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THE INDIANIZATION OF CHRISTIANITY 



ANGUS STEWART WOODBURNE 
Kumool, India 



In Christianizing the Hellenic world of the first few Chris- 
tian centuries, Christianity became pretty largely Hellenized, 
especially in its apologetic and dogmatic formulas. For- 
tunately for the Christians of Graeco-Roman culture, those 
who introduced them to Christianity did not introduce the 
new faith in the form of creeds and dogmas. The missionaries 
to that world were men of contagious faith and heroic adven- 
ture, whose lives were joined by vital links to Jesus Christ. 
Their contribution to the Hellenic world was a living religion 
of redemption, and not a system of theology. 

But the Christianity that emerged from the Mediterranean 
world of the Graeco-Roman age was quite a different religion. 
Dr. Hatch in his Hibbert Lectures on the influence of Greek ideas 
on Christianity has lucidly unfolded the tremendous change 
between the Christianity of the Sermon on the Mount and the 
Christianity of the Nicene Creed. This difference is expUcable 
in terms of the Hellenic social environment into which the 
new faith came, early in its history. It was only to be expected 
that the Greeks would interpret Jesus and the religion of 
Jesus through the media of their current religious and philo- 
sophical imagery. And it is to the everlasting credit of the 
Greek Fathers that their critical work was so constructive 
that it met the needs of the day. The question remains: 
Do we do them justice or do we deal justice to the constructive 
Christian thinking of the subsequent centuries if we attempt 
to make their formulations normative for all time ? 

There is always constructive Christian thought in process. 
It is psychologically necessary that such thinking be in terms 
of the imagery of the environment, chronological and social. 

66 



THE INDIANIZATION OF CHRISTIANITY 67 

It is the glory of the Christian faith that it is always so vitaliz- 
ing that strong men feel the urge to interpret its great facts, 
especially its greatest fact, Jesus Christ, in terms of the current 
philosophy of life. This is one of the reasons that its redemp- 
tive influence continues throughout the ages to suffice for 
peoples of varying molds of thought. 

The prophets of power are those who have spoken as with 
the voice of God the Christian message as it related itself to a 
living situation. So the author of the Fourth Gospel, and 
Clement and Origen of Alexandria became prophets to the 
Hellenic civilization. So Augustine bore a prophetic message 
to Imperial Rome. So Anselm arose like a seer to the culture 
of medieval Europe. So Thomas Aquinas uttered the 
message for the day when Aristotehanism was revived in the 
latter Middle Ages. So Martin Luther became the prophet 
of the Reformation. So John Calvin vocalized the prophetic 
message for nationaUstic Europe. So Horace Bushnell spoke 
with the prophet's voice to the dawning democratic spirit. 
And in the same way others are becoming prophets of the 
Christian life to the newly awakened social consciousness. 

May we not take it as significant of the vitalizing, redemp- 
tive power of our religion that the keener minds among the 
converts to Christianity in countries to which the missionary 
has gone are jealous of a similar opportunity? The mis- 
sionary is at best a stranger in a strange cultural environment. 
Sometimes his task takes him among people whose culture is 
decidedly primitive. At other times he finds himself planted 
on the soil of an environment with a culture with greater 
claims to antiquity than his own. In any case he comes 
among the new peoples, the heir to a wealth of social imagery 
that has supplied the tools for all of his past religious thinking, 
but which is foreign in many respects to the thought processes 
of his new neighbors and friends. He cannot escape the 
disadvantage of clothing his message in intellectual molds 
other than those common to his hearers. In spite of an 



68 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

overwhelming desire to do full justice to the gospel which he 
bears, in his hands it invariably presents some aspects of a 
foreign religion. It is for this reason, that the missionar}' 
enterprise is increasingly being realized as the task of building 
up strong churches with intelligent leaders, native to the soil 
and the culture, so that the religion of Jesus ma}- assume a 
more indigenous character everywhere. 



Each country' or social group presents problems pecuUar 
to itself. In India one of the problems is created by the 
widely divided social strata of the people It is not the mere 
division into the classes and the masses. Nor is it the division 
between capital and labor. The caste system is more than 
social; it is more than economic. Its roots are deeply imbedded 
in an ancient histor>% and its fibers are inextricably interwov'en 
with religious strands. Moreover it has been traditional to 
confine the chief cultural advantages to those belonging 
to the "higher" castes, and to deny such advantages to 
those of the "lower" castes or to the non-caste peoples. One 
result is that one may find within the precincts of a single 
village men of culture and mental acumen and others scarcely 
beyond the stage of primitivity. 

