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Stewardship and Trusteesh
  By A.J. Philip  
  I ACCOMPANIED Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on his visit to South Africa on the occasi  
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Letter to Metropolitan
  By Rev A.P. Jacob and five other priests  
  Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma Metropolitan Most Rev. Dr. Philipose Mar Chrysostom Mar  
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Back to infancy -- they n
  By Shaheen Chander  
  ENJOYING a relaxed weekend, I was checking updates on the Facebook page. I came across a b  
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Sadguru Jesus Christ
  T.N. Sushama  
  An Indian Face of the Christian Faith
By Swami Sachidananda Bharati
Navasrushti Publications
Price: Rs.100

I AM writing this review on Christmas Day, 2009. Through the strange prism of 'An Indian Face of the Christian Faith', the author attempts to give myriad colours to his Sadguru Jesus Christ. He visualises an 'Indian face' to Jesus Christ and thereby dreams of India becoming the 'holy ground' of Christians from which peace and universal brotherhood would travel to the Western world.

The author, Swami Sachidananda Bharathi, according to the life-sketch on the back cover, 'is a former Indian Air Force officer-turned-disciple of Sadguru Jesus Christ'. He took to spirituality after an encounter with death in an air accident in 1982. A number of spiritual experiences following that air accident transformed this atheist Air Force officer into a firm believer in God and an ardent disciple of Christ. What is confusing is his adoption of a new name. Why change a great name like John? There are many instances of Western men and women becoming disciples of Indian gurus without changing their names.

Ironically, the book starts with a tirade against what he calls the "institutionalised" churches, against their "monopoly" of Christ. "I realised that the grace and truth, as well as the power and wisdom of God revealed through Christ are not confined to Christian churches. In fact, they can never be confined to any religion. They are beyond all religions. Religions are only a pointer to them."

The author expresses, in strong words, his concern about the aggressive and offensive manner in which the Gospel of love and peace of Sadguru Jesus Christ have been preached and promoted by a number of Christian churches in India. He is unhappy about the way they condemn and denounce those who are not in agreement with their sectarian understanding of God and reality.

Readers may wonder whether he is speaking for the saffron brigade when he says, "much of the violence against Christians in India today by the Hindutva forces (is) a reaction to this kind of aggressive and offensive proselytization that has been going on in India." Such a sweeping remark against the churches in India is unwarranted. His opposition to institutionalised churches is in itself contradictory to his own setting up of organisations to take forward the true Christian spirit. Churches also started with noble aims, but the degeneration, if any, came because of the people who administer them. This is also true for any institutionalised order, or religion. People with compassion for the suffering masses have always been the strength of all religions.

Swami Sachidananda wants Christians to see Christ and his teachings through an Indian prism. According to him, Christ and his teachings have greater similarity to Indian advaitic thought than to "Jewish dualistic thought". Jesus of Nazareth and his message can be understood and assimilated better from an Indian advaitic perspective than from the Jewish, Roman and Greek dualistic perspective."

He believes that since Jesus Christ was an Asian, his message and mission were set in an Asian milieu and from an Asian perspective. However, Christianity came to be recognised as a European religion by most Indians because it came to India under the garb of Western culture. The colonial powers provided political clout and economic support to the Christian missionary enterprises in India. As a result, the Christian churches in India came to owe their allegiance to their political masters.

He categorically states that India needs Christ, not Christianity. He even quotes one of his gurus, who jokingly said: "our mission was to liberate Christ from Christianity". He wants the world to understand Christ in a new perspective -- through spirituality and not through religion. Just as the Greek philosophy and Roman administration helped Christianity in its early stages of development, the Upanishadic spirituality and the Vedantic philosophy will help the Gospel of Christ to unfold its spiritual treasures. This is what, he claims, to be the purpose of this book.

An Indian face of the Christian faith will imply "a greater emphasis on a holistic vision of reality rather than on a mechanistic worldview, on an integral spirituality than on a divisive religiosity... Christian faith will have to seek and find such an Indian face in the third millennium."

The author wants the readers to understand the difference between 'Jesus', the human form and 'Christ', the Consciousness. He proffers the idea that Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, is the 'standard' for all human kind. In the Indian spiritual tradition, Jesus can be understood as the Sadguru (teacher and Lord) who can lead humanity from falsehood to truth, from darkness to light, and from death to eternal life with the power of wisdom of God manifest in him.

He quotes from Indian scriptures to drive home the point that "Christianity can find an authentic Indian face only by rebuilding itself on the eco-spiritual paradigm, which is at the core of Indian culture and spiritual traditions".

