Rev. Dr. Selvam Robertson
1 Introduction
            Human beings never lived without practicing one or another form of religion.  They always attempted to comprehend the ultimate mystery in manifold forms, as their intellect and cultural context permitted.
Thus, plurality of religion is as old as human history.  Our time has witnessed a shift from plurality of religions to religious pluralism.  That is, religious pluralism has become a significant subject matter concerned with all religions.  It is not just accepting the diversity of religions but venturing to fuse a cooperative relationship among religions in order to actualize the real purpose, of religions-protecting and enhancing life. It is not uniformity but unity without losing individuality.  
            This paradoxical context of our time devolves Christianity to formulate theology of religions relevant to pluralistic contexts in the light of the life and work of Jesus Christ who was committed to the ultimate mystery on the one hand and life sustaining on the other. Hence, exploring the possibilities for a life sustaining pluralist perspective is the immediate task of any contemporary and relevant Christian theology of religions 
            It is necessary because the global and religious context and new sciences have brought different peoples, cultures, and religions much closer than ever before.  People are face to face with traditions once foreign and alien to them.
The specific Indian context, particularly the neo-Hindu assertion reveals that each religion needs to be left unintervened because each is complete and sufficient enough for the votaries to attain the purpose of religion. And no religion or religious person has anything significant, which the other religions or religious persons do not posses.
            The ever increasing misuse of religions for extremist purposes and political gains and the large scale human made disasters, which threaten the existence of life on the planet earth require that the religions should be united without damaging the differences for the sake of life itself.  This is possible only in a life sustaining pluralistic perspective.  It is the enabling of different religions to address the issues, which challenge and threaten life as a whole.

2 What is Life Sustaining Pluralistic Perspective? 

As Christians are committed to Jesus, who lived a life sustaining vision and the present realities of the world demand for a life sustaining pluralist perspective, it is essential to expound it further.
Beyond religion, culture, language, race, geography, climate, history etc., the common core of humanity is life.  It is unfortunate that often religions are used to separate people and destroy life rather than uniting and strengthening.  Such untoward developments need to be countered at all levels.  It is possible if, life the only uniting principle across religious boundaries is taken in to the heart of inter religious endeavors.
Each individual is earnestly engaged in the daily struggles of life. This striving is not specific to any single religious community. Struggles of life may vary from person to person, yet every one is struggling to live. The struggle for existence is a day-to-day reality. No single being can escape the stark reality of life – happiness, sorrow, poverty, sickness etc.  In other words, the struggles of life- threats and challenges concern every one beyond religious boundaries. Therefore the struggle for existence can bring people of all walks of life, who are committed to the genuine quest for the mystery, together for common action in order to sustain life.
An analysis of ordinary life will reveal that, human beings are striving to make a better life. Similarly every collective effort of humanity including religious, is devoted to sustaining life in all its possible fullness or committed to achieve better life on the planet earth.  The problem of religious pluralism too, will not be applicable unless it concentrates on the issues confronting life, besides the other regular objectives.  It is not just human life, but human life in relation to the rest of creation. Arvid P. Nirmal writes, “the primary object of any theology is certainly the concept of God, but we need to recognize the fact that the primary datum for doing theology is human life.”[1]
Religions had embarked to support and strengthen life in many ways including, moral and spiritual.  The moral and spiritual nature of humanity distinguishes it from other forms of life. The program of inter-religious understanding cannot be substantial if it ignores the necessity of a strong spiritual and ethical foundation.  Of course, today, religions are used for selfish reasons.  To restore the pristine purity of religion, there should be a sound theology of religions.  A sound, relevant and contemporary theology of religions should emerge from the concrete religious and ethical commitment of the individuals.  So that it can evolve lasting and fruitful solution to the current threats and challenges of life. The problem of the current world is lack of genuine and strong spiritual life. Only those who are spiritually matured alone will be able to see the commonality of life beyond all the human-made differences. They alone will be able to realize the equality and the significant dynamic nature and purpose of human life.
 It is established beyond doubt that reality is not plural but it has been understood in manifold forms in consonance with the cultural backgrounds. The diverse understanding of the mystery is manifested in various forms of religions.  As the reality is mystery, humanity cannot be divided on religious grounds.  Various religions are the different, humble and modest attempts of people who lived in diverse circumstances-culture, climate, language, geography, etc to understand the one mystery, which is still beyond the thus far conceptualized dimensions.
It is necessary to accept the plural structure of reality. It is not that the reality is plural but the one reality can be understood in manifold forms.   Plurality of religions is purposeful.  They are testimonies to the incomprehensible and the transcendental nature of the mystery besides its immanence. Different religions are independent in their own rights.  But they cannot function in isolation, if they have to serve the real purpose of enhancing human life at a time when the world is torn with religious strife of all shorts and degrees.
                As practical life and religion are intertwined, the issues related to life cannot be approached in isolation from the rich religious resources at our disposal in the form of many religious traditions.  Any solution that ignores the significance of spiritual foundation for life and the problems threatening it will be incomplete.  Hence, it is necessary that the issue of religious pluralism be pursued from a life sustaining pluralistic perspective, which is the result of one’s earnest commitment to the ultimate mystery.  Here, concern for life and commitment to the quest for the ultimate mystery go hand in hand in order to gather all the dynamic religious resources without any discrimination, for the promotion of a better life in harmony with God’s creation.
Participation in the struggles of people and commitment to the ultimate mystery are the two sides of the same coin.  They make a complete paradigm. One without the other is incomplete, counterproductive and unacceptable. Insisting the one and sidelining the other is risky. One who is committed to the mystery will not slack in his/her responsibility to life and its paradoxes.  Without intimate relation with the mystery one’s concern for the life of the other will be shallow and short lived.