It is of no small significance that the majority of the 
converts to the Christian faith have been from the depressed 
and backward classes. It is not my place to discuss at this 
point the particular phase of Christianity that has proved 
most attractive to these peoples. The point to be noted is 
that, until they were given greater cultural advantages than 
they had enjoyed hitherto, they were not in a position to 
make much contribution to the task of rendering an Indian 
interpretation of their new faith. Now that we are getting 
to the third and fourth generation of Christians in some 
localities, the situation is rapidly changing. Christians, whoSe 
forefathers a few generations ago were the victims of a system 



THE INDIANIZATION OF CHRISTIANITY 69 

that gave them few of the advantages of education, are today 
graduating and graduated from the various colleges of general 
and technical learning throughout the land. 

There is the added fact that, though less common, there is 
a good number of Christians from caste commxmities who 
bring with them to their adopted faith the heritage of their 
ancient civilization. In many cases the thought processes 
have been more active and the emotional element less promi- 
nent than in the case of the conversions from the backward 
classes. Hinduism has very little to offer the non-caste man. 
So when the claims of Christianity are presented, he has to 
choose between the traditional religion which proposes to 
perpetuate his disadvantages and the new faith which promises 
amelioration for his wrongs and a democracy of spiritual 
privileges. It is somewhat different with the caste man. He 
and his ancestors, for millenniums perhaps, have been in the 
enjoyment of the rights and privileges of Hinduism. When 
he becomes a Christian he does so because he has deliberated 
and reached the conclusion that the new religion has more to 
satisfy his felt needs than the old. The psychological process 
in the conversion experience of the average caste man has 
included more of the cognitive element than in the experience 
of the average non-caste man. 

My personal observation is that Indian leadership is 
decidedly more prominent in the Indian church than it was 
when 1 first came to India fourteen years ago. And I may 
add that Indian Christians have grown immensely in the 
capacity for leadership during these years. This is as it 
should be. It indicates the dawning of the day when the 
Indian people will lead not simply in the formal matters of 
church government, liturgy, and ceremonial, but also in the 
more spiritual affairs of interpretation and evaluation. 
Already some of the leaders are impatient for the withdrawal 
of foreign influence in the person of the missionary. And 
the wisdom of the mission societies is being evidenced where 



70 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

they are studying the most practical and serviceable ways 
of giving the Indian church a larger share in the control and 
direction of Christian propagandism. It is not enough that 
the foreign influence shoidd formulate plans and provide the 
money, inviting the Indian to help carry the schemes to 
fruition. He must be given an increasing share in the formu- 
lation of the plans which he is invited to realize. 

II 

The Christianizing of India will involve an Indianizing of 
Christianity, as surely as the Christianizing of the Graeco- 
Roman world involved the Hellenizing of Christianity. It is 
undeniable that India has as much right to interpret the 
world and to interpret Jesus as Hellenism had. The truth is 
that India is going to make her own interpretations whether 
the West likes or dislikes it. Surely Western Christendom 
should welcome the process as the harbinger of a day of larger 
significance for Jesus to the life and culture of the Orient. 

We must all admit that the experience of God in human 
life, the consciousness of moral deUnquency, the realization 
of salvation, and the redemptive influence of Jesus are facts 
too large to be confined within the logical categories of any 
human group. It is not a token of decadence but a sign of 
vitality that men are continually making new statements, 
new interpretations, and new evaluations in terms of the 
prevailing social consciousness. It is because Christianity 
is a religion of redemption and not simply a philosophy of 
religion or a system of dogma that men are never content to 
accept someone else's theory as doing justice to their own 
experiences. The reaUty of the matter is that all of these 
facts are transcendent facts, refusing to be confined to any 
definitions or theories, be they never so logically devised. The 
best that we can bring of mental as weU as spiritual vigor to 
the task of realizing the meaning and worth of Jesus is all too 
little honor for that peerless life which we would proclaim as 
the world's Redeemer. 



