Reality Check: Why Liberation Theology Is Not The Innocent Doctrine It Is Being Made Out To Be

Reality Check: Why Liberation Theology Is Not The Innocent Doctrine It Is Being Made Out To Be

by Aravindan Neelakandan - Thursday, July 8, 2021 04:02 PM IST
Reality Check: Why Liberation Theology Is Not The Innocent Doctrine It Is Being Made Out To Be Stan Swamy.
  • Now that Stan Swamy has passed away, there is going to be a coordinated attempt to make him a martyr and build a campaign around him.

    India's government and society need to be prepared to counter it.

Stan Swamy is dead — and the politics begins now.

The church, if it knows one thing about itself, is that it is a cult of martyrs. The church can produce martyrs not just to stir faith in the faithful but it can also do it to stir up hatred against the ‘other’. Thus, you have martyrs created to stir hatred against Pagans, against the Jews and against the Hindus.

There is a strong possibility that now Rev Stan Swamy shall have the life of the 'undead' to stir sentiments against what the church views as a hurdle in India — the Narendra Modi government.

Let us clearly understand how the ‘Holy See’ sees us. It sees us as unfit for self-government — not because we are brown or non-European but because we are still not converted to Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular.

The church and its allied ecosystems attribute most problems in independent India somehow to 'tyrannical Brahminism', where people belonging to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are 'systemic victims'. It is in identifying what this system is, that theo-colonial politics comes in.

To a truly secular observer, that 'system' is the result of the colonial practices that are being perpetuated and continued in post-independent India. To the evangelists and forces allied with them, that system is a 'very Brahminical Indian state'.

The tragedy of India is its ‘perverted political parlance’ as Sitaram Goel calls it, which embraces the theo-colonial point of view. The 'undead' life of Stan Swamy will draw from Indians' belief in this worldview.

Stan Swamy belonged to the breed of liberation theologians.

Liberation theology is a Catholic theology that was created in late 1950s and 1960s, in Latin American countries to channelise the radical youths, mostly Catholic, who were suffering from extreme exploitation and poverty. They found Marxist revolution attractive. Liberation theologians offered them a heady mix of Marxism and Christianity.

Pope John Paul II, who was more sympathetic to the Polish Catholics fighting against the Marxist state, had not much love lost for liberation theology which seemed to favour leftwing politics. So, while not much encouraged in the Cold-War West in the 1970s and 1980s, liberation theology was allowed to spread to countries like India and Israel.

In the Indian context, liberation theology was married with Maoism and anti-Brahminism. Everything ‘Brahminical’ became the quintessential oppressive 'Other' — in fact an evangelist-leftist version of the medieval 'Satan'.

While most Hindus have not studied the liberation theology in detail, and how it portrays them as villains, the Jewish theologians have studied a bit more clearly how liberation theology for all its sweet humanistic discourse contains in it anti-semitism.

The following passage should give a clear idea as to how a medieval exclusivist Christian theological doctrine is at the heart of liberation theology.

Christian activism in the Arab–Israeli conflict and theological reflections on the Middle East have evolved around Palestinian liberation theology as a theological–political doctrine that scrutinizes Zionism, the existence of Israel and its policies, developing a biblical hermeneutics that reverses the biblical narrative, in order to portray Israel as a wicked regime that operates in the name of a fallacious primitive god and that uses false interpretations of the scriptures. ... Besides opposing Zionism and providing arguments for the boycott of Israel, such conceptualizations go far beyond the conflict, providing theological grounds for the denial of Jewish statehood echoing old anti-Jewish accusations.
Giovanni Matteo Quer, Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry, Tel-Aviv University in 'Return of Religious Anti-Semitism' (Ed. Gunther Jikeli), MDPI, 2020, p.43

It is in this context that we should see Bishop Hilarion Capucci, the man whom Stan Swamy could have become. The anti-semitic bishop smuggled arms for Palestinian terror groups. An Israeli court sentenced him to 12 years imprisonment. But after four years, the Vatican intervened in his favour and got him released.

Both Stan Swamy and Bishop Capucci were prejudiced against Hinduism and Judaism respectively. Their politics was dictated by their very Christian exclusivist theology.

In the case of Capucci, the 'undead' after-life has been mild but in the case of Stan Swamy, he might even be beatified and fast-tracked to be declared a 'saint'. Remember here, that he was released from the prison on humanitarian grounds for medical care and got the best medical care possible.

Remember that Stan Swamy was arrested in the wake of the 2018 Bhima Koregaon violence. And remember that this violence stems from the attempt to show the fall of the Peshwa rule and the coming of the British as triumph of Dalits, through a Christian Western power, against a decadent cruel Brahminical rule.

But also remember that it was the Peshwas, who employed Lampadas in their army in large numbers and in a respectful way while it was the British who declared them as 'criminal tribes'. These simple facts should make us understand the real theological fundamentalism that animated the life and work of Stan Swamy.

And also remember that no liberation theologian has fought with the same vehemence the crimes of his own church, whether it is institutionalised child abuse or murder of the nuns.

Where was Stan Swamy protesting against the powerful and mighty in getting justice for Sister Abhaya?

Where was Stan Swamy protesting against the reinstatement in India of priests punished for child abuse in the United States?

Where was Stan Swamy asking for reservation of 'Dalits' converted to Christianity in Catholic-run institutions, on par with the reservations given to them by Indian state in the government sector?

So, what should the Indian government do?

It should clearly convey to the Catholic fundamentalist organisation, the Catholic Bishops Council of India (CBCI), that any attempt to create a false narrative around Stan Swamy's death would be met with Indian government taking the extraordinary step of announcing Sister Abhaya as the Catholic saint-martyr of India at the hands of a misogynist church.

It should also select and announce as martyrs and balidanis the Jews and Hindus who were burnt at the stake in the Goan Inquisition and a befitting memorial would be built in their honour.

In fact, the latter should be done irrespective of the situation. It does not matter whether the Pope and his church apologise to the Hindus and Jews of India against whom they ran the longest inquisition in history. The Indian government and/or Hindu organisations should honour our balidanis with a befitting memorial regardless of an apology by the church.

It should also build a memorial for all the tribals and soldiers who lost their lives in the conflicts created and nurtured by the the Maoists and liberation theologians.

Perhaps, if indeed Rev Stan Swamy was an activist for the marginalised, then the government of India should install a commission in his name to bring out a white paper on the status of the employment of the converted 'Dalits' in institutions, including government-aided institutions run by the Catholic church. Following this, the reservation of converted Dalits in Catholic-run institutions should be implemented strictly.

Aravindan is a contributing editor at Swarajya.

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