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Senin, 14 Januari 2013

ALOYSIUS PIERIS’ LIBERATION CHRISTOLOGY OF RELIGIONS AND THE INDONESIAN CONTEXT OF RELIGIOUS PLURALISM



a.      Introduction
Religious pluralism is one of our contexts today. This awareness, from Christian perspective, has been arisen since the Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions produced in the Second Vatican Council[1]. From such a moment, Christianity has been trying to change their ways of thinking, as formulated in its doctrines and teachings, and also of acting toward the non–Christian communities. All the efforts to give the other’s place and freedom as equal religions as well as Christianity rooted, or at least began from and in it. The spirit of religious pluralism has been growing until now, not only within Christian circumstance but also outside it through many other scholars from non-Christian backgrounds.
For the sake of religious pluralism, many Christian theologians develop a kind of universal theology and also revisiting some old concepts of God, Christ, and even Church which, according to them, are explicitly exclusive. They strongly emphasize the role of “theos” over the other particular figures and immediately redirecting it in the frame of liberation, rather than focusing to these figures because, for them, it will lead to particular exclusivism. Perhaps for such a reason, John Hick rejects the doctrine of incarnation or even other Christology concepts developed by Christianity. In the pluralistic world, this Christology is also debated, and for most pluralists, it should be responsible for religious exclusivism because of the claim that Christ is the true revelation of God, and consequently, it should be revisited or even removed from Christian doctrines[2]. I.W.J. Hendriks writes that based on that assumption many Christian theologians like Hick, see that Christianity, particularly its Christology of incarnation is the source of current religious conflicts[3].
I agree that our Christology (including concept of incarnation) is ambiguous, because in the one hand it is exclusive if it is literally conceived without in depth study to investigate what its meaning really is. Moreover, this character should be understood as something which is unique and particular that cannot be found in other faiths. On the other hand, such a concept can contribute something which is positive to construct and to support interreligious life, but once again, depending very much on how we interpret it. So, my point here is that Hick’s concept seems to be overwhelming and has to be revisited, because (i) many other conflicts have nothing to do with Christianity, much less incarnation concept, and (ii) Christological concept itself contains liberation ideas which can be brought together with the others.
In this context, I am interest at Aloysius Pieris’s concept of Christology. He tries to show that Christology can contribute something to the theology of religions as principle for building dialogue as a means to religions encounter, especially for Christian – Buddhism dialogue. Therefore, I will begin by giving some notes about Pieris’s life and his own contexts which influenced him very much, then focusing on his efforts to use some concepts of Buddhology to explain Jesus, certainly to construct his liberation Christology of religions. This will be my main concern within this writing. I will focus to the issue of liberation in order to see its contribution to theology of religions, because as what has been stated by Paul Knitter, both liberation and religion theologians are needed each other, because of two reasons at least; both are concern with the issue of liberation and striving for socio-political transformation, and the context of religions today is poverty[4]. At last, I am going to see how Pieris’s Christological concept is applicable to Indonesian religious pluralism context today.