THE INDIANIZATION OF CHRISTIANITY 71 

The psychology of the Indian religious consciousness is 
not easy for the West to appreciate. The imagery with 
which the thought processes of the Indian people proceed is 
so dififerent from that of Westerners that we do not realize 
its significance without years of observation and study, and 
even then not fully. For this reason it is imperative for the 
future of the Christian religion that its presentation be by 
Indians for Indians. 

I. In the first place the Indian mind responds more readily 
to parables than to syllogisms. Even the philosophic argu- 
ments abound in similes and metaphors. To many of the 
people an apt illustration is much more convincing and con- 
stitutes a more valid proof than any logical or mathematical 
deductions. For that reason the man with a ready wit in 
drawing parallels, which appeal as symbohc of the case that he 
is attempting to establish, is likely to be more successful in 
gaining assent to his arguments than one who proceeds in 
cold logic from premise to conclusion. 

It is only necessary to be reminded of one or two of the 
most common similes to appreciate this phase of the Indian 
consciousness. One of the more frequent figures is stated 
somewhat thus: As all rivers flow eventually into the ocean, 
so all religions have their common goal in God. This is the 
usual method of evading the question of deciding between 
the relative merits of two religions. With others it is a sincere 
conviction that it matters not what one's reUgion may be, all 
of them being varying modes of worshiping the one God. 

Another simile which is to be found frequently in the 
philosophic Uterature is one that is used in connection with 
the doctrine of mayd or illusion. This doctrine is a tenet of 
the monistic Vedantism of Sankaracharya the leading school 
of philosophy among Indian thinkers today. It teaches the 
identity of the individual soul (dtman) with the world-soul 
{brahman), and claims that the sense of the plurality of phe- 
nomena is only illusory. The simile is stated somewhat as 



72 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

follows: The perception of the not-self as distinct from the 
self is an illusion by virtue of ignorance, just as a man walking 
in the dark sees a rope^ and thinks it to be a snake. Sankara 
puts it: "Just as, by illusion, one ignores the rope and per- 
ceives the serpent, so does he of deluded intellect perceive 
the universe without realizing the truth. " 

Illustrations of this kind might be multipUed by references 
to the literature of India. They are of a piece with a poetic 
temperament which is quite characteristic of the people. The 
mines of poetic lore are only beginning to be explored by the 
world at large. There is not only the Sanskrit hterature, but 
the Pali, and the literatures of the many vernaculars which 
abound in thoughts, mostly religious and largely poetic. Nor 
is the tendency confined to the past. It is in evidence very 
conspicuously i,mong the thoughtful people of the present day. 

2. In the second place, the Indian mind responds more 
readily to the idealistic than to the empirical method of 
thought. That is to say, there is a stronger tendency to posit 
a philosophy of life on the basis of a carefully reasoned system, 
than to find one's way to it through the maze of experience. 
That is not to say that there have not been and are not empiri- 
cists among Indian philosophers. The suggestion is rather 
that idealism is preponderant. ' 

There are six systems of philosophy that may lay claim 
to orthodoxy. On the other hand there were two systems 
evolved which were regarded as heretical, and these developed 
in time into distinct religions, viz., Buddhism and Jainism. 
Of all these, the one system which is most empirical — Bud- 
dhism — is a heresy. As has been already indicated, the sys- 
tem which has won the largest number of followers is Vedantism, 
and that especially in the form of monistic ideaUsm as out- 
lined by Sankara. 

The language adopted by many of the educated community, 
when using EngUsh as a medium of expression, is the language 
of ideahsm. God is spoken of as the Absolute, the Eternal 



THE INDIANIZATION OF CHRISTIANITY 73 

Being, the Infinite Being, the Imperishable, the Soul of the 
Universe, etc. Then all gods are spoken of as many mani- 
festations of the universal Soul. And all religions are modes 
of worship and service directed to the Infinite. 

The picture of man is also more idealistic than scientific. 
The results of anthropology and kindred sciences which give 
us the story of the human race from lowly cultural beginnings, 
and the progress made toward civilization are neglected or 
ignored. The Vedantic idealist portrays the history of man- 
kind as one of regress instead of progress, the ideal man 
and the ideal caste being the Brahman of Indian lore, conceived 
in terms of unworldliness and divine wisdom. The salvation 
of the Hindu race or indeed of the world thus consists in the 
realization of the divinity within the soul of the individual. 