It needs to be noted that the theology of religions pursued from life sustaining pluralist perspective is committed to friendship and co-operation among religions without interfering in the personal religious interest of the individual. It is committed to life and its realities.  It seeks friendly cooperation between religions to pool their resources to sustain life at all levels.  Religions are to guard life.  If they fail to do so, they cease to be religions.  As the challenges to life are increasing, one or two religions alone cannot salve them in isolation.  To protect and enhance life, all religions should work together without losing their individuality and differences.  This is possible only if theology of religions is developed from the ‘life sustaining pluralistic perspective’, which reflects its ontological base in the mystery.
3 Premises of Life Sustaining Pluralistic Perspective
3.1 Mystery as the Center
            The primary premise of life sustaining pluralist perspective is the mystery. Treating the ultimate as the mystery is the only answer to the diverse forms of religiosity of humanity to which life alone is the uniting/common principle.  Commitment to the genuine quest for the better understanding of mystery automatically calls for concrete concern for life.  Concern for life without commitment to the mystery will be short lived.   Thus these two are inter- connected.
 Scholars who are committed to the problem of religious pluralism are convinced that the ultimate reality is beyond the comprehension of human beings and therefore, it is a mystery.  Paul F. Knitter writes, the ‘divine mystery which we know in Jesus and which we call Theos or God, is ever greater than the reality and message of Jesus’.[2]  Panikkar explains this mystery from pluralist point of view as “pluralism dethrones monism, and with it monotheism.  Reality does not need to be transparent and intelligible in itself.”[3]  In the words of S.J. Samartha, “...religions should be recognized as having responded differently to the mystery of the ultimate.”[4]  Further “a sense of mystery provides a point of unity to all plurality.”[5]  This point of unity holds all religions together with a common purpose.  Without a sense of this point of unity, the scope of religious pluralism shall remain bleak.
            This is the meeting point of the horizontal and vertical dimensions of Christian theology of religions.  Vertically, theology of religion revolves around the mystery and horizontally the mystical root inspires people of all faiths to actively engage in the struggles of humanity.  Thus the unceasing quest for the mystery is the ontological uniting point and the contemporary energizer for a life sustaining pluralistic perspective. 
3.2 Jesus is Life - Centered
Jesus was both God-centered and life-centered.  Life-centered because he always subjected himself to the will of God.  He repeated that he came to do the will of God.  Jesus, because of his intimate relation with God, called Him father.  This father-hood of God is the way God is addressed by Christians.  But the Reality is still a mystery beyond the nomenclature ‘father’.  The mystery is the axis around which all faith-traditions revolve to seek meaning.
Jesus was life-centered.  He wanted religions and religious practices to be life sustaining and not life destroying.  Whoever, or which ever faith tradition, is involved in fulfilling the will of God was in the company of Jesus.  He said ‘whoever does the will of my father is my brothers and sisters’.[6]  Even if such action took place, in an unexpected environment, Jesus appreciated.  Jesus esteemed the faith of the centurion and said ‘even in Israel there was not such faith’.[7]  For Jesus ‘the neighbor’[8] is one who involves in life saving activity.  That is why, he had to say ‘men will come from east and west, and from north and south, and sit at table in the kingdom of God’.[9]
Jesus’ concern for the needy is outstanding.  His selection of people for the reward was on the basis of the amount of service they did to the needy.[10]  This is what, is declared in the ‘Nazareth manifesto’.[11]  He wanted that humanity’s relation to the ultimate mystery and to the people around should go hand in hand.  He said ‘love the lord and love your neighbor’.[12]
Jesus’ main enemies were people who used religion as mere ceremonial observance, as means of oppression and as means to escape from the responsibilities.[13]  He wanted to restore Sabbath as a source of life for the needy.  He said ‘Sabbath is for man and man is not for Sabbath’.[14]  A taunting question he faced was ‘whether to save or destroy life on Sabbath’.[15]  He proved in his life that, saving the life of the needy is the chief concern of people who are committed to the ultimate reality, of course, in manifold forms.
Thus any inter religious ventures need to work on these two dimensions.  One is the conviction that, all are committed to the ultimate through diverse channels.  And the other is that, that commitment demands that life is strengthened in all possible ways to achieve, harmony, peace, Justice and equality for all.
3.3 Life Struggle-Threats and Challenges
            The next premise of life sustaining pluralist perspective is life. That is, the struggles of life-the challenges and threats, which life as a whole confronts in manifold forms.  These are common to every individual beyond the boundaries of religions.  Every one can join in the fight against the odds of life.  Religious convictions and differences cannot intervene in the process.  As life is common for all, religious cooperation can be effected on the premise of life, because life is same but religions are many.
            Life realities are the real testing ground of one’s commitment to the ultimate mystery and his or her life sustaining vision of life, which is the reflection of one’s genuine submission to the continuous quest for the real knowledge about the ultimate mystery.
3.4 Love the Linking Point
            Life is prior to religion.  Religion is to add meaning to life.  But both life and religions find their ontological root in the mystery.  The connecting point between the one life and the many religions is love. It is the love of god that motivates love for all living beings. And the sincere concern for life at large deepens one’s commitment to the ultimate mystery.  The love of god and the love for god bring people closer to god and closer to the struggles of life. It is agape that produces philial love.
4 Promise and Prospects of Life Sustaining Pluralistic Perspective

4.1 It is based upon the Life and Work of Jesus Christ

The paradigm for life sustaining pluralist perspective is found in the life and work of Jesus Christ.  All through his life, he was life-centered, that is, he dedicated his life to sustain the life of others in all possible ways.  His concern for the value of life was the result of his commitment to his father, who is understood as mystery in the Indian context.  He was always conscious about his responsibility to the father and acknowledged the people, who involved in such responsibility as his brothers, sisters and mother irrespective of their backgrounds.  Thus, life sustaining pluralist perspective is a great promise to Christian theology of religions and prospective to the Indian context, which witnesses the intricacies of an intensively pluralist context.
