Malankara World

General Interest Reading

Christian Family in the Globalized World

by Rev. Fr. K. K. John, Philadelphia

H G Mor Nicholovos thirumeni , in his short inaugural address, raised two thought provoking questions:

(1) do you derive any benefit out of meetings such as this?

(2) Do you make use of the information received from such meetings?

He told a parable:

there was a man who spent all his life wearing rags, carrying a bag on his shoulder, begging all the time and lived in the streets. When he died, to everyone's amazement, very costly pearls, rubies and jewels were found in his bag which he collected and carried over the years but never used.

We Orthodox Christians are similar. We carry great wealth of traditions, undefiled doctrines, patristic teachings of venerable fathers, excellent worship services, great speakers and teachers, conferences and conventions and so on and yet not knowing or capitalizing the value of our own spiritual possessions, many of our faithful wander here and there and try to imitate others as if we are spiritually bankrupt.

(My note: Very true. I asked a friend why his wife did not come for the conference. He replied, "She went to Naikamparampil achen's meditation crusade.")

Until the 15th century, the world view of people were limited to 5 to 10 mile radius but now we live in a global village. One side-effect of this globalization is that we do not find convenience to adjust to each other. This compartmentalization has given rise to so many problems. Divorce is one example. Divorce becomes a standard norm in a society where it (compartmentalization) is rampant. In this scenario, what the majority follows often becomes the accepted standard of morality. Our challenge, as Christians, is to find how to maintain and sustain our spiritual identity in the midst of secular and global influences that undermine the Christian family values and ethos.

My observations:

(1) To those who did not attend the conference, it was a great loss,

(2) Most attendees were older couples, like my wife and me, whose married life, surviving the inevitable ups and downs, lasted decades or fraction of a century and have grown up children. Couples in the early stages of marriage are vulnerable to more internal squabbles. Young parents need spiritual discernment to raise children. These meetings are educative and are highly effective for them to learn how to lead a virtuous life.

(3) High-end cars and houses are the cherished goal for many. Enslaved by the passion for life, they work overtime finding no time to relax and learn spiritual matters. Addiction to work creates restlessness and stress. Alcohol and drugs are thought to help relieve the stress. But not knowing their destructive after-effects, people end up in more dangerous situations. Many older women are enduring mental and physical abuse from the male partners who are addicted to alcohol, drugs, adultery, etc for the simple reason that the problems were not addressed and solved on time. Some are on the verge of divorce and yet such people fail to attend and make use of the meetings, it is a pity. Unless the individual makes use of the available opportunities and change the way of life, no one can help. Learn to improve family life so that you will not to regret at a later stage, that is my advice.

Speech by Rev Fr Dr O Thomas:

Rev Fr O Thomas was the main speaker. His initial sarcastic wit was all the more a thrill. He said, 'while I speak, if any one feels sleepy, please go ahead and sleep because that itself is a good way of much needed relaxing.' One important purpose of the meeting is to have some relaxing. But, in fact, not one attendee slept the whole time.

The speech was lively embedded in refined jokes and wits; repeated outburst of laughter from the audience was the best proof. The speech was unforgettable, flawlessly par excellent. I give below a gist of his speech without illustrations so that those who did not attend the meeting may benefit.

"Globalization is a process of interaction which involves environment. It affects culture, economy, politics and social life. It is a new form of capitalism. The more we are globalized, the more we have family problems." Globalization is a culture of trade and commerce where, "produce more, sell more, buy more," etc. are the chief slogans. In this culture, money, wealth and possessions become standard measure of one's personality and status.

Influences of globalization on family values/life:

1. The highest priority becomes money; where it is a culture of marketing/trade. Money becomes the standard measure of people's value. Today, the enjoyment of romance has been relegated to second position; the basic criteria in relationship being occupation, education and income. Our problem is not poverty but rather relative poverty; which means, our worry is not that we lack something but lack certain things in comparison to what others have and become restless and work tirelessly to gain more than what others have. So the marketing principle is to increase production, sale, consumption and profits, make people discontent with what they have so to make more purchases and this competition results in people getting into more and more debt.

2. Exclusive individuality is another influence; where individual freedom is a high priority that is, 'you are for yourself' or 'I am more important than you' attitude. This adversely affects the relationships, often unnoticed. Family is an institution which imposes collective responsibility and puts limits on the individual. When individual freedom as the ultimate value takes over family values it affects the family structure.