b.      Alyosius Pieris and his Contexts
Aloysius Pieris is the famous Asian theologian from Sri Lanka. He was born in 1934 from Catholic family. He spent his educations in Christian educational institutions and got his bachelor degree in Theology, Sacrae Theologiae Lector, from Faculty of Theology in Napoli in 1961 before four years later he was ordained as Catholic priest. Nevertheless, he also studied secular sciences such as Pali and Sanskrit Literatures at the University of London and Music Studies in Venetia. Growing up in the midst of Buddhist community in Sri Lanka, which is the largest religion here, made him aware that studying, or at least be acquainted with this tradition became important. This was for working effectively as priest in his own father land. Working together with them would be very helpful for him. This awareness leaded him to study Buddhology at the University of Sri Lanka and was the first Christian doctor in Philosophy of Buddhology after graduation in 1972. He then established The Center for Research and Encounter, named TULANA. He was the director of this institute whose intention is to support harmonious relationship between Buddhism and Christianity. He is now a Professor in Asian Religions in East Asian Pastoral Institute in Manila. He is always invited as visiting lecture at Cambridge University, Union Theology, Graduate Theological Union, etc., but also speaking in many international and regional seminars on religions[5].
Vitus Rabianto clearly shows that Pieris gives much attention not only to the issues about Christianity and Buddhism relationship, but also goes beyond that when putting liberation as the crucial issue in his theology construction. His ideas about these two important themes are influenced by his experiences and participations within the society. Rubianto, by quoting Deane William Ferm shows that there were at least two dominant contexts Pieris faced at that time. Firstly, that is the tension between Buddhism and Christianity. For most Buddhists, Christianity was treatment for them, because of the “superiority syndrome” shown by Christian missionaries who wanted to convert Buddhist to be Christian. Consequently, there was hatred among each other. It was also reason why Pieris had ever been rejected by some Buddhist scholars when applied to study Buddhology at the University of Sri Lanka. But finally, he was allowed, or accepted, as student after convincing them that he had not any hidden agenda as a Christian for studying Buddhology, but on the contrary, he really wanted to do so because of the awareness that this tradition could be partner for Christianity, particularly to struggle together for facing social injustice and poverty in Asia, especially in Sri Lanka. Secondly, as I currently mentioned above, social injustice and poverty were dominant Sri Lankan problems. After proclamation as an independent republic country in 1972, the government got in touch with Buddhist leaders, or Buddhism as a religion in common, to controlled land and wealth, or natural resources of the country (read: citizens). This had political and economic motives. The government and this religious institution had benefited them for their own profits, rather than giving priority to empowering the poor, bringing equality to the discriminated, strengthening the weak, and liberating the oppressed toward a “social justice”. It then brought about critics coming from a number of young people, especially students, who were disappointed with the Government and Buddhism, and immediately interested at Marxism[6]. In this context, Pieris endeavored to build communication with this youth movement and he himself was enlightened through that dialogue, that Christianity had not any difference with both secular and religious institutions whose orientations were not focusing to liberation, exactly social justice for the whole community without any religious borders, but on the contrary, for their own importance.
These two contexts, multi religiosity and poverty, are representative for Asian reality. A. A.Yewangoe, too, has shown that how both realities color Asian face. According to him, the majority of Asian nations are poor, and that is why many Asian countries are categorized as the developing countries, or the third world. He also quotes Fernando Nimelka who indicates that almost 80% Asian workers are poor[7]. He adds, religious pluralism is also Asian fact. In this context, Pieris tries to construct theology, especially Christology, which covers these two contexts from Christian perspective that, at last, can provide something to bridge both problems. This will be elaborated in the following explanations. To conclude this part, I want to say that these two realities are the starting point to understand Pieris’ thoughts, particularly his concept of Christology.

c.       Gautama and Jesus as the Mediators of Liberation
Pieris in his many writings tries to dialogize the concept of Christology and Buddhology. Before explaining how he gives place for Jesus in Buddhology, I think that it is important to see how that tradition understands Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, in order to find some similarities between them. Pieris shows that, for most Buddhists, Gautama is interpreted and called in many titles, including Buddha, mahapurisa (supreme person), mahavira (great hero), purisuttama and naruttama (the most exalted of humans), mahajuti (the brilliant), vinayaka (leader), purisa damma sarathi (trainer of tameable humans), sarathinam varuttamo (the most excellent of guides), and lokanatha (lord of the universe). Buddhahood is also conceived as ‘prajna’, the pleroma of gnosis and ‘karuna’, agape, so that one can easily understand that he is also arahan (the worthy one) and bhagavan (the blessed one). The former emphasizes his existence over the world and the latter is to describe his role in liberation. Most of Gautama titles which indicate his Buddhahood implying his transcendental and humanity at once. These both aspects could also be found in traditional Christian doctrine of Jesus[8].
For Asian Buddhists now, Buddha has to be seen in his soteriological role. His godhead cannot be understood apart of his worldly participation for social and political justice. Pieris states that Buddha’s cosmic lordship would lead him to be socio-political transformer. For instance, Dalit Sahitya (literature of the oppressed) describes him so as below:

