The “Meghalayan Covenant” calls for “Axial Paradigm Shift 2.0.” in seizing an Ecological Commonwealth/Civilization.

By Anand Veeraraj

Keywords

Meghalayan Age — Axiality – Gestalts — New Green Hermeneutics – Meghalayan Covenant — Ecological Commonwealth/Civilization

Abstract

The Meghalayan Age and the Axial Age (the first religious and philosophical turning-point in history) are in dialogue here. The science of ecology and the traditional philosophy of religion are like water and oil; they do not jell.  These topics deal with global climate changes and how they affect human-world relations; their perceptions, and approaches are diametrically atypical.  Ecosystems are organic, relational, ever evolving with human communities imbedded within.  Contrarily, most axial religious traditions and formulations are monadic, thrive on exclusivity and singularity; or else they will not be reckoned as faith traditions. 

Until recently, scholars of Axial Age were oblivious to global environmental changes and climate catastrophes that visited ancient civilizations.  This paper explores the links between the two – the Meghalayan climate crisis and the rise of Axial religions, spiritualities, and philosophies.  The notion of an “axis of history” serves as a largescale interpretive tool in the study of religion, showing among other things, the effects of climate crisis on the evolution of human societies and cultures, and the distinctions between pre-axial and post-axial religions.  This presentation, in some ways, is provocative, subversive in exacting why we call for a new Axial revolution – a second paradigm shift of our religious and cultural existence at this propitious time.  It seeks to unmask the philosophical and religious underpinnings of the so-called “Axial Age.”   

  1. Is it prudent to emboss the Meghalayan Age on the Axial Age or vice versa?  
  1. How and why did the ancient humans come to trade in the world-affirming dispositions of the pre-axial times with the world-denying faiths of the post-axial times?  
  1. “What is Axial about the Axial Age?” – a question central to Robert Bellah. 
  2. Can India show the way to save humanity from the impending ecological catastrophes? 
  3. How do we covenant with the natural world in seizing an ecological commonwealth? 

Recounting a coherent comprehensive story of the Axial Age, by no means is easy.  Given the limitations of this essay, we opt for a unifying narrative that would establish a cohesive logic for the dialogue.  And that narrative is traced through how I was educated and eventually got involved with the environmental crisis sweeping across India, my home country, and how my faith and activism are being transformed and enriched in the process.  So, let me begin with the last chapter of the story of my enlightenment — the “Meghalayan Golden Spike” pronounced in July 2018 – and proceed with the story in reverse to the advent of the Axial Age. And finally, we loop back to our hope in seizing an ecological commonwealth, by witnessing to the ancient new faith — the Meghalayan Faith.

Author Biography

ANAND VEERARAJ is an ordained minister in the Church of South India and serves as the Pastor-emeritus of the New Jersey Indian Church/Trinity Community Church [UCC & PC-USA], and the Director of the Princeton Forum, New Jersey.  He is the author of the books Green History of Religion, Earthen Vessels: The Paradox of Christian Leadership and the co-editor of the book, Pilgrims at the Crossroads: Asian Indian Christians at the North American Frontier.  He has written over 40 scholarly and popular essays for journals and book chapters. He earned a PhD in Religion and Ecology from Claremont University, California.  He lives with his family near Princeton, New Jersey. 

  1. Meghalaya, the Garden of Eden in the East

Meghalaya is a small state in North India, adjoining the country of Bangladesh.  The word, “Meghalaya” in Sanskrit means, “An Abode of Clouds;” in Tamil, “A Temple of Clouds.”  Indeed, it is a fitting moniker for the place and the people who live in Meghalaya.  The scenery is breathtakingly beautiful, especially during the monsoon seasons.  Travel brochures promoting tourism to Meghalaya depict a region with low hanging rain clouds, embracing the rocky hills, hamlets, and valleys with scores of waterfalls, streams, and lakes.  About 70% of the state is subtropical forest ecoregion, with a biodiversity of rare mammals, birds, and plants.  A small portion of the forested area is preserved as “sacred groves” for religious rituals, protected from commercial exploitation.  Indeed, Meghalaya is a template for an “ecological commonwealth” — an abode made for gods, people, and nature to live in harmony and in sustainable ways.  If ever there was or is a Garden of Eden in the East, it is here in Meghalaya.  Interestingly, the garden swarms with scores of serpents, especially the King Cobra, one of the most venomous snake species on earth.  If you ever happen to hike through the forest trails in Meghalaya, don’t stop to talk with any of these serpents! 

Meghalaya is an exceedingly small state, with an area covering 8,660 square miles, roughly 2/3rd the size of Rhode Island.  It has a population of about 3.7 million people.  As tribal people, Meghalayans have historically followed a matrilineal system where the family lineage and inheritance are traced through women.  The youngest daughter inherits all the family’s wealth and takes care of her parents in their old age.  About 75% of the Meghalayans are Christians – Presbyterians, Baptists, and Catholics.  English is the official language of the state.  

In December 1986, I published an article in the journal, The National Council of Churches in India Review [NCCIR] entitled, “Environmental Mission of the Church.” The article highlighted the alarming environmental crisis that was engulfing the Indian subcontinent.  It began with a developing story about the drinking water scarcity encountered in Cherrapunji Hills and the surrounding regions in Meghalaya.  [Cherrapunji Hills received an annual rainfall of about 500 inches. Now the rainfall has dwindled down to annual average of 470 inches].  Meghalaya, which was called, “the wettest place on earth,” was now nicknamed, “the wettest desert on earth.”  The reasons were obvious.  Large scale commercial felling of trees had not only denuded these green hills making them barren, but also caused extensive soil erosions leading to massive flooding at the foothills, especially in Bangladesh during monsoon seasons.  That article in the NCCIR journal on India’s environmental crisis was perhaps the first of its kind published in any ecumenical journals in India.  Since then, major Christian journals in India began highlighting the growing environmental crisis on the Indian subcontinent and called the local churches to address the issue as their missional calling.

  1. The Meghalayan Golden Spike

Meghalaya has been in the news lately.  On July 18, 2018, the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS) — a subcommittee of the International Union of Geographic Sciences (IUGS) which is tasked with defining the geologic time scale — voted to create a new geological age labeled as the Meghalayan Age.  The Meghalayan age is the youngest, newest unit of the geologic timescale that arose about 4.2 ka (thousand years) ago.  The age was marked by extreme global warming, followed by widespread drought leading to the collapse of ancient civilizations.

The ICS divides earth’s 4.6-billion-year geological history into eras, periods, epochs, and ages.  Holocene Epoch, the current geological epoch began at the end of the last ice age c. 11,700 years ago. Until recently, the epoch did not comprise precise labels demarking the geological stratification within its timelines.  Now the epoch is divided up into three ages: the Greenlandian, the Northgrippian and the Meghalayan.  The first two ages of the Holocene epoch – Greenlandian and Northgrippian were identified, not from the customary rocky layers, rather from the isotopes detected in the ice core drilled from the depths of the earth’s ice sheets.  The Greenlandian age experienced the rising of warming trends with copious precipitation.  The middle phase of the Holocene epoch — now referred to as the Northgrippian age — continued with the ripple effects of the melting ice sheets, runoff from c. 8,300 years ago to the start of the Meghalayan age.

The Meghalayan age was marked by uptick in global warming and a megadrought that lasted two decades or longer, followed by a sudden dry cool down.  The Meghalayan golden spike is epitomized in isotopes of oxygen atoms present in the layers of a stalagmite growing from the floor of the Mawmluh cave in Meghalaya.  [Mawmluh cave, located at an elevation of 1,290 meters, is one of the longest and deepest caves in India].  Prof. Mike Walker of the University of Wales, UK, who led the international team of Holocene scientists says, “The two most prominent shifts occur at about 4,300 and about 4,100 years before present, so the mid-point between the two would be 4,200 years before present (2018), and this is the age that we attribute to the Meghalayan golden spike.”

How did the ICS scientists nail down these geological timelines?  “This is the first time,” writes Malavika Vyawahare, Hindustan Times, “a geological time scale change has been linked to cultural event – in this case the collapse of civilizations.”  For this reason, the geological stratigraphy of the Meghalayan age is now defined, not only by the global warming and its effects on the environment, but also by the repercussions of human activities – pastoral-agrarian pursuits, mass migration, organized warfare, rise and fall of ancient civilizations, etc.  

On a side note, not all is kumbaya with the ICS/IUGS scientists.  Random rumblings of contradicting opinions are heard among the ICS scientists on the prudence of nailing down the Meghalayan age.  Some scientists wish to backtrack on the original declaration.  On the other side, open revolt has broken out among the scientists of the Anthropocene Working Group (AWG) — a unit within the ICS — for not opting for the buzz word, “Anthropocene” (human activity as the dominant influence on climate and the environment).  The term was coined by Paul Crutzen, a Nobel Prize recipient for discovering the effects of ozone–depleting compounds.  Sadly, he died on January 28th of this year.  Some AWG scientists push for Anthropocene to be recognized, replacing the word, Meghalayan.  But the debate gets bogged down as to the exact beginnings of Anthropocene and its geological markers.  The AWG is expected to conclude its work to select a golden spike by 2022 and submit its final report to the ICS.  There is no certainty that the report will be accepted and voted by the ICS. The conversations are becoming more heated (political than scientific) than in finding a potential geochemical marker.  Without a resolution, the debate may continue into the foreseeable future.  Till then, the term “Meghalayan Age” will reign supreme among the ICS/IUGS scientists, geologists and the global environmental science practitioners.  And that allows us time and opportunity to keep riding on the wings of the Meghalayan fame.

  1. Karl Jaspers and the “Axial Age”

Nonetheless, we would need to query whether the Meghalayan Age geological markers have the grit to index the complexities of the Axial Age traditions, philosophies and spiritualities.  How do the metaphysics of axiality (religion, philosophy, and spiritualities) mesh with the science of ecology, geology and climate change?  At the moment, science and religion seem to run amok, independent of each other.  No meaningful dialogue exists between the protagonists of the Meghalayan Age and the Axial Age theologians, philosophers and historians.  The recent pronouncement of the ICS scientists on the “Meghalayan Age” offers us the opportunity to bring these camps together for a dialogue.   

The Axial Age, [die Achsenzeit] was observed by the German philosopher, Karl Jaspers (1883-1969).  Jaspers propounded that the age was a global religious phenomenon that emerged during the six centuries, from 800 to 200 BCE.  Prominent religious luminaries — philosophers, prophets, and sages rose on the world stage to grapple with issues of ultimate reality, nature of humanity, and the world in fresh new ways.  These religious leaders and philosophers, together with their cohorts became centers of new religious movements and schools of philosophies.  Scholars like John Cobb and John Hick have sought to expand the temporal boundaries of the age beyond Jaspers’ initial six centuries.

On the other hand, we would also need to query the fundamental axial enigma as to how the axial religions and philosophies rose simultaneously without any concord with similar movements elsewhere around the globe?  And why some groups were left out from participating in the axial advances or its foibles?  For instance, women and dark-skinned folks were generally excluded from the axial graces and privileges.  Primal, tribal, and indigenous societies were often by passed from marching in the axial parade.  While every scholar sought to expound the axial phenomenon from their own academic expertise, no one offered a credible, all-encompassing rationale as to why axial movements rose around the world simultaneously in the first place.   Neither did they offer any credible rational as to why some groups and societies were left out in the process.  

Many markers of axiality are still up for grab.  May we ask, “What is the defining characteristic of axiality?” An “Age of Transcendence” (Benjamin Schwarts). An “Age of Criticism” (Arnaldo Momigliano).  “The relativization of mundane realities” (Shmuel Eisenstadt). “An upsurge in the reflexivity of human beings” (Björn Wittrock).  “The Age of Rational Reflective Consciousness vs. Mythical Existence” (John B. Cobb, Jr.)  “The Divine Revelation of Truth” (Robert N. Bellah and Hans Joas).  “Salvation/Liberation as Human Transformation” (John Hick). “Religious Rejection of the World” (Max Weber).  We could go on to add any number of “defining characteristics” to the list.  

Did the scholars go on a spree, cherry-picking those defining axial characteristics?  No.  They were fishing for what distinguished the “axial” from “non-axial” human existence.  And they had to sift through scores of tenets, visions, spiritual practices of axial luminaries, prophets, sages, and philosophers from all corners of the globe.  After a rigorous process of sifting, almost all of them agreed on a single “axis of history” – a phenomenon which Max Weber called, the “religious rejection of the world,” – conversely, the “human alienation from the world” – a sentiment common to all post-axial religions and philosophies.  This post-axial stance was diametrically divergent from the virtual acceptance of the world found in pre-axial societies that had lasted for thousands of years prior to the advent of axial revolution.  What caused the post-axial disenchantment with the world, while at the same time exalting an otherworldly realm as true, worthy and infinitely valuable?  There is of course no simple answer to this question.

Karl Jaspers came out with the “Axial Age” thesis in 1949 with the publishing of his seminal work, The Origin and Goal of History.  Max Weber (1864–1920) lived before Karl Jaspers (1883–1969).  What was special about Weber’s idea of the “religious rejection of the world?” Did it have anything to do with environmental concerns?  Modern environmental movements began when Rachel Carson published her landmark book, Silent Spring in 1962.  On close examination, Weber’s idea of “religious rejection of the world,” had little to do with Karl Jaspers’ axiality or Rachel Carson’s environmental concerns.  Weber is best known for his book, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905).  Weber’s idea – the “religious rejection of the world” was not a mild “disenchantment with the world.”  Rather, it was about the “metaphysical rejection of the world,” a rejection that is far more sinister than a simple withdrawal from the world.  It spouts from the Calvinist doctrine of Predestination, a doctrine that exhorts “Ascetic Protestantism.”  “Ascetic Protestantism” calls for hard work, virtuous frugal living that avoids worldly pleasures.  Ultimately it leads to accumulation of personal wealth, a major force in the rise of market-driven capitalism.

There are various types of religious asceticism.  But Ascetic Protestantism draws most Calvinist Christians back into vigorous engagement with the world, not for the love of the world, but to extract nature’s irreplaceable resources for what they are worth.  Interestingly, Weber sought to apply his thesis to Indian context where he would find most radical of all versions of “world rejection,” especially among Buddhist and Jain communities. Comparatively, the type of asceticism we encounter in India, although extremely harsh on corporeal human existence, is non-vicious and nonviolent toward the natural world.  One wonders whether the scholars who concurred with Max Weber’s “religious rejection of the world” ever considered these arguments seriously.  [We will pick up the story of “world rejection” when we deal with the Indian saga, in section VII: “Can India Show the Way?”].

  1. “What is Axial about the Axial Age?” Robert Bellah.

Understanding the axial phenomenon in relation to the History of Religion requires a multi-disciplinary approach.  The Axial Age did not emerge in a vacuum.  The study of the Axial times requires that we draw resources from disparate disciplines of science – geography, geology, climatology, paleontology, archeology, astronomy, animal, plant, and human ecology, DNA signature maps of human migration, population genomics, philology etc. — and especially the evolutionary histories of bioregions in which humans were natural components.  

Robert Bellah, in his monumental work on Axial Religions, Religion in Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age posed a question central to his thesis, “What is Axial about the Axial Age?”  Bellah was narrowly focused and sidestepped the possibility that the “religious rejection of the world” found in all Living World Religions, might after all, was caused, first and foremost by the exasperating environmental upheavals of the pre-axial epoch and how ancient societies responded to these environmental calamities.  Bellah himself came close to stumbling upon the issue, when he asked, “(W)hat made the axial age axial?” As a sociologist, Bellah was fixated primarily with the social ethos of the axial formulations.  Nonetheless he went on to concur with Karl Jaspers’ thesis, “The Axial Period too ended in failure. History went on [Emphasis mine],” and thereby affirming his fervent beliefs in the primacy of human history over the changing saga of human-world relations.  Bellah concluded, “It is this [history] that has given such dynamism to the axial traditions.”  

What then is great about the Axial Age?  Did the Axial revolution really end in failure?  To some extent, yes.  We believe that the axial praxis hit a dead-end, consummating in modernity which has proven to be detrimental to the wellbeing of human beings as well as the sustainability of the environment.  The warning signs were there when the first Axial revolution emerged during the late Holocene epoch some 4.2 ka (thousand) years ago.  Whether the Axial revolution, with its multi-dimensional cultural and historical processes can ever be squarely harmonized with the confines of the Meghalayan Age and its geological scheme is doubtful.  The exacting Meghalayan markers, precisely determined, leave no wiggle room.  

  1. The Story of Green History of Religion

Were the ICS scientists and climatologists the first ones to nail down the Meghalayan environmental crisis and identify the cause for the collapse of ancient civilizations?  Not really!  The protagonists of the Meghalayan age — the ICS scientists and historians — were oblivious to the synchronized spread of axial revolutions all over the world.  We submit that our research team arrived at analogous conclusions almost thirty years earlier.  Although we did not ascribe any monikers to these large-scale events, we reached similar conclusions from a distinctive vantage point, namely the rise of novel religious traditions and philosophies which has come to define the Axial revolution.  Our study showed that more than anything else, the spurt of axial religious and philosophical traditions was a candid response to the disastrous effects of planet-wide climate changes and the mega-drought that followed resulting in the collapse of ancient civilizations.  One factor missing in our study was a geological moniker that would index the turmoil of Axial revolutions. All that changed on July 18, 2018, when the ICS voted to create a new geological unit, the Meghalayan Age.  The thesis of Green History of Religion was finally vindicated by the global geological scientific community.

How we arrived at these findings is a story by itself, narrated in Green History of Religion.  In 1989, I began my doctoral program in the field of Religion and Ecology at the Claremont Graduate University, California.  [My graduate program was interdisciplinary, specially designed for my electives].  My study sought to show the root causes for the rise of Axial Age.  Until recently hardly any scholars of the history of religion saw the correlations between the late-Holocene climate crisis and the rise of Axial religious traditions.  We sought to answer why this was so.  We began to suspect that the “human alienation from the world” becoming the foundational premise of most axial thoughts and traditions must have had something to do with how ancient societies experienced the natural world during the millennia preceding axial times.  Bewildering catastrophes must have swept across the globe leading to synchronized collapse of pre-axial societies and ancient civilizations.  Might those unnerving experiences have accentuated human disenchantment with nature leading to the “religious rejection of the world?” Published works of eminent scholars on the history of religions were of little help; they were tinctured through and through with dualistic and anthropocentric motifs; the natural world had no place in their religious views or their research.

