Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Statements of Faith

I don't quite remember what set me and Joel talking about the statements of faith the other day. He was explaining his problem with such assertions. These statements are meant to define what you believe in. But in reality what they achieve is they define boundaries; deployed to keep the "other" out. This has been part of the western religious experience and tradition where one Christian denomination had to rigourously distinguish itself from the other. The statements of faith were meant to provide a uniform identity to the adherents of a particular religious group. They were to select friends and foes by replaying these statements in their mind.

Historically speaking this was an exercise in community building which responded to the needs of burgeoning democarcy. Like rise of nations in the west in post-Renaissance period the religious denominations also had to develop secure borders.

In the world where definitions of democracy and nation are being rewritten there is a need to revise the rationale of statements of faith.

In the pluralist world in general and in India in particular Christians have to be wary of such heavily westernised concept of "statement of faith."

My mind goes back to Brahmbandhab Upadhyay, the dynamic intellectual and a Christian theologian in Bengal, the editor of journals and later a nationalist revolutionary who was disowned by the Church in early 20th century. Upadhyay instead of confining himself in the historically conditioned statements, took a bold step, a heroic decision to call himself a Hindu Catholic, instead of a Roman Catholic.

Indian spirituality is embracing. However this is not to say that everything goes here in India. The sharp debates in the Indian intellectual history between Sankara, Ramanujan and Madhva give an example that debating and clarification of postions is an important ingredient of Indian tradition.

Upadhyay carries on that tradition.

The dynamic process of "exclusion and embrace" (a term courtesy Miroslav Volf) will give regenerative impetus to our communitarian journeys. The fossilized statements of faith can impede the progress.


Anonymous said...

Faith finds a foothold, for here plurality becomes solidarity. And that clinches centuries' debacle.

J V David said...

To exclude a person on the basis of a particular characteristic of that person (gender, race, caste, creed) goes against the very grace of God himself. We need to practise an inclusion as broad as God's creation.

Does that mean we compromise on truth? I think that to consider creedal assent as a means of safeguarding truth reveals a certain unfortunate naivete regarding how human communities work. While the intent may be to protect truth, the effect is always to exclude persons. Therefore creedal assent works to protect socio-religious boundaries - it has no power to protect truth.

A creedal statement should not be used as a social contract. Some other more effective means must be found to determine the distinction between the wideness of God's Grace, and the unfortunately limited numbers that respond positively to that grace and populate human communities of faith.

Charles said...

good to read through your article. you are quite right in saying that the statements of faith may impede the growth. on the other hand, the fear is that 'embrace and exclude' policy itself may result into preparation of yet another creed. That is how the historical creed of the church was prepared. So how do we find solution of that? of course the 'statement of faith' can not be used as a prejudiced decision to exclude someone or a community from available benefits. however, how do we define what should be embraced and what should be excluded if there is no standard of deciding something as to be embracing and the other excluding.

ashish said...

Hey Charles,
I would to study the book Exclusion and Embrace by Miroslav Volf with you and discover what he says about it.
Meanwhile, as far as the standard is concerened ... hummm ... I can't seem to think about it instantly. I faced a peculiar problem sometime back. I had once almost dismissed the creeds (Nicene, Apostles')as Western constructs. But later i did realize that these creeds are important as we Indians encounter the cults such as Jehova's witness. So formalised verbal expressions of faith are necessary. However, one thing is pretty sure that statements of Faith of various denominations reflect their particular doctrinal preferences, hence they need to be looked at with an inquiring glance.

Historical creeds are the farthest I would go at the moment. (This betrays my CNI background ... hahaha )

Nick said...

Lets not be afraid of exclusivism, the orthodox christian faith accepts that some are in and some are out. The term Hindu christian (ala Karl Rahner) or Hindu Catholic (Upadhyaya)helps no one neither the Hindu nor the Christian.

There is no doubt a "wideness in God's mercy" (Clark Pinnock)but that wideness is open to debate and for that we need words. The vehicle of debate is imperfect ie language, and are ability to define or know truth is limited but credal statements go some way towards expressing belief and contributing to that debate.

If we accept the limitations of ourselves,language and the credal statement then at least we have a vehicle for working towards the quest of defining our faith.

A process of course in which we are presently engaged via this blog.

ashish said...

Some are definitely in and some our definitely out. But the final sifting between the goats and the sheep will be done by the Shepherd Himself.

Meanwhile if a term such as Hindu Christian does not help anyone, than one can ask do singular labels like "Hindu," "Christian" do any better? Do they express human solidarity and validate individual experiences for an inabitant of 21st century global village?

Now one agrees that the issue is, for most part, lingustic. And people are trying to fashion a vocabulary to express their encounters with new forms of identity, which i think is case with Upadhyaya.

Credal statements are part of that quest and hence not final.

By the way has someone done some sort of a comparative study of various statements of faith?