Religious Messages: Appropriation Versus Respect

I have just read the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby's Diwali message. It was posted on his website  (link below) and sent out to many prominent Hindus and organisations. It is always nice to receive a festive message from notable persons of different religious traditions. Having said that, there are elements that caused me mild concern.

I took exception to the following paragraph:

The lights of Diwali symbolise the renewal of life and hope in the midst of darkness so often prevalent in our world. The spiritual heart is found in the ancient prayer, ‘lead me from darkness to light.’ This is something that as Christians we share with you, as we focus our faith on Jesus, the light of the world in the coming Advent and Christmas season.

I feel  a level of discomfort in senior religious figure's stating with the authority of their position what something means or symbolises in a tradition that is not their own.  The statement about lights symbolising 'renewal and hope' is not objectionable even though the terms are common currency in Christianity and thus have their related meanings. It is the way it was said that I find objectionable.

A statement more to the effect of:  'as I have learned,  the lights of Diwali symbolise renewal and hope' would be far more palatable and even digestible. The appropriation of what the lights of Diwali mean by the Archbishop is something as  preposterous as me, a Hindu, making statements of what the crucifixion or ascendancy mean to christians.  This cannot be done. I must hear from another faith and have respect for what they believe. Surely any such statement must be prefaced by:  'in my understanding or reading' or 'in what I have heard or learned'.  In this there is an element of humility and respect rather than finality.

Further to this, introducing  Jesus as the 'light of the world' in a message to Hindus addressing the festival of lights is highly inappropriate. Why not at least say 'for us Christians Jesus is the light of the world'? Or better still leave out such statements as in the context they are highly inappropriate.

In respecting the religious festivities, sacraments and symbols of others and what they might mean, it is better to do so with respect and avoid putting our own foreign authority and stamp on them. To do so is a misappropriation and possible convolution of an other's religious tradition. It is to introduce my faith into the thinking of the other. And when done on such occasions as Diwali, the messages are shared on a mass level and accepted and reproduced with naivety.


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