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On A Moral Scrutiny of Charitable Institutions

March 31, 2012

Morality in society can show significant improvement only when religious institutions in our country (India) are subjected to extensive public scrutiny. But then, the question arises – who will dare to subject spiritual institutions to scrutiny? The answer here too is – the common man. For, not many religious leaders would show a willingness to subject their ethical practices to be brought under scrutiny. Rather, many would rather prefer to cover up their deficiencies and, instead, want to hog credits as and when such opportunities come their way. It is this ‘Self-righteous Swami’ attitude among many of them that actually prevents quite a few religious institutions from getting out of the rut that it finds itself in. The primary outcome of the 100-year old tussle between the two Malankara factions has been that many of the activities done by quite a few of the members of the clergy are driven more by politics, than by spiritual considerations. Instead of this, admitting short-comings and seeking to rectify them would have contributed to the development of strong values within such institutions and, in turn, also acted as better guiding posts for the masses (laity) in perusing the Perfect God with greater vigor. After all, wouldn’t this also jell well with the words of John The Baptist, “He must increase; I must decrease!”?

Moving forward, it is clear from the above that by ethical practices I am not referring merely to the financial and administrative actions of charitable institutions. It would also involve examining the rationale and morality associated to decision-making in new initiatives that happen in religious institutions. For, I do not buy the argument that there is a lot of charity left in many (not all) of the charitable institutions across the nation. I am of the view that the rot needs to be stemmed first, and then reversed.

Thus, decisions taken to make people bishops, for example, in return for Cash (the “Cash for Post”, and “Post for Property (free-of-charge or, for cheap)”  ‘deals’) needs to be examined from the perspective of its correctness within their respective religious beliefs (Christianity in the Malankara Church’s case), its moral impact on the laity and the society at large, its impact on relationships with other similar institutions and / or dealings with political organizations, etc. Other similar decisions could be related to the utilization of funds – whether this promotes charity within the fold first and / or then among the society at large, etc.

During such a moral scrutiny, the examination of rationale behind decision-making needs to involve determining the possibility of achieving the desired outcomes. Take the case of strengthening the family by providing `equal rights’ to women in religious institutions – whether this will help strengthen family-ties in a commoner’s home, facilitate child-development activities, improve Care and Love for the elderly, etc. Approaching this issue with a “My 80-year-old wife and I have been on the Board of Directors of XYZ MNC for over 30 years now and we have had no gender-based issues between us” attitude and pushing this `sophisticated society’ mindset down the throats of simple down-to-earth village-folks (or, say tribal folk) who are rooted in Indian culture, would be unjust, in my view. In short, trampling on the family (and its wealth) and familial ties while building up religious institutions and their Managing Committees, etc. across the length and breadth of Indian society is, in my view, nothing short of social suicide being inflicted on the hapless `stakeholders’. In other words, isn’t it time that in true Christian spirit of togetherness, a closer look is given to complementariness as against competitiveness?

Moving forward, looking at this matter from a broader perspective, the involvement of religion in Politics of the secular world would surely need a closer look. Being a developing nation, while the immediate attention of the majority of the population is drawn towards meeting the basic needs of mankind (such as food, water, clothing, shelter, etc.), attempts to polarize the voting population by some in the political class on the basis of religion cannot be overlooked. On this front, it is unfortunate that many of the religious leaders of our nation are yet to rise above petty interests and hold on to a Universal Vision about humanity and brotherhood. However, the silver lining on this front has been the fact that the voting pubic have been driven more by domestic & local factors; and that too in a multi-party political environment, as against permitting themselves to be nationally divisive along religious lines. As such, here too it appears that it is the common man that seem to show the way forward for the nation. The question however that still remains here is – when will our religious leaders stop treating their flock as vote banks and start genuinely caring for their social and moral needs?

As to the customs & traditions followed by the people in various regions & religions (such as Karva Chauth among Hindus in certain locations, Onam & Pongal festivals being followed in the Southern parts of India, etc.) here too the religious / charitable institutions have a role to play in utilizing them, as and when appropriate, towards promoting harmony in the social and familial environments.  The question is – have our religious leaders given it a serious thought on all such opportunities from the perspective of, say, promoting amity between different sections of society?

To summarize, the moot point I wish to make is – to imagine that morals within society would improve while charitable institutions go about blatantly damaging (or, ignoring) morality within, is a perfect recipe for larger social disaster. Take for example the adverse social / familial impact among quite a few in the laity by the Piravom byelections in Kerala which, as per reports, seem to have a direct correlation to the high-voltage stand-off between the Malankara Orthodox Church & the Jacobite faction. As such, it is clear that many in the clergy from both factions do not seem to be caring too much about such adverse impacts, nor the laity thinking too deeply on these matters in its eagerness to be part of the ‘approved’ crowd and, seem to rather want to ‘flow with the tide’.

On the contrary thus, it becomes imperative on the ‘commoner-laity’ to reflect deeply on all such matters before these begin to turn up in the shape of ‘monsters’ within the confines of their own respective homes / localities. After all, while Charity begins at Home, not many who matter seem to be really caring about selflessly promoting charity here!

John Jacob


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