Midway through writing my dissertation I hit a dead-end.  After three revisions, my dissertation almost fell apart; I could not find that essential linchpin on which to hang my thesis.  Frustrated as I was, I sought the help of a friend, a climatologist/oceanographer at the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Lab in Princeton.  My scientist friend read through my half-baked dissertation and provided me with scores of books, journals, and especially climate models and charts of the last 12,000 years of earth’s geological history.  Our enquiry led us to look at planet-wide changes – climatic and environmental – that were in the offing during the millennia preceding and following the rise of the Axial Age.  

In the light of the new information gleaned from available climate models, I was obliged to revise my dissertation. We were pleasantly surprised to find that our suspicion might after all be true.  Our findings showed that the planet went through a warming trend at the start of the Holocene Epoch about 11,700 BCE, causing extreme climate changes across the globe.  The trend accelerated during the Meghalayan age (coinciding with the rise of axial times), successively disrupting pastoral and agrarian economies that sustained the first city-states. The warming trend intensified rapidly, from about 1,500 BCE, quickening the rise and fall of ancient civilizations at the core centers.  The tumultuous social and ecological crisis of those times became conducive for fermenting world-denying motifs that became the bedrock of all axial religions and philosophies.  It was indeed a global crisis of epic proportions unparalleled in human history.  In our opinion, scholars on human history, culture, religion, and philosophy have yet to fully grasp the enormity of the harm axial thoughts and philosophies have visited upon human societies and the world of nature.  This, in a nutshell, is the thesis of my book, Green History of Religion. 

  1. The New Green Hermeneutics – “The Meghalayan Monocles”   

Notice the title of the book, “Green History of Religion.”  The title is rather generic; it does not have a subtitle either.  We intentionally left the title modest, unembellished.  Neither did we want to claim expertise in the science of ecology or the philosophy of religion or the discipline of biblical hermeneutics.  The only redeeming features that made the volume marketable were the foreword for the book and a book review by John Cobb, published widely.  Writing a review of the book, Cobb says,

This is a truly groundbreaking book! [Emphasis mine]. Despite all our talk of overcoming dualism, our historical and systematic accounts of the history of religion rarely take the relation of human beings and their natural environment seriously into account. [The book] devotes several chapters to recent interpretations of what Jaspers calls the Axial Age to show how oblivious most of them [scholars on religion] are to the natural world.  I myself certainly ignored nature in my account until I was educated by Veeraraj through working with him on his dissertation. That experience was revelatory for me. . . . Taking the changing relation of human beings to their natural environment into account deeply transforms the understanding of the history of religion. [Emphasis mine].

Cobb went on to invite scholars of different disciplines to take on parallel projects.  I personally think that the study of religion taught in our universities is deeply flawed and wanting.  Even the use of the term, “religion” to describe the axial novelties is overly tenuous and problematic. 

The publishing of Green History of Religion raked in unintended dividends, not so much in monetary returns [we hardly made any profit from publishing/marketing the book]; but its contribution to the study of the history of religions and for developing the tools crucial for biblical hermeneutics, was enormous.  For us, it was immensely ingenious, ground-breaking, and gratifying.  By coincidence, this was the first time that any student of religion has ever tried their luck with Green Hermeneutics!  

We have therefore, for the first time, opted to christen this New Green Hermeneutics as the “Meghalayan Monocles” (MM).  And we call for the advancement and refinement of this discipline for the study of religion, theology and the reading of sacred texts.  Until recently, hermeneutics has remained a specialized discipline, narrowly focused within the confines of linguistics or epistemology, primarily employed in interpreting sacred texts.  Such constrictions have made hermeneutics an autonomous discipline, at times spinning into a spurious discipline with banal outcomes as witnessed in our Sunday sermons.  Lately the boundaries of the discipline have been extended to include philology, philosophy, theology, history, jurisprudence, psychology, and social sciences, but it has yet to venture out to extend its boundaries to embrace human-world relations, the disciplines of ecology and environmental sciences.  [A word of caution! The call for “New Green Hermeneutics” should not be bemused with the destructive consequences of the “Green Revolution” or the pseudo environmental philosophy of the “Green Bible”]. 

What we now call for is to enlarge these established hermeneutical margins to embrace other fundamental disciplines for the study of the history of religion and theology.  We read our sacred scriptures side-by-side with the climate models charts, population genomics, DNA signature maps of human migration, philological graphs etc. to plot when and where in the evolution of human societies, momentous historical events — warfare, plagues, social unrests, mass migration, rise and fall of civilizations transpired, and how and why, in that milieu, did religious luminaries, prophets, philosophers, sages, ascetics, and wisdom traditions emerge, and what tenets, rituals, liturgies, scriptures, creeds and the multi-various religious and cultural paraphernalia and products were fabricated.  Chart updated April 8, 2020

The climate model chart primed by Cliff Harris and Randy Mann presented here, shows that the Meghalayan Golden Spike occurred c. 2200 BCE, followed by sudden cool down.  In the context of growing environmental catastrophes at the core centers, how would we read (for instance) the biblical story of the Garden of Eden — the expulsion of the first parents, Adam and Eve from the garden?  Doesn’t it point to a traumatic ecological and environmental crisis that struck the ancient pastoral-agrarian economies like a thunder bolt?  Christian theology refers to it as “the fall.”  Students of green history learn to read ancient texts in their eco-historical-social contexts.  Thus, for us, “Green Historians,” the “fall” of human beings from divine grace as rendered in the Genesis account is an index to the eco-social crises that engulfed the ancient world following the widespread adoption of agriculture and the climate catastrophes of the Meghalayan Age.  

The adoption of agriculture, the domestication of animals and plants caused deep fissures and far-reaching changes in the human relationship with nature; it came with alarming ecological and social costs.  C. Dean Freudenburger confirms this by saying,

Agriculture, closely related to global deforestation by making room for expanding cropping systems, is the most environmentally abusive activity perpetuated by the human species.

The widespread adoption of agriculture in exchange for the millennia of hunting and gathering ways of life caused the depravity of human nature, accentuating evils in the society at large.  Human greed and violence against fellow human beings — (Cain killing his brother Abel, a case in point) eventually led to the widespread use of organized warfare as a means of subsistence that advanced walled-cities, urban civilizations, followed by the rise and fall of empires one after the other.  

Likewise, how would we interpret the Exodus event?  Did Exodus occur primarily by the Divine prompting the Hebrew slaves to flee Egypt from the tyranny of the Pharaohs or did the tribes abandon the fertile plains of the Nile river basin due to catastrophic climate changes, crop failures, and food shortages? Just when the Exodus event was taking shape, widespread social unrests were reported among the steppe herders of the Indo-Iranian plateaus due in part to the desiccation and desertification in the region.  Amidst this anarchy, rose Zoroastrianism, (around 1,200 BCE), one of the most dichotomous eschatological philosophies the world has ever seen.  Zoroastrian monotheism and eschatology eventually came to tincture the Abrahamic faiths — Judaism, Christianity and Islam in tandem.  How about Cyrus the Great, the Persian emperor who freed the Jewish captives and sponsored their return to their home country in the 6th century BCE?  Wasn’t it analogous to the Exodus event, although in a different vein? Why did organized warfare and ignominious social institutions develop and got firmly established during axial times?  Most scholars of the history of religion missed these cues. 

  1. Can India show the way?

One of my regrets in writing Green History of Religion was that I did not have the wherewithal to explore the religious developments on the Indian subcontinent.  My writings were limited to what transpired in the Bible Lands – Levant, Greece, Egypt, Mesopotamia and Persia.  I hope to remedy this lacuna in my future research projects.  This underscores the central premise of the MM, the need to unpack our sacred writs, philosophies and spiritualities in the contexts of the Indian eco-social sagas within which scores of axialities grew.  To make these hermeneutics stand on solid grounds, we would need to first gather, among other things, climate charts of the Holocene epoch for South Asia, maps of population genomics, DNA signatures of human migrations and philology etc. With these aids and with some rudimentary introduction to Sanskrit literature and translations, Indian historiography and geography, we should be able to interpret the vast number of ancient holy writs available to us, from every religious, philosophical, spiritual persuasions. 

The land of India has much to contribute to the Axial debate and to the Axial paradigm shift 2.0.  “The history of South Asia,” write Daniel Mullins and Daniel Hoyer, “is perhaps most supportive of the conventional Axial Age thesis.” Applying the discipline of MM, let me briefly narrate the saga of India, beginning with the collapse of the Indian Valley Civilization (IVC), followed by Aryan Migration into the Indian subcontinent, the rise of Indian axiality — Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, the development of Dravidian axiality and finally the tenacity of tribal and indigenous societies for survival.  This brief narration by no means is meant to cover the entire gamut of Indian axial experiences in-depth.  Nonetheless, we need to pose a few questions here without offering any pronouncements.  We hope that the students of religion will take these up for further investigation and research.

The History of India begins with the birth of the Indus Valley Civilization (IVC), (alternatively called, the Harappan Civilization) that flourished during the Northgrippian age, the middle phase of the Holocene Epoch (c. 8,300-2,400 BCE).  Northgrippian Age is known for melting ice sheets, copious rain fall, steady monsoon seasons that lasted till the start of the Meghalayan age.  The IVC that survived from c. 5,500 to 1,500 BCE was larger than the three ancient urban civilizations – Egypt, Mesopotamia and China.  Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro were the major urban centers, with nearly 1,000 other satellite centers that flourished in the region in every direction. “The total population of the civilization is thought to have been upward of 5 million, and its territory stretched over 900 miles (1,500 km) along the banks of the Indus River and then in all directions outward.”  These cities were sustained by agrarian-pastoral economies and trade with Mesopotamia and Egypt.  The Meghalayan climate crisis caused the collapse of this ancient civilization.  Jaspers’ Axial Age [800–200 BCE] could not extend to encompass this crucial harbinger of the Indian axiality. 

From the archaeological evidence we conclude, that the IVC societies were literate, cultured, nonviolent, egalitarian with no caste or class distinctions; they followed some modicum of law and order without craving for a priestly monarch, a prophet or a savior.  These urban centers and the surrounding hamlets had no sacred precincts for central worship or rituals; no sharp distinctions existed between the sacred and the secular.  The inhabitants observed fertility cults and goddess worship; the inhabitants were down to earth; did not entertain the plausibility of life after death.  Had no standing armies, no equine forces, no chariots, no ziggurats, no watchtowers.  The Harappan cities collapsed when the Meghalayan climate crisis struck and the inhabitants scattered across the Gangetic plains and into Southern India.  If ever there was a golden age in the Indian saga, it was the Harappan civilization which lasted for nearly 4,000 years.  We wish we knew more about this lost civilization.  Alas, to this day the Harappan scripts remain undeciphered.

Aryan Migration and the rise of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism:  Hindu scriptures (Vedas, Upanishads, Aranyakas, Epics, Bhagavad Gita, Puranas, Tantras, etc.) were composed and orally transmitted for centuries before being written down by sages in contemplation along the foothills of Himalayas, on the great plains of Ganges and in the jungles of Videha and Uttarakhand of Himachal regions.  Rig Veda, the first of the four Vedas was composed from 2,300 to 1,200 BCE when bands of Aryans, the steppe herders from the Zagros regions began migrating into the Indian subcontinent, driven by the growing desertification and desiccations in their lands.  These steppe herders had by then been influenced by Zoroastrianism, a radical-dualistic-apocalyptic religious ideology ever to have emerged in the ancient world.  Aryans were light-skinned people; being pastoral people, they venerated sky gods.  Having settled down initially and intermixed with the dark-skinned inhabitants of the Harappan cities, Aryans gradually moved onto to occupying the vast plains of the Ganges from about 1,000 BCE. 

How could this migration, a mundane human response to the changing environment trigger caste-based societies during the Vedic times?  Did the white-skinned pastoral groups ever clash with the dark-skinned agrarians in the Harappan society?  Why on earth did the rabid carnivorous, the “Noble Ones,” become vegans overnight?  Why do scores of sages and sadhus retreat to forest havens?  Did they seek out forest hideouts out of their love for nature?  Or did they opt for the solitude of nature to evade social contracts, familial responsibilities in quest for personal salvation and enlightenment?  How do we account for the rise of Buddhism, a world-negating philosophy to rise in 6th century BCE?  And in the same vein, we witness the rise of Jainism, a religion of nonviolence and extreme asceticism.  Mahavira, a preeminent mover of Jainism was a contemporary of Buddha.  Were these sages and ascetics responding to the changing environment by seeking their own salvation/liberation through denying corporeal existence and withdrawing from the world?  Buddhism did not take roots in India.  King Ashoka converted to Buddhism in c. 264 BCE and set up over thirty rock edicts throughout India, Nepal, Pakistan and Afghanistan.  These rock edicts promote Dhamma — Buddhist values of compassion, moderation, tolerance and respect for all life, including wildlife.  Hunting of certain species of wild animals was banned.  Were these generosities prompted by widespread famine, crop failures, over hunting and population increase?

The Dravidian Axiality:  Pre-Aryan Harappan inhabitants were dark-skinned people of the proto-Dravidian stock.  The drying of the once mighty Saraswati river (now the seasonal Ghaggar–Hakra stream in Pakistan) pushed the Harappan communities to flee the valleys and move on to occupy the Gangetic plains and the Deccan plateau.  We find residues of the Harappan social values reflected in the ancient Dravidian culture and literature.  Thirukural, the sacred poetry of the Tamil people, composed during 6th Century CE reflects these values and social norms.  The poetry is an ethical guide; it exhorts people toward compassionate life, good citizenship, virtuous life, and practice mutual love between husband and wife.  These sacred literatures show how societies need to be organized on nonsectarian, secular and ethical values.  Our suspicion is that the Dravidian migrants, although initially resisted the Aryan domination, eventually succumbed to it.  The Dravidian sacred rituals, iconography, and the popular Hinduism of the countryside is more instinctive of the proto-Shaivism of the IVC.  In recent years, the practice of maintaining “sacred groves,” with small patch of forests with strands of trees and shrubs have become widely popular across Tamil Nadu.  We witness scores of forest shrines and sanctuaries along highways and byways.  The religious taboos surrounding these sacred groves have led to pockets of conservation with abundance of flora and fauna. 

Tribal and Indigenous societies: Vast groups of tribal and indigenous societies, predating the advent of Hinduism continue to survive and flourish well into the present times.  Axial revolutions seemed to have largely bypassed these societies.  Their contributions to the post-axial cults, if any, are mild and nuanced.  In the meantime, we are witnessing growing resistances all across the tribal regions against commercial exploitation of forest resources on which the very livelihood of the people depends.  We have much to learn from these movements, the world-affirming lifestyles and the ecological sensibilities of our indigenous and tribal communities.  

Indian culture is complex, exotic, and enchanting.  Nevertheless, the subcontinent suffers a persistent “metaphysical anxiety.”  Adherents of the Indian axialities (Indian faiths) suffer variations of what Karl Jaspers calls, the “metaphysical guilt,” the collective guilt. The difference is that in the Indian context, the burden of our social guilt is largely disbursed, borne by individuals than the group.  How does one cope with these qualms? The individual can only absolve of his guilt (stain of the soul) through the practice of dharma (performing the sacred duty of his caste), karma (accepting series of future existences and stations in life), and samsara (the sanitization of the atman – the cleansing of the soul through cycles of transmigration), moving toward nirvana, the final release, and in being union with the divine.  The process causes immense anxiety of the soul, due in part to uncertainties of one’s own personal salvation/liberation; no concern whatsoever is expressed for the fate of one’s fellow pilgrims or for communal absolution.  How could anyone break out of these uncertain cycles of transmigration?  Would the “twice-born” ever reach out to embrace his “once-born” neighbor?  How do we, in this context, may truly practice nonviolence, extend axial graces to embrace our communities and protect our environment?  Given this ethos, will India ever be able to anticipate the “Axial Paradigm shift 2.0” in seizing an ecological commonwealth?

  1. From “Rejection of the World” to “World Loyalty” 

One of the critical components of the MM is the concept of “gestalt.”  Religions also trade in meanings, sifting through myriads of gestalts acquired from ecological and social environment, selectively employing them to construct their respective world hypothesis.  Every religion and philosophy seek to comprehend the universe and the immediate habitat for positing a raison d’être for human presence and experience within it.

Human engagement with the natural world takes many different forms – from artistic appreciation to ruthless exploitation for economic gains.  Some of the vital components that go into the makeup of human-world relations and the concomitant world hypothesis are land, topophilia, biophilia, landscape gestalts, human ecology, and climatic changes and their effects on the environment and human societies.  John Hick defines religion “as a self-regulating response of the human animal to the pressures generated by its particular niche within the biological system.”  The pressures on human societies and human-world relations exerted by biological niches also shape the worldviews and the archetypes of the collective consciousness.  

Religion by nature is selective; it filters multitude of gestalts offered by the natural world, absorbs what fits its scheme while opting for imagined ideas of “misplaced concreteness.”  Through the lenses of the MM, any student of history can now easily observe the tell-tale signs of the axial revolution or what we wish to call, “the first axial paradigm shift.” The “world-accepting,” organic-relational existence of the primal world which lasted into the pre-axial age was usurped by the world-rejecting axial mentality of the Meghalayan age.  Strangely though, scholars who studied axial phenomenon did not connect the dots, because their approach to the study of the history of religion or hermeneutics of the sacred texts was highly anthropocentric and dualistic.  They rarely took the natural world seriously; and much of their works came to a dead-end. 

It must be reckoned that tenets like “cosmic homelessness,” “transcendence,” “soteriology” etc. are of recent origin, in comparison to the long-lasting histories of homosapiens on the planet earth.  Axial world-hypothesis has been in existence for a mere four thousand years while homosapiens have inhabited the planet as hunters and foragers for over two million years.  The dominant disposition of the primal and indigenous societies has been one of being “at home” in the natural world.  Primal myths and cults affirmed the providence of nature and integrated human presence and experiences with the processes and cycles of nature. 

Alfred North Whitehead called this disposition, “World Loyalty.” If ever there was a phase in human evolution when some modicum of “world loyalty” was extant, it was the primal times when homosapiens lived as hunter-gatherers – the longest-lasting of any structures of human existence.  Those primal societies could do so with their implicit trust in the benevolence of the world processes.  We may vicariously identify the “world loyalty” of the primal times in contrast to the “world-rejection” of the axial traditions.  Whitehead said, 

The moment of religious consciousness starts from self-valuation, but it broadens into the concept of the world as a realm of adjusted values, mutually intensifying or mutually destructive.  In its solitariness the spirit asks, What, in the way of value, is the attainment of life? And it can find no such value till it has merged its individual claim with that of the objective universeReligion is world-loyalty. The spirit at once surrenders itself to this universal claim and appropriates it for itself. [Emphasis mine].

