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New Community Bible Criticized For Causing Confusion

Updated: October 13, 2008 06:26 AM GMT
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The first Indian version of the Christian Community Bible is facing criticism from people who say it undermines the Catholic faith. The new version is "unfit for personal prayer, study, sharing, teaching or evangelization," asserts Michael Prabhu, a Catholic layman who wants the publishers to withdraw it and suspend any further printings. Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay released the New Community Bible on June 28, jointly published by St. Paul Publications, Divine Word Publications and Claretian Publications. According to the publishers, this is the Indian edition of the popular Christian Community Bible originally produced in Spanish in Latin America. An English-language version first appeared in the Philippines. The Indian edition has the required clearances such as a nihil obstat, certification from a theologian saying its content does not contradict Catholic teaching. It also has an imprimatur, clearance from the hierarchy saying it is free from error in matters of Catholic faith and morals. Some leading biblical scholars in India have written commentaries for this edition, which took nearly 17 years to complete and which the publishers describe on their website as a gift to the Church in India. However, critics point to the presentation of parallel texts from Hindu spiritual books and commentaries using Indian mystical figures, saying this runs the risk of equating Christianity with other religions. "It promotes relativism and syncretism, which are strongly condemned by the Church at regular and frequent intervals," Prabhu told UCA News. He admits many of the commentaries are excellent but says some have errors. "They give personal interpretations of events in both the Old and the New Testaments, ignoring the faith value of these events," he explained. Such commentaries philosophize on alternative explanations for biblical events and ignore traditional interpretations, casting doubt on their authenticity, he asserted. In an effort to justify inculturation, he continued, some commentaries draw parallels between landmark biblical events and nature religion, deities of other religions or mythological figures. The layman claimed numerous references are made to Mahatma Gandhi, father of the Indian nation who advocated nonviolence, Gautama Buddha and Indian mystics such as Kabir and Mirabai, but none to saints such as Francis Xavier and John de Britto. Both of these Jesuit missioners preached in India. Pauline Father Augustine Kanachikuzhy, who edited the New Community Bible, dismissed the criticisms but agreed that references to sacred books of other religions could perhaps make some Christians uncomfortable. "Indian Scriptures are referred to in a Biblical commentary only to get a more inter-cultural and contextualized understanding of certain Biblical terms and concepts," he told UCA News in an e-mail from Mumbai, western India, where he is based. Such commentaries also serve as an invitation for people of other faiths to draw from the treasures of the Bible, he added. The priest pointed out that the idea of a Bible that comes with commentary is a relatively new idea which some cannot accept, even more so when the commentary refers to other religions. "These ideas have to gradually sink into their minds," he said. The critics think everything in the Bible has to be literal and factual, he charged, whereas the fact "that the Bible contains stories and dramatizations and exaggerations was established long back." Father Jose Aymanathil, who is based in Kolkata, eastern India, disagrees. He maintains the publishers have diverted the purpose of the Bible. According to the Salesian priest, the Bible does not aim "to unite us with other religions through text comparisons." He told UCA News the publishers are "Hinduizing the Bible" in the name of adapting it to the Indian context. Another critic, Benedictine Father Jean de Britto, told UCA News the New Community Bible "is very dangerous to Catholics because it can destroy or diminish the faith." The visiting French theologian maintains the problems arise because the New Community Bible puts different religions on a par with one another. END

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