4.2 The Real Purpose of Religions is Upheld
Religions are to protect and strengthen life in all possible ways.  Jesus wanted that all form of religious observances-sabbath, offering, law etc. should not become hindrance to life-giving or life-saving acts. When inter religious cooperation is pursued from the point of life sustaining pluralist perspective the struggles and concerns of people take precedence over the other formal observances.  Be they of poverty, sickness, disasters, cast hierarchy, women concerns, ecological imbalance or any other issue.
Once Swami Vivekananda said, ‘the crying evil in the East is not want of religion, but want of bread’.[16]  He saw god in man and said, “since God dwells in man, He can be worshipped by serving man.”[17] Similarly,  “Gandhi always appealed to the religion of humanity underlying all religions.”[18]  Thus life sustaining pluralist perspective promises commitment to one’s own religion and offers prospective service to life as reflection of god’s love.
4.3 Plurality of religions accounted for
                Any model that is used to bring about unity and fellowship among religions should take into account the fact that each religion is unique on its own merit and at the same time it could relate with the other.  In other words a balance should be established to maintain the individuality of religions on the one hand and the unity of religions on the other.  The unity is not uniformity or monolithic structure, but the collective efforts of individual religions without losing their individual identity.  Gandhi said, the correct attitude is one of firm adherence to one’s own religion coupled with an equal reverence towards all other religions.  It is not simply a question of tolerating other faiths, but of believing that all faiths lead to the same goal.”[19]  Again he said, ‘let Hindus become better Hindus, Muslims and Christians better Muslims and Christians’.[20]
The promising aspect is that the life sustaining pluralist perspective treats different religions as various attempts of people to comprehend the ultimate mystery through the ways and means familiar to them in their own context.  It is prospective because it pursues inter religious cooperation with the assumption that unity of religions is possible without losing individuality and differences. In other words, there is scope for diversity of religions on the one hand and unity of religions without uniformity on the other.
4.4 Convergence of Spirituality And Life
The life sustaining pluralist perspective is the convergence of deep spirituality, which is the result of one’s paramount religious conviction and commitment for establishing better life, which is the reflection of one’s intense relation with the ultimate mystery. Without deeper spiritual footing the theology of religions would remain a mirage.  For Ramakrishna Paramahamsa “it is only by releasing a flood of enlightened religious feeling that society can be cleansed and men and woman made to grow to their spiritual heights.”[21] 
According to Gandhi “religion is best propagated by the noble lives led by its followers.”[22]  For him “preaching the Gospel means to live the Gospel.”[23]  Again he said “religion can be defended only by the purity of its adherents and their good deeds, never by their quarrels with those of other faiths.”[24]  This is what the need of the hour in India. The life sustaining pluralist perspective promises concrete spiritual foundation for the theology of religions on the one hand and looks for prospects in its efforts to transform the life of people, who adhere to varieties of religious experiences on the other.
4.5 Mission of the Church
People of other faiths categories the reconciliatory and confidence building effort of the church in a pluralist society as indirect ways of conversion. Thus a theology of religions proposed from life sustaining pluralist perspective can convey the message that Christian initiatives are not for conversion but to create awareness among people about the need for cooperative action among religions to avert the misuse of religions and to consider the possibilities of creatively utilizing the dynamic potentials of religions.  It is not to convert people from one religion to the other but extending invitation for people of all walks of life to a change of attitude towards people of different faiths and the realities of life. Of course, in a developing society, change of religion is the freedom and fundamental right of the individual concerned according to his or her conviction and necessity. We need change of attitude but not religion.
Such an approach promises possibility for the furtherance of the great commission of the lord relevant to the context.  Its prospect is the hope that all religions will be sensitive to the problems of life and function to actualize the supreme expectations of religions in the day today life.
5 Why Life Sustaining Pluralistic Perspective?
5.1 Global Context
There were remarkable changes in the global context from fifteenth century onwards.  These changes resulted from the impact of geographical explorations, advancement in science and communication technology and the collapse of colonial power. The geographical explorations, starting from fifteenth century onwards, expanded the horizon of human knowledge.  They revealed that, there were diverse people, faiths, cultures etc., in the world.  These discoveries ‘stimulated a new interest in other religions’[25] among the people, who once thought that there was no other religion besides their own.   The interest was to learn other religions and see their difference from Christianity. 
 Scientific developments brought tremendous change in communication technology, including transport.  They have reduced the distance between people at all levels-information of all shorts including religious.  V.F. Vineeth writes, ‘our world has been reduced to a ‘global village’ and contact with men of other faith has now become a day-today reality for many, both in the East and in the West’.[26]  It is not mere contact with the other, but chance to learn from the other and exchange ideas, especially, religious. In the words of J. Paul Rajashekar, “…people from different religious traditions have not only come into greater contact but are also being exposed to mutual claims and commitments.”[27]  This situation is a challenge for the missionary religions. 
Added to these two was the collapse of colonial power.  Discoveries revealed the realities of the expanded globe. Communication reduced the distance of the globe and brought them together.  It was the break of colonial power that provided adequate freedom at all levels.  There emerged the ‘revivalism of indigenous cultural and religious values of the people of the liberated nations’.[28]   It affected the church as well. According to S.J. Samartha, ‘it was only a couple of decades after the dismantling of colonialism that both the Vatican (1965) and the World Council of Churches (1971) came out rather reluctantly, with more positive statements about people of other faiths’.[29]
These developments have created the awareness that humanity can no longer be separated on the basis of faiths and creeds.  In short, these developments have enabled people to move from the plurality of religions to religious pluralism.  That is, it is not just accepting the existence of many religions, but working towards the cooperation of religions for the sake of better life.
