SUCCESS NEEDS A GOOD SELF-IMAGE
by John Wijngaards, Mission Outlook April 1995, pp. 14-16
This economic principle can be proved by many case-studies. West Germany was almost completely destroyed during the Second World War. Its industry was bombed, its cities lay in ashes, millions of its finest men had been killed. (Of course, it received Marshall Aid like other European countries.) Yet now, 50 years on, it is once more one of the world’s strongest economic powers.
The same applies to Japan, which was defeated by the United States, but which has become its greatest rival in world trade. The Jews are engaged in building flourishing estates in parts of Palestine which were just deserts for the Arabs. In Nigeria, the Ibos are far more successful than other tribes in creating prosperity. In Malaysia, the Chinese have proved to be far more enterprising than the Malays. In East Africa, the Indian immigrants have shown more resourcefulness than the indigenous African population.
The Sikhs are an interesting example. Many were moved to the Punjab after the 1947 Partition. Farm production increased rapidly. Major new initiatives were taken in irrigation and local organisation. In the 1960s there was an enormous upsurge in agricultural output. Wheat production trebled between 1966 and 1970 and the rice crop from 280,000 tonnes to two million tonnes.
Researchers attribute this success to the Sikhs’ attitudes and spiritual beliefs. M.S. Rahandawa writes: “Sikhism broke the fetters of the caste system and provided an equal opportunity to the oppressed and the downtrodden to attain human dignity. It freed people from the ancient Brahminical system which looked to the past for its golden age. The new faith promoted dignity of labour and exhorted its followers to earn their living by manual work. Above all, it gave new dignity to agriculture, which was declared the best of professions.”
Then what about our Christians in Andhra Pradesh?
We live in an age of dialogue. As Christians we have come to realise the many valuable points offered by other major religions. In India, the discovery of the rich philosophical and cultural values of Hinduism should not blind us to the great mental block which Hinduism has put on many people’s minds.
Christ came precisely to liberate people from such obstacles. As his spiritual successors and the prophets of our own age, we have to recognise the enormous psychological and social damage done to people by certain Hindu convictions. Perhaps we might compare this to the Old Testament. In order to receive Christ fully and to become free children of God, Jesus’ contemporaries had to reject certain ideas of the Old Testament before they could become fully-fledged Christians. The same applies to certain important elements of Hindu religion.
Here I am thinking especially of the enormous sense of inferiority experienced by our Christians, particularly by those belonging to the underprivileged communities. There is no need for me to describe this in detail. Its characteristics have been indicated by research done in Andhra Pradesh in earlier years
It is what people say all the time: “We cannot change our situation. We need help, but nobody comes to give it to us. Whatever we do is useless. See how miserable and poor we are. Why do not more people come forward to help?” and so on. They lack all confidence in themselves.
This is a disastrous state of mind, undoubtedly the greatest obstacle to economic and social development. This attitude has been fostered by Hinduism, as even Hindu scholars frankly admit. Vikas Mishra writes: “… Hindu culture and Hindu social organisation are major factors in India’s slow rate of development.
“It is not only the lack of capital resources or skilled manpower which impedes the process of economic growth, but also non-secular and pre-technological institutions and values such as the hierarchically organised caste-system, the limited or static levels of aspirations, moral aloofness, casteism and factionalism – to name but a few of the major barriers…
Christ came to liberate people from obstacles. “A lasting solution of the problem of economic development can be found only by a gradual but systematic transformation of India’s social system, of her world outlook, and levels of personal aspirations.
- K. Mukerjee says similarly: “The difficulty of breaking down religious opposition to material social progress is greatly accentuated in India, as compared with the West, by the actual content of prevailing religious beliefs and by the specific type of social organisation to which those prevailing beliefs have given rise.”
Some key ideas of Hinduism are: people are not equal; life is determined by a fate one cannot change; external reality is only illusion and thus material progress has little value; salvation does not involve the whole person but only the spiritual soul.
Christianity is one of the forces that can liberate people from such depressing and enslaving notions. We are, therefore, engaged in a battle of the mind and of the spirit.
If we now turn to the Gospel, we find that Jesus teaches us the happy and liberating truths that can set our people free. I don’t know if you have ever been struck by the theme of “Galilee” in Mark’s Gospel. When Mark composed the Gospel in AD 65, he was probably doing so for Hellenist Christians in Rome and other world cities of the time.