“Siddharta
Never do I see you
In the Jetavaa
Sitting in the Lotus position
With your eyes closed
Or in the caves of Ajanta and Werule
With your stony lips touching
Sleeping your final sleep
I see you
Speaking and walking
Amongst the humble and the weak
Soothing away grief
In the life threatening darkness
With torch in hand
Going from hovel to hovel
Today you wrote a new page
Of the Tripitaka
You have reaveal the
New Meaning of the suffering
Which like an epidemic
Swallows life’s blood”[9]

The ways how Gautama has been portrayed are also same with the portraits of Jesus in Christian doctrines using cosmic languages. Pieris refers to Paul who preached and confessed Jesus to be the Lord of creation whom all beings in heaven, on earth, and in hell adore in fear and trembling (Phil.2:6-11), Christ is the head of all cosmic forces (Col.2:10). In other words, he is at once the metacosmic power and cosmic mediator because in him the whole of existence – in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible – is recapitulated and reconciled (Col.1:15-16)[10].
The most common idea between Jesus and Gautama, according to Pieris, is their roles as the mediators of Liberation. Christ, for some Buddhist scholars, is seen as someone who is on the way to Buddhahood, but not Buddha himself, because he also plays roles as Liberator.

d.      Pieris’s Liberation Christology of Religions
Although for Pieris there is a kind of similarity between Gautama and Jesus, as seen by many Buddhists, but the distinction between both could not be denied. Both are the mediators of liberation (or liberators), but Jesus, for him as a Christian, still has a unique role that cannot be found in many other traditions, including Buddhism. This is the starting point, or the foundation to develop a kind of Liberation Christology of Religions[11].
Pieris sees that “Jesus is the God’s defense pact with the poor”, not by mere words but by actively joining God’s own defense of the poor[12]. He comes and stands for the sake of them. Knitter has elaborated this argument critically. According to him, Pieris develops his idea of Jesus by grounding that on the concept of Basileia tou Theou, that the heart and axis of Jesus’ message is the reign or kingdom of God. This leads Pieris to put his attention for the central point of the Kingdom of God that is the good news to the poor. So that the reality of Jesus is the reality of the covenant between YHWH and the poor, the reality of God who has a particular love and concern for people who have been victimized, exploited, and rendered powerless by the powerful[13]. That when Jesus has appeared in the world, it happened for any reason that God showed his participation together with the poor and the oppressed through Jesus. Therefore, the reason for the coming of Jesus was the poor! Jesus would not come, if the poor were not concerned by God the Father. Jesus, who brings the Good News (euanggelion), or the Good News itself, is the manifestation of God’s promise (epaggelia) for the poor. Knitter says that this idea should be understood in its historical context that is a context in which the good news of Jesus was discovered to be the fulfillment of God’s promise in the covenant[14]. In this light, we might say that incarnation of Jesus, the reality refused by Hick for the sake of pluralism, is indeed exclusive, but its exclusivity is on its tendency to prior those who are poor, rather than forcing the other to be Christian.