5.2 Religious Context
The urgency for the church to respond to the challenge of religious pluralism was fastened by the scientific study of religions. It has helped ‘for the first time Christian scholars with full factual information on the other world religions’.[30]  According to John Hick, “perhaps the most important factor has been the modern explosion of knowledge among Christians in the West concerning the other great religious traditions of the world.”[31]  In the words of Kuncheria Pathil ‘discovery of the other faiths and the recognition of their role in the universal salvific plan of God is perhaps the greatest challenge to Christian theology today’.[32] It changed the perception of Christianity about other religions. Harold G. Howard writes, “no longer can Christians view Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims as heathens living in far off lands to be converted by Christian missionaries.”[33]
  Along with the knowledge of other faith traditions, there was ‘a knowledge of other religious persons’.[34] This is to say that adhering to a particular faith tradition does not change the natural course of events in life. In other words discriminations on the basis of religions is unwarranted for. Paul F. Knitter writes about the others that “they are normal happy human beings, getting their jobs done, raising their families as well, perhaps better, than we, and living lives of love, of service, of commitment.”[35]
It is not just the knowledge of many religions and many people that was brought to light but also it revealed the ‘multi religious context of humanity’[36] everywhere.  This is to say that plurality of religions is natural and that cannot be ruled out. What can be done is that the plurality of spiritual traditions may be enabled to work together to face the threats and challenges that the globe is facing.
The other challenges to Christianity are the ‘growing Western interest and openness toward Eastern religions’.[37]  Jacques Dupuis writes, “while thousands of Westerners, especially the young, journey to India each year in quest of religious experiences Christianity has apparently denied them, Hindu ashrams and Buddhist monasteries are built in Western countries, attracting no insignificant number of devotees.”[38]
The missionary nature and monotheistic structure of fast growing Islam was another challenge to Christianity.  In the words of Owen C. Thomas “with the rise of Islam the Christian church was faced for the first time with a new and powerful missionary religion.”[39]
The scientific study of religions revealed that no religion could be treated as absolute, because there are elements of truth in every religion. Added to this was the critical study of the New Testament, which questioned the authenticity of some of the unique claims of Christians.
5.3 New Sciences
The modern scientists are convinced that, even in science, there is nothing called the truth.  It changes always. This idea is reflected in modern philosophy as well.  According to Paul F. Knitter “the catch phrase is that we are not in a state of being but in a state, or better a process of becoming.”[40]  It means, including religion nothing is static.  His main argument was that, science, philosophy, sociology, economics and politics of contemporary world indicate that, the global scenario demands the co-operation of all to face the common challenges.  His list of challenges is ‘starvation and malnutrition, economic inequality, dwindling resources, exploitation and poverty, official flouting of human rights and nuclear weaponry’.[41] In order to avoid the possible irresponsible question of the few he writes, “to be religious and to be serious about it one must, generally belong to a religion.”[42] 
There is a great awareness among sincere people of all religious traditions to be a member of a particular religion in order to be a member of wider religious family for the sake of establishing better community life. 
5.4 Response From India
5.4.1 Reaction From Hindu Thinkers
C.V. Mathew takes the readers way back and says “in short, by the middle of the 19th century we see the slow but steady emergence of a resistant Hinduism in the national context.”[43]  It should be kept in mind that Hinduism does not subscribe to single line of thought pattern in matters of religion.  Yet their aversion to the Christian missionaries and the superior claims of Christianity is uniform. 
5.4.1. 1 Swami Dayananda Saraswati
 His reaction to Christianity and Christian mission is stated as, “Dayananda firmly believes that the world would be better of without such an ensnaring and superstitious faith as Christianity.”[44]  Paul J. Griffiths quotes extensively from the Light of Truth to show similar reactions. Regarding the birth narrative of Jesus Christ Dayananda said, “only people in a state of barbarism can believe them.”[45]  Jesus’ temptation proves that ‘He is not omniscient’.  Referring to the preaching of Jesus he argued that if only righteous could be saved what is the use of Jesus.  Again he said if all will be punished according to their deeds why preaching about salvation.  For Swamy Dayananda Saraswati, Christianity is not at all necessary for the Indian soil.  He writes, rather using harsh expression, as “in a country where no trees are seen to grow, even the –castor oil plant is considered to be the biggest and the best tree, in like manner in a country where none but the ignorant savages lived, Christ was rightly considered a great man but Christ can be of no count among the learned and wise men of the present day.”[46] Swami Vivekananda
Swami Vivekananda had great respect for the teaching of Jesus Christ, but not for Christianity as a religion. He said about Jesus that “He was unfettered, unbound Spirit”.[47]
Paul J. Griffiths quotes from ‘Christ the messenger’, to explain the grievances of Swami Vivekananda about Christianity.  For Vivekananda, Christians have ignored the teachings of Christ and insist upon the divinity of Jesus Christ.  Their argument looks, if you credit the master you will be saved; if not, there is no salvation for you’.  Thus for Vivekananda, “…the whole teaching of the Master is degenerated and all the struggle and fight is for the personality of the Man.[48]
 His reaction to Christian propagation was so vehement.  For him Christianity ‘failed to satisfy the spiritual longing of educated and scientific folks’.[49]  He also said that, “what the nation wants is a religion of strength based on the inherent divinity of the human soul, and not a religion of weakness teaching that man is a born sinner.”[50]  This, of course, is his attack upon the Christian doctrine of sin.