“World Loyalty” is constituted by God, Creativity, the Cosmos, and the Present.  It is ultimate, irreducible, wholistic, consistent, complex, organic, relational, experiential, and creative.  Sadly, from the onset of the Holocene epoch, there has been a steady erosion of the values of “wholeness.”  If religion is ultimately about ‘the whole,’ then any lesser loyalties – even commitments to any strains of parochial monotheism – is falsehood or idolatry.  The preeminent historian Arnold Toynbee wrote in 1973,

Some of the major maladies of the present-day world – in particular, the recklessly extravagant consumption of nature’s irreplaceable treasures, and the pollution of those of them that man has not already devoured – can be traced back in the last analysis to a religious cause and this cause is the rise of monotheism.

Toynbee was referring here, to a type of traditional monotheisms that is largely negative toward the natural world.  If we are to envision a sustainable future for our planet, we would need to re-think the implications of our theistic stances in relation to the wholistic world hypothesis.  

  1. “Meghalayan Covenant” 

Conversations on envisioning an ecological commonwealth will undoubtedly call us to dabble not only with the gestalts of our immediate environment, our neighborhood, communities, the natural world, and the planet, but also with the atomic world, celestial spheres, and the cosmos. We, the Whiteheadians call this as the New Cosmology, the Cosmic Immortality!  We who live in the space age are one of the propitious people with acumen for comprehending anything and everything in depth and breadth scientifically, philosophically, psychically, rationally as well as religiously.  For the first time in human history, we glimpse down at our planet on our desktops via signals beamed from the outer space.  It is one thing to stare at the Blue Planet on our monitors, it is yet another thing to gape down at the Planet from space. 

Astronaut Michael Collins said, 

I remember so vividly what I saw when I looked back at my fragile home – a glistening, inviting beacon, delicate blue and white, a tiny outpost suspended in the black infinity, Earth is to be treasured and nurtured, something precious that must endure. 

Indeed, several astronauts who observed the planet Earth from outer space have expressed similar sentiments.  Some of them even claim to have had some sort of religious conversion.  Indeed the sheer beauty of the planet which sparkles like a blue diamond set against the dark velvety space enchants all of us.  Such a treat was not conferred upon our ancestors.  For them, especially our primal ancestors, the entry into that “mysterium tremendum” came via the celestial panorama.  Ancient desert nomads experienced similar religious ecstasies when they gazed into the night sky.  For postmodern humans who are at the cusp of a new space age, entry into such ecstasies occurs from viewing the “Rare Earth” and the cosmos through all means available to us.  Whether we gaze into the starry heavens or view the earth through space telescopes, or peek into the subatomic world through Hadron Collider, one thing is certain – that we are beginning to live out our religious or spiritual existence at several frontiers [and dimensions] rather than clinging precariously to our own parochial religious histories and traditions.  Increasingly we are made aware that our destinies and that of this planet are contingent upon the forces that are outside the planet and beyond human control, and those that are of our own making.  Therefore, our religious imaginations, existence, experiences, and engagements in the world must come to rest on the knowledge we absorb from multi-varied disciplines of science and arts – cosmology, astrobiology, astronomy, and planetary-climatological and environmental histories. “The whole Earth is aesthetically stimulating,” wrote Holmes Rolston, “philosophically challenging, and ethically disturbing.”  

The need of the hour is for humanity to be open to the fresh visitations of cosmic, planetary, and ecological gestalts that enchant the world of nature anew and aid humanity to envision and nurture the emergence of a new paradigm – a new faith which we have christened here as theMeghalayan Faith.”  Meghalayan Faith is universal, transaxial, transecumenical, transCatholic.  There is no one prophet, or messiah, or redeemer.  This ancient new faith warrants a sustainable future – an “ecological commonwealth” for all living beings — animate or inanimate, and the planet.  It will revolutionize our understanding of the phenomenon of religion altogether, not to mention the study of the history of religion.  We will also find ways to cleanse every Living World Religion of its world-negating loyalties formed during the seminal days of the axial revolution.  If the underlying paradigms of misplaced concreteness of our faiths and practices change for the better, they would transform our hearts and minds triggering seismic shifts of our social, political, and religious thoughts, ideologies, and institutions, moving us toward anticipating and embracing this universal faith.  

This does not mean that I give up my Protestant faith in exchange for this new universal faith.  No!  For all practical purposes, my faith is personal, foundational, shaped on the anvils of my solitariness.  As Whitehead says, “Religion is what the individual does with his own solitariness.” I subject my faith to the service of the emerging new world-loyalty, in the witness of the Meghalayan Faith.  I have been transformed by the call of this new faith.  Every one of us must cherish our own faith; but when we come together as communities to relate to the natural world, the planet and beyond, we need a faith that transcends our cultural, national, ethnic, linguistic histories and traditions.  Every axial faith has been constricted by its own cultural and historical singularity, and handicaps.  We must repent of our parochial loyalties and pledge our allegiance to this emerging new universal faith, the Meghalayan Faith.   

The time is ripe for another major paradigm shift – the Axial Revolution 2.0 — to be effectuated in the religious life of global human communities.  We, the postmodern Meghalayans therefore call for a covenant with the Meghalayan Faith – a commitment to a new world-loyalty in sizing an ecological commonwealth.  To this end, we call all those who wish to be radicalized by the new faith to come together to draft and frame the “Meghalayan Covenant” that envisions an “ecological commonwealth,” and go out to witness to its gospel.  What comes of this endeavor could be exhilarating, adventurous, audacious, subversive, and ethically challenging.

References

Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac: And Sketches Here and There (Oxford University Press, 1949).

Alfred North Whitehead, Religion in the Making, 1926 (New York: Fordham University Press, 2003, 1926).

Anand Veeraraj, “Environmental Mission of the Church,” NCCI Review (Nagpur, India) vol. CVI #. 11, December 1986, 733-740.

Anand Veeraraj, “Christianity and the Environment” in World Religions and the Environment, by O.P. Dwivedi, ed., (New Delhi, India: Gitanjali Publishing House, 1989), 36-118

Anand Veeraraj, Green History of Religion (Bangalore, India: Centre for Contemporary Christianity, 2006).

Anand Veeraraj, “Transforming Axial Paradigms in Seizing and Ecological Civilization,” unpublished paper, presented at the conference, Seizing an Alternative: Toward and Ecological Civilization, Claremont University, California, June 4-7. 2015. http://thegreatstory.org/veeraraj-overview.pdf.

C. Dean Freudenburger, “Agriculture in a Postmodern World,” in Spirituality and Society:

   Postmodern Visions, ed. David Ray Griffin (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1988).

Daniel Austin Mullins, et al, A Systematic Assessment of the Axial Age Thesis for the Emergence of Moralizing Religious Thought (Oxford, United Kingdom: University of Oxford, 2017), [PrePrint: article currently under review].

David and Eileen Spring, Ecology and Religion in History (New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1974).

David Ray Griffin, ed. Archetypal Process: Self and Divine in Whitehead, Jung and Hillman (Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 1989).

Edward O. Wilson, Biophilia (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984).

Eliza F. Kent, Sacred Groves and Local Gods: Religion and Environmentalism In South India (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2013).

H. Hüzhet Dalfes, George Kukla, and Harvey Weiss. eds. Third Millennium BC Climate Change and Old-World Collapse (Berlin: Springer-Verlag, 1997).

Herman E. Daly and John B. Cobb, Jr., For the Common Good: Redirecting the Economy toward Community, the Environment, and a Sustainable Future (Boston: Beacon Press, 1989), 97-117.

Holmes Rolston, III., A New Environmental Ethics: The Next Millennium for Life on Earth (New York, NY: Rutledge, 2012). 

John B. Cobb, Jr., and WM. Andrew Schwartz, eds., Putting Philosophy to Work: Toward an Ecological Civilization (Anoka, Minnesota: Process Century Press, 2018).

John B. Cobb, Jr., Salvation: Jesus’s Mission and Ours (Anoka, Minnesota: Process Century Press, 2020).

John B. Cobb, Jr., Theological Reminiscences (Claremont: Process Century Press, 2014).

John B. Cobb, Jr., The Structure of Christian Existence (Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, Inc., 1990).

John Hick, An Interpretation of Religion: Human Responses to the Transcendent (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1989).

Karl Jaspers, The Origin and Goal of History (Hew Haven: Yale University Press, 1953).

Mark Johnston, Saving God: Religion after Idolatry (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009).

Mark W. Muesse, Religions of the Axial Age: An Approach to the World’s Religions [Chantilly, VA: The Teaching Company, 2007), Part 1 & 2.

Max Weber, “Religious Rejections of the World and Their Directions” in From Max Weber, ed. Hans H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills (New York: Oxford University Press, 1946).

Murray Bookchin, “What is Social Ecology?” in Michael E. Zimmerman et all., Environmental Philosophy: From Animal Rights Radical Ecology, (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1993) 355-373.

Peter D. Ward and Donald Brownlee, Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe (New York, NY: Copernicus, 2000).

Philip Clayton and WM. Andrew Schwartz, What is Ecological Civilization? Crisis, Hope, and the Future of the Planet (Anoka, Minnesota: Process Century Press, 2019).

Robert N. Bellah, Beyond Belief: Essays on Religion in a Post-traditional world (First Ed.), (New York, NY: Harper and Row, 1970).

Robert N. Bellah, Religion in Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2011).

Robert R. Bellah, “What Is Axial about the Axial Age? European Journal of Sociology (2005) 46: 69-89.  

Robert N. Bellah and Hans Joas, The Age and Its Consequences, (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2012).

Rudolf Otto. The Idea of the Holy, 2nd ed. Trans. John W. Harve (London: Oxford University Press, 1958).

Tony Joseph, Early Indians: The Story of Our Ancestors and Where We Came From (New Delhi, India: Juggernaut Books, 2018).

Walter Brueggemann, The Land (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1977).

Wm. Andrew Schwartz, What is Ecological Civilization? Crisis, Hope, and the Future of the Planet (Anoka, Minnesota: Process Century Press, 2019).

Yu-fu Tuan, Topophilia: A study of Environmental Perception, Attitudes and Values (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1974).

Meghalayan Covenant #18

Princeton, NJ

2/14/2021

Megalayan Congress – Abridged 26

Foreword

Anand Veeraraj and the Meghalayan Age

  John B. Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Veeraraj has led in the belated realization that changes in the natural environment, including climatic ones, can be expected to affect religious attitudes.  He has shown that scholars in this field have been very slow to overcome the dualism of nature and history and to appreciate the importance of the former in shaping the latter as well as the now overwhelming importance of history shaping nature.  The present essay reflects his response to the recent decision of those who establish the successive epochs of the Earth’s history to analyze the Holocene into three periods, the third of which, the Meghalayan, is named for a state in India where the evidence was clearly found.  It also reflects his more recent studies of the history of religion in India.  

The central issue for him all along has been the momentous shift in the middle of the first millennium B.C. from religions that are at home in the world to those who seek reality or healing from something outside or beyond it.  The latter are often called the axial religions, stemming from spiritual giants who lived two and a half millennia ago.  He thinks the axial religions are responsible for much of the alienation from nature that has characterized history for two millennia or more.  He sees them as responding to an already existing alienation in the Meghalayan age and in that way reenforcing it and communicating it to followers.  Why did this dramatic reversal of religious attitudes toward the natural world occur? 

He suggests that at least part of the reason must have been that nature had become less benign.  Fluctuations in climate had become greater with some changes coming abruptly.  Obviously, a change from a period of abundant rainfall to one of extreme drought has enormous effects, with whole peoples migrating in search of more habitable locations.  I personally would also emphasize that city life is inherently more alienated from nature than rural life, and that, therefore, the culture of cities is likely to express a more alienated view.  But then we must ask, why did cities become so important, and, once again, what was happening in nature probably played a role.

In this essay for the first time, Dr. Veeraraj deals with the history of ancient India. In some ways, it turns out that the expectations to which he leads us fit more smoothly with this history than with that of the West.  This strengthens his thesis, but it also shows the somewhat independent role of history and culture.  There is much more to learn.

Of course, religions are not simply expressions of human attitudes toward nature.  Natural changes affect them in other ways.  Dr. Veeraraj’s work is replete with suggestions for further study.  He writes more to invite us all to join him in this richer, more inclusive, research than to answer all the questions that are raised.

John B. Cobb, Jr.

Cobb Institute, Claremont, California

2/22/2021

     The “Meghalayan Congress” calls for an Ecological Commonwealth/Civilization!

By Anand Veeraraj

  1. Meghalaya, the Garden of Eden in the East

Meghalaya is a small state in North India, adjoining the country of Bangladesh.  The word, “Meghalaya” in Sanskrit means, “An Abode of Clouds;” in Tamil, “A Temple of Clouds.”  Indeed, it is a fitting moniker for the place and the people who live in Meghalaya.  The scenery is breathtakingly beautiful, especially during the monsoon seasons.  Travel brochures promoting tourism to Meghalaya depict a region with low hanging rain clouds, embracing the rocky hills, hamlets, and valleys with scores of waterfalls, streams, and lakes.  About 70% of the state is subtropical forest ecoregion, with a biodiversity of rare mammals, birds, and plants.  A small portion of the forested area is preserved as “sacred groves” for religious rituals, protected from commercial exploitation.  Indeed, Meghalaya is a template for an “ecological commonwealth” — an abode made for gods, people, and nature to live in harmony and in sustainable ways.  If ever there was or is a Garden of Eden in the East, it is here in Meghalaya.  Interestingly, the garden swarms with scores of serpents, especially the King Cobra, one of the most venomous snake species on earth.  If you ever happen to hike through the forest trails in Meghalaya, don’t stop to talk with any of these serpents! 

Meghalaya is an exceedingly small state, with an area covering 8,660 square miles, roughly 2/3rd the size of Rhode Island.  It has a population of about 3.7 million people.  As tribal people, Meghalayans have historically followed a matrilineal system where the family lineage and inheritance are traced through women.  The youngest daughter inherits all the family’s wealth and takes care of her parents in their old age.  About 75% of the Meghalayans are Christians – Presbyterians, Baptists, and Catholics.  English is the official language of the state.  

In December 1986, I published an article in the journal, The National Council of Churches in India Review [NCCIR] entitled, “Environmental Mission of the Church.” The article highlighted the alarming environmental crisis that was engulfing the Indian subcontinent.  It began with a developing story about the drinking water scarcity encountered in Cherrapunji Hills and the surrounding regions in Meghalaya.  [Cherrapunji Hills received an annual rainfall of about 500 inches. Now the rainfall has dwindled down to annual average of 470 inches].  Meghalaya, which was called, “the wettest place on earth,” was now nicknamed, “the wettest desert on earth.”  The reasons were obvious.  Large scale commercial felling of trees had not only denuded these green hills making them barren, but also caused extensive soil erosions leading to massive flooding at the foothills, especially in Bangladesh during monsoon seasons.  That article in the NCCIR journal on India’s environmental crisis was perhaps the first of its kind published in any ecumenical journals in India.  Since then, major Christian journals in India began highlighting the growing environmental crisis on the Indian subcontinent and called the local churches to address the issue as their missional calling.

  1. The Meghalayan Golden Spike

Meghalaya has been in the news lately.  On July 18, 2018, the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS) — a subcommittee of the International Union of Geographic Sciences (IUGS) which is tasked with defining the geologic time scale — voted to create a new geological age labeled as the Meghalayan Age.  The Meghalayan age is the youngest, newest unit of the geologic timescale that arose about 4.2 ka (thousand years) ago.  The age was marked by extreme global warming, followed by widespread drought leading to the collapse of ancient civilizations.

The ICS divides earth’s 4.6-billion-year geological history into eras, periods, epochs, and ages.  Holocene Epoch, the current geological epoch began at the end of the last ice age c. 11,700 years ago. Until recently, the epoch did not comprise precise labels demarking the geological stratification within its timelines.  Now the epoch is divided up into three ages: the Greenlandian, the Northgrippian and the Meghalayan.  The first two ages of the Holocene epoch – Greenlandian and Northgrippian were identified, not from the customary rocky layers, rather from the isotopes detected in the ice core drilled from the depths of the earth’s ice sheets.  The Greenlandian age experienced the rising of warming trends with copious precipitation.  The middle phase of the Holocene epoch — now referred to as the Northgrippian age — continued with the ripple effects of the melting ice sheets, runoff from c. 8,300 years ago to the start of the Meghalayan age.

The Meghalayan age was marked by uptick in global warming and a megadrought that lasted two decades or longer, followed by a sudden dry cool down.  The Meghalayan golden spike is epitomized in isotopes of oxygen atoms present in the layers of a stalagmite growing from the floor of the Mawmluh cave in Meghalaya.  [Mawmluh cave, located at an elevation of 1,290 meters, is one of the longest and deepest caves in India].  Prof. Mike Walker of the University of Wales, UK, who led the international team of Holocene scientists says, “The two most prominent shifts occur at about 4,300 and about 4,100 years before present, so the mid-point between the two would be 4,200 years before present (2018), and this is the age that we attribute to the Meghalayan golden spike.”

How did the ICS scientists nail down these geological timelines?  “This is the first time,” writes Malavika Vyawahare, Hindustan Times, “a geological time scale change has been linked to cultural event – in this case the collapse of civilizations.”  For this reason, the geological stratigraphy of the Meghalayan age is now defined, not only by the global warming and its effects on the environment, but also by the repercussions of human activities – pastoral-agrarian pursuits, mass migration, organized warfare, rise and fall of ancient civilizations, etc.

  1. Karl Jaspers and the “Axial Age”

The Meghalayan Age and the Axial Age (the first religious and philosophical turning-point in history) are in dialogue here. The science of ecology and the traditional philosophy of religion are like water and oil; they do not jell.  These topics deal with global climate changes and how they affect human-world relations; their perceptions, and approaches are diametrically atypical.  Ecosystems are organic, relational, ever evolving with human communities imbedded within.  Contrarily, most axial religious traditions and formulations are monadic, thrive on exclusivity and singularity; or else they will not be reckoned as faith traditions. 

The Axial Age, [die Achsenzeit] was observed by the German philosopher, Karl Jaspers (1883-1969).  Jaspers propounded that the age was a global religious phenomenon that emerged during the six centuries, from 800 to 200 BCE.  Prominent religious luminaries — philosophers, prophets, and sages rose on the world stage to grapple with issues of ultimate reality, nature of humanity, and the world in fresh new ways.  These religious leaders and philosophers, together with their cohorts became centers of new religious movements and schools of philosophies. 

