by Vishal Mangalwadi
Is secular India sacred?
Should a citizen sacrifice his life to protect India’s geographic borders?
Is it one’s moral duty to pay taxes to politicians and bureaucrats who, he believes, are
corrupt mis-managers of public funds?
Questions are philosophical;
implications are immensely practical;
postmodern answers are ambiguous.
Nations are products of history; but, if the nation is merely an accident of history then how can it be “sacred”? Unless, of course, we invent myths that make people believe what is made up – false?
If national borders are not sacred then:
Why shouldn’t Russia swallow up Ukraine? After all, just a few decades ago it was a part of the Russian empire (USSR). Why shouldn’t Mexicans walk into American states of Texas or Arizona which used to be a part of Mexico? Why should Great Britain allow Scotland to secede through a democratic referendum?
Why shouldn’t ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) demolish international borders of Middle Eastern “nations” if these represent whims of colonial bureaucrats? What is wrong with a new Islamic Caliphate dreaming about a revived Mughal Empire?
Why shouldn’t the wealthy use secret bank accounts to save their tax (evaded), their much-loved Lakshmi from our infamous “nexus of corruption” – politicians, bureaucrats and criminals?
The heart may feel that nations might be sacred. National crises may bring out wonderful responses that are emotional rather than rational – derived from our presuppositions and worldviews. Yet, great nations, as Dr Babu Verghese suggests, are built upon truth – upon a rational worldview that affirms sanctity of nations through language, literature, education, and media that promote nationalism as a virtue.
Contemporary confusion has compelling pedigree
The USA won the Second World War. It could have colonized Germany and Japan. In partnership with British Empire, it had the option to build United Empires. In contrast, America’s President, Franklin Roosevelt, demanded as a pre-condition to joining the war that the Allies dismantle their colonial ideology and promote a peculiar concept of “nation” through United Nations (UN).
Roosevelt did so because, back then, Americans still thought that the “nation” was sacred – it was God’s idea, therefore it was moral. Empire – Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Greek, Rome, – was a pagan idea, even though European Christianity had baptized it as “Christendom”. Being a fusion of Roman and biblical worldviews, the British political thought was confusion.
The post WWII world went along with the moral vision of the United States of America. Colonies were turned into nations. For the first time in history, it became international law and a sacred moral principle to respect “sovereignty and territorial integrity” of nations. Yet, American Christianity (anxiously looking for the Anti-Christ and Second Coming) failed to nurture the theological roots of the United Nations. Deprived of theological nutrients, those roots have dried up. Therefore, not just nations but the very concept of nation is in deep trouble now.
While colonies such as India were relishing nationhood, European intellectuals began to blame the two World Wars on German nationalism. They were right. However, Roman Catholic and Secular intellectuals went on to condemn nation itself as a Protestant (biblical) idea. They failed to notice that God promised to make Abraham a great nation so that through his descendants all nations might be blessed (not dominated).
German nationalism became corrupt because pre-war German thought rejected the cultural authority of God’s word.
Postwar critics of ‘nation’ used the university and the media to make nation and nationalism dirty words. Some European intellectuals went on to praise Russia’s Communist Empire (USSR), many more became aggressive in undermining nations. Their goal to preempt another World War was honourable. It could have been achieved by creating a greater European nation, but their attack on nation created an impression that at least some of them are after a quasi-empire by another name – European Union (EU). Having ridiculed the idea of nations, they have lost the moral ground for opposing Russian annexation of Ukraine or ISIS’ attempt to create a Sunni Empire.
America’s vision of transforming colonies into nations was formed by the Bible’s first book, Genesis. Chapters 11 and 10 describe how God destroyed the imperial city of Babel in order to divide mankind into nations. Chapter 10 defines nations three times as (a) people with (b) distinct language in a given (c) territory (Genesis 10: 5, 20, 31).
Genesis chapter 12 begins the Bible’s grand narrative of transforming a nomad, Abraham, into a great soul (Mahatma) as well as into a “great nation” in a given territory that it owns and manages. A nation may be a specific people group, governing its territory in its own language. A “great nation” manages to integrate many peoples into one governing structure in a given territory. Israel was thirteen tribes but became one nation. When tribalism (people-groupism) took over, it split into two nations – Israel and Judah.
Genesis asserted that God’s purpose in making Abraham into a great nation was to make Israel a light, example, blessing to all the nations (Genesis 12:2-3; 18:18; 22:18, etc.).
Israel struggled to be a nation in the midst of empires that neither understood nor respected nationhood. Its failures were miserable; its renewals miraculous. Its endurance became inspiration to many nations. The single most important key to Israel’s success and global influence was literature, compiled into one book, the Bible.