Pieris, according to Knitter, puts the core on the idea of Jesus’ suffering on the Cross in Calvary. God fulfills his promise in “Christ on Calvary”, in “Christ crucified and risen”. Jesus was allowed to be crossed in order to experience suffering, thus it was God who was suffered. The cross was also the climax of Jesus’ ministry to the poor. When Jesus dies, it is the death of God who dies with the victims or the poor in order to die for the victims or the poor. Therefore, suffering on the cross was God’s process of self-identification with the poor[15]. This is the solidarity of God. So, Christian mission is to share this Crucified God’s solidarity or friendship with the poor, a friendship which led him to lay down his life for them (Jn. 15:13). To know and accept the God whom Jesus announces, therefore, one must not only choose to be poor in sense of being detached from self-seeking greed, but also opt for and stand with, and be ready to suffer with and for, those who have not chosen, but have been forced to be poor.[16] So that concern, participation and identification with the victims of the world are the important categories.
Through this Pieris also speaks of the irreconcilable antimony between God and mammon. He then identifies mammon with human attitude of greed, which is the causal factor of the enforced or involuntarily poverty. So, to fight this kind of poverty, one should be a volunteer in order to fight with those who are involuntarily poor. This is the spirituality of Jesus, the spirituality that Pieris feels, is not shared by the non-biblical religions, or is conspicuously absent in the scriptures of other religions[17].
What has been stated by Pieris has indeed invited critic coming from many other theologians, including Buddhists (Rita Gross and Thich Nhat Hanh), as shown by Knitter. They say that something that is missing in Pieris’ argument is that he forgets to put “the other”, that is the non-poor or the non-oppressed in balance when talking about God’s concern, participation, and identification with the poor. So that, “does for some mean against other?” is the question which has been proposed by them. Through this they want to say that opt for and stand with the poor does not mean that we have to avoid the rich and the oppressor. Knitter is agree with this question when talking about lex crucis (law of the cross) quoting Bernard Lonergan and kenosis (self-emptying) in order to respond their question, that the cross and self-emptying event have shown God’ ways to reach them all.
I do not want to discuss it more here, but my point is that when Pieris says that the reality of Jesus is the reality of God’s concern, participation, and identification with the poor, or following his concept “Jesus as God’s defense pact with the poor”, it does imply that Christian spirituality (and uniqueness) lies on the spirituality which demands conversion from greed, or mammon worship (Mt. 6:19-24), rather than from other religions (Mt. 23:15)[18], or Christian enemy is not the other religions, but mammon, for Jesus himself has strived against it, not against the other faiths at that time in order to convert them to be his followers. On the contrary, by putting mammon as the unjust power which oppresses and victimizes, Christianity can choose the other religions as her partners to struggle together, rather than standing against them. Being and standing together can help them to face their problems, for many religious people are poor and being so because of the unjust system. This is a call for religions, because facing that problem religions are needed, any religion could not stand alone.
I think that this idea is important to conceive his position either as liberation theologian or as religions theologian. This clearly emphasizes his position as a pluralist. When arguing Jesus’ uniqueness, one again, he does not intend to put Christianity above the other religions, and then, making Jesus being exclusive in sense of the only one religious figure that is right and superior over the other figures, but his uniqueness, or exclusivity not exclusivism, lies on his concern, participation, and self-identification. This is the core of his Liberation Christology of Religions.