Until recently, scholars of Axial Age were oblivious to global environmental changes and climate catastrophes that visited ancient civilizations.  We would need to query whether the Meghalayan Age geological markers have the grit to index the complexities of the Axial Age traditions, philosophies and spiritualities.  How do the metaphysics of axiality (religion, philosophy, and spiritualities) mesh with the science of ecology, geology and climate change?  At the moment, science and religion seem to run amok, independent of each other.  No meaningful dialogue exists between the protagonists of the Meghalayan Age and the Axial Age theologians, philosophers and historians.  The recent pronouncement of the ICS scientists on the “Meghalayan Age” offers us the opportunity to bring these camps together for a dialogue.   

On the other hand, we would also need to query the fundamental axial enigma as to how the axial religions and philosophies rose simultaneously without any concord with similar movements elsewhere around the globe?  And why some groups were left out from participating in the axial advances or its foibles?  For instance, women and dark-skinned folks were generally excluded from the axial graces and privileges.  Primal, tribal, and indigenous societies were often by passed from marching in the axial parade.  While every scholar sought to expound the axial phenomenon from their own academic expertise, no one offered a credible, all-encompassing rationale as to why axial movements rose around the world simultaneously in the first place.  Neither did they offer any credible rational as to why some groups and societies were left out in the process.  Nevertheless, almost all scholars studying the “Axial Age” concur on a single “axis of history” – a phenomenon which Max Weber called, the “religious rejection of the world,” – conversely, the “human alienation from the world” – a sentiment common to all post-axial religions and philosophies.  This post-axial stance was diametrically divergent from the virtual “acceptance of the world” found in pre-axial societies that had lasted for thousands of years prior to the advent of axial revolution.  What caused the post-axial disenchantment with the world, while at the same time exalting an otherworldly realm as truly worthy and infinitely valuable?  

  1. The New Green Hermeneutics – “The Meghalayan Monocles”   

The saga is narrated in the book, Green History of Religion published in 2006.  Writing a review of the book, John Cobb says,

This is a truly groundbreaking book! Despite all our talk of overcoming dualism, our historical and systematic accounts of the history of religion rarely take the relation of human beings and their natural environment seriously into account. [The book] devotes several chapters to recent interpretations of what Jaspers calls the Axial Age to show how oblivious most of them [scholars on religion] are to the natural world. . . .Taking the changing relation of human beings to their natural environment into account deeply transforms the understanding of the history of religion. [Emphasis mine].

Cobb went on to invite scholars of different disciplines to take on parallel projects.  The book raked in unintended dividends, not so much in monetary returns [we hardly made any profit from publishing/marketing the book]; but its contribution to the study of the history of religions and for developing the tools crucial for biblical hermeneutics, was enormous.  For us, it was immensely ingenious, ground-breaking, and gratifying.

By coincidence, this was the first time that any student of religion has ever tried their luck with Green Hermeneutics!  We have therefore, for the first time, opted to christen this New Green Hermeneutics as the “Meghalayan Monocles” (MM).  And we call for the advancement and refinement of this discipline for the study of religion, theology and the reading of sacred texts.  Until recently, hermeneutics has remained a specialized discipline, narrowly focused within the confines of linguistics or epistemology, primarily employed in interpreting sacred texts.  Such constrictions have made hermeneutics an autonomous discipline, at times spinning into a spurious discipline with banal outcomes as witnessed in our Sunday sermons.  Lately the boundaries of the discipline have been extended to include philology, philosophy, theology, history, jurisprudence, psychology, and social sciences, but it has yet to venture out to extend its boundaries to embrace human-world relations, the disciplines of ecology and environmental sciences.  

What we now call for is to enlarge these established hermeneutical margins to embrace other fundamental disciplines for the study of the history of religion and theology.  We read our sacred scriptures side-by-side with the climate models charts, population genomics, DNA signature maps of human migration, philological graphs etc. to plot when and where in the evolution of human societies, momentous historical events — warfare, plagues, social unrests, mass migration, rise and fall of civilizations transpired, and how and why, in that milieu, did religious luminaries, prophets, philosophers, sages, ascetics, and wisdom traditions emerge, and what tenets, rituals, liturgies, scriptures, creeds and the multi-various religious and cultural paraphernalia and products were fabricated.  

  1. From “Rejection of the World” to “World Loyalty” 

A critical component of the MM is the concept of “gestalt.”  Religions also trade in meanings, sifting through myriads of gestalts acquired from ecological and social environment, selectively employing them to construct their respective world hypothesis.  Every religion and philosophy seek to comprehend the universe and the immediate habitat for positing a raison d’être for human presence and experience within it.

Human engagement with the natural world takes many different forms – from artistic appreciation to ruthless exploitation for economic gains.  Some of the vital components that go into the makeup of human-world relations and the concomitant world hypothesis are land, topophilia, biophilia, landscape gestalts, human ecology, and climatic changes and their effects on the environment and human societies.  John Hick defines religion “as a self-regulating response of the human animal to the pressures generated by its particular niche within the biological system.”  The pressures on human societies and human-world relations exerted by biological niches also shape the worldviews and the archetypes of the collective consciousness.  

Religion by nature is selective; it filters multitude of gestalts offered by the natural world, the universe, neighborhoods, communities at large and one’s own intuitions, absorbs what fits its scheme while opting for imagined ideas of “misplaced concreteness.”  Through the lenses of the MM, any student of history can now easily observe the tell-tale signs of the axial revolution or what we wish to call, “the first axial paradigm shift.” The “world-accepting,” organic-relational existence of the primal world which lasted into the pre-axial age was usurped by the world-rejecting axial mentality of the Meghalayan age.  Strangely though, scholars who studied axial phenomenon did not connect the dots, because their approach to the study of the history of religion or hermeneutics of the sacred texts was highly anthropocentric and dualistic.  They rarely took the natural world seriously; and much of their works came to a dead-end. 

It must be reckoned that tenets like “cosmic homelessness,” “transcendence,” “soteriology” etc. are of recent origin, in comparison to the long-lasting histories of homosapiens on the planet earth.  Axial world-hypothesis has been in existence for a mere four thousand years while homosapiens have inhabited the planet as hunters and foragers for over two million years.  The dominant disposition of the primal and indigenous societies has been one of being “at home” in the natural world.  Primal myths and cults affirmed the providence of nature and integrated human presence and experiences with the processes and cycles of nature. 

Alfred North Whitehead called this disposition, “World Loyalty.”   If ever there was a phase in human evolution when some modicum of “world loyalty” was extant, it was the primal times when homosapiens lived as hunter-gatherers – the longest-lasting of any structures of human existence.  Those primal societies could do so with their implicit trust in the benevolence of the world processes.  We may vicariously identify the “world loyalty” of the primal times in contrast to the “world-rejection” of the axial traditions.  “World Loyalty” is constituted by God, Creativity, the Cosmos, and the Present.  It is ultimate, irreducible, wholistic, consistent, complex, organic, relational, experiential, and creative.  Sadly, from the onset of the Holocene epoch, there has been a steady erosion of the values of “wholeness.”  If religion is ultimately about ‘the whole,’ then any lesser loyalties – even commitments to any strains of parochial monotheism – is falsehood or idolatry.  

  1. “The Meghalayan Covenanters”

Conversations on envisioning an ecological commonwealth will undoubtedly call us to dabble not only with the gestalts of our immediate environment, our neighborhood, communities, the natural world, and the planet, but also with the atomic world, celestial spheres, and the cosmos. We call this as the New Cosmology — the Cosmic Immortality.  We who live in the space age are one of the propitious people with acumen for comprehending anything and everything in depth and breadth scientifically, philosophically, psychically, rationally as well as religiously.  For the first time in human history, we glimpse down at our planet on our desktops via signals beamed from the outer space.  Astronaut Michael Collins said, 

I remember so vividly what I saw when I looked back at my fragile home – a glistening, inviting beacon, delicate blue and white, a tiny outpost suspended in the black infinity, Earth is to be treasured and nurtured, something precious that must endure. 

Indeed, several astronauts who observed the planet Earth from outer space have expressed similar sentiments.  Some of them even claim to have had some sort of religious conversion.  Indeed the sheer beauty of the planet which sparkles like a blue diamond set against the dark velvety space enchants all of us.  For postmodern humans who are at the cusp of a new space age, entry into such ecstasies occurs from viewing the “Blue Planet” and the cosmos through all means available to us.  Whether we gaze into the starry heavens or view the earth through space telescopes, or peek into the subatomic world through Hadron Collider, one thing is certain – that we are beginning to live out our religious or spiritual existence at several frontiers [and dimensions] rather than clinging precariously to our own parochial religious histories and traditions.  Increasingly we are made aware that our destinies and that of this planet are contingent upon the forces that are outside the planet and beyond human control, and those that are of our own making.  Therefore, our religious imaginations, existence, experiences, and engagements in the world must come to rest on the knowledge we absorb from multi-varied disciplines of science and arts – cosmology, astrobiology, astronomy, and planetary-climatological and environmental histories.  “The whole Earth is aesthetically stimulating,” wrote Holmes Rolston, “philosophically challenging, and ethically disturbing.”  

The need of the hour is for humanity to be open to the fresh visitations of cosmic, planetary, and ecological gestalts that enchant the world of nature anew and aid humanity to envision and nurture the emergence of a new paradigm – a new faith which we have christened here as theMeghalayan Faith.”  Meghalayan Faith is universal, transaxial, transecumenical, transCatholic.  There is no one prophet, or messiah, or redeemer.  This ancient new faith warrants a sustainable future – an “ecological commonwealth” for all living beings — animate and inanimate, and the planet.  It will revolutionize our understanding of the phenomenon of religion altogether, not to mention the study of the history of religion.  We will also find ways to cleanse every Living World Religion of its world-negating loyalties formed during the seminal days of the axial revolution.  If the underlying paradigms of misplaced concreteness of our faiths and practices change for the better, they would transform our hearts and minds triggering seismic shifts of our social, political, and religious thoughts, ideologies, and institutions, moving us toward anticipating and embracing this universal faith.  

The time is ripe for another major paradigm shift to be ushered in the religious life of global human communities.  We, the postmodern Meghalayans therefore call for a covenant with the Meghalayan Faith – a commitment to a new world-loyalty in sizing an ecological commonwealth.  To this end, we call all those who wish to be radicalized by the new faith to come together to draft and frame the “Meghalayan Covenant” that envisions an “ecological commonwealth,” and go out to witness to its gospel.  What comes of this endeavor could be exhilarating, adventurous, audacious, subversive, and ethically challenging.

Anand Veeraraj is an ordained minister in the Church of South India and serves as the Pastor-emeritus of the New Jersey Indian Church/Trinity Community Church [UCC & PC-USA]. He lives with his family near Princeton, New Jersey. 

The Meghalayan Congress – version 26

Princeton, New Jersey, USA

www.princetonforum.org; www.meghalayancongress.org

March 1, 2021

Megalayan Congress 26

Foreword

Anand Veeraraj and the Meghalayan Age

  John B. Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Veeraraj has led in the belated realization that changes in the natural environment, including climatic ones, can be expected to affect religious attitudes.  He has shown that scholars in this field have been very slow to overcome the dualism of nature and history and to appreciate the importance of the former in shaping the latter as well as the now overwhelming importance of history shaping nature.  The present essay reflects his response to the recent decision of those who establish the successive epochs of the Earth’s history to analyze the Holocene into three periods, the third of which, the Meghalayan, is named for a state in India where the evidence was clearly found.  It also reflects his more recent studies of the history of religion in India.  

The central issue for him all along has been the momentous shift in the middle of the first millennium B.C. from religions that are at home in the world to those who seek reality or healing from something outside or beyond it.  The latter are often called the axial religions, stemming from spiritual giants who lived two and a half millennia ago.  He thinks the axial religions are responsible for much of the alienation from nature that has characterized history for two millennia or more.  He sees them as responding to an already existing alienation in the Meghalayan age and in that way reenforcing it and communicating it to followers.  Why did this dramatic reversal of religious attitudes toward the natural world occur? 

He suggests that at least part of the reason must have been that nature had become less benign.  Fluctuations in climate had become greater with some changes coming abruptly.  Obviously, a change from a period of abundant rainfall to one of extreme drought has enormous effects, with whole peoples migrating in search of more habitable locations.  I personally would also emphasize that city life is inherently more alienated from nature than rural life, and that, therefore, the culture of cities is likely to express a more alienated view.  But then we must ask, why did cities become so important, and, once again, what was happening in nature probably played a role.

In this essay for the first time, Dr. Veeraraj deals with the history of ancient India. In some ways, it turns out that the expectations to which he leads us fit more smoothly with this history than with that of the West.  This strengthens his thesis, but it also shows the somewhat independent role of history and culture.  There is much more to learn.

Of course, religions are not simply expressions of human attitudes toward nature.  Natural changes affect them in other ways.  Dr. Veeraraj’s work is replete with suggestions for further study.  He writes more to invite us all to join him in this richer, more inclusive, research than to answer all the questions that are raised.

John B. Cobb, Jr.

Cobb Institute, Claremont, California

2/22/2021

______________________________________________________________________________

The “Meghalayan Congress” calls for the “Axial Paradigm Shift 2.0.” in seizing an Ecological Commonwealth/Civilization.

Anand Veeraraj

Keywords

Meghalayan Age — Axiality – Gestalts — New Green Hermeneutics – Meghalayan Covenant — Ecological Commonwealth/Civilization

Abstract

The Meghalayan Age and the Axial Age (the first religious and philosophical turning-point in history) are in dialogue here. The science of ecology and the traditional philosophy of religion are like water and oil; they do not jell.  These topics deal with global climate changes and how they affect human-world relations; their perceptions, and approaches are diametrically atypical.  Ecosystems are organic, relational, ever evolving with human communities imbedded within.  Contrarily, most axial religious traditions and formulations are monadic, thrive on exclusivity and singularity; or else they will not be reckoned as faith traditions. 

Until recently, scholars of Axial Age were oblivious to global environmental changes and climate catastrophes that visited ancient civilizations.  This paper explores the links between the two – the Meghalayan climate crisis and the rise of Axial religions, spiritualities, and philosophies.  The notion of an “axis of history” serves as a largescale interpretive tool in the study of religion, showing among other things, the effects of climate crisis on the evolution of human societies and cultures, and the distinctions between pre-axial and post-axial religions.  This presentation, in some ways, is provocative, subversive in exacting why we call for a new Axial revolution – a second paradigm shift of our religious and cultural existence at this propitious time.  It seeks to unmask the philosophical and religious underpinnings of the so-called “Axial Age.”   

  1. Is it prudent to emboss the Meghalayan Age on the Axial Age or vice versa?  
  1. How and why did the ancient humans come to trade in the world-affirming dispositions of the pre-axial times with the world-denying faiths of the post-axial times?  
  1. “What is Axial about the Axial Age?” – a question central to Robert Bellah. 
  2. Can India show the way to save humanity from the impending ecological catastrophes? 
  3. How do we covenant with the natural world in seizing an ecological commonwealth? 

Recounting a coherent comprehensive story of the Axial Age, by no means is easy.  Given the limitations of this essay, we opt for a unifying narrative that would establish a cohesive logic for the dialogue.  And that narrative is traced through how I was educated and eventually got involved with the environmental crisis sweeping across India, my home country, and how my faith and activism are being transformed and enriched in the process.  So, let me begin with the last chapter of the story of my enlightenment — the “Meghalayan Golden Spike” pronounced in July 2018 – and proceed with the story in reverse to the advent of the Axial Age. And finally, we loop back to our hope in seizing an ecological commonwealth, by witnessing to the ancient new faith — the Meghalayan Faith.

Author Biography

ANAND VEERARAJ is an ordained minister in the Church of South India and serves as the Pastor-emeritus of the New Jersey Indian Church/Trinity Community Church [UCC & PC-USA], and the sponsor of the Meghalayan Covenanters Forum and the Princeton Forum, New Jersey.  He is the author of the books Green History of Religion, Earthen Vessels: The Paradox of Christian Leadership and the co-editor of the book, Pilgrims at the Crossroads: Asian Indian Christians at the North American Frontier.  He has written over 40 scholarly and popular essays for journals and book chapters. He earned a PhD in Religion and Ecology from Claremont University, California.  He lives with his family near Princeton, New Jersey. 

  1. Meghalaya, the Garden of Eden in the East

Meghalaya is a small state in North India, adjoining the country of Bangladesh.  The word, “Meghalaya” in Sanskrit means, “An Abode of Clouds;” in Tamil, “A Temple of Clouds.”  Indeed, it is a fitting moniker for the place and the people who live in Meghalaya.  The scenery is breathtakingly beautiful, especially during the monsoon seasons.  Travel brochures promoting tourism to Meghalaya depict a region with low hanging rain clouds, embracing the rocky hills, hamlets, and valleys with scores of waterfalls, streams, and lakes.  About 70% of the state is subtropical forest ecoregion, with a biodiversity of rare mammals, birds, and plants.  A small portion of the forested area is preserved as “sacred groves” for religious rituals, protected from commercial exploitation.  Indeed, Meghalaya is a template for an “ecological commonwealth” — an abode made for gods, people, and nature to live in harmony and in sustainable ways.  If ever there was or is a Garden of Eden in the East, it is here in Meghalaya.  Interestingly, the garden swarms with scores of serpents, especially the King Cobra, one of the most venomous snake species on earth.  If you ever happen to hike through the forest trails in Meghalaya, don’t stop to talk with any of these serpents! 

Meghalaya is an exceedingly small state, with an area covering 8,660 square miles, roughly 2/3rd the size of Rhode Island.  It has a population of about 3.7 million people.  As tribal people, Meghalayans have historically followed a matrilineal system where the family lineage and inheritance are traced through women.  The youngest daughter inherits all the family’s wealth and takes care of her parents in their old age.  About 75% of the Meghalayans are Christians – Presbyterians, Baptists, and Catholics.  English is the official language of the state.  

In December 1986, I published an article in the journal, The National Council of Churches in India Review [NCCIR] entitled, “Environmental Mission of the Church.” The article highlighted the alarming environmental crisis that was engulfing the Indian subcontinent.  It began with a developing story about the drinking water scarcity encountered in Cherrapunji Hills and the surrounding regions in Meghalaya.  [Cherrapunji Hills received an annual rainfall of about 500 inches. Now the rainfall has dwindled down to annual average of 470 inches].  Meghalaya, which was called, “the wettest place on earth,” was now nicknamed, “the wettest desert on earth.”  The reasons were obvious.  Large scale commercial felling of trees had not only denuded these green hills making them barren, but also caused extensive soil erosions leading to massive flooding at the foothills, especially in Bangladesh during monsoon seasons.  That article in the NCCIR journal on India’s environmental crisis was perhaps the first of its kind published in any ecumenical journals in India.  Since then, major Christian journals in India began highlighting the growing environmental crisis on the Indian subcontinent and called the local churches to address the issue as their missional calling.