The purpose of the book, however, seems to be to present briefly the contours of his dream world, his vision of a world and its people liberated from untruth and shown the path of spirituality. For this, he finds the ideal, the spirituality, enunciated in Indian Vedas and other scriptures. In his scheme of things, India is a 'disciple nation' of God. According to him, India is called to be a 'Bharatiya Dharma Rajya', a land of Dharma (righteousness) on earth. Driven by a passionate patriotic spirit, he tells the disciples of Sadguru Jesus Christ that the historic task and divine mission entrusted to them is to make India such a land. It is with this aim in mind that the author refers to his utopian idea of 'Dharma Bharati', of all things, an India of communal harmony and inter-religious cooperation.

Keeping this mission in mind, the author builds his vision on the ideal of an 'Indian Christian Spirituality' that implies a spirituality rooted in and inspired by the 'living Spirit of Christ' that can integrate the individual, social, economic, political and ecological dimensions of human lives in this world. In his attempt to achieve this he spreads his net wide covering economy to vegetarianism to education to health and to dharma-artha-kama-moksha. He also calls for an enlightened Christian leadership to bring in the Kingdom of God on earth. This means greater sacrifice and surrender of many things.

He laments, the Christian churches even today cling on to their concept of 'original sin' and the 'fallen' nature of human beings. The Upanishads refer to humans as children of eternity. And, the 'Indian Face of the Christian Faith' attempts to juxtapose the advaita philosophy with the message that human beings are the children of God, created in his image and likeness.

The second part of the book is devoted to a variety of 'action plan for a new creation'. In this, the author spells out the establishment of a number of agencies, each one entrusted with a mission, the first one being the Disciples of Christ for Peace (DCP), which will work for 'integral peace' in the world. The DCP is registered as a Trust with the aim of rediscovering the 'precious spiritual tradition, the universal vision and holistic philosophy of India and revitalize them with the power and wisdom of God revealed by Sadguru Jesus Christ.' He has also founded a number of organisations like the Dharma Rajya Vethi, National Regeneration Movement, Dharma Bharathi Mission, etc.

This part of the book appears to be a catalogue of the organisations and programmes established by the author himself over the years to realize the vision that he claims to have occupied his mind throughout his spiritual journey.

The ideal that he professes in the book has many limitations. Perhaps, his attempts to spread out his operations outside Kerala did not succeed. He also advocates a role for Kerala in expanding his mission outside the state. Indian thinking has always stood for loving kindness and selfless action. Ramana Maharshi, Narayana Guru, Vivekananda and many others have shown this path to millions of their followers without denigrating Christianity or any other faith. In fact, all of them had upheld the relevance of Christ and his message to the modern world.

Swami Sachidananda Bharathi has a vision, but it appears too idealistic a concept that many others before him had tried with varying degrees of success.
T.N. Sushama was a newscaster with All India Radio and is now based in Bangalore
Good Times, Bad Times
  Simon Winchester  
True Stories of Vanished Times
By Harold Evans
580 pages. Little, Brown & Company. Illustrated. $27.99.

IT was a welcome boon for a hungry freelancer, and naturally I did as bidden.

The project was a classic Harry Evans stunt, of a kind told many times over (though not included) in "My Paper Chase: True Stories of Vanished Times," his intriguing yet lopsided memoir of a life in the fast-vanishing world of ink-and-paper journalism. That he at the time was no longer editing a great British national newspaper but rather Condé Nast Traveler, a grand-luxe American monthly, meant little alteration to his motivating credo.

As he writes here of his many earlier newspaper campaigns, Mr. Evans saw the governing function of journalism -- whether Linotyped onto recycled newsprint or offset onto the glossiest stock -- just as it had been laid down a century before by his great campaigning editor-hero, W. T. Stead.
This Victorian liberal figure, who died on the Titanic, believed firmly that the press should have what he called "its Argus-eyed power of inspection" preside over all the doings of humanity. And to Mr. Evans, whether those eyes were brought to bear on the corruption of a faraway tyrant, the dishonesty of a giant corporation or the indifferent quality of a vicuña topcoat made little essential difference.

Most of the tale takes place in Britain, where Mr. Evans's relentlessly inventive journalism has won him lasting and near-legendary status. Fewer than 40 of this long book's later pages are devoted to his more recent and more internationally celebrated years, where he has burrowed with teredo-like tenacity into the fabric of the New York literary establishment, with stints editing a news magazine, running the publisher Random House and producing many tombstone-size volumes.

But this lopsidedness has made the resulting autobiography, stripped of any temptation to offer up a cavalcade of Manhattan society figures, so much better than it might have been (for there is quite a tedious abundance of names dropped in those final 38 pages). Not only is it a loving homage to the joys of old-fashioned British newspapering, but it has also allowed Mr. Evans to tell at proper length stories that should now be taught as classics in journalism schools worldwide -- such as, to choose one that did much for his career, the infamous case of the Teesside Smell.