3. Family governing system will be destroyed; in a traditional family the husband is the leader and breadwinner. Leadership in Christian concept is not about enslaving but serving the other. Christian theology insists that husband and wife are essentially part of the same structure. But over the years having given too much stress on the leadership aspects of men, women were not given due consideration. In all cultures women's rights were trampled and this gave rise to feminism. Feminism helped the freedom of women, insisted on the autonomy of individual. It resulted in lose of unity in the family. There is no autonomy in the traditional family and there is no unity in the globalized family, thus both are opposed to one another, a contradiction is evident.

4. Another deadly effect of globalization is the unrealistic sexual fantasies. Modern generation is incessantly bombarded with sexual information; pornography, blue films, etc through the medium of TV, Internet and publications that have become too common. In the traditional family women had a passive role but that has changed. There are a lot of differences between reality and fantasy. The young generation fails to discern this difference namely, the information they get from such media are unrealistic and impractical in the real world; thus losing sight of true sexuality. What we lost in this process is the purity and beauty of sexuality. The beauty of sexuality is in its privacy and that is fully lost when it is exposed. To the one who has no experience in sexuality there is a yearning for sexuality, which leads to perverted sexuality. In the older generation where male domination was an accepted standard men did not consider women's right to enjoyment. As a result of traditional understanding of sex and piety some women have negative attitude towards sex. Over expectation have also adverse effects. Husband and wife with strongly differing interests are unequally yoked and that might spark problems. The acceptable alternative is that husband and wife together decide and stay connected and united.

5. Globalization has adversely influenced personalities. There are two kinds of people, introvert and extrovert. Introverts are those who like more to be alone, reading books, engaged in projects and less talkative. Intellectuals, inventors, authors, etc fall in this category. Extroverts are just the opposite, they like more to associate and interact with others. Social reformers, leaders, pastors, etc belong to this category; they need to be extrovert and able to handle different situations such as sharing grief and happiness according to the need at the same time studiously. When husband and wife belong to different levels as one introvert and the other extrovert, they are bound to face problem in the family. It is necessary therefore to be careful in choosing partners; as far as possible with similar interests and on the other hand able to adjust to the other's need.

6. Global society is deprived of wider family. Relationship circle is limited, which has given rise to nucleus family concept. In the wider family, there were other members to support especially in regard to raising children and other immediate family matters whereas in the nucleus family no support from relatives and older members when they confront a problem. This imposes too much stress on spouses, which is especially true when both spouses are employed. Lack of outlet to share emotions often tends the spouses develop more severe problems and finally end up in divorce. Again, the level of difference of spouses depends on the level of globalization. The church must come forward to support its members in stress related problems.

In fact, globalization has affected every part of the world; it cannot be said as a problem particular to a country, USA or the West alone, though they are leaders of globalization. Kerala is fast approaching the level of complete globalization in every aspect of human activity, science, technology, information, medicine and social.

7. Another influence of globalization is that it permits evils as normal way of life. For example, some fifty years ago homosexual behavior was defined as a human behavioral disorder but now the text books would not say so; it has become normal, an "alternate life-style". Pre- marital sex, extras-marital sex, polygamy, divorce, etc are viewed lightly and as acceptable social standards. Traditional definition of marriage and human sexuality are redefined. Thus there is no sound ethics to psychology, having become too liberal in ethical values. Globalization has thus detrimental influences on traditional family values. Affinity to globalization is opposed to morality. Loose morality is a grave danger to the existence of human race.

8. Competition and jealousy are thought to be necessary to survive in the Consumerist and materialistic culture, which invaded every aspects of human activity. Sound competition is not bad for growth. It is necessary to certain level for achieving quality products and services. "Owner's pride and neighbor's envy" has become a slogan in the marketing world. Competition has a positive value in family also but when it targets unfair possession through unfair means for, more often than not, people are misguided by the slogan, "end will justify the means," it is dangerous. It is ok to have difference, in age, appearance and income between spouses. But sadly indeed, globalized family has lost sight of the essential principle behind the unity in family, "yours is mine, and mine is yours." This is a serious problem.

9. Lack of communication between members of the family particularly spouses is another negative impact of globalization; people are too busy, too preoccupied with many things such as business, job, socialization, etc that they hardly find quality time with spouse and kids. Pretending to be busy has become a mark of importance. Being busy on other matters leaves no time to resolve issues between spouses. It is necessary to spend time together and communicate so that their hearts come together in unity and love. Lack of communication will lead to unnecessary doubts and problems arising out of such doubts. Most of the differences among the couple that later turn disastrous are easy to resolve if checked and clarified in the beginning itself. Continuous neglect helps only to widen the gap and the end result will be a heap of problems. Some people turn to alternative enjoyments such as, drug, alcohol, pornography, adultery, etc