  1. The Meghalayan Golden Spike

Meghalaya has been in the news lately.  On July 18, 2018, the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS) — a subcommittee of the International Union of Geographic Sciences (IUGS) which is tasked with defining the geologic time scale — voted to create a new geological age labeled as the Meghalayan Age.  The Meghalayan age is the youngest, newest unit of the geologic timescale that arose about 4.2 ka (thousand years) ago.  The age was marked by extreme global warming, followed by widespread drought leading to the collapse of ancient civilizations.

The ICS divides earth’s 4.6-billion-year geological history into eras, periods, epochs, and ages.  Holocene Epoch, the current geological epoch began at the end of the last ice age c. 11,700 years ago. Until recently, the epoch did not comprise precise labels demarking the geological stratification within its timelines.  Now the epoch is divided up into three ages: the Greenlandian, the Northgrippian and the Meghalayan.  The first two ages of the Holocene epoch – Greenlandian and Northgrippian were identified, not from the customary rocky layers, rather from the isotopes detected in the ice core drilled from the depths of the earth’s ice sheets.  The Greenlandian age experienced the rising of warming trends with copious precipitation.  The middle phase of the Holocene epoch — now referred to as the Northgrippian age — continued with the ripple effects of the melting ice sheets, runoff from c. 8,300 years ago to the start of the Meghalayan age.

The Meghalayan age was marked by uptick in global warming and a megadrought that lasted two decades or longer, followed by a sudden dry cool down.  The Meghalayan golden spike is epitomized in isotopes of oxygen atoms present in the layers of a stalagmite growing from the floor of the Mawmluh cave in Meghalaya.  [Mawmluh cave, located at an elevation of 1,290 meters, is one of the longest and deepest caves in India].  Prof. Mike Walker of the University of Wales, UK, who led the international team of Holocene scientists says, “The two most prominent shifts occur at about 4,300 and about 4,100 years before present, so the mid-point between the two would be 4,200 years before present (2018), and this is the age that we attribute to the Meghalayan golden spike.”

How did the ICS scientists nail down these geological timelines?  “This is the first time,” writes Malavika Vyawahare, Hindustan Times, “a geological time scale change has been linked to cultural event – in this case the collapse of civilizations.”  For this reason, the geological stratigraphy of the Meghalayan age is now defined, not only by the global warming and its effects on the environment, but also by the repercussions of human activities – pastoral-agrarian pursuits, mass migration, organized warfare, rise and fall of ancient civilizations, etc.  

On a side note, not all is kumbaya with the ICS/IUGS scientists.  Random rumblings of contradicting opinions are heard among the ICS scientists on the prudence of nailing down the Meghalayan age.  Some scientists wish to backtrack on the original declaration.  On the other side, open revolt has broken out among the scientists of the Anthropocene Working Group (AWG) — a unit within the ICS — for not opting for the buzz word, “Anthropocene” (human activity as the dominant influence on climate and the environment).  The term was coined by Paul Crutzen, a Nobel Prize recipient for discovering the effects of ozone–depleting compounds.  Sadly, he died on January 28th of this year.  Some AWG scientists push for Anthropocene to be recognized, replacing the word, Meghalayan.  But the debate gets bogged down as to the exact beginnings of Anthropocene and its geological markers.  The AWG is expected to conclude its work to select a golden spike by 2022 and submit its final report to the ICS.  There is no certainty that the report will be accepted and voted by the ICS. The conversations are becoming more heated (political than scientific) than in finding a potential geochemical marker.  Without a resolution, the debate may continue into the foreseeable future.  Till then, the term “Meghalayan Age” will reign supreme among the ICS/IUGS scientists, geologists and the global environmental science practitioners.  And that allows us time and opportunity to keep riding on the wings of the Meghalayan fame.

  1. Karl Jaspers and the “Axial Age”

Nonetheless, we would need to query whether the Meghalayan Age geological markers have the grit to index the complexities of the Axial Age traditions, philosophies and spiritualities.  How do the metaphysics of axiality (religion, philosophy, and spiritualities) mesh with the science of ecology, geology and climate change?  At the moment, science and religion seem to run amok, independent of each other.  No meaningful dialogue exists between the protagonists of the Meghalayan Age and the Axial Age theologians, philosophers and historians.  The recent pronouncement of the ICS scientists on the “Meghalayan Age” offers us the opportunity to bring these camps together for a dialogue.   

The Axial Age, [die Achsenzeit] was observed by the German philosopher, Karl Jaspers (1883-1969).  Jaspers propounded that the age was a global religious phenomenon that emerged during the six centuries, from 800 to 200 BCE.  Prominent religious luminaries — philosophers, prophets, and sages rose on the world stage to grapple with issues of ultimate reality, nature of humanity, and the world in fresh new ways.  These religious leaders and philosophers, together with their cohorts became centers of new religious movements and schools of philosophies.  Scholars like John Cobb and John Hick have sought to expand the temporal boundaries of the age beyond Jaspers’ initial six centuries.

On the other hand, we would also need to query the fundamental axial enigma as to how the axial religions and philosophies rose simultaneously without any concord with similar movements elsewhere around the globe?  And why some groups were left out from participating in the axial advances or its foibles?  For instance, women and dark-skinned folks were generally excluded from the axial graces and privileges.  Primal, tribal, and indigenous societies were often by passed from marching in the axial parade.  While every scholar sought to expound the axial phenomenon from their own academic expertise, no one offered a credible, all-encompassing rationale as to why axial movements rose around the world simultaneously in the first place.   Neither did they offer any credible rational as to why some groups and societies were left out in the process.  

Many markers of axiality are still up for grab.  May we ask, “What is the defining characteristic of axiality?” An “Age of Transcendence” (Benjamin Schwarts). An “Age of Criticism” (Arnaldo Momigliano).  “The relativization of mundane realities” (Shmuel Eisenstadt). “An upsurge in the reflexivity of human beings” (Björn Wittrock).  “The Age of Rational Reflective Consciousness vs. Mythical Existence” (John B. Cobb, Jr.)  “The Divine Revelation of Truth” (Robert N. Bellah and Hans Joas).  “Salvation/Liberation as Human Transformation” (John Hick). “Religious Rejection of the World” (Max Weber).  We could go on to add any number of “defining characteristics” to the list.  

Did the scholars go on a spree, cherry-picking those defining axial characteristics?  No.  They were fishing for what distinguished the “axial” from “non-axial” human existence.  And they had to sift through scores of tenets, visions, spiritual practices of axial luminaries, prophets, sages, and philosophers from all corners of the globe.  After a rigorous process of sifting, almost all of them agreed on a single “axis of history” – a phenomenon which Max Weber called, the “religious rejection of the world,” – conversely, the “human alienation from the world” – a sentiment common to all post-axial religions and philosophies.  This post-axial stance was diametrically divergent from the virtual “acceptance of the world” found in pre-axial societies that had lasted for thousands of years prior to the advent of axial revolution.  What caused the post-axial disenchantment with the world, while at the same time exalting an otherworldly realm as truly worthy and infinitely valuable?  There is of course no simple answer to this question.

Karl Jaspers came out with the “Axial Age” thesis in 1949 with the publishing of his seminal work, The Origin and Goal of History.  Max Weber (1864–1920) lived before Karl Jaspers (1883–1969).  What was special about Weber’s idea of the “religious rejection of the world?” Did it have anything to do with environmental concerns?  Modern environmental movements began when Rachel Carson published her landmark book, Silent Spring in 1962.  On close examination, Weber’s idea of “religious rejection of the world,” had little to do with Karl Jaspers’ axiality or Rachel Carson’s environmental concerns.  Weber is best known for his book, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905).  Weber’s idea – the “religious rejection of the world” was not a mild “disenchantment with the world.”  Rather, it was about the “metaphysical rejection of the world,” a rejection that is far more sinister than a simple withdrawal from the world.  It spouts from the Calvinist doctrine of Predestination, a doctrine that exhorts “Ascetic Protestantism.”  “Ascetic Protestantism” calls for hard work, virtuous frugal living that avoids worldly pleasures.  Ultimately it leads to accumulation of personal wealth, a major force in the rise of market-driven capitalism.

There are various types of religious asceticism.  But Ascetic Protestantism draws most Calvinist Christians back into vigorous engagement with the world, not for the love of the world, but to extract nature’s irreplaceable resources for what they are worth.  Interestingly, Weber sought to apply his thesis to the Indian context where he would find most radical of all versions of “world rejection,” especially among Buddhist and Jain communities. Comparatively, the type of asceticism we encounter in India, although extremely harsh on corporeal human existence, is non-vicious and nonviolent toward the natural world.  One wonders whether the scholars who concurred with Max Weber’s “religious rejection of the world” ever considered these arguments seriously.  [We will pick up the story of “world rejection” when we deal with the Indian saga, in section VII: “Can India Show the Way?”].

  1. “What is Axial about the Axial Age?” Robert Bellah.

Understanding the axial phenomenon in relation to the History of Religion requires a multi-disciplinary approach.  The Axial Age did not emerge in a vacuum.  The study of the Axial times requires that we draw resources from disparate disciplines of science – geography, geology, climatology, paleontology, archeology, astronomy, animal, plant, and human ecology, DNA signature maps of human migration, population genomics, philology etc. — and especially the evolutionary histories of bioregions in which humans were natural components.  

Robert Bellah, in his monumental work on Axial Religions, Religion in Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age posed a question central to his thesis, “What is Axial about the Axial Age?”  Bellah was narrowly focused and sidestepped the possibility that the “religious rejection of the world” found in all Living World Religions, might after all, was caused, first and foremost by the exasperating environmental upheavals of the pre-axial epoch and how ancient societies responded to these environmental calamities.  Bellah himself came close to stumbling upon the issue, when he asked, “(W)hat made the axial age axial?” As a sociologist, Bellah was fixated primarily with the social ethos of the axial formulations.  Nonetheless he went on to concur with Karl Jaspers’ thesis, “The Axial Period too ended in failure. History went on [Emphasis mine],” and thereby affirming his fervent beliefs in the primacy of human history over the changing saga of human-world relations.  Bellah concluded, “It is this [history] that has given such dynamism to the axial traditions.”  

What then is great about the Axial Age?  Did the Axial revolution really end in failure?  To some extent, yes.  We believe that the axial praxis (the dominance of human history over nature) hit a dead-end, consummating in modernity which has proven to be detrimental to the wellbeing of human beings as well as the sustainability of the environment.  The warning signs were there when the first Axial revolution emerged during the late Holocene epoch some 4.2 ka (thousand) years ago.  Whether the Axial revolution, with its multi-dimensional cultural and historical processes can ever be squarely harmonized within the confines of the Meghalayan Age and its ecological and geological schemes is doubtful.  The exacting Meghalayan markers, precisely determined, leave no wiggle room.  

  1. The Story of Green History of Religion

Were the ICS scientists and climatologists the first ones to nail down the Meghalayan environmental crisis and identify the cause for the collapse of ancient civilizations?  Not really!  The protagonists of the Meghalayan age — the ICS scientists and historians — were oblivious to the synchronized spread of axial revolutions all over the world.  We submit that our research team arrived at analogous conclusions almost thirty years earlier.  Although we did not ascribe any monikers to these large-scale events, we reached similar conclusions from a distinctive vantage point, namely the rise of novel religious traditions and philosophies which has come to define the Axial revolution.  Our study showed that more than anything else, the spurt of axial religious and philosophical traditions was a candid response to the disastrous effects of planet-wide climate changes and the mega-drought that followed resulting in the collapse of ancient civilizations.  One factor missing in our study was a geological moniker that would index the turmoil of Axial revolutions. All that changed on July 18, 2018, when the ICS voted to create a new geological unit, the Meghalayan Age.  The thesis of Green History of Religion was finally vindicated by the global geological scientific community.

How we arrived at these findings is a story by itself, narrated in Green History of Religion.  In 1989, I began my doctoral program in the field of Religion and Ecology at the Claremont Graduate University, California.  [My graduate program was interdisciplinary, specially designed for my electives].  My study sought to show the root causes for the rise of Axial Age.  Until recently hardly any scholars of the history of religion saw the correlations between the late-Holocene climate crisis and the rise of Axial religious traditions.  We sought to answer why this was so.  We began to suspect that the “human alienation from the world” becoming the foundational premise of most axial thoughts and traditions must have had something to do with how ancient societies experienced the natural world during the millennia preceding axial times.  Bewildering catastrophes must have swept across the globe leading to synchronized collapse of pre-axial societies and ancient civilizations.  Might those unnerving experiences have accentuated human disenchantment with nature leading to the “religious rejection of the world?” Published works of eminent scholars on the history of religions were of little help; they were tinctured through and through with dualistic and anthropocentric motifs; the natural world had no place in their religious views or their research.

Midway through writing my dissertation I hit a dead-end.  After three revisions, my dissertation almost fell apart; I could not find that essential linchpin on which to hang my thesis.  Frustrated as I was, I sought the help of a friend, a climatologist/oceanographer at the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Lab in Princeton.  My scientist friend read through my half-baked dissertation and provided me with scores of books, journals, and especially climate models and charts of the last 12,000 years of earth’s geological history.  Our enquiry led us to look at planet-wide changes – climatic and environmental – that were in the offing during the millennia preceding and following the rise of the Axial Age.  

In the light of the new information gleaned from available climate models, I was obliged to revise my dissertation. We were pleasantly surprised to find that our suspicion might after all be true.  Our findings showed that the planet went through a warming trend at the start of the Holocene Epoch about 11,700 BCE, causing extreme climate changes across the globe.  The trend accelerated during the Meghalayan age (coinciding with the rise of axial times), successively disrupting pastoral and agrarian economies that sustained the first city-states. The warming trend intensified rapidly, from about 1,500 BCE, quickening the rise and fall of ancient civilizations at the core centers.  The tumultuous social and ecological crisis of those times became conducive for fermenting world-denying motifs that became the bedrock of all axial religions and philosophies.  It was indeed a global crisis of epic proportions unparalleled in human history.  In our opinion, scholars on human history, culture, religion, and philosophy have yet to fully grasp the enormity of the harm axial thoughts and philosophies have visited upon human societies and the world of nature.  This, in a nutshell, is the thesis of my book, Green History of Religion. 

  1. The New Green Hermeneutics – “The Meghalayan Monocles”   

Notice the title of the book, “Green History of Religion.”  The title is rather generic; it does not have a subtitle either.  We intentionally left the title modest, unembellished.  Neither did we want to claim expertise in the science of ecology or the philosophy of religion or the discipline of biblical hermeneutics.  The only redeeming features that made the volume marketable were the foreword for the book and a book review by John Cobb, published widely.  Writing a review of the book, Cobb says,

This is a truly groundbreaking book! Despite all our talk of overcoming dualism, our historical and systematic accounts of the history of religion rarely take the relation of human beings and their natural environment seriously into account. [The book] devotes several chapters to recent interpretations of what Jaspers calls the Axial Age to show how oblivious most of them [scholars on religion] are to the natural world. . . . Taking the changing relation of human beings to their natural environment into account deeply transforms the understanding of the history of religion. [Emphasis mine].

Cobb went on to invite scholars of different disciplines to take on parallel projects.  Do Cobb’s comments suspect that the study of religion taught in our universities is flawed and wanting?  Even the use of the term, “religion” [Latin word ligare means, to join or bind] to describe the axial novelties is overly tenuous and problematic. 

The publishing of Green History of Religion raked in unintended dividends, not so much in monetary returns [we hardly made any profit from publishing/marketing the book]; but its contribution to the study of the history of religions and for developing the tools crucial for biblical hermeneutics, was enormous.  For us, it was immensely ingenious, ground-breaking, and gratifying.  By coincidence, this was the first time that any student of religion has ever tried their luck with Green Hermeneutics!  

We have therefore, for the first time, opted to christen this New Green Hermeneutics as the “Meghalayan Monocles” (MM).  And we call for the advancement and refinement of this discipline for the study of religion, theology and the reading of sacred texts.  Until recently, hermeneutics has remained a specialized discipline, narrowly focused within the confines of linguistics or epistemology, primarily employed in interpreting sacred texts.  Such constrictions have made hermeneutics an autonomous discipline, at times spinning into a spurious discipline with banal outcomes as witnessed in our Sunday sermons.  Lately the boundaries of the discipline have been extended to include philology, philosophy, theology, history, jurisprudence, psychology, and social sciences, but it has yet to venture out to extend its boundaries to embrace human-world relations, the disciplines of ecology and environmental sciences.  [A word of caution! The call for “New Green Hermeneutics” should not be bemused with the destructive consequences of the “Green Revolution” or the pseudo environmental philosophy of the “Green Bible”]. 

What we now call for is to enlarge these established hermeneutical margins to embrace other fundamental disciplines for the study of the history of religion and theology.  We read our sacred scriptures side-by-side with the climate models charts, population genomics, DNA signature maps of human migration, philological graphs etc. to plot when and where in the evolution of human societies, momentous historical events — warfare, plagues, social unrests, mass migration, rise and fall of civilizations transpired, and how and why, in that milieu, did religious luminaries, prophets, philosophers, sages, ascetics, and wisdom traditions emerge, and what tenets, rituals, liturgies, scriptures, creeds and the multi-various religious and cultural paraphernalia and products were fabricated.  

Chart updated April 8, 2020

The climate model chart primed by Cliff Harris and Randy Mann presented here, shows that the Meghalayan Golden Spike occurred c. 2200 BCE, followed by sudden cool down.  In the context of growing environmental catastrophes at the core centers, how would we read (for instance) the biblical story of the Garden of Eden — the expulsion of the first parents, Adam and Eve from the garden?  Doesn’t it point to a traumatic ecological and environmental crisis that struck the ancient pastoral-agrarian economies like a thunder bolt?  Christian theology refers to it as “the fall.”  Students of green history learn to read ancient texts in the contexts of their eco-social histories.  Thus, for us, “Green Historians,” the “fall” of human beings from divine grace as rendered in the Genesis account is an index to the eco-social crises that engulfed the ancient world following the widespread adoption of agriculture and the climate catastrophes of the Meghalayan Age.  