In this instance Mr. Evans spotted the potential for a good story after he arrived at his first job as an editor -- of W. T. Stead's old daily broadsheet, The Northern Echo, which had its headquarters in the old railway-birthplace-town of Darlington, 300 miles north of London. He became aware of an occasional disagreeable rankness to the local air, and it troubled him.
His olfactory epiphany came on "a perfect spring day" when Mr. Evans, with his young family, was taking his ease in a pretty village on the Yorkshire moors nearby. Suddenly the visitors were enveloped in a foul mist, a miasma reeking of stinking fish, and worse. They were shocked.

Back in town, everyone said they knew of it, but owned that it was merely an inevitable consequence of local industry -- and no bad thing either, since as Yorkshire-speak has it, "where there's muck, there's brass."

But Mr. Evans thought the smell a damaging nuisance and suspected a leak of chemicals from a particular local plant. When the firm's PR men issued a smoothly unconvincing denial, he decided on a characteristically imaginative means of disproving it: he commissioned a photographer to take a picture of the smell-carrying haze, and then ran two images -- one of crystal-clean and untainted air in a neighboring village, the other of a blanket of foully aromatic and very visible smog oozing from the plant -- side-by-side, on the front page.

The managers, busted, could do naught but readily admit the leak, and fix the problem. And Mr. Evans, imbued with a larky confidence that has never since left him, was all of a sudden a local hero well on his way to British national newspaper stardom.

I remember only too well the punishing adroitness with which he ran The Echo. My own first newspaper job was on The Journal in Newcastle, 40 miles to Darlington's north. Day after miserable day, or so it seemed, we were routinely and humiliatingly scooped by this manically energetic, devil-may-care Mancunian railway engineer's son, who managed to gather around him a stellar corps d'élite of reporters and photographers, and give them ideas for articles with which they promptly ran rings around us.

To compound the loathing personally, I was sent to take shorthand lessons in Darlington itself, with the classes held in a building right next door to Mr. Evans's imposing Victorian offices: I swore at the time I would have readily let the air out of his tires if I thought it would do any good for those of us working up on The Journal.

With experiences like this under his belt, Mr. Evans was soon to be noticed by the great and the good in London, and before long he was handed the plum job of editing The Sunday Times, a newspaper owned in kindly and tolerant manner by the Canadian millionaire Roy Thomson. The sagas over which Mr. Evans then presided -- campaigns for justice for the victims of the sedative thalidomide; the exposing of Kim Philby, Britain's former anti-Soviet spy boss, as a Soviet spy himself; searing details of the terrors of Idi Amin and of the butcheries in Bangladesh -- have long since passed into the canon of press lore.

Mr. Evans tells these stories well -- on occasion with rather more detail than American readers might care for -- but displaying all the while the rambunctious, anti-establishment, North Country willfulness for which Britain still fondly remembers him.

That he went to America in the 1980s, after Rupert Murdoch bought the Times papers and fired him, is still seen by some in Britain as a betrayal; and that he has appeared to have done so well here has rather compounded the feeling. But if Mr. Evans has been in any way affected by such mutterings, he is cheerfully not saying.

And besides, in 2004 the Queen gave him a knighthood, which suggests that, officially at least, he is thought back home to be a thoroughly good egg, someone who as the rubric of the knightly accolade has it, "is deemed to have brought honour and glory to his country."

And the suits? The Condé Nast Traveler official verdict, splashed across the magazine, held that the Savile Row suit -- which was fashioned by the tailor to Prince Charles -- was vastly inferior to the Hong Kong knockoff. The article caused a brief sensation: the tailor is no longer on Savile Row, and the Prince shops elsewhere. And thus was chalked up another small victory, both for the Argus-eyed press and for this most irrepressible of its champions. (Courtesy: The New York Times)
Simon Winchester has just completed writing "Atlantic: A Biography of the Ocean."
Life after death
  Mark Galli  
  IN his latest book, conservative commentator Dinesh D'Souza says that thanks to recent scientific discoveries (think dark matter) and new theories (think the big bang), the idea of resurrected bodies and realms like heaven and hell don't seem so outrageous. CT senior managing editor Mark Galli spoke with D'Souza about Life After Death: The Evidence (Regnery Press), and about how modern science presents no stumbling blocks for the Christian view of the afterlife.

Why do we need a book on life after death when it appears that most people believe in it?

