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Th Biblical worldview
  By A.J. Philip  
  WHICH book impacted the world civilization the most? Which is that book for which the printing press was invented? Which is the most translated book in the world? Which book is the all-time bestseller in the world? Which is the book portions of which are considered sacred by three major religions of the world? Which is that book holding a copy of which can land the possessor in prison in some countries? Which book contributed maximum idioms and phrases to the English language?

I can fill up the space for this article by asking dozens of such questions for which the answer is the same, "The Bible", which literally means "The Book". Instead, I would try to explain how the Bible impacted the world civilization during the two millennia with the help of my friend Vishal Mangalwadi's "Missionary Conspiracy" (Good Books).

Nearly two decades ago, I met a Bible translator in the jungles of Arunachal Pradesh. The Catholic priest, who had already translated Catechism into that tribal language, was busy finalising the translation of the New Testament, when I met him at a makeshift church on the state's border. But before attempting any translation work, he had to prepare a lexicon in that language. Thus, what first emerged was the first dictionary in that language, followed by Catechism and the New Testament, the first books in that language.

What is true about the language spoken by the people of Arunachal Pradesh is also true about many major languages of India, nay the world. Today the world has become a global village, where complex ideas can travel around the planet instantly and be understood cross-culturally. "This is substantially a result of the Herculean efforts of the Bible translators, who went to the remote corners of the earth at great personal costs, and transformed primitive dialects into literary languages, capable of transmitting learning, knowledge, international understanding and the highest ideals of civilization".

This happened because the Bible postulates a God who speaks, putting a high premium on human languages. In their effort to translate the Bible into as many languages as possible, the translators of the Bible became the foremost champions of the science of linguistics. It is this worldview that forced William Carey, a British cobbler, to violate the British law and come to India in 1793. He chose to settle down in Serampore, one of the most inhospitable places, not because he fell for the charms of the big mosquitoes and reptiles that lived in the marshy area but because it was under Danish, not British, control.

His labours triggered off the movement of translating and publishing the Bible into hundreds of Oriental languages, many of which did not have any grammar or dictionaries or literature. Carey and Company not only translated the Bible but also the literary riches which existed in those languages. Today you and I can read many of the sacred books of the Hindus like the Vedas and the Upanishads only because of the translation movement started by the Serampore missionaries.

In any other culture, the translators would have been honoured. Here they are just footnotes, if at all they figure in the big narratives. Like the Catholic priest I met, they prefer to remain undercover. But the truth remains, all the first dictionaries and books of grammar in almost all Indian languages, whether Malayalam or Hindi or Punjabi, were written by Christian missionaries. But for them many of the languages like Manipuri and Assamese would have died by now.

Not many remember that Carey also set up several small schools in Serampore. It is not that education was not valued in India before the missionaries came. But it was reserved for some. The Eklavyas were not allowed to learn and even if they managed to learn, they were prevented from making use of it. While Christian missionaries set up schools and hospitals in India, rich Hindus set up temples all over the world. It was the belief that truth could be taught that gave birth to the university movement in the West.

In India, the defining event in pre-Independence period was not the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, as many claim, but the setting up of the universities in the principal cities of the country which helped instil in the people a sense of nationalism that resulted in the formation of the Indian National Congress. "Kerala became the most literate state in India because the Malayalam word for school, Pallikoodam, means "next to the church". A church was not considered complete if no school was associated with it.

It was the Biblical worldview which created the institution of the Press. It began in the 16th century Britain when the Puritans began publishing tracts to question the religious practices enforced on the people by the state and the church. In India, it began at Serampore where William Carey brought out the "Friend of India" in 1818. In the first issue of the paper, he wrote an editorial attacking the system of sati practised in the country. The pioneers of journalism were all missionaries. In the whole of 19th century, the Indian peasant had no voice other than the missionary's. Is it any wonder that the first journals in all Indian languages were started by the missionaries?

I had an occasion to visit the jail in Pretoria where Mahatma Gandhi was imprisoned. Today it is a museum. On the desk Gandhi used was a well-thumbed Bible. Now the question, from where did he get the idea that it was moral for an individual to disobey the legally constituted authority of the government? The concepts of human rights, respect for individual liberty and creativity, entrepreneurship and the like have their origin in the Bible.

Monogamy is now the norm in most countries. Neither Hindu, nor Jewish, nor Buddhist, nor Muslim civilization has been able to have monogamy as the norm. The very first chapter of the Bible suggests that a fuller image of the Triune God can be found in "man" as "male and female" with the possibility of having children. It is the security, provided by monogamy, which empowers a woman. In other words, the Bible is responsible for making monogamy the norm in India and elsewhere.

Again, the rule of law is the norm the world over. This concept, too, came from the Bible. A few years ago the American magazine Time had a cover story on Moses. He was described as one of the greatest leaders of the world. He, in fact, liberated a people enslaved, without violence and transformed them into the mightiest nation of that time. He could have used the two tablets to chronicle his achievements. Instead, he put on those tablets God's law for mankind, to be read and followed by his successors who wished to rule Israel.

The above Biblical mindset set in motion the modern ideas of human equality, dignity and individual rights replacing the ideas of the Divine Right of Kings with the idea, summed up by Samuel Rutherford in Lex Rex (Law is King).
Democracy was tried and rejected in pre-Christian Greek city-states. Plato called it the worst of all political systems. What then caused its resurrection in the second millennium? It is the Bible. Scholars inspired by the Bible like Rutherford argued for democracy. One such scholar is James Harrington. His book, "The Commonwealth of Oceana", sowed the seeds of two legislative chambers from which we got the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha. The use of the ballot in general elections was also his idea.

Innumerable are the ways in which the Bible has influenced and continue to influence India. The other day, when a young swami thrust into my hand a tract containing verses from the Gita, I remembered my school teacher, who gave up teaching to do precisely that, printing and distributing Biblical verses in the form of tracts. Today, the detractors of Christianity try to use the same methods used by the missionaries of yore to spread the word of God. Whoever had said that imitation is the best form of flattery could not have put it better.
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The writer is a senior journalist and member of the St. James Mar Thoma Church, Dwarka, New Delhi. He can be reached at ajphilip@gmail.com

Courtesy: Dharma Jyoti Vidyapeeth
 
   
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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