The adoption of agriculture, the domestication of animals and plants caused deep fissures and far-reaching changes in the human relationship with nature; it came with alarming ecological and social costs.  C. Dean Freudenburger confirms this by saying,

Agriculture, closely related to global deforestation by making room for expanding cropping systems, is the most environmentally abusive activity perpetuated by the human species.

The widespread adoption of agriculture in exchange for the millennia of hunting and gathering ways of life caused the depravity of human nature, accentuating evils in the society at large.  Human greed and violence against fellow human beings — (Cain killing his brother Abel, a case in point) eventually led to the widespread use of organized warfare as a means of subsistence that advanced walled-cities, urban civilizations, followed by the rise and fall of empires one after the other.  

Likewise, how would we interpret the Exodus event?  Did Exodus occur primarily by the Divine prompting the Hebrew slaves to flee Egypt from the tyranny of the Pharaohs or did the tribes abandon the fertile plains of the Nile river basin due to catastrophic climate changes, crop failures, and food shortages? Just when the Exodus event was taking shape, widespread social unrests were reported among the steppe herders of the Indo-Iranian plateaus due in part to the desiccation and desertification in the region.  Amidst this anarchy, rose Zoroastrianism, (c. 1,200 BCE), one of the most dichotomous eschatological philosophies the world has ever seen.  Zoroastrian monotheism and eschatology eventually came to tincture the Abrahamic faiths — Judaism, Christianity and Islam in tandem.  How about Cyrus the Great, the Persian emperor who freed the Babylonian exiles and sponsored their return to their home country in the 6th century BCE?  Wasn’t it analogous to the Exodus event, although in a different vein? Why did organized warfare and ignominious social institutions develop and got firmly established during axial times?  Most scholars of the history of religion missed these cues.

  1. Can India show the way?

One of my regrets in writing Green History of Religion was that I did not have the wherewithal to explore the religious developments on the Indian subcontinent.  My writings were limited to what transpired in the Bible Lands – Levant, Greece, Egypt, Mesopotamia and Persia.  I hope to remedy this lacuna in my future research projects.  This underscores the central premise of the MM, the need to unpack our sacred writs, philosophies and spiritualities in the contexts of the Indian eco-social sagas within which scores of unique novel axialities grew.  To make these hermeneutics stand on solid grounds, we would need to first gather, among other things, climate charts of the Holocene epoch for South Asia, maps of population genomics, DNA signatures of human migrations and philology etc. With these aids and with some rudimentary introduction to Sanskrit literature and translations, Indian historiography and geography, we should be able to interpret the vast number of ancient holy writs available to us, from every religious, philosophical, spiritual persuasions. 

The land of India has much to contribute to the Axial debate and to the Axial paradigm shift 2.0.  “The history of South Asia,” write Daniel Mullins and Daniel Hoyer, “is perhaps most supportive of the conventional Axial Age thesis.” Applying the discipline of MM, let me briefly narrate the saga of India, beginning with the collapse of the Indian Valley Civilization (IVC), followed by Aryan Migration into the Indian subcontinent, the rise of Indian axiality — Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, the development of Dravidian axiality and finally the tenacity of tribal and indigenous societies for survival.  This brief narration by no means is meant to cover the entire gamut of Indian axial experiences in-depth.  Nonetheless, we need to pose a few questions here without offering any pronouncements.  We hope that the students of religion will take these up for further investigation and research.

The pre-history phase of the Indian subcontinent begins with the rise and fall of the Indus Valley Civilization (IVC), (alternatively called, the Harappan Civilization).  The IVC flourished during the Northgrippian Age, the middle phase of the Holocene Epoch (c. 8,300-2,400 BCE).  The Northgrippian Age is known for melting ice sheets, copious rain fall, steady monsoon seasons that lasted till the start of the Meghalayan age.  The IVC that survived from c. 5,500 to 1,500 BCE was larger than the three ancient urban civilizations – Egypt, Mesopotamia and China.  Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro were the major urban centers, with nearly 1,000 other satellite centers that flourished in the region in every direction. “The total population of the civilization is thought to have been upward of 5 million, and its territory stretched over 900 miles (1,500 km) along the banks of the Indus River and then in all directions outward.”  

Incidentally, the land of India is cited twice in the Book of Esther [Esther 1:1; 8:9].  India, [originally referred to in Greek as the region east of the Sindu river], was one of the 127 provinces of the Persian Empire.  The Meghalayan climate crisis caused the collapse of this ancient civilization, c. 1,500 BCE, prior to the events recorded in the Book of Esther.  From the archaeological evidence we conclude, that the IVC cities were sustained by agrarian-pastoral economies and trade with Mesopotamia and Egypt.  These societies were cultured, proto literate, had their own script, mostly peaceful and nonviolent, egalitarian with no caste or class distinctions; they seemed to have followed some modicum of law and order without craving for a priestly monarch, a prophet or a savior.  These urban centers and the surrounding hamlets had no sacred precincts for central worship or rituals; no sharp distinctions were observed between the sacred and the secular, rich and the poor.  The inhabitants observed fertility cults and goddess worship; the inhabitants were down to earth; did not entertain the plausibility of life after death.  Had no standing armies, no equine forces, no chariots, no ziggurats, no watchtowers.  The Harappan cities collapsed when the Meghalayan climate crisis struck and the inhabitants scattered across the Gangetic plains and into Southern India.  If ever there was a golden age in the Indian saga, it was the Harappan civilization which lasted for nearly 4,000 years.  Jaspers’ Axial Age [800–200 BCE] could not extend to encompass this crucial harbinger of the Indian axiality.  We wish we knew more about this lost civilization.  Alas, to this day, the Harappan scripts remain undeciphered.

Aryan Migration and the rise of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism:  Around the time of the demise of the Harappan Civilization, c. 1,500 BCE, bands of steppe herders from the Zagros regions began migrating into the Indus Valley regions, driven by the growing desertification and desiccations in their lands.  These Indo-Iranian had, by then, been influenced by Zoroastrianism, a radical-dualistic-apocalyptic religious ideology.  Pastoral nomads from central Asia regions were light-skinned people and called themselves, Aryans, the “Noble Ones.”  As pastoralists, they venerated sky gods.  Having settled down initially and intermixed with the dark-skinned inhabitants of the Harappan cities, Aryans gradually moved onto to occupying the vast plains of the Ganges from about 1,000 BCE. 

Hindu scriptures (Vedas, Upanishads, Aranyakas, Epics, Bhagavad Gita, Puranas, Agamas, Tantras, etc.) were composed by these migrating Aryans and orally transmitted for centuries before being written down by the sages and rishis in contemplation along the foothills of Himalayas, on the great plains of Ganges and in the jungles of Videha and Uttarakhand of Himachal regions.  Some sacred scriptures like Vedas, Upanishads and Aranyakas are claimed to be Shruti, divinely revealed, and therefore considered sacred writs of the pre-classical Hinduism.  

The saga of the rise of Hinduism can be largely ascribed to the dynamic encounters between the migrating Aryans and the early inhabitants of the Indian subcontinent.  How this migration, a mundane human response to the changing environment could trigger caste-based societies during the Vedic times?  Did the white-skinned pastoralists dominate the dark-skinned agrarians in the Harappa cities and subsequently subdued them in the Gangetic plains?  Why on earth did the rabid carnivorous, the “Noble Ones,” become vegans overnight?  Why do scores of sages and rishis retreat to forest havens? “The Aranyakas, the forest texts, emphasize the value of renouncing social life by retreating to the forest to live close to nature.”  Did these sages and rishis seek out forest hideouts out of their love for nature?  Or did they opt for the solitude of nature to evade social contracts, familial responsibilities in quest for personal salvation/liberation and enlightenment?  How do we account for the rise of Buddhism, a world-negating philosophy to rise in 6th century BCE?  And in the same vein, the rise of Jainism, a religion of nonviolence and extreme asceticism?  Mahavira, a preeminent mover of Jainism was a contemporary of Gautama.  Were these sages and ascetics responding to the changing environment by seeking their own salvation/liberation in rejecting corporeal existence and withdrawing from the world?  Buddhism did not take roots in India.  King Ashoka converted to Buddhism in c. 264 BCE and erected over thirty rock edicts throughout India, Nepal, Pakistan and Afghanistan.  These rock edicts promote Dhamma — Buddhist values of compassion, moderation, tolerance and respect for all life, including wildlife.  Hunting of certain species of wild animals was banned.  Were these decrees prompted by widespread famine, crop failures, over hunting and population increases or by the benevolences of Buddhist Dhammas?

The Dravidian Axiality:  Pre-Aryan Harappan inhabitants were dark-skinned people of the proto-Dravidian stock.  The drying of the once mighty Saraswati river (now the seasonal Ghaggar–Hakra stream in Pakistan) pushed the Harappan communities to flee the valleys and move on to occupy the Gangetic plains and the Deccan plateau.  We find residues of the Harappan social values reflected in the ancient Dravidian culture and literature.  Thirukural, the sacred poetry of the Tamil people, composed during 6th Century CE reflects these values and social norms.  The poetry is an ethical guide; it exhorts people toward compassionate life, good citizenship, virtuous life, and practice mutual love between husband and wife.  These sacred literatures show how societies need to be organized on nonsectarian, secular and ethical values.  Our suspicion is that the Dravidian migrants, although initially resisted the Aryan domination, eventually succumbed to it.  The Dravidian sacred rituals, iconography, and the popular Hinduism of the countryside is more instinctive of the proto-Shaivism of the IVC.  In recent years, the practice of maintaining “sacred groves,” with small patch of forests with strands of trees and shrubs have become widely popular across Tamil Nadu.  We witness scores of forest shrines and sanctuaries along highways and byways.  The religious taboos surrounding these sacred groves have led to pockets of conservation with abundance of flora and fauna. 

Tribal and Indigenous societies: Vast groups of tribals and Adivasis [indigenous societies], predating the advent of Hinduism continue to survive and flourish well into the present times.  Axial revolutions seemed to have largely bypassed these societies.  Their contributions to the post-axial cults, if any, are mild and nuanced.  In the meantime, we are witnessing growing resistances all across the tribal regions against commercial exploitation of forest resources on which the very livelihood of the people depends.  We have much to learn from these movements, the world-affirming lifestyles and the ecological sensibilities of our indigenous and tribal communities.  

Indian culture is complex, and enchanting.  Nevertheless, the subcontinent suffers a persistent “metaphysical anxiety.”  Adherents of the Indian axialities (Indian faiths) suffer variations of what Karl Jaspers calls, the “metaphysical guilt,” the collective guilt. The difference is that in the Indian context, the burden of our social guilt is largely disbursed, borne by individuals than the group.  How does one cope with these qualms? The individual can only absolve of his guilt (stain of the soul) through the practice of dharma (performing the sacred duty of his caste), karma (accepting series of future existences and stations in life), and samsara (the sanitization of the atman – the cleansing of the soul through cycles of transmigration), advancing toward nirvana, the final release, moksha, the liberation from bondage to worldly existence in seeking to be in union with the divine.  The process causes immense anxiety of the soul, due in part to the uncertainties of one’s own personal salvation/liberation; no concern whatsoever is expressed for the fate of one’s fellow pilgrims or for communal absolution.  How could anyone break out of these uncertain cycles of transmigration?  Would the “twice-born” ever reach out to embrace his “once-born” neighbor?  How do we, in this context, may truly practice nonviolence, extend axial graces to embrace our communities and protect our environment?  Given this ethos, will India ever be able to anticipate the “Axial Paradigm shift 2.0” in seizing an ecological commonwealth?

  1. From “Rejection of the World” to “World Loyalty” 

One of the critical components of the MM is the concept of “gestalt.”  Religions also trade in meanings, sifting through myriads of gestalts acquired from ecological and social environment, selectively employing them to construct their respective world hypothesis.  Every religion and philosophy seek to comprehend the universe and the immediate habitat for positing a raison d’être for human presence and experience within it.

Human engagement with the natural world takes many different forms – from artistic appreciation to ruthless exploitation for economic gains.  Some of the vital components that go into the makeup of human-world relations and the concomitant world hypothesis are land, topophilia, biophilia, landscape gestalts, human ecology, and climatic changes and their effects on the environment and human societies.  John Hick defines religion “as a self-regulating response of the human animal to the pressures generated by its particular niche within the biological system.”  The pressures on human societies and human-world relations exerted by biological niches also shape the worldviews and the archetypes of the collective consciousness.  

Religion by nature is selective; it filters multitude of gestalts offered by the natural world, the universe, neighborhoods, communities at large and one’s own inner dispositions, absorbs what fits its scheme while opting for imagined ideas of “misplaced concreteness.”  Through the lenses of the MM, any student of history can now easily observe the tell-tale signs of the axial revolution or what we wish to call, “the first axial paradigm shift.” The “world-accepting,” organic-relational existence of the primal world which lasted into the pre-axial age was usurped by the world-rejecting axial mentality of the Meghalayan age.  Strangely though, scholars who studied axial phenomenon did not connect the dots, because their approach to the study of the history of religion or hermeneutics of the sacred texts was highly anthropocentric and dualistic.  They rarely took the natural world seriously; and much of their works came to a dead-end. 

It must be reckoned that tenets like “cosmic homelessness,” “transcendence,” “soteriology” etc. are of recent origin, in comparison to the long-lasting histories of homosapiens on the planet earth.  Axial world-hypothesis has been in existence for a mere four thousand years while homosapiens have inhabited the planet as hunters and foragers for over two million years.  The dominant disposition of the primal and indigenous societies has been one of being “at home” in the natural world.  Primal myths and cults affirmed the providence of nature and integrated human presence and experiences with the processes and cycles of nature. 

Alfred North Whitehead called this disposition, “World Loyalty.” If ever there was a phase in human evolution when some modicum of “world loyalty” was extant, it was the primal times when homosapiens lived as hunter-gatherers – the longest-lasting of any structures of human existence.  Those primal societies could do so with their implicit trust in the benevolence of the world processes.  We may vicariously identify the “world loyalty” of the primal times in contrast to the “world-rejection” of the axial traditions.  Whitehead said, 

The moment of religious consciousness starts from self-valuation, but it broadens into the concept of the world as a realm of adjusted values, mutually intensifying or mutually destructive.  In its solitariness the spirit asks, What, in the way of value, is the attainment of life? And it can find no such value till it has merged its individual claim with that of the objective universeReligion is world-loyalty. The spirit at once surrenders itself to this universal claim and appropriates it for itself. [Emphasis mine].

“World Loyalty” is constituted by God, Creativity, the Cosmos, and the Present.  It is ultimate, irreducible, wholistic, consistent, complex, organic, relational, experiential, and creative.  Sadly, from the onset of the Holocene epoch, there has been a steady erosion of the values of “wholeness.”  If religion is ultimately about ‘the whole,’ then any lesser loyalties – even commitments to any strains of parochial monotheism – is falsehood or idolatry.  The preeminent historian Arnold Toynbee wrote in 1973,

Some of the major maladies of the present-day world – in particular, the recklessly extravagant consumption of nature’s irreplaceable treasures, and the pollution of those of them that man has not already devoured – can be traced back in the last analysis to a religious cause and this cause is the rise of monotheism.

Toynbee was referring here, to a type of traditional monotheisms that is largely negative toward the natural world.  If we are to envision a sustainable future for our planet, we would need to re-think the implications of our theistic stances in relation to the wholistic world hypothesis.  

  1. “Meghalayan Covenant” 

Conversations on envisioning an ecological commonwealth will undoubtedly call us to dabble not only with the gestalts of our immediate environment, our neighborhood, communities, the natural world, and the planet, but also with the atomic world, celestial spheres, and the cosmos. We, the Whiteheadians call this as the New Cosmology, the Cosmic Immortality!  We who live in the space age are one of the propitious people with acumen for comprehending anything and everything in depth and breadth scientifically, philosophically, psychically, rationally as well as religiously.  For the first time in human history, we glimpse down at our planet on our desktops via signals beamed from the outer space.  It is one thing to stare at the Blue Planet on our monitors, it is yet another thing to gape down at the Planet from space. 

Astronaut Michael Collins said, 

I remember so vividly what I saw when I looked back at my fragile home – a glistening, inviting beacon, delicate blue and white, a tiny outpost suspended in the black infinity, Earth is to be treasured and nurtured, something precious that must endure. 

Indeed, several astronauts who observed the planet Earth from outer space have expressed similar sentiments.  Some of them even claim to have had some sort of religious conversion.  Indeed the sheer beauty of the planet which sparkles like a blue diamond set against the dark velvety space enchants all of us.  Such a treat was not conferred upon our ancestors.  For them, especially our primal ancestors, the entry into that “mysterium tremendum” came via the celestial panorama.  Ancient desert nomads experienced similar religious ecstasies when they gazed into the night sky.  For postmodern humans who are at the cusp of a new space age, entry into such ecstasies occurs from viewing the “Rare Earth” and the cosmos through all means available to us.  Whether we gaze into the starry heavens or view the earth through space telescopes, or peek into the subatomic world through Hadron Collider, one thing is certain – that we are beginning to live out our religious or spiritual existence at several frontiers [and dimensions] rather than clinging precariously to our own parochial religious histories and traditions.  Increasingly we are made aware that our destinies and that of this planet are contingent upon the forces that are outside the planet and beyond human control, and those that are of our own making.  Therefore, our religious imaginations, existence, experiences, and engagements in the world must come to rest on the knowledge we absorb from multi-varied disciplines of science and arts – cosmology, astrobiology, astronomy, and planetary-climatological and environmental histories. “The whole Earth is aesthetically stimulating,” wrote Holmes Rolston, “philosophically challenging, and ethically disturbing.”  

The need of the hour is for humanity to be open to the fresh visitations of cosmic, planetary, and ecological gestalts that enchant the world of nature anew and aid humanity to envision and nurture the emergence of a new paradigm – a new faith which we have christened here as theMeghalayan Faith.”  Meghalayan Faith is universal, transaxial, transecumenical, transCatholic.  There is no one prophet, or messiah, or redeemer.  This ancient new faith warrants a sustainable future – an “ecological commonwealth” for all living beings — animate or inanimate, and the planet.  It will revolutionize our understanding of the phenomenon of religion altogether, not to mention the study of the history of religion.  We will also find ways to cleanse every Living World Religion of its world-negating loyalties formed during the seminal days of the axial revolution.  If the underlying paradigms of misplaced concreteness of our faiths and practices change for the better, they would transform our hearts and minds triggering seismic shifts of our social, political, and religious thoughts, ideologies, and institutions, moving us toward anticipating and embracing this universal faith.  

