardless of their religious affiliations.

One of the very important function that the religions handle in India is the disposal of the dead. Indian governments have little to do in this aspect. If some one dies in an Indian home, the dead body is at the mercy of the religious groups. The family members have no option other than to approach their religious group for disposing the body. Whether the dead man believed in any religion or not, he has to undergo a religious rite as opted by his family members for his body to get buried or cremated. The Indian governments though constitutionally declare themselves as secular so far have not made any governmental arrangements for disposal of dead bodies, except perhaps for their top leaders. In India a dead body has to have a religion. No options other than that. This one factor forces the people of India to be  affiliated to some religious sect of some influence and standing whether they actually like it or not. In practice, the governments in India, excepting some major city administrations, have so far not seriously made any provisions for the people of India to honourably dispose their dead without taking the help of some religious sects.

This is a great bargain for the religious groups. Even the private hospitals in India, of late, have begun to extract money from the relatives and family members of deceased citizens, taking advantage of their helplessness.

Being in some part of the country and if you happen to be not associated with any institutionalized religious group you are likely to have a hellish experience in India if some one near to you unfortunately ceases to be a living person any more.

The fellowship and the friendship that are part of the community life or social life is not fully up to your choice in India. There are religious group diktats, whether written or unwritten, attached. These realities are not often discernible to the public directly. Only the affected persons go through the pains.

Christians traditionally bury their dead. There are no reasons why they should not cremate their dead like the majority Hindu Indians. Burial of the dead means some space in the ground to place the dead body. This space is later converted to a permanent tomb site by construction of a tomb structure by spending good amounts of money.

In olden times space was not a problem. Most of the churches in Kerala have cemeteries attached to their respective parishes. But now, the soil in these cemeteries have become concentrated with the decaying remains of dead bodies. The soil and the underground water are getting polluted. Hues and cries here and there rise. But the governments in India are silent. Pollution and environment are important for them for making issues and moneys. But in this case, the issue is ticklish. They do not want to get their nose into the exclusive domains of the religious groups even when it affects the citizens adversely. No thoughts, no discussions, no solutions and no future plans !

In such a scenario, getting a small piece of land allotted in the existing cemeteries is a big achievement for the living members of the church, whether they are Marthomites or any other. The parish committees charges hefty sums of money for this facility. Many times, money and high recommendations are all necessary.

For all other requirements, citizens can some how go ahead without the religions, except for the one I explained above. And that is well understood by the religious heads. They use it as their trump card to control and chastise their members. Does it have the blessing of the Indian government and the political leaderships ? The answer is yes and no both !

This is one area where the Christian majority nations like the USA and the Europe has shown their wisdom and concern for the people. None of these nations have this kind of a situation as that is existing in India. In those countries, the governments have freed the people from the clutches of the institutionalized churches by making governmental arrangements as dependable alternatives. Ofcourse they have evolved through many trials and tribulations over many centuries.

For those familiar with the Malayalam language can read another blog highlighting the issues that plague the present day Marthoma Church. [Read it Here !]

Being a Marthomite Christian, having maintained a silent attachment to the church since my childhood, some experiences really make me sad. I do not want to specify any of those personal experiences. But only wish that this Indian church leaders and influential members would not transform it to the grade of the Russian Orthodox Church during the days of the Tsars. I earnestly wish that each and every marthomite would behave as if 'lighted to lighten' and work as true disciples of Jesus Christ.



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