These illustrations of the idealistic trend of thought 
indicate one phase of the Indian philosophic and religious 
temperament. The problem is yet open for solution: Is it 
possible to accomplish a synthesis of Christianity and Indian 
philosophic thought, even as Thomas Aquinas did in the case 
of Aristotelianism and the Christian faith ? 

3. A third observation in regard to the Indian religious 
consciousness is that it is inclined to be mystical and con- 
templative. The ideal of mysticism is a hfe of ineffable com- 
munion with or union with God. In pantheistic systems such 
as we find in Brahmanism and Buddhism, this communion 
with God usually is interpreted by the idea of absorption. 
In Brahmanic philosophy there is no thought more prevalent 
than the idea of the absorption {samadhi) of the individual 
soul (aiman) in the cosmic soul {brahman}. This is the goal 
of all striving, the sine qua non for the attainment of bliss 
{moksha). The philosophies of religion are interested in how 
the obstacles to that end are to be overcome, and the possible 
means of fulfilling that aim. 

Now the Hindu position in regard to redemption is em- 
bodied in the desire for release from karma and samsdra 



74 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

(metempsychosis) . The various schemes for attaining salvation 
all have for their ultimate aim the release from transmigration 
through the overcoming of karma. The mystical element 
comes to the fore in the yoga mdrga or way of asceticism. 
The word "yoga" means yoking, and refers to steadfast 
contemplation (dhydna) by the mind on things mystical or 
divine, as e.g., on the mystic syllable, Om. It encourages 
bodily asceticism (tapas), suggesting either abstention from 
works or else the performance of works without any thought 
of a possible reward. 

This doctrine is largely responsible for the large number of 
religious mendicants that are to be found throughout India. 
The ascetic ideal is one which gains very ready honor among 
the Indian peoples. Even this summary statement of the 
yoga doctrine should serve as an explanation of the fact. 
Many of the most saintly characters have been ascetics so 
that Indian religious history abounds in names that all have 
been taught to hold in reverence, if not to worship. 

Ill 

Can the gospel of Jesus Christ be interpreted so as to 
appeal to the Indian consciousness? Is it possible to form 
a compact between Christianity and the social mind of India ? 
That is the problem that besets the representatives of the 
Christian faith in India. We must lament that as yet no 
great progress has been made in that direction. But the fact 
that the need for such service is being felt, especially by the 
Indian Christian leadership of today, is promising for some 
constructive attempts in the near future. 

One expression of Indianized Christianity is to be seen in 
the South Indian United Church, in which the Christians of 
several Protestant bodies have formed an organic imion. 
The fact that even the Episcopal and Syrian Christian bodies 
are wiUing to discuss plans whereby they would unite with 
other churches is evidence of the fact that the Indian church 



THE INDIANIZATION OF CHRISTIANITY 75 

would have little mind to perpetuate the denominational 
distinctions of Western Christianity, if the latter influence 
were withdrawn. 

Another expression of Christianity in an Indian garb is 
seen in the Christian Sadhu movement. Here we witness the 
attempt to link the Christian life to the yoga ideal. Its most 
outstanding example is seen in the person of Sadhu Sunder 
Singh, the Christian Sadhu who is so well known and loved in 
India, because he expresses the religion of Jesus after the 
Indian ideal of a holy life. His recent visits to England and 
America have given those lands an opportunity to appreciate 
Indian idealism. 

The needs of today in this direction are profound. There 
is need for poets who will give the Indian church a hymnology 
that will be both Indian and Christian. There is need for 
artists who wiU interpret Christianity in music and painting 
in accordance with Indian ideals. There is need for architects 
who will give the Indian church a temple for social worship, 
both Indian and Christian. There is need for men of thought 
and piety to develop a liturgy both Indian and Christian. 
And finally there is need for men of learning and Christian 
experience to give to India an interpretation of Christianity 
in the social imagery of the land. In the words of the editor 
of the Christian Patriot, an Indian Christian journal: 

If we desire to commend Christianity to India, we must have at 
the back of it a new Christian experience, as new as St. Paul's was to 
the Apostolic Church, and possibly as militant. This red-hot experience 
must be cast into the moulds fashioned by the genius of India during the 
ages, kept ready for use in the religious and metaphysical speculations 
of our spiritual ancestors whose blood runs in our veins. Then only 
will the Great Lord be satisfied with the true Gitanjill of His bhaktas 
in this land.