Perhaps they had never heard about Galilee. If they had, they knew it was a rather unimportant part of Palestine. The real Jews, who considered Judaea their motherland, looked down on Galileans. They referred to that northern province as “the Galilee of the Nations”, meaning a country full of pagans. Throughout the Gospels we find traces of how Galileans were despised by Judaeans.
But Jesus was from Nazareth in Galilee. And from Mark’s Gospel it is quite clear that he worked most of the time in Galilee itself, for his own people. “He proclaimed the Good News in Galilee … his name spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee … preaching and casting out devils.” In fact, Jesus performed practically all his ministry in Galilee. He went only a few times to Jerusalem and eventually died there.
But – and this is the most remarkable thing of all – Mark tells us that after his resurrection he returned to Galilee. Jesus himself had said: “When I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” The Angel at the Tomb said to Peter: “He is going ahead of you to Galilee.”
There is a very deep theological statement in this. Even though Jesus was to become the saviour of the world, he did not despise his own country. Rather, he saw his part of the world as the area in which he himself had to establish the Kingdom of God. Jesus had faith in his own people. He knew they might be poor, illiterate and confused. But he knew also that they had enormous potential.
It is as if Jesus is telling us: “Your own place is the most important spot on earth. Here the word can become flesh once more.” Perhaps he is telling us, “Be proud of what you are. You are precious in God’s sight whatever other people may think of you. Allow yourself to grow so that your true greatness can be seen by all.”
Are not these the thoughts we should have ourselves? Are not they the things we should tell our people?
Considering the enormous revolution Jesus was going to cause in world history, we should have expected him to “think big”. We should have thought that he might have spent more time on planning the expansion of his Kingdom throughout the Roman Empire. We might have thought that he would take time to learn other languages such as Greek and Latin. But Jesus’ philosophy was different. He believed that true progress could come only by a qualitative change. He believed in small beginnings.
That is why he is so fond of the image of the seed. The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed which is the smallest of all seeds. It can hardly be seen. It is just a speck on the hand of the sower. And yet it grows into a great tree. The good seed that falls in fertile soil produces a wonderful increase – some 30-fold, some 60-fold and some a hundred-fold. It is as if Jesus was saying, “Don’t worry about the future harvest. Concentrate on the seed. Make sure you have the right seed and that it falls in good soil.”
Jesus was interested in ordinary people. He did not court the friendship of the rich and influential. He did not send ambassadors to mediate with powerful people such as Caiaphas, Herod or Pilate. Rather, he took ordinary children in his arms and blessed them. He said the Kingdom of God was for people like children. He was kind to the Syro-Phoenician woman. And when he looked for helpers he chose them from ordinary people like fishermen. He told them to remain ordinary people, but that their reward would be a hundred-fold in heaven.
Thus by his actions as much as by his words Jesus gave us the great spiritual principles that offer liberation for ordinary people everywhere. “Wake up! the Kingdom of God has come to you. You may feel small as a child, but you are precious in God’s eyes. Don’t be discouraged because you are beginning in a small way; with me you will grow a hundred-fold! Don’t ever think £My village is no use’. It will be the place where my Father and I will do well. It can become the centre of the Kingdom. Don’t say ‘Things cannot change.’ The old has gone, the new has come and what you never believed will prove to be possible.
What does all this mean for us in practical terms? I believe that for priests in India it is extremely important to learn the art of proclaiming to people, both in words and actions, a very positive and Christian view of life. To undo the inferiority-complex that has been laid on people through ancient religious traditions we have to instil a new sense of self-dignity. We have to help people to believe in themselves. We have to make them discover that they can change their lives; that despite adverse conditions, they are just as valuable and capable as anyone else in the world.
To pursue such a deliberate policy of building up people’s self-esteem we may have to adopt the educational strategy recommended to parents who want to educate their children to self-dignity. Ideas from F. Johnson’s classic, The One Minute Father; can be adapted for pastoral life.
Here is one: “The best way for my children to believe they are winners is for them to see themselves winning. So I look for opportunities in which they can succeed. I create such opportunities for them so that they can discover their own worth.”
If we want to improve the condition of our people, we should recognise that the real problem lies in their poor self-image.
We can correct this by an intense programme of education. This should include ordinary schooling as well as training in special skills. But above all it means instilling into them the conviction of their own self- worth. It means giving them new spiritual values that liberate.