e.       Pieris’ Contribution to Indonesian Religious Pluralism
Religious pluralism and poverty have been coloring Indonesian face. E. G. Singgih has shown this clearly when mentioning that the five dominant theological contexts of Indonesia are religious pluralism, poverty, injustice (including gender injustice), suffering and disaster, and ecological crisis[19]. I will focus on both religious pluralism and poverty in order to make sense Pieris’ Christology, and of course make it applicable.
Religious pluralism in Indonesia is problematic. It brings so many problems, including violence among religious people, as happened in Ambon, Poso, and many other parts of Indonesia. Indeed, many studies have tried to show that there is nothing to do with religions in such conflicts, that there is not religious motive because religions are politicized for other importance. Apart from whether it is true or not, the reality has shown that religions, when fighting each other while bringing religious symbols and ornaments, are actually involved and this impression could not be avoided. When I was a child, I saw that many people from both groups, either Moslem or Christian, brought their weapons while wearing religious clothes, screaming God’s name, etc. What I am trying to say is that we cannot deny that our religious pluralism has led us to violence, because of misunderstanding of it.
The question now is that how could we create a harmonious interreligious relationship in Indonesia? Many people, scholars or religious leaders, have been proposing dialogue as an alternative way of making peace. That religions should be open each other to talk in order to understand their own existences, roles, and purposes as the means. This happens in doctrinal area involving trained scholars and leaders of the various faith traditions. Edmund Kee-Fook Chia identifies this kind of dialogue as dialogue of discourse beside other three types of dialogues; those are dialogue of life, dialogue of action, and dialogue of spirituality[20]. If this is so, what dialogue do we really need? In order to relate with the other, we do not need only the dialogue of discursive (dialogue of doctrines and teachings), but all types of dialogues, particularly dialogue of action. In this context, we will see how Pieris’ Christological concept is effective as unique contribution for the life of theology of religions and specifically for practical interreligious encounter. We do need dialogue of action as a way to encounter with other religions. Chia says that it concerns on social problems including poverty and injustice[21]. Nevertheless, dialogue of action, according to Singgih, should be put dialectically together with dialogue of work; another synonym for dialogue of action, for what we are doing should be rooted in our theological reflections on our prophetic tasks. I agree with this because our understanding about our particular teachings would lead us into praxis, for instance, understanding of Jesus as liberator, or the God’s defense pact with the poor should be foundation of our liberation efforts contributed by Christian faith.
In this context, we can see how Pieris supports us here in Indonesia to not only create dialogue, but also for the very principle reason that is for struggling together in order to prevent the poverty and to protest the unjust system. As I mentioned earlier, this is a call for all religions because poverty is our reality, that almost 24% of the population or 57.83 million people are poor[22]. When coming together as partners whose same mission, they will not only be able to minimize the risk of poverty which threats the quality of human life and criticizing the unjust socio-political power as the manifestation of mammon, but also to create a friendly and peaceful relation with people from other faiths at once because when they are standing and moving forward together, they are not other than partners, or if it is possible to say, they are friends who have same concerns in the same paths because of the same purposes. If this could happen, our religious conflict can at least be reduced.
This is also stated by Knitter. According to him, the need for encountering theology of religions and theology of liberation is a must. They need each other. Specifically speaking, poverty can be our ground to such an encounter. This needs religions, not only a religion. If any religion does not talk and concern with poverty and oppression, it is not an authentic religion. Poverty is our main religious concern, so we have to act together as uniting movements in order to give important contribution to solve our problems[23]. In this case, what has been stated by Pieris can support and give foundation for Christian initiative of preventing the poverty and re-creating a harmonious life among religions. If Jesus whom we believe has concerned, even participated in the struggle of the poor and identified himself as one of them, so our prophetic task as church is to think how to struggle for the sake of the suffered, and once again, for this effort too we need the other coming from other religions, because poverty is not only a problem for particular faith tradition, but universal threatening human and even cosmic life. K. C. Abraham states that the source of ecological degradation is also contributed by poverty[24].
The understanding of Jesus as Pieris does can lead us into inter-faith liberation praxis. It means that Christology can also support our interreligious relation, instead of being exclusive in term of superior. It helps us to reach and embrace other religions in praxis, rather than in discursive areas. Indeed, talking about Christology in the context of religious pluralism always invites people to be trapped in exclusive sentiment, if it is also conceived and translated literally, but Pieris’ idea requires praxis as starting point to understand Christology, and through praxis also our concept of Jesus will be more transformed. There will be two sided transformations; the text (Chrostological concept) transforms the context, and the context transforms our understanding of the text. Thus, if Christology has something to do with religious pluralism and with liberation, why is it refused?

f.       Closing Remarks
The idea of liberation is actually the idea of religious pluralism, vice versa. Pieris has shown that Jesus as God’s defense pact with the poor is the mediator of liberation. When we do believe this, it will then direct us to encounter the other in order to strive and struggle against poverty and all its causal factors. This kind of encounter is the real dialogue which is not ineffective. Through coming together, from Christian perspective, as the way to reflect Jesus religions will have seat to sit together within the context.