Swami Vivekananda’s view of religions is stated as “let us, therefore, find, God not only in Jesus of Nazareth but in all the Great ones that have preceded him, in all that came after him, and all that are yet to come… They are all manifestations of the same infinite God.”[51] Mahatma Gandhi
D.S. Sharma writes, ‘like every true Hindu, Gandhi believes that all religions are branches of one and the same tree-the Tree of Truth’.[52]  Nirmal Minz states, “all religions, he held, are appropriations of Satya under the condition of cultural limitation and human finitude… They are equal in the sense that no single religion has the absolute or exclusive truth.”[53]  Further, “it is my conviction that all the great faiths of the world are true, are God-ordained and that they serve the purpose of God and of those who have been brought up in those surroundings.”[54] Gandhi believed “as all religions were rooted in faith in the same God, all were of equal value, while each was specially adapted to its own people.”[55]  He has put in a nut-shell his view as “after long study and experience I have come to the conclusion that: [1] all religions are true, [2] all religions have some error in them, [3] all religions are almost as dear to me as my own Hinduism.”[56]
Apart from the acceptance of the empirical realities of religion he also talked about a philosophical view that “the one Religion is beyond all speech.”[57] For him, “God [Truth] is one and so humanity also is one.”[58]
Mahatma Gandhi had a distinct understanding of Christianity, Christ and the activities of Christians.  He had not much good to speak about Christians.  But he declared that, “though I took a path my Christian friends had not intended for me, I have remained for ever indebted to them for the religious quest that they awakened in me.”[59] 
Gandhi always accused Christians of busy in preaching, but never practice what they preach.  “Christians generally seemed to him to be rather poor disciples of their master.”[60]  The reason for his dislike over Christianity is stated as  “in those days Christian missionaries used to stand in a corner near the high school and hold forth, pouring abuse of Hindus and their gods.  I could not endure this.”[61]  The reasons for further dislike are worded as, “surely, thought I, a religion that compelled one to eat beef, drink liquor, and change one’s own clothes did not deserve the name.  I also heard that the new convert had already begun abusing the religion of his ancestors, their customs and their country.  All these things created in me a dislike for Christianity.”[62]  Of course, this is what he heard about a person who was converted to Christianity.  It cannot be the right presentation.  Nevertheless, certain facts every one must learn.  They are regard for culture, nation and religion of others.
 He firmly believed that it was not necessary for him to become a Christian in order to get salvation.  He said “it was impossible for me to regard Christianity as a perfect religion or the greatest of all religions.”[63]  The main reason is that the pious lives of Christians did not give him anything that the lives of men of other faiths had failed to give.
Mahatma Gandhi’s view of Jesus Christ can contribute to the formulation of a viable Christology in India.  For him “Jesus was a great teacher of humanity but not the only begotten son of God… He is as divine as Krishna, Rama, or Mohammed.”[64]  For Hindus Jesus is one among the teachers of dharma, and not the only teacher of dharma.
He also accepted ‘Jesus as a model not the only model’.[65]  It is also to be noted that Mahatma Gandhi never considered Jesus as the perfect man.  He says, “I could accept Jesus as a martyr, an embodiment of sacrifice, and a divine teacher, but not as the most perfect man ever born.”[66]  No doubt Mahatma Gandhi has put Christians in a challenging task.
According to him “religion is best propagated by the noble lives led by its followers.”[67]  “Preaching the Gospel means to live the Gospel.”[68]  Again he said “religion can be defended only by the purity of its adherents and their good deeds, never by their quarrels with those of other faiths.”[69]  This is what the need of the hour in India.
 Mahatma Gandhi has suggested as to how religions should approach each other.  For him “the correct attitude is one of firm adherence to one’s own religion coupled with an equal reverence towards all other religions.  It is not simply a question of tolerating other faiths, but of believing that all faiths lead to the same goal.”[70]  Again he said, ‘let Hindus become better Hindus, Muslims and Christians better Muslims and Christians’.[71]  Working to this end can be the right mission of Christians in India.  To go still further is to ask them to work together with others for the healing and well-being of humanity.
Another remarkable contribution of Mahatma Gandhi for religious pluralism is the acceptance of common humanity.  “Gandhi always appealed to the religion of humanity underlying all religions.”[72]  He always disbelieved in the illusion of forming one single religion.  He believed in the harmony of religions.  Once he said, “if the Hindus believe that India should be peopled only by Hindus, they are living in dreamland.”[73] Dr. Radhakrishnan
He was of the opinion that Hinduism does not lack anything.  From the point of religious pluralism he was thinking of an absolute, which is active and present in all revelations.  For him “such an absolute is the ground of transcendental unity as well as historical differences of religions.”[74]
Similarly ‘Radhakrishnan had a vision of the religion of the spirit which he proposed as a possible solution to the problem of religious pluralism in the world’.[75]  Being an Indian, he too subscribes to the view that all religions are the same.  And they lead to the same goal.  In summary Hindus consider Christ as one of the revealer and Christianity one of the revelations. Hinduism lacks nothing, which Christianity is in hold of. Buddhism and Islam
Despite the theological differences between Buddhism and Christianity there had been dialogue between them.    In the words of S.J. Samartha, “the Buddhist response to Christian initiated dialogue is not one of confrontation and controversy, but of responsible participation in the conviction that the message of the Buddha has a distinctive contribution to make to the world today.”[76] 
The traditional Muslim response to religious pluralism was negative.  They understood the western missionary work as power play.  “They think that Christian missionaries from the West came to destroy the religion of Islam and help the foreign powers, especially the British, to conquer and subjugate India.”[77]  At times they demanded that all missionaries from the Islamic states to be removed in order to strengthen Christian, Muslim relations.
Now there is a positive attitude towards Christianity.  S.J. Samartha points out that “a significant response to Christian initiatives is the Muslim attempt to work out a theology of dialogue based on Islam even as Christians are seeking to develop a Christian theology of dialogue.”[78]
On the whole, the people of other faith-traditions were unhappy with the way Christianity was insensitive to their feelings, perceptions and requests.  Thus it is necessary that Christian theology of religions ventures to propose a new paradigm, which is life oriented without involving in wordy tussles. 