This does not mean that I give up my Protestant faith in exchange for this universal faith.  No!  For all practical purposes, my faith is personal, foundational, shaped on the anvils of my solitariness.  As Whitehead says, “Religion is what the individual does with his own solitariness.” I subject my faith to the service of the emerging new world-loyalty, in the witness of the Meghalayan Faith.  I have been transformed by the call of this new faith.  Every one of us must cherish our own faith; but when we come together as communities to relate to the natural world, the planet and beyond, we need a faith that transcends our cultural, national, ethnic, linguistic histories and traditions.  Every axial faith has been constricted by its own historical singularity and weighed down by its cultural baggage, blinders and handicaps.  We must repent of our parochial loyalties and pledge our allegiance to this emerging new universal faith, the Meghalayan Faith.   

The time is ripe for another major paradigm shift – the Axial Revolution 2.0 — to be effectuated in the religious life of global human communities.  We, the postmodern Meghalayans therefore call for a covenant with the Meghalayan Faith – a commitment to a new world-loyalty in sizing an ecological commonwealth.  To this end, we call all those who wish to be radicalized by the new faith to come together to draft and frame the “Meghalayan Covenant” that envisions an “ecological commonwealth,” and go out to witness to its gospel.  What comes of this endeavor could be exhilarating, adventurous, audacious, subversive, and ethically challenging.

References

Bellah, R. N., Religion in Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age (Cambridge,   MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2011).

Bellah, R. N., & Hans Joas, The Age and Its Consequences, (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2012).

Bellah, R. N., “What Is Axial about the Axial Age? European Journal of Sociology (2005) 46: 69-89.  

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The Scandal of the Evangelical Witness

Democracy and the Evangelical Witness: How the American Democracy survived the assault of the White Evangelicals.

By Anand Veeraraj

Abstract:  

“White Evangelicals?” This article examines the aberrations in the American politics and religion — the marriage of the Christian Right with the Republican Party.

  • White Evangelicals! Do they hold a coherent theology or a political ideology?  Who are their purveyors?
  • Why did white Evangelicals support Donald Trump despite his moral failings and divisive rhetoric? 
  • The seminal ideas of both Evangelical thought (proclaiming the good news) and democracy, social justice and compassion predates the advent of Christianity, rooted in the Messianic hope anticipated by the Hebrew prophets.  Can these be rediscovered and redeemed to reform the contemporary evangelical movements and witness in North America?

Author Biography

ANAND VEERARAJ is an ordained minister in the Church of South India and serves as the Pastor Emeritus of the New Jersey Indian Church/Trinity Community Church [UCC & PC-USA], Princeton, New Jersey. He is the author of the books Green History of Religion, Earthen Vessels: The Paradox of Christian Leadership and the co-editor of the book, Pilgrims at the Crossroads: Asian Indian Christians at the North American Frontier.  He has written over 40 scholarly and popular essays for journals and book chapters. He earned a PhD in Religion and Ecology from Claremont University, California. He lives with his family near Princeton, New Jersey. 

White Evangelicals – An Anathema to the Gospel Proclamation

On the night of November 8, 2016, I sat to watch the presidential election returns fully expecting Hillary Clinton would be the first woman president of the United States.  As the evening wore off and to my dismay, Donald Trump [DT] was elected to be the 45th President of the United States.  When the dust settled, it was found that Hillary Clinton outpaced DT by almost 2.9 million popular votes.  An intriguing stunner was that Trump got elected by the explicit support of white evangelicals; 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump.  The majority of white Roman Catholics also voted for DT.  

Trump now courts these evangelical foot soldiers to get him re-elected for a second term.  On January 3rd, 2020, in an election rally — “Evangelicals for Trump” — in Miami, Florida, Trump declared, “Evangelical Christians of every denomination and believers of every faith have never had a greater champion . . . in the White House, than you have right now . . . Together we’re not only defending our constitutional rights. We’re also defending religion itself, which is under siege.” Explaining the reasons for DT’s victory, Matthew Avery Sutton says, that the Christian nationalism is the embodying of the “assumptions of nativism, white supremacy, patriarchy, and heteronormativity, along with divine sanction for authoritarian control and militarism.” The Miami rally also featured Billy Graham’s granddaughter, Cissie Graham Lynch who promised to work for Trump’s re-election victory.

Who are these evangelicals — white evangelicals?  I had not heard of them before Trump’s election.  That they could function as a political power bloc stealthily and slyly from within was a sensation to say the least — quite contrary to what I have come to believe and practice in my Christian witness.  Not until the election of Donald Trump, did I realize a group like white evangelicals could emerge and strike a stunning blow to our democratic ideals.  I had assumed that evangelicals by and large — white or black or brown — are the noblest of the God’s elect, salt and light of the world, city on a hill, called to fulfil the Great Commission of our Lord.  I always thought that I was an evangelical.  Now I have doubts as to what it means to be an evangelical.  I am baffled by the rise of white evangelicals and their support for Trump.  Why would they vote for Trump blinded to his moral lapses, blatant racism, deceptions, and bigotry?  

I regret to say that until recently, race relations in the USA have not been a focus of my missional calling.  My quandary forced me to read voluminous literature on matters of faith, especially about the evangelical faith and race relations.  Much of this history has long been hidden from prying eyes, and what was made available for public consumption as evangelical witnesses has been thoroughly whitewashed or distorted.  Contemporary racial unrests forced me to unmask the deceptive agenda and hyperboles behind “American Exceptionalism” and “Manifest Destiny” and eke out some sense for my own edification.  Donald Trump actively sought to discredit the 1619 Project spearheaded by Nikole Hannah-Jones.  [The 1619 Project argues that the United States did not originate with the arrival of theMayflowerPilgrims at Plymouth Rock in 1620 or the Declaration of Independence in 1976, but in 1619, the year the first enslaved Africans were brought to the continent].  After much reading and thoughtful reflections, all I can do now is to share some reflections from my personal experiences.  This is a kind of reverse engineering, reading into the dark histories of slavery and apartheid in the Western World leading up to the present where the evangelical witness seems to have gone rogue.  Given the limitations of this article, I share a handful of anecdotes from my faith journey to corroborate my opinions however lopsided these may appear to be.

Why do I raise these questions now?  Firstly, I do this for my own atonement.  I realize now that I had been taken for a ride by the pseudo-evangelical practitioners both here and in my home country, India.  Although this late awareness has been deeply painful and embarrassing to me, the awareness by no means downplays the enormous service and sacrifices rendered by Christian missionaries to India.  Had they not come and labored in India, some of us would have never been liberated and made whole.  Secondly, I do this to admonish my fellow pilgrims in faith, especially my own Indian Christian communities and about our witness in North America.  [More about this later].  Thirdly, it will be presumptuous on our part to castigate white evangelical brothers and sisters for their blatant idiocy of the 2016 elections.  Evangelical leaders like Franklin Graham, James Dobson, Albert Mohler Jr., Pat Robertson, Ralph Reed, Paula White, and others shout from the roof tops calling Christian constituents across this country urging them to vote Republican.  Nonetheless, their message and ministries have failed to foster racial reconciliation.  The burden has largely fallen on the shoulders of brave black theologians, preachers and activists like Martin Luther King, Jr., James Baldwin, John Lewis, Ta-Nehisi Coates, James Cone, and others who have dare to trek the treacherous prophetic trails.  On the other hand, I am dismayed at the awkward silence on the part of progressive white theologians and pastors [and some black prosperity preachers], who shy away from stridently advocating for racial justice; their voices largely muted, sequestered behind academic precincts, or marbled cathedrals.  More than ever before, I feel the need to urge prominent white theologians, preachers, and academicians to speak out and join hands with the visionary leaders within our black and brown communities working toward race reconciliation.  And finally, we call for a paradigm shift – a complete shift of our evangelical praxis from what we have come to believe and exercise as gospel truths.  

Readers will recognize that the title of this article derives from a set of books published recently — Mark A. Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (1994), Ronald J. Sider, The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience (2005), Ronald J. Sider, The Scandal of the Evangelical Politics (2008), and Carl R. Trueman, The Real Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (2011), Lee C. Camp, Scandalous Witness (2020) and Robert P. Jones, White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity (2020).  Jones went on to add on NBC News, November 16, 2020, “Trump’s election support from evangelicals shows we’re (white evangelicals) the biggest obstacle to racial justice.”

Not every Christian witness is perfect, free from bias; some are unethical to the core, evil, like evoking scriptures to justify slavery and segregation so prevalent among some rightwing groups in this country.  These are unprecedented times.  Every charade has suddenly been laid bare; wolves have tossed-off their sheep clothing; scores of white-washed sepulchers laid bare.  We are sailing through stormy weather in a rickety boat, rudderless with a skipper [DT] unable to navigate through the stormy seas.  

My association with Billy Graham and his empire

At the heart of hearts, I am an evangelical.  From my childhood, I was nurtured in the evangelical faith.  Increasingly I am disillusioned with the evangelical faith, especially with the “New Evangelicals.”  For a long time, Billy Graham [BG] has served as the mascot of the New Evangelicals.  I am not ashamed to confess that I have been associated with the Billy Graham’s empire for over 50 years.  When he died on February 21, 2018, his son Franklin Graham took over his reign and wore his mantle.  

When I was a 13-year-old boy, I met BG for the first time.  At that time, I was growing up with my siblings in a Christian children’s home in a remote hamlet in South India.  My mother was a staffer at the children’s home.  On February 1, 1956, Billy Graham came to visit the home for a day while he was holding his gospel crusade in a nearby town – Palayamcottah in South India.  During his brief visit, BG spoke at the community chapel.  Except for children, all residents – about 600 members, young and old gathered in the chapel to hear this world-famous evangelist preach.  Sitting on the floor 40 feet away from BG, I was mesmerized by his demeanor.  What I remember about Billy was that he seemed unusually tall. [Billy was 6’ 2”].  The Indian translator who stood next to him could barely reach his shoulders.  Mr. Graham spoke for about fifteen minutes.  I listened intently to every word he spoke.  His sermon was based on the text, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”  [2 Corinthians 5:17 KJV]. The talk was simple and direct.  He was not overtly loud or dramatic as he usually was in his mass crusades.  Although Billy did not give the customary altar-call, he exhorted us to commit our lives to Christ and be born-again.  Two things happened to me at the service.  One, I made a commitment to Christ and invited Jesus to come into my heart.  [The Bible does not say that we should invite Jesus into our hearts to be our personal savior [a sort of jinni].  Nor does scriptures admonish that one should establish a “personal relationship” with Christ].  I am not sure how deep that commitment was.  I was born-again, sort-of!  The experience was more of a sensation than rational or transformational.  For better or worse, that experience left an indelible mark on my soul.  The second thing was that I wanted to become a preacher like BG.  Not that I had any modicum of the gospel I would preach, rather it was an infatuation with the man Billy.  I began listening to his radio broadcasts, The Hour of Decision regularly and read many of his books and writings I could lay my hands on. [The saga to be continued later in the article].

Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Untouchables in India

In the winter of 1959, MLK and his wife Coretta visited India.  At that time, I was a student at a High School in Ooty, Tamil Nadu.  Unlike BG’s visit to India which became a sensation, MLK’s visit did not make much news.  For a month, MLK and Coretta travelled to various parts of India.  He wanted to learn about the so-called “untouchables” (Dalits) of the Indian caste system, and the Gandhian ways of non-violent protest movements which led to India’s independence.  For a month, they travelled to various parts of India.  He wanted to learn about the so-called “untouchables” (Dalits), the lowest caste in the Indian caste system.  During their time in India, King and Coretta travelled to Trivandrum, a town in the state of Kerala.  There they visited a high school which catered to students from the “untouchables” class of the society.  The principal introduced MLK to his students saying, “Young people, I would like to present you a fellow untouchable from the United States of America.”  King was stunned and deeply hurt.  Later he recalled, “For a moment, I was a bit shocked and peeved that I would be referred to as an untouchable.”  But then he thought about the reality of the 20 million black people in the US who even after centuries, “still smothering in an airtight cage of poverty,” confined to urban ghettos, exiled in their own country.  And he said to himself, “Yes, I am an untouchable, and every negro in the United States of America is an untouchable.”  In that moment, he realized that the land of the free had imposed a caste system under which he had lived all his life.  White immigrants from Europe had concocted their own superiority, reinforced by their self-interest and interpretation of the Bible, and created a hierarchy of who could do what, who could own what, who was on top and who was at the bottom and who was in between. The English Protestant was placed at the very top, as their guns and resources would ultimately prevail in the bloody fight for North America.  “Everyone else would rank in descending order,” writes Isabel Wilkerson, “based on their proximity to those deemed most superior.  The ranking would continue downward until one arrived at the very bottom: African captives transported in order to build the New World and to serve the victors for all their days, one generation after the next, for 12 generations.” No wonder, James Baldwin wrote, “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.”  As an Indian Christian immigrant in the US, may I submit my rejoinder to James Baldwin?  “To be a Dalit in India is to be perpetually shamed, live in constant dismay, and survive as a subhuman being, one day at a time.”  

Yes, indeed, the Indian caste system may to some extent help to decode the hidden logic of the racial segregation and oppression in the USA, but not entirely.  Let me offer a word of wisdom to Isabel Wilkerson and others who wish to gin-up their research in observing close camaraderie between Indian caste systems and race relations in the USA.  It will be foolhardy to summarily transpose the Indian caste system to comprehend the plights of black and brown people in the USA or vice versa.  Otherwise, we will all be peeved like MLK.  Researchers working to discover some semblance between the two countries’ systems of oppression and subjugation need to be mindful that the Indian caste system is millennia old, deep seated, insidious than the plain slavery system that formed during the last few centuries in the Western world.  If the white evangelicals and the Christian nationalists set their mind to it, it would not be hard at all to wipe away the scourge of systemic racism and oppression.  A fact that unites caste and race is religion, with its scriptures and rituals that sanctions segregation and oppression.  But the difference is that in India, only the priestly class, the Brahmin is entitled to read and recite scriptures!  Here in the USA both whites and blacks read the same scriptures, the former seeking to justify slavery, while the later reading it as a liberation manifesto.

Evangelism and the Praxis of Social Gospel  

One year after my High School graduation, in pursuit of my dream, I enrolled in an evangelical seminary. The seminary was largely funded by a Wesleyan Holiness Mission group in the USA.  Almost all the faculty were white American missionaries. They were genteel, gracious, and friendly.  But I suspect now that they might have unconsciously flaunted the quintessential American paternalism, and an air of white supremacy.  Wesleyan Holiness teachings emphasized both the “salvation” of the soul by faith in Christ, and the “sanctification” of the heart through the work of the Holy Spirit.  However, the Wesleyan Holiness theology taught at the seminary was fixated on personal holiness, especially on sexual purity, not on social wholeness.  

One event stands out so vividly in my memory to this day.  On November 22, 1963, John F. Kennedy [JFK] was assassinated.  The news came over the wires.  The following day all classes were cancelled.  The faculty and the students were called to gather in the chapel to hold a prayer vigil.  It was a solemn service.  During the service, one of the female faculty sang a solo, “America, the Beautiful” to the piano accompaniment.  It was the first time I heard that song.  Indeed, it was a beautiful rendering of that patriotic song.  While singing, tears were dripping down her cheeks.  Wow! What a patriotic riposte I thought!  Her song lifted my soul and spawned in me the allure of all things American and the desire to emigrate to the USA.  

Unacknowledged in the prayer vigil for JFK was the cry of the black and brown people in the land of the free and brave.  While I was studying in the seminary [1962-66], race riots were raging across the USA.  Never once did I hear the faculty talk about racial injustices or the Jim Crow apartheid.  The Social Gospel or justice issues were never taught in Christian Theology and Ethics courses; the emphasis was only on evangelism, saving souls for eternity.  

As I pondered over the symbolism of that prayer vigil, I became uneasy.  I began to question my own patriotism.  Why wasn’t I enamored to that extent with India, my mother land, like the soloist who sang, “America, the Beautiful …. The land of the Blue Mountains?”  What does patriotism or nationalism mean to an average Christians in India? Most Indian Christians are converts from Hinduism, hail mainly from Shudra, the lowest caste or Dalit, the untouchable outside the caste system.  Did I harbor a deep-seated abhorrence toward my native land?  You bet!  On April 4, 1968 MLK was assassinated by James Earl Ray, a white supremacist.  No prayer vigil was held at the seminary for MLK’s demise. 

Rodney King and the Los Angeles Race Riots

On December 31, 1988, I landed at the Los Angeles airport.  I had come to the US to pursue a doctoral degree in Ecology and Religion at the Claremont University, California.  My wife and three children joined me a year later.  When I joined Claremont, we were not particularly tuned into the perennial racial unrests plaguing the south from time to time.  Honestly, I was clueless about the racial injustices here in the US and its depth of depravity.  We were jolted out of our apathy when race riots flared up close to us in Los Angeles.

On March 3, 1991, Rodney King, a 25-year-old unarmed black man was beaten severely after a high-speed chase by four Los Angeles police officers.  An amateur videographer filmed the incident and sent the footage to the local news station.  The heinous incident was covered by news media around the world that caused a public uproar.  Rodney King suffered severe injuries — a broken leg, bruises on his face and body, and a massive burn to his chest jolted by a 50,000-volt stun gun. 

The four white police officers who assaulted Rodney King were charged and tried.  The jury was made up of mostly white people.  After a yearlong trial, the four officers were acquitted.  It was indeed a bizarre and unjust verdict.  When the verdict came over the wires on the eve of April 29, 1992, the city of Los Angeles went up in flames. The acquittal sparked outrage and mass protests.  The riot lasted for six days, killing 63 people, injuring over 2,000 people; nearly 12,000 people, mostly blacks, were arrested and charged.  Property damage was estimated to be over $1 billion.  Much of the damage happened in Koreatown, where the bulk of rioting occurred.  Korean businesses and shops were looted and burned down.  Korean youth brigades armed with rifles stood over rooftops to guard their shops and businesses.  Los Angeles became a war zone.  The riots subsided only after the National Guard and the army provided reinforcements to re-establish control. 

When the riots ended, a team of students and teachers from the Claremont School drove over to Los Angeles to undertake street cleanup projects in the riot-torn neighborhoods.  I joined in the street cleanup.  It was a traumatic experience to witness firsthand the damage caused by the riots.  One of the intriguing ironies of the riots was the huge loss suffered by the local Korean community.  White folks’ business establishments were left unscathed.  Like us Asian Indians, South Koreans in Los Angeles themselves were recent immigrants to the US.  They did not create the historic racial tensions; and yet they suffered the brunt of the black fury during the riots.  