[1] “The Second Vatican Council, summoned by Pope John XXIII, met in four sessions from 1962 t0 1964. It marked a turning point in the history of the Roman Catholic Church in the twentieth century. It inititaed major changes in the Church’s liturgy, and opened up new and much more positve attitudes to other Christians, to other religions, and to the secular world.” (See Vatican II, “Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions”, Christianity and Other Religions. eds. John Hick and Brian Hebblethwaite, (Oxford: 2001), pp.39-43)
[2] John Hick, A Christian Theology of Religions, (Louisville: 1995), p.87
[3] I. W. J. Hendriks, “Mengaku Yesus Yang Disalibkan”, Kami Memberitakan Kristus Yang Disalibkan, eds. Rachel Iwamony-Tiwery., et al. (Ambon: 2012), p.20
[4] Paul F. Knitter, “Menuju Teologi Pembebasan Agama-agama” in Mitos Keunikan Agama Kristen, eds. John Hick and Paul F. Knitter, (Jakarta: 2010), pp. 276-280
[5] Vitus Rubianto, Paradigma Asia, (Yogyakarta: 1997), pp.20-22
[6] Rubinato, Paradigma Asia, pp.23-24
[7] A. A. Yewangoe, Theologia Crucis di Asia, (Jakarta: 2009), pp.9-12
[8] Aloysius Pieris, Love Meets Wisdom: A Christian Experience of Buddhism, (Quezon City: 1989), pp.124-129
[9] Pieris, Love Meets Wisdom, p.129
[10] Pieris, Love Meets Wisdom, p.129-130
[11] Aloysius Pieris, “Toward a Theology of Religious Pluralism? Fidelity and Fairness in Interfaith Fellowship” in Toward a Planetary Theology, ed. Jose Maria Vigil, (Canada: 2010), p.130
[12] Pieris, “Toward a Theology of Religious Pluralism? Fidelity and Fairness in Interfaith Fellowship”, p.127
[13] Paul F. Knitter, “Is God’s Covenant with Victims a Covenant against the Oppressors? Aloysius Pieris and the Uniqueness of Christ” in Encounters with the Word, eds. Robert Crusz, Marshal Fernando, and Asanga Tilakaratne, (Colombo: 2004), p.196
[14] Knitter, “Is God’s Covenant with Victims a Covenant against the Oppressors? Aloysius Pieris and the Uniqueness of Christ”, p.197
[15] Pieris, “Toward a Theology of Religious Pluralism? Fidelity and Fairness in Interfaith Fellowship”, p.129.
[16] Knitter, “Is God’s Covenant with Victims a Covenant against the Oppressors? Aloysius Pieris and the Uniqueness of Christ”, p.198
[17] Knitter, “Is God’s Covenant with Victims a Covenant against the Oppressors? Aloysius Pieris and the Uniqueness of Christ”, p.197
[18] Pieris, “Toward a Theology of Religious Pluralism? Fidelity and Fairness in Interfaith Fellowship”, p.130
[19] See E. G. Singgih, Mengantisipasi Masa Depan, (Jakarta: 2005).
[20] Edmund Kee-Fook Chia, “Interfaith Dialogue and Christian Theology” in Asia”, in Asian Theology on the Way, ed. Peniel Rajkumar, (London: 2012), pp.20-22
[21] Chia, “Interfaith Dialogue and Christian Theology”, p.21
[22] Article on  “Jumlah dan Persentase Penduduk Miskin, Garis Kemiskinan, Indeks Kedalaman Kemiskinan (P1), dan Indeks Keparahan Kemiskinan (P2) Menurut Provinsi, 2011” downloaded from http://www.bps.go.id/tab_sub/view.php?tabel=1&daftar=1&id_subyek=23&notab=1.
[23] Knitter, “Menuju Teologi Pembebasan Agama-agama”, pp.276-280
[24] K. C. Abraham, “A Theological Response to Ecological Crisis”, in Ecoteology: Voices From South and North, ed. David G. Hallman, (Maryknoll: 1994), p.69

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