5.5 The Urgency of the Problem
5.5.1 Religious Extremism
The original life sustaining vision of religions is lost in the contemporary world.  Often religions are misused.  One such misuse is religious extremism. It is identified that, “for whatever the root cause, religious extremism is fast turning out to be the most potent source of violence and human suffering in the world today.”[79]
Today religions are used as a pretext for war, terrorism, power, and in short for selfish purposes of a few.  They shatter the pluralist vision of religion and use religions to divide people rather than uniting.  In the words of Paul F. Knitter “still today the battle cries of Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland, of Muslims and Jews in the Middle East, of Buddhists and Hindus in Sri Lanka, of Sikhs and Hindus and Muslims in India are sad testimonies that religions continue to be more effective at motivating war than peace.”[80]
Another growing tendency is to attribute religious colors to general riots. In the words of A. Pushparajan “many non-religious factors very often influence the riots.  However it is undeniable that the riots have been colored by religious considerations.”[81]
5.5.2 Politicization of Religion
A specific Indian requirement is that, religion should be saved from politicization.  It is said “the RSS fears of Islamisation and now the Christianisation of India belong to the world of make believe.  They serve the purpose of the consolidation of the Hindu vote bank and the politics of Hindu Rashtra.”[82] In the words of S.J. Samartha, “religions are used as handmaidens to political interests.”[83]
The reason for such deterioration is the outcome of greed for power.  In order to grab power, thousands of lives are rooted out, in the name of safeguarding religions.  Religions and gods are meant to protect humanity.  But now humanity is championing the cause of protecting religions and gods in order to exploit the innocence of thousands of souls.  Added to this are the crafty fabrications in the form of conflict between majority and minority religions.
5.5.3 Life is at Peril
At the global level, life the only factor common to all living beings is threatened from various human made disasters. Nuclear war, economical imbalance, poverty, disease, corruption, ecological degradations, gender discriminations etc., are not the problems of one religious community.  The persistence of these threats can make life difficult in the planet earth.   Life can be saved from these threats only by the co-operative and conscious efforts of all people across religious boundaries.  Therefore, there is an urgent need for co-operation between religions. Wilfred Cantwell Smith writes, “unless men can learn to understand and to be loyal to each other across religious frontiers, unless we can build a world in which people profoundly of different faiths can live together and work together, then the prospects for our planet’s future are not bright.”[84] Paul F. Knitter writes “religions must speak and act together because only so can they make their crucially important contribution to removing the oppression that contaminates our globe.”[85]  In the words of S.J Samartha, “it is agreed that the most helpful relationship between persons of different faiths in the world today must be one of co-operation in pursuing common purposes like justice, peace and human rights.”[86]
The growing misuse of religions and the increasing threats to life call for committed action from people of all faiths to restore the original purpose of religions and to bring about closer fellowship among religions from the point of life-struggles, threats and challenges.
5.6 Tuff Task Ahead for Christianity
5.6.1 Suspicion
The Christian attempts for co-operative action of religions are looked at with suspicion.  S.J. Samartha writes that there is “always the fear of hidden agendas”.[87]  Further, “the suspicion that dialogue may be used for purposes of Christian Mission is an ever present fear among neighbors of other faiths.”[88] Conforming this, Sita Ram Goel maintains that “the “dialogue” does not seem to be a sincere attempt at reconciliation; on the contrary, it is only a strategy for survival on the part of Christianity.”[89]  He called indigenization, inculturation etc., as fraud and said “it is high time for the Christian theologies to come down to earth and recognize every person’s right to seek truth and salvation in his or her own way.”[90]  Writers like, Arun Shourie has interpreted all the contributions of Christians in India as efforts of proselytization.
5.6.2 Time to Listen
Most initiatives for inter religious relations have came from Christians.  S.J. Samartha, while discussing the issue of dialogue, writes, “in all these the initiatives have invariably been Christian although in recent years some meetings have been organized by others as well.”[91]  Nevertheless, he has devoted a full chapter in his One Christ Many Religions to reflect upon the responses of people of other faith-traditions to the Christian initiated dialogue etc. In his own words, “neighbors of other faiths also ask humbly and sometimes not so humbly: what about our centers and our names?”[92]  E.C. Dewick says ‘to-day the claim of Christianity to be the final and perfect religion for the whole world is being sharply challenged by a large number of people’.[93] 
This is a pertinent issue, which should be addressed by all who are sincerely committed to the problem of religious pluralism.  Paul J. Griffiths had to say that,
Christians have said a great deal about how they see Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, and Muslims and about what place they are prepared to allot the members of these Communities in God’s plan for human salvation; they have as yet not learned to listen very carefully to what members of these Communities have said and are saying about them.[94]
There is a remarkable change in the approach of people of other faith-traditions towards Christians.  Earlier they listened to what Christians said.  Even in the 19th century many accepted the greatness of Jesus Christ but not Christianity.  This too is challenged.  The reason for the resistance to the Christian initiated dialogue is that this is an attempt to continue traditional Christian Claims.
5.6.3 Christianity Introspects
Earlier, the Christians thought that they could easily convert the whole humanity to Christianity with the help of a few missionaries.  To their dismay “today Christians are recognizing that far from disappearing, the religions of Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism are alive and well in spite of all the Christian missionary efforts.”[95]
Another failure is that in attempting to change the world, Christianity perpetuated exploitation and oppression on large scale.  The best example is the crusades.  Again, Christianity was always knit together with colonial activity.  Further Christianity was insensitive to the injustice of the world, especially to the Jews.  This is categorically stated as, “the picture would be very different if Christianity, commensurate with its claim to absolute truth and unique validity, had shown a unique capacity to transform human nature for the better.”[96]
The same idea is expressed with strong words as “the Holocaust that took place in the country that gave birth to the Reformation, the first use of the atom bomb, and the more recent threats to humanity because of environmental pollution and the shadow of nuclear annihilation hanging over all life, have raised profound moral and spiritual questions about the credibility of Christianity.”[97]  S.J. Samartha’s introspective question was “if Christianity was unable to prevent these horrors in countries over which it held sway for so many centuries, why export it to people in other countries who live by other faiths?”[98]  Thus there is a great need for reconceptulising Christian understanding of other religions as to make it more life centered.