Why the Korean community?  These Koreans dared to run many mom-and-pop owned shops in the gang-infested neighborhoods of South-Central Los Angeles.  Other communities would not dare to step into these neighborhoods.  Koreans were soft-spoken, devout Christians of evangelical persuasion.  I wonder now why their faith did not inform them of the social justice issues plaguing these neighborhoods or alert them to the impending dangers of being in complicity with the social stereotypes that reinforced the status quo – the systemic oppression of the black people by white powers.  All that these Koreans could be concerned about was their own economic survival and advancement at the expense of the black folks who lived in these poor, drug, and gang infested neighborhoods.  Koreans did not employ blacks in their shops.  The woes of the black communities were not the focus of the Korean Christian presence and witness.

Since I had personally experienced the Los Angeles riots, I often applied this anecdote to challenge my Indian constituency through my sermons and writings.  Unfortunately, I find that the Asian Indian congregations which we started in Princeton and in Philadelphia are also trapped into these established patterns, associating more closely with the white congregations than with the black churches. Within the past twenty-five years, my Indian church has nested in four different sanctuaries all of which are white congregations.  Ironically, Indian culture has close affinity with non-Caucasian cultures.  Just see the colors of the sarees and the jewelry our women wear. Don’t they resemble Ebony taste and styles? Indian cultural symbols, art forms and music are closer to those of Africans and Pacific and Caribbean Islanders than to the Caucasians and the East Asians. 

As South Asian Christians Diaspora living in the USA, we are akin to our Korean brethren in Los Angeles.  Most of us are economically and socially mobile upward.  But our self-centeredness shuts us off from the plight of the vulnerable people in our society.  Our faith and witness matter less at the cutting edges of social transformations, whether here or abroad.  Like the Koreans, we Indians did not cause the historical racial injustices in this country.  We numb our conscience into believing that these are not our problems, but the problems of the whites and the blacks in this country.  But we are equally culpable like the Koreans who did nothing to mitigate the plight of black and brown people.  We turn a blind eye to their histories; instead, we go about grabbing every opportunity that comes our way to prosper and achieve the American Dream.  While assimilating into American society, we imbibe the values of the dominant groups and attempt to keep a safe distance from the oppressed minorities who demand our solidarity and compassion.  Indian immigrants run huge hotel franchises, gas stations, grocery stores, IT firms etc.  But we rarely hire black or brown people in our business enterprises, although we benefit by the support-services they provide us.  We dare not take anything for granted.  The next attack coming down the pike will be on us.  

Secondly, as for the South Indian Christian Diaspora in the US, our evangelical witness flunks our communities miserably over how we confront caste issues in our midst.  In 2007, the New Jersey Indian Church [I was privileged to initiate and pastor this congregation]  organized two consultations at the Princeton Theological Seminary on the theme of “Multiplying Asian Indian Ministries in North America.” Over seventy Indian pastors, church leaders and theological teachers from New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania met for these consultations to address many issues confronting our communities.  One of the prime issues we talked about was caste.  One participant at the consultation, Rev. Dr. Prince Singh [now the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester, NY] called it “the elephant in the room. As I had noted earlier, most South Indian Christians hail from Shudra [the lowest caste] or Dalit [untouchable, outside of the caste system].  Back home in India, our forefathers embraced Christianity to escape the shame of living as slaves under Hindu caste structures.  Most of us immigrated to North America to dodge the scourge and the pain of living under humiliating caste systems.  We had hoped that North America would offer us a haven, an anonymous environment to flourish and raise our children free from caste stigmas.  As Raymond Brady Williams says, “Gods and religions travel on the shoulders of immigrants.” But for those of us from Shudra or Dalit castes — however intently we may seek to break free of our caste shackles — upper caste immigrants infiltrate our communities seeking to tie and weigh us down with the shameful yoke of caste system in the land of the free and the brave.  The curse of caste plagues our congregations.  Many of our congregations here in North America are caste based; segregated congregations and denominations cater to upper and lower castes.  No one dares to break these taboos or speak openly about it.  We try to sweep these insults under the rug and pretend that these do not exist in our communities. We are unable to chase the elephant out of room.  So long as we fail to chase the elephant out, our evangelical witness in this country would lack credibility and power, and ultimately falter. We have no moral justification to point fingers at white evangelicals and raise our prophetic voices against racial injustices in this country.    

Jerry Falwell, Sr., and the Moral Majority

In April 2002, I was invited along with my wife to attend a leadership conference at the Billy Graham Training Center, Asheville, North Carolina.  There were about four hundred pastors and church leaders in attendance.  Heartwarming music and songs, inspirational talks peppered with worship sessions and good food kept us entertained and happy.  One of the speakers who addressed the gathering was Jerry Falwell, Sr., the founder of the Moral Majority and the president of the Liberty University, Lynchburg, Virginia.  What I remember about Falwell’s presentation was that he spoke for about 45 minutes and his presentation was measured, fastidious — quite unusual for a Baptist preacher and a televangelist.  He talked about how and why he initiated the Moral Majority movement.  The Moral Majority had existed for little more than a decade, from 1979 to 1989 and was disbanded – we are told — due to lack of financial resources.  Nevertheless, the Moral Majority did achieve its goals – that of herding white evangelicals to be politically engaged which led to the rise of Christian Right, the Conservative wing of the Republican party.

At that time of attending the pastors’ conference at Asheville, I did not think much about the significance of the Christian Right or the Republican party.  Falwell said that the main reason why he initiated the Moral Majority was to fight culture wars, against abortion and gay rights.  Marketing these two wedge issues of the Moral Majority’s culture wars was later found to be suspect. These issues belonged originally to the Catholic church; but these targets were adopted to primarily camouflage a blatant racism that he had harbored for years prior to the founding of Moral Majority and subsequently the formation of Liberty University.  “Decades before the forces that now make up the Christian right picked-up the targets for their culture wars, Falwell was a rabid segregationist who railed against the civil rights movement. . . Indeed, it was race – not abortion or the attendant suite of so-called “values” issues — that propelled Falwell and his evangelical allies into political activism.” In the morning after 9/11 terrorist attacks, he asserted, 

I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America.  I point the finger in their face and say, ‘You helped this happen.’   

Jerry Falwell, Sr. repeatedly told evangelical pastors around the country that they needed to get their congregants “saved, baptized, and registered to vote.”  Falwell mourned, “The true Negro does not want integration. . . He realizes his potential is far better among his own race.”  He went on to announce that integration “will destroy our race eventually.”

In 1966, Falwell founded the Lynchburg Christian Academy as a private school for white only students.  It was one among the many so-called “seg academies” created in the South to avoid integrated public schools.  Five years later, Falwell christened the academy into Liberty University to retain tax-exempt status when he realized that federal dollars would be denied for seg academies.  Liberty University, the largest Christian University in the world, until now under the leadership of his son, Jerry Falwell, Jr., essentially trains cadets for the Republican party and the Religious Right.  On August 25, Falwell, Jr., resigned as the President of the Liberty University owing to his unchristian conduct.  So much for a disgraced evangelical leader of the largest Christian University in the world!

Why would anyone invite Jerry Falwell, Sr., a rabid segregationist to address the august group of Christian leaders and pastors at the Billy Graham’s Training Center?  In the 1950s BG had famously insisted that all his crusades be integrated.  This was more a PR stunt.  In 1957, he invited MLK to deliver the opening prayer at his Madison Square Garden crusade in New York.  Billy said, “There is no room for segregation at the foot of the cross.”  But when civil disobedience spread through the south during the 1960s, BG withdrew his support for MLK.  While Billy Graham’s worldwide ministry was thriving during the 1950s and 1960s, the Jim Crow laws on racial segregation was on full swing in the south.  

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, a young black woman, was arrested for disobeying an Alabama law requiring black passengers to relinquish seats to white passengers.  The event triggered the Montgomery bus boycott and the subsequent race riots spreading across the South.  MLK spearheaded peaceful nonviolent protest movements across the country.  BG advised MLK that he should focus on changing the hearts rather than the laws.  He went on to say, “Only when Christ comes again will the little white children of Alabama walk hand in hand with little black children.” What a dismal prospect for racial justice! A sordid betrayal of the evangelical witness, as per the gospel according to Billy Graham! There were other appalling instances where BG shamelessly let down the civil rights movement and its leaders, too numerous to narrate here.  How sincere was BG regarding civil rights? Despite his attempt to desegregate black and white folks in his crusades, [which I think is a PR stunt], he did not go all out to support civil rights causes. 

Rescuing the terms: “Evangelism, Evangelicals and Evangelicalism”

By the time you get to read this article, the presidential election here in America would have been over or in the process of being decided.  I hope the outcome satisfies much of the electorate.  It is going to be one of the most momentous and disputed elections in our nation’s history.  Maybe we can expect some violence. Democracy itself is at stake!  The way things are moving, we are in a deep crisis.  Once upon a time, our country was the beacon of hope for democracy, human rights, and compassion around the world; now we are a pariah nation, a laughingstock.  

How did we get to this sad situation?  In 1976 Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, and a “born-again” Christian, was elected as the 39th President of the United States.  Newsweek, called 1976 “the year of the evangelical.”  Ronald Reagan came along, snatched the evangelical crown from Jimmy Carter.  On August 22, 1980, Regan addressed a crowd of evangelicals saying, “I know that you can’t endorse me. . . but . . . I want you to know that I endorse you and what you’re doing.”  Since then, evangelicals have ditched the Democratic Party and moved over to the Republican camp en masse.  In 2004, George W. Bush won his reelection on the back of the LGBTQ communities, using ballot initiatives barring same‐​sex marriage to spur turnout among his conservative voters.  By the 2016 election of Donald Trump, evangelical voters turned out to be mostly white and Republican.  “Christian right” says Sara Posner, “is saturated with rhetoric about “faith” and “values.” Its real driving force, though, was not religion but grievances over school desegregation, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, affirmative action, and more.”  It appears that we who call ourselves evangelicals have lost our way.  We have trivialized the meaning of this term “evangel” — the gospel — from submitting to its claims on our lives, ministries, and leadership.  We are willing to take the easy way out.  We have shortchanged the gospel to the certitude of esoteric faith and sensational experiences.  This is totally opposite to what Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24).

I now happen to believe that the deviation, to a large extent, started with Billy Graham, a farm boy from North Carolina.  Without a formal seminary training, he rose to become the most famous evangelist to the world.  He preached an incredibly naive message with a layman’s understanding of the Bible.  Not being a scholar or a theologian by any means, he concocted a pseudo-gospel that was simple to proclaim and easy to follow by his followers.  He diluted the claims of the gospel to suit his evangelical entrepreneurship and power grab.  Skillfully employing the tools of mass media — movies, radio, television, print media, he built his empire —Billy Graham Evangelistic Association — a multimillion-dollar para-church ministry and laid the foundations for prosperity ministries and megachurches.  He was ordained as a minister in the Southern Baptist Church, the largest Protestant denomination in the US. The origins of the Southern Baptists Convention in 1845 and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1859 were mired in pro-slavery and segregation pogroms. BG never acknowledged these crimes against humanity in his writings and preaching.  He preached to over 210 million people in more than 185 countries and territories.  As of 2008, Graham’s estimated lifetime audience, including radio and television broadcasts, topped 2.2 billion. Imagine the fate of a quarter of the world population who have drank the Kool-Aid of his attenuated gospel!

On April 4, 1968, MLK was assassinated by James Earl Ray, a white supremacist, in Memphis, Tennessee.  At that time, BG was holding his gospel crusades in Australia.  When BG was told about the assassination, he chose not to return to USA to attend the funeral of MLK.  I guess, for Billy, saving a few thousand souls in Australia was more important than being in solidarity with 20 million black people confined to urban ghettos, exiled in their own country, whose servant leader MLK was felled by a white supremacist. We witness the repercussions of his apathy toward the plight of black and brown people here.  No wonder black evangelicals shy away from white evangelicals.  One of the strangest features of American Christianity is its de facto segregation.  American society happens to be more segregated on Sundays than any other days of the week.  Scores of black people are still being slaughtered, incarcerated, and subjugated by whites more than any other ethnic groups in the USA.  To me this is the ultimate scandal of the evangelical witness, especially that of the white evangelicals.  Whether Evangelical Witnesses can be reclaimed, restored, and rehabilitated in the present climate is left to be seen. 

In October 2020, Evangelicals for Social Action, formed 50 years ago to address social justice issues [a follow-up project of the 1973 Chicago Declaration], changed its name to Christians for Social Action.  Three years ago, the Princeton Evangelical Fellowship, a campus ministry for more than 80 years changed its name to the Princeton Christian Fellowship.  Bill Boyce who has led the campus groups for years says, “the term evangelical is now a tribal rather than a creedal description.”  Thomas Kidd of Baylor University, a historian of evangelicalism writes, 

In the wake of the 2016 election, evangelicalism went from being America’s most controversial religious movement to the most reviled one.  The overwhelming support for Donald Trump among self-identified white evangelical voters unleashed a wave of vitriol against evangelicals, who (to critics) had thrown off their religious masks to reveal a racist, misogynist, and power-grabbing agenda. . . American evangelicals are in crisis today.

“The real scandal of the evangelical mind currently,” says Carl R. Trueman, “is not that it lacks a mind, but that it lacks any agreed-upon evangel.” 

Indeed, there seems to be widespread uncertainty about the meaning of the term “evangelical.” During the past few centuries, Christian theology of ecclesiology and missiology ran with many nomenclatures — inventing new terms while discarding obsolete ones.  We have dabbled with monikers like fundamentalism, conservatism, dispensationalism, millenarianism, pietism, liberalism, modernism, postmodernism, progressivism etc.  Terms like evangelicalism, “New Evangelicals” and “Charismatics” are now part of the mix.  Modern evangelicalism came into existence in the eighteenth century during the Enlightenment era. Two of the last stalwarts of the worldwide evangelical movement — Billy Graham, and John R. Stott of the Langham Fellowship, UK –died recently.  John Stott, the chief architect of The Lausanne Covenant wrote in 1999 that “the evangelical faith is not a recent innovation. . . evangelical Christianity is original, apostolic, New Testament Christianity.”  The Lausanne Covenant is widely regarded as one of the most significant documents in modern church history. The covenant challenged the Protestant evangelicals to work together to make Jesus Christ known throughout the world.  But the Covenant failed on many fronts.  For one thing, it stopped with the Great Commission, (Matthew 28:16-20); it failed to tap into the rich resources of the Old Testament – the prophetic and wisdom traditions — which anticipate and affirm, divine commonwealth, liberation, justice for all and the Jubilee celebrations.

There is a mad rush among the evangelical leaders to grab the mantle of the late stalwarts.  Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham desperately seeks to claim the spotlight and fill the shoes of these late purveyors of the global evangelical movement; but he fails miserably when he vaunts islamophobia, homophobia, and antiabortion stances.  As witnessed at the September 26th, 2020 Washington DC Prayer March, Franklin’s voice was muffled amidst the cacophony of the conservative power grabbers.  Mike Pence, the Vice-President came along, turned the prayer march into a political prep rally for DT’s reelection.  The Washington Post aptly called the prayer rally to task saying, “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” Franklin Graham, at the 2020 Republican National Convention prayed, “I thank you tonight for our president, Donald J. Trump.”  Franklin almost anointed DT as the Cyrus, the Great, the Persian emperor who freed the Hebrew captivities from Babylon.  At least for now, Donald Trump has succeeded in becoming the new mascot of the white evangelicals in America.

The Greek word, evangelion means “good news” – the gospel.  Over the years, this gospel has been diluted; it has strayed away from its biblical roots.  For many of us — devout Christians — the word has now become a plague. The question before us is: Should we renounce the word and remove it from our theological jargon or attempt to redeem and rehabilitate it from the Trumpian evangelicals?  However, the words “evangelical, evangelism, and evangelicalism” are ubiquitous elsewhere around the world, especially in the Two-Thirds World.  Besides, these are biblical terms, code words, loaded dynamites, not just in the New Testament, but also in the Old Testament.  These concepts stem originally from the Messianic aspirations of the Hebrew prophetic traditions. (See Leviticus 25:10; Psalm 22:19-31; Isaiah 9:6-7, 11:6-9; 52:7, 13–53:12; 61:1-3; Ezekiel 36:22–24, 28; 37:12–14).  These texts point toward many visionary concepts like redemption, liberation, peace with justice, breaking free of the shackles, setting the prisoners free, rise of the beloved community, creative transformation, ecological civilization, renewal, healing, reconciliation with God, self, neighbor, and the environment, repentance, reparation, iconoclastic cleansing, speaking truth to power, Jubilee celebrations, and much more.

As envisaged by the Hebrew prophets, we need to address three basic questions squarely if we are going to rescue the term “evangelicalism” from the Trumpian voters.  

1. What is the sum and substance of the good news we are called to proclaim? The gospel, its contents and potency? 

2. What is the medium? And who is the messenger?

3. To whom is the good news addressed? Who are the legatees of the good news? 

Answering these questions fully and satisfactorily will be a project by itself.  Once answered to the satisfaction of the biblical vision, they will surely lead to remedial actions.  Such a project must be left for a later season.  This is the paradigm shift — the shift of our evangelical witness and thoughts that I called for earlier in this article.  Not all is lost; there is hope still; change is coming.  The recovery and transformation will nevertheless be painful and labored.  The contemporary crisis offers us a teachable moment; we need to seize the moment, the zeitgeist, and learn from it so that we do not repeat the follies of the past elections.

Postscript 

An abridged version of this article, “The Scandal of the Evangelical Witness” appeared in the December 2020 issue of the Global Ministries Bulletin of the United Church of Christ.  Trump lost the 2020 elections.  On January 20, 2021, Joseph R. Biden was inaugurated as the 46th President of the United States.  A stunner of the 2020 elections was that for the first time in the history of the United States, a black woman of South Indian descent, Kamala Harris was elected and inaugurated as our vice-President.  The US democracy survived the assault of the White Evangelicals!

Postscript 

An abridged version of this article, “The Scandal of the Evangelical Witness” appeared in the December 2020 issue of the Global Ministries Bulletin of the United Church of Christ.  Trump lost the 2020 elections.  On January 20, 2021, Joseph R. Biden was inaugurated as the 46th President of the United States.  A stunner of the 2020 elections was that for the first time in the history of the United States, a black woman of South Indian descent, Kamala Harris was elected and inaugurated as our vice-President.  The US democracy survived the assault of the White Evangelicals!

The Scandal of the Evangelical Witness – #6

Princeton, USA

January 20, 2021