A Book to Bless the Nations
For four centuries, Abraham’s descendants were slaves in Egypt. They served as shepherds and brick makers. God used Moses to liberate slaves and organize them to become a nation.
No culture in history ever required its slaves, brick makers and shepherds to read and write. In India, as everywhere else, they were oral learners, believing stories crafted by clever priests. In order to transform illiterate slaves into a great nation, God didn’t give them oral stories. He gave them a written text – the Ten Commandments. He asked Moses to write down other laws and put all writings into the physical and spiritual centre of Israelite camp. Illiterate former slaves were commanded to read the law, copy it, meditate upon it, and to teach it. It was a novel concept of the rule of written law that was to become one of their many gifts to the world. Moses told them that their adherence to the written word, not ethnicity, will make them a wise, understanding, and great nation – an example to the world (Deuteronomy 4: 5–8).
Every nation became a great nation that followed Israel’s example and paid serious attention to the book that Moses began to compile. One factor that made Bible-based nations “great” is obvious: In his fifth book Moses taught that nations were sacred because they were God’s creation,
“When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance,
when he divided mankind,
he fixed the borders of the peoples
according to the number of the sons of God. (Deuteronomy 32:8)
The Father of the European Idea of the Nation
The Greeks experimented with democratic city-states: that fact is well-known. The forgotten fact is that the Greeks discarded democracy in favour of the Persian pattern of empire-building. The man who introduced Moses’ idea of the nation to Europe was the Apostle Paul. In Athens, Paul stood on Areopagus and taught philosophers the divine origin of nations,
“And he [God] made from one man every nation of mankind to live on the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us” (Acts 17: 26–27).
Nation is a moral idea. Nations are sacred because they are divine creation. In an empire you are a subject. In a nation you are a citizen with rights and responsibilities, with duties and opportunities. In an empire you are taxed without anyone seeking your consent about how much you should be taxed and how your tax money should be spent. In a nation, there is no taxation without representation.
India was born in bloody Partition conflicts: how can one call it divine creation?
All children have a bloody birth. Many are born due to sins of rape, incest, or adultery. Yet, every child bears God’s image; is loved and owned by Him. Human sin does not preclude God’s sovereignty. Nations are mortal as are human beings, but both have destinies before God.
If the first book of the Bible discusses the origin and sacredness of the concept of the nation, the last book of the Bible, Revelation, concludes with a grand vision of healing of the nations in the new heaven and the new earth (Revelation 22:2). The Lord Jesus sent his apostles to “disciple the nations” (Matthew 28:18) because the Bible’s vision of salvation includes bringing light to the nations that do not know how to live right (Revelation 21: 24). Simply stated, giving light to the nations means that great nations are built on great ideas: ideas that are true, good and beautiful. Ideas are articulated in language and communicated through literature.
India is sacred because it is God’s idea. Apostle Paul called upon God’s people to pay taxes because,
“…there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore, whoever resists the authority resists what God has appointed, . . . one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God . . . pay to all what is owed to them; taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, and honor to those whom honor is owed” (Romans 13: 1–7).
God sent His servants to develop our dialects into literary languages because He wanted to make India a nation and a great nation. Dr Verghese documents that usually the first book to be translated into an Indian language was the Bible – the source book of the idea of nation.
When the nineteenth century dawned, India was divided into hundreds of princely states. Today a united and independent India is divided into linguistics states. That reality is very similar to the one described in Genesis 10. But it doesn’t end there; it culminates in chapter where the promise of great nation is made. India is on its way to becoming a “great nation” because, in spite of many failures, it has succeeded in holding many ethnicities and languages in one territory under the rule of just and, essentially, biblical law. Dr Verghese’s thesis is that this amazing development of linguistic states became possible only because God’s servants laboured to develop the heart dialects of illiterate people into literary languages. God’s servants dedicated their lives to make our languages capable of communicating great ideas that build great nations.
Terribly divided geographic India has been united into a nation. Intellectually deprived oral learners have been given literary languages capable of developing their immense potential. Yet, even historians do not know the fascinating people and processes God has used to make India a nation capable of becoming a great nation.
Coming generations will bless Dr Babu Verghese and his family for the sacrifices they have made to write this forgotten chapter of India’s history. May their exceptional service fire up our hearts to love India as God loves her. May we devote our imagination, resources, and labour to further develop Indian languages, literature, people, land, resources and institutions to make India what God wants it to be – a nation where His will is done on earth.
© Vishal Mangalwadi
SHIATS (deemed University), Allahabad, UP