5.6.4 New Context for Co-operation
Paul F. Knitter writes that “this world of suffering, which provides the context or Kairos for dialogue.”[99]  Overcoming this suffering and establishing peace is the concern of religions.  Thus he writes further that, “…peace can and must become a common commitment and common ground for conversation and action.”[100]  His wider plan of action was comprehensively called the soterio-centric approach.  But later he said, “working for eco-human justice becomes a common context in which we find ourselves using our different religious stories and symbols.”[101]  He was of the opinion that the liberation theology and theology of religions should work together in meeting the challenges of life.  He wrote “their encounter, may be even their marriage, can bear much fruit for the Christian churches and the world.”[102]  How amazing is his progress from unitive pluralism to thus far!
Paul F. Knitter has made it very clear that theory and action should go hand in hand.  It is not mere relationship among religions that is important, but the culmination of that relationship in the form of constructive action for the sustenance of life.  This, he relates to his living experience.  He says “so people and events in my life have led me sometimes lured me, to what has become for me the moral obligation to join “pluralism and liberation” or “dialogue and global responsibility.”[103]
Aloysius Pieris proposed a new paradigm for the theology of religions in the Asian context.  His main contribution was that he brought to light the importance of considering the poor as the target of any theology.  Because in Asia there are many religions and cultures at the same time there are many poor.  His paradigm consisted of three aspects.  “The first is the acknowledgement of a third magisterium, namely, that of the poor; the second is the liberational thrust that defines our theology of religions; and finally the social location of this theology is the Basic Human Communities (BHCs).”[104] It is true that, any contemporary theology of religions should be based upon life and its realities i.e., the struggles of life. This is the earnest vision of the many Indian Christian theologians of religions.
6 Conclusions
            The current global situation requires that religions be united without losing their individuality and differences for the sake of presenting better life.  A viable paradigm for such an undertaking is the life sustaining pluralist perspective.  It dos justice to the many forms of religion on the one hand and struggles of humanity on the other.  This is also in consonance with the life and mission of Jesus Christ, which the church is expected to bear witness.
                                                                                                By S. Robertson

Religion and Dialogue

[1]Arvind P. Nirmal, Heuistic Explorations, Madras, C.L.S., 1990, p.98.

[2]Paul F. Knitter, Jesus and the Other Names, New York, ORBIS, Books, 1996, p. 9.
[3]Raimon Panikkar, A Dwelling place for Wisdom, Annemarie S. Kidder, Louisville, Kentucky, Westminister/John Knox Press, 1995, p. 85.
[4]S.J. Samartha, The Lordship of Jesus Christ and Religious Pluralism, Madras, The Christian Literature Society, 1981,  p. 23.
[5]S.J. Samartha, One Christ Many Religions, Op.Cit., p. 5.
[6]Mark 3:35.
[7]Luke 7:9.
[8]Luke 10:29.
[9]Luke 13:29.
[10]Matthew 25:35.
[11]Luke 4:18-19.
[12]Mark 12:30&31.
[13]Matthew  9:13,  15:6, & Mark 7:11 & Luke 11:42.
[14]Mark 2:27.
[15]Matthew 12:10, & Mark 3:4, & Luke 6:9.
[16]D.S. Sharma, Op.Cit. p.151.
[17]Swami Gokulananda, ‘Vivekananda – Unifying Vision and Mission and our Response’, N.C.C. Review, Vol.CXIII, No. 8, [September 1993], p.507.
[18]Nirmal Minz, Op.Cit., p. 50.
[19]D.S. Sharma, Op.Cit., pp. 193, 194.
[20]Mahatma Gandhi, Op.Cit., p. 20.
[21]D. S. Sharma, Op.Cit., p.122.
[22]Ibid., p. 193.
[23]Nirmal Minz, Op.Cit., p. 47.
[24]Mahatma Gandhi, Op.Cit., p. 46.
[25]J. Paul Rajasekar, ed., Religious Pluralism and Lutheran Theology (LWF Report 23/24), Geneva, 1988, p.11.
[26]V.F. Vineeth, “Interreligious Dialogue : Past and Present a Critical Appraisal”, Journal of Dharma, Vol. XIX, NO. 1, (January – March 1997), p.42.
[27]J. Paul Rajasjekar, ed., Religious Pluralism and Lutheran Theology, Op.Cit., p.9.
[28]V.F. Vineeth, Journal of Dharma, Op.Cit., p.42.
[29]S.J. Samartha, One Christ Many Religions; Towards a Revised Christology, Bangalore, SATHRI in Association with Wordmakers, 1992, p.3.
[30]Harold G. Howard, Religious Pluralism and the World Religions, Madras, The Dr. S. Radhakrishnan Institute for Advanced Study in Philosophy, University of Madras, 1983, p.25.
[31]John Hick ‘The Non-absoluteness of Christianity’, The Myth of Christian Uniqueness; Toward a Pluralistic Theology of Religions, ed. By, John Hick and Paul F. Knitter, New York, ORBIS Books, 1987, p.17.
[32]Kuncheria Pathil, ‘Christian Approach to Other Faiths, A Historical Perspective’, N.C.C. Review, Vol. CX, NO.2 (February 1990), p. 66.
[33]Ibid., p.25.
[34]Paul F. Knitter, No Other Name?; A Critical Survey of Christian Attitudes Toward the World Religions, London, SCM Press Ltd., 1985, p.3.
[35]Ibid., p.3.
[36]Jacques Dupuis, Jesus Christ at the Encounter of World Religions, Translated from the French by Robert R. Barr, First Indian Edition, New Delhi, Intercultural Publications, 1996, p.3.
[37]Owen C. Thomas ed., Attitude Toward Other Religions; Some Christian Interpretations, London, SCM Press Ltd., 1969, p.10.
[38]Jacques Dupuis, Jesus Christ at the Encounter of World Religions, Op.Cit., p.4.
[39]Owen C. Thomas ed., Attitudes Toward Other Religions; Some Christian Interpretations, Op.Cit., p.11.
[40]Paul F. Knitter, No Other Name?; A Critical Survey of Christian Attitudes Toward the World Religions, Op.Cit., p.7.
[42]Ibid., p.13.
