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Faith: Communal and non-communal

A communal faith is exclusive and therefore it is totally against a Jesus Christ who wanted all to be the children of one loving Father and it was his Abba experience in the Jordan at the time of Baptism by John the Baptist that changed his Jewish faith from being communal to universal, from the chosen people to all people.

Faith: Communal and non-communal

By Joe Palathunkal
India and some other countries are at a crossroad to make a crucial choice between the communal and non-communal faith and in 21st century it appears that the predominant inclination is to choose the communal which is a catastrophe for any nation and for a developing nation like India it is going to be cataclysmically dangerous.

A communal faith is exclusive and therefore it is totally against a Jesus Christ who wanted all to be the children of one loving Father and it was his Abba experience in the Jordan at the time of Baptism by John the Baptist that changed his Jewish faith from being communal to universal, from the chosen people to all people and from then on wards all his words and deeds were a proclamation of a universal faith strongly pitting against the communal one.

He knew that the communal faith will exclude millions of people from the loving embrace of the Father whose kingdom he wanted to be actualized among the people of all generations. When he taught his disciples to pray “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done” and “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” he was telling all the people all over the world that in his vision a communal faith has no place.

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Jesus was very much aware that a communal faith will stunt the growth of an individual and a nation because it will exclude people not only in a sober way but also violent way. He was aware that live and let live philosophy will not solve the issue but it should be live and make others live, a positive philosophy of loving the other as you love yourself. Economic and social progress of a nation will take place when this agape is turned into a political philosophy and administrative principle.

A communal faith will have a political philosophy and administrative principle exclusively catering to people of a particular faith making that faith the foundation of nationalism. Sadly enough, Indian politicians are doing just the same and the manifesto of Jesus in a synagogue in Nazareth was just against that when he said (Luke 4: 18 – 19) that he had come “to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free”.

Poor, captives, blind and the oppressed have no prefix of faith to make them communal but Jesus placed them in a non-communal ambit and thus made it very clear that these human persons must experience bread, freedom, sight and liberation merely as human beings, not as Jews or Samaritans. That is the bold manifesto for a non-communal faith. When the world heard the thunder “workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains”, remember, the workers too had no prefix.

If India wants to make an integral and inclusive socio-economic progress, it must boldly embrace the non-communal faith and the eminent theologian Dr. Samuel Rayan who died on 2 January 2019 has said it beautifully by building an ecclesiology for a pluralistic society like India: ‘rice is for sharing, bread must be broken and given’. Sharing bread with all will take place only in a non-communal faith but in a communal faith one category of people will violently appropriate the whole bread.

That is why Mahatma Gandhi advocated a non-communal faith for India. Listen to him:“There is nothing in the world that would keep me from professing Christianity or any other faith, the moment I felt the truth of and the need for it....If I could call myself, say, a Christian, or a Mussalman, with my own interpretation of the Bible or the Koran, I should not hesitate to call myself either. For, then, Hindu, Christian and Mussalman would be synonymous terms. I do believe that in the other world there are neither Hindus, nor Christians nor Mussalmans. They all are judged not according to their labels, or professions, but according to their actions, irrespective of their professions.”

A communal faith has no place in Christian thinking and theology because apart from the Abba experience at the Jordan, Jesus has also said to the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4) that the faith he has come to preach is not at all communal and his response was surely to a communal question the woman asked at Sychar: “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?”

The answer to this question that Jesus is the ‘living water’ to quench the thirst of all,de-communalizes the faith Jesus came to proclaim. And now see the rest of the answer: “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem…But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Not to worship on this particular mountain or in Jerusalem shows that a particular geographical spot is not at all significant for a non-communal faith which Jesus proclaimed and building vulgarly showy places of worship do not have any place in the vision of Jesus and he wants people to worship the Father only in spirit and truth because God is spirit. At the well Jesus proclaimed himself as neither Jew nor Samaritan and thus-became a non-communal God to unite the whole humankind.

By revealing this central truth to a Samaritan woman, he was asserting that his faith also goes beyond gender categories and discrimination, even beyond socially despised categories like a Samaritan whom the Jews looked upon as pariah.

Now it is quite evident that while a communal faith is narrow, spiteful, hateful and exclusive, the non-communal faith is just the opposite to it. A nation like India divided into thousands of communities, the best way forward for the progress of the whole nation is a non-communal faith and so de-communalizing of the faith in India is the urgent call of the times. Intellectuals, socio-political leaders and religious leaders must take it as a priority. It is indeed the detoxing of Indian society and mind-set.

(Joe Palathunkal is Associate Editor, Living in Faith)

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