Life after death is a universal sentiment, but in modern times and only in one civilization -- the West -- a powerful movement has risen to deny life after death. Ordinarily you could ignore the deniers because they are a small minority, but they tend to be some of the most educated people, and they appeal to the authority of knowledge and science.

This book is different in that it doesn't attempt to present what the Bible says about life after death. Rather, it's an attempt to provide secular corroboration through reason and science for what believers have affirmed by faith. There's a lot of powerful evidence, and new evidence, that shows that not only the afterlife but also the Christian conception of the afterlife can be affirmed by modern science.

What to you is the strongest argument against life after death?

There are two strong arguments. One was made most famous by Sigmund Freud. It essentially says that belief in the afterlife can be safely dismissed because it is a case of wish fulfillment. Freud distinguished between error and illusion: An error is a mistaken belief; an illusion isn't a mistaken belief, but it's a belief rooted in what you hope will be rather than what is the case. For example, if a servant girl says, "I'm going to marry a prince," is she making an error? No, because she actually could marry a prince, but it's an illusion. The chances of this are preposterously low, so it reflects her wishful thinking rather than any clear-eyed view of the facts. Freud basically said that we all have this juvenile desire to survive our deaths, so we made up this idea.

So how would you refute Freud's argument?

Heaven is a place where you live forever, and there's no suffering or pain. Wish fulfillment does fit the notion of the adult Disneyland. But what about hell? Hell is actually a lot worse than what we endure in life -- sickness, even death -- because while death is just the end, hell is eternal separation from God. It would be dubious for a group of people who are trying to make up a better life to compensate for the difficulties of this one by inventing the idea of hell. In other words, when you look at what religions actually believe about the afterlife, the wish fulfillment thesis doesn't hold up very well.

What is the second strong argument against life after death?

The argument that insists that science has searched for the soul, some ghostly immaterial part of us, and has found nothing. What we call immaterial things -- our thoughts, our emotions -- are extensions of material objects in our brains, and when the material objects disintegrate, the rest of us goes with them.

So how would you answer that?

In Plato's Phaedo, Socrates argues that human beings are made up of two kinds of stuff. We're made up of material stuff -- arms, veins, legs -- but we're also made up of immaterial stuff like feelings and ideas. Socrates argues that the body does deteriorate and perish, but that the soul -- the immaterial stuff -- lives on.

The materialist agenda can be reduced to the idea that the mind is simply a manifestation of the brain. But there are actually a number of things that are true of the mind that are not true of the brain. The greatest neuroscientist looking into my head wouldn't have the slightest clue what my mind was thinking. Second, the brain has innumerable physical attributes, but the mind has no weight, no dimensions. Finally, you can't be wrong about your mind. For example, if you have an itch, you are the world's expert on your own itch. Just because mental events and brain events are correlated doesn't mean that the brain is the cause of mental events.

You say that there is new evidence for life after death.

The Christian view is that when we die, our souls are reunited to incorruptible, resurrected bodies, and that we live forever in another realm, heaven or hell. It's a pretty incredible assertion, because if the Christian view of the afterlife is viable, there must be other matter and other realms.

If we lived 200 years ago in Newton's time, all of this would seem impossible because space and time stretch indefinitely backward and forward, so what it meant to be outside of time was very hard to articulate. Also, it was hard to posit any other kind of matter.
But revolutionary discoveries in the past 25 years suggest that there is dark matter and dark energy that make up 95 per cent of all the matter in the universe. All materialist generalizations about matter are immediately rendered partial, because how can you claim to know something if you've seen only 5 per cent of it?

How might science explain heaven and hell as places that could exist?

Scientists now posit through string theory the presence of multiple realms, multiple dimensions. One of the implications of the big bang is that space and time had a beginning, and that space and time are properties of our universe. If that's true, then outside our universe or beyond our universe, there would be different laws of space and time, or no space and no time.
The idea that our universe may not be the only one and that there may be other universes operating according to different laws is now coming into the mainstream of modern physics. So the Christian concept of eternity, which is God outside of space and time, is rendered completely intelligible. It opens up possibilities that would have seemed far-fetched even for science fiction a century ago.

What is the role of this kind of apologetics in convincing someone to become a Christian?

Apologetics is a very powerful tool, but it's ultimately janitorial. Many people encounter obstacles to the faith. Think of the Christian, for example, who loses a relative and is assailed by the question, Why did God allow that? Even the believer can be haunted by difficulties that get in the way of building a relationship with God.

Apologetics can come in and help to make important distinctions and clarify some of the difficulties. You are doing no more than clearing away debris that blocks the door to faith, and ultimately it is God's love that has to work its way into a heart. Conversion ultimately comes from that; apologetics only clears the driveway. (Courtesy: Christianity Today)
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