[43]C.V. Mathew, The Saffron Mission [A Historical Analysis of Modern Hindu Missionary Ideologies and Practices], New Delhi, ISPCK, 1999, p.56.
[44]Ibid., p.74.
[45]Paul J. Griffiths, Christianity Through Non-Christian Eyes, Fifth Printing, New York ,ORBIS Books, 1998, p.198.
[46]Ibid., p.201.
[47]Paul J. Griffiths, Op.Cit., p. 210.
[48]Ibid., p. 213.
[49]C.V. Mathew, The Saffron Mission (A Historical Analysis of Modern Hindu Missionary Ideologies and Practices), Delhi, ISPCK, 1999, p. 128.
[50]D.S. Sharma, Op.Cit., p.155.
[51]Paul J. Griffiths, Op.Cit.,  p. 214.
[52]D.S. Sharma, Hinduism Through the Ages, Bombay, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan,1967,
 p. 193.
[53]Nirmal Minz, Mahatma Gandhi and Hindu-Christian Dialogue, Madras, C. L. S,,1970, p. 23.
[54]Nirmal Minz, Op.Cit.,  p. 24.
[55]Mahatma Gandhi, Fellowship of Faiths and Unity of Religions, Ed. by Abdul Majid Khan, Madras, G.A Natesanand Co., No year, p. 20.
[56]Ibid., p. 12.
[57]Mahatma Gandhi, Op.Cit., p. 17.
[58]Nirmal Minz, Op.Cit.,p.1.
[59]Paul J. Griffiths, Op.Cit., p. 225.
[60]Mahatma Gandhi, Op.Cit., p. 19.
[61]Paul J. Griffiths, Op.Cit., p. 217.
[63]Paul J. Griffiths, Op.Cit., p.224.
[64]Nirmal Minz, Op.Cit., p. 39.
[65]Mahatma Gandhi, Op.Cit., p. 19.
[66]Paul J. Griffiths, Op.Cit., p. 224.
[67]D.S. Sharma, Op.Cit., p. 193.
[68]Nirmal Minz, Op.Cit., p. 47.
[69]Mahatma Gandhi, Op.Cit., p. 46.
[70]D.S. Sharma, Op.Cit., pp. 193, 194.
[71]Mahatma Gandhi, Op.Cit., p. 20.
[72]Nirmal Minz, Op.Cit., p. 50.
[73]Mahatma Gandhi, Op.Cit., p. 1.
[74]Bibhuti S. Yadav, ‘Vaisnavism on Hanskiung : A Hindu Theology of Religious Pluralism’, Religion and Society, Vol. XXVII, No.2 [June 1980], p.32.
[75]C.H. Sreenivas Rao ed., Inter-faith Dialogue and World Community, Madras, CLS, 1991, p.XXXII.
[76]S.J. Samartha, One Christ Many Relgions, Op.Cit., p. 31.
[77]Sam V. Bhajjan, ‘Muslim – Christian Dialogue in India’, N.C.C. Review, Vol.CVII, No. 9 [October 1987], p. 547.
[78]S.J. Samartha, One Christ Many Religions, Op.Cit., p.24.
[79]The Hindu, ‘Religions for Peace’, Chennai, September 4, 2000.
[80]Paul F. Knitter, ‘Inter-Religious Dialogue and the Unity of Humanity’, Journal of Dharma, Vol. XVI, No. 4, (October – December 1992), p.284.
[81]A. Pushparajan, From Conversion, to Fellowship; The Hindu Christian Encounter in the Gandhian Perspective, Allahabad, St.Paul Publications, 1990, p.18.
[82]Ram Puniyani, ‘Thou Shall be Banished’, The New Indian Express, Chennai,
October 12, 2000.
[83]S.J. Samartha , ‘Inter-Religious Relationships in the Secular State, p.62.

[84]Wilfred Cantwell Smith, ‘The Christian in a Religiously Plural World’, Christianity and Other Religions, Op.Cit., p.95.
[85]Paul F. Knitter, ‘Toward a Liberation Theology of Religions’, The Myth of Christian Uniqueness, Op.Cit., p. 181.
[86]S.J. Samartha, Courage for Dialogue: Ecumenical Issues in Inter-Religious Relationships, Geneva, World Council of Churches, 1981, p.30.
[87]S.J. Samartha, One Christ Many Religions, Op.Cit., p.16.
[88]Ibid., p.22.
[89]Sita Ram Goel, History of Hindu – Christian Encounters, New Delhi, Voice of India, 1989, p.IV.
[90]Ibid., p.X.
[91]S.J. Samartha, One Christ Many Religions Op.Cit., p.15.
[92]Ibid., p.18.
[93]E.C. Dewick, The Gospel and Other Faiths, London & Edinburgh, The Canterbury press, 1948, p.13.
[94]Paul J. Griffiths, Christianity Through Non-Christian Eyes, Op.Cit., p.3.
[95]Harlod G. Coward, Religious Pluralism and the World Religions, Madras, The Dr. S. Radhakrishnan Institute for Advanced Study in Philosophy, University of Madras, 1983, p.15.
[96]John Hick, ‘The Non-Absoluteness of Christianity’, The Myth of Christian Uniqueness, Op.Cit., p.17.
[97]S.J. Samartha, One Christ Many Religions; Toward a revised Christology, Op.Cit., p.2.
[98]Ibid., p.2.
[99]Paul F. Knitter, One Earth Many Religions, Multifaith Dialogue and Global Responsibility, New York, ORBIS, 1996, p.58.
[100]Ibid., p. 66.
[101]Ibid., p. 113.
[102]Paul F. Knitter, ‘Religion and Liberation in Defense of a Pluralistic Theology of Religions’, N.C.C Review, Vol. CXII, No. 4 (April 1992), p.229.
[103]Paul F. Knitter, One Earth Many Religions, Op.Cit., p.11.
[104]Aloysius Pieris,  Fire and Water, Basic issues in Asian Buddhism and Christianity, New York, ORBIS Books, 1996, p.156.


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