Gospel Renewal of the Secular Indian

India is secularizing

Although the Indian Constituent Assembly adopted secularism as a fundamental principle of the country right during the framing of the Constitution, the idea of secularism has only begun seeping into the everyday lives of citizens rather recently.

Let us look at two reasons why the country is secularising:

The impact of urbanization

India is urbanizing. In her Union Budget 2022 speech, the Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman observed that by the year 2047, half the Indian population would be living in urban centres. In 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the National Smart Cities Mission, which aimed to develop 100 sustainable and citizen-friendly cities throughout the country.

In short, more and more people in India are going to be urban Indians.

The city as a unit is a lot more secular in her character than her older cousin, the village. But why?

The Indian village

Picture the village as an old woman who does not like change. She does not offer economic opportunities that are unique to her. There isn’t any incentive for outsiders to come to the village bringing their own traditions. Traditions are the same over generations and centuries. They become unwritten laws for her. She likes her food the same way she’s always had it. She likes her festivals the same way she’s always celebrated them. She is suspicious of outsiders to the village. Because outsiders have strange traditions she does not understand. She prefers safety and stability. Jobs that provide security and stability are to be desired at all costs. Risk is to be avoided.

When people in the village change, she resists. She says that the present generation is spoiled and will bring ruin to the village. She harshly judges the youngsters because they don’t live up to the traditions.

The village holds to a premodern worldview. She views the world through the lens of an embedded cosmos. As Varughese John argues in his paper, Religious Freedom: Four Portraits of a Complex Phenomenon, the village assumes that the entire universe is interrelated. Each individual’s actions have cosmic consequences. Natural calamities such as floods, droughts, earthquakes, etc. would take place if the gods were not appeased through regular festivals in which everyone participates. If the established order and way of things were disturbed (such as a person marrying outside one’s caste or converting one’s religion), the gods would be angry and would punish the entire community. Therefore, the village does not allow one to exercise one’s own choices as if it did not affect the entire community. Each person has to follow the order prescribed by tradition.

For the village, change is undesirable.

The Indian city

The city on the other hand is like a young woman who loves change. She loves foreign cuisine, foreign clothing, foreign music, movies and TV shows. She is ambitious, adventurous, affluent and enterprising. The city takes risks, starting new businesses and creating new jobs. The city attracts people to herself like a flower attracts bees. The sweet nectar of her jobs is too hard to resist. But all of her people come from different villages bringing their different traditions along with them.

When people in the city come into contact with traditions and ways of living that are very different from their own, they must either become blind to their surroundings or become more tolerant of practices different from their own.

Thus, the city offers less judgement towards her people who might practice a different faith or who might not hold to any faith. Her public spaces lack a common faith and thus, she becomes a lot more secular than her older cousin, the village.

The impact of globalisation

Through the internet, the world has become more connected than ever before. Never before would a teenager in Varanasi be seen watching a Korean TV show or a young working professional in Salem be seen watching F.R.I.E.N.D.S, a TV show made in the USA.

Culture-products such as TV shows, movies and music influence the culture of people. They both make and spread cultural values.

The global culture spread by the products of Hollywood and the Internet assumes a secular worldview. What is presented as normal and common in these shows may not be so normal and common after all. For instance, young people would just consider it normal to think that the belief in the existence of a deity is an old-fashioned un-scientific way of thinking.

CS Lewis argues in an essay titled Christian Apologetics (1945), “The difficulty we are up against is this. We can make people (often) attend to the Christian point of view for half an hour or so but the moment they have gone away from our lecture or laid down our article, they are plunged back into a world where the opposite position is taken for granted … It is not the books written in direct defense of materialism that make the modern man a materialist; it is the materialistic assumptions in all the other books.”

For example, in the Global West, YouTube was a major contributor to secularism. YouTubers who first gained an audience due to their early adoption of technology were often secular and atheistic in their worldview. But they were not creating videos about secularism. They were making videos on Physics, Math, Economics, ethics, or why cats always land on their feet. When students often turn to these resources for help in their subjects, they end up absorbing the worldview of the teacher.

In short, due to the effects of urbanisation and globalisation, India is becoming secular.

How can the church respond?

The secularisation of India is good news for the church. The church has often viewed secularism as an enemy of Christianity. While it may be true that the modern secular world denies Christ, in a country such as India, secularism can be a huge opportunity.

Seek out the migrant

Opposition to the good news of the kingdom of Jesus is strongest where traditional beliefs and values are held on to tightly. The family and society offer a strong resistance to any signs of independence. As already argued, the villagers believe that the well-being of the entire community is at risk when even one person chooses to express their individual will.

In the city where the grip of society and culture is looser, individuals are freer to embrace Christ.

Being away from home and grappling with an alien culture can be a scary and confusing time. The church can offer the good news that nature is not at the whims and fancies of angry gods who need to be appeased through sacrifices and festivals. The wrath of God has been appeased by the sacrificial death of his own son, Jesus. And in this lies our hope.

Seek the gospel renewal of culture

In obedience to Jesus’ mandate to be salt and light to the world, followers of Jesus can be culture-makers.

Christians can seek the gospel renewal of culture by allowing the gospel to speak into every aspect of culture. This can be done when they allow the gospel to influence the science books they write, the economic ideas they propagate or the YouTube videos they create.

As already argued, a worldview that is assumed contributes far more powerfully to the discourse than a worldview that is defended or argued for.

Lewis, in the same essay, goes on to present a solution.

I believe that any Christian who is qualified to write a good popular book on any science may do much more by that than by a directly apologetic work … The first step to the reconversion of this country is a series, produced by Christians, which can beat the Penguin and the Thinkers Library on their own ground. Its Christianity would have to be latent, not explicit: and of course its science perfectly honest. Science twisted in the interest of apologetics would be sin and folly!

Lewis, 1945

One could extend the argument to say that the non-Christian would be troubled if, whenever he wanted investment advice, study strategies or nutrition advice, the best books, blog posts, or YouTube videos on the topic in his language were always by a Christian.

When it comes to English content, the secular voices are leading the race. But when it comes to regional languages the race has just begun. We must seize the opportunity while it is still early.

Here is the challenge for the Indian church: Can a series of books, blog posts, online courses and YouTube videos produced in Hindi and other regional languages, beat the SciShow, AsapScience, School of Life and Ted-Ed on their own ground? Its Christianity would have to be latent, not explicit and its science perfectly honest!

Being Indian and Christian

Being Indian and Christian is my weekly email newsletter in which I try to understand the world (popular culture or news and events from India or around the world) from a Christian world-view. If that’s something you’re interested in, I’d be honoured if you signed up!

Being Indian and Christian is also on Instagram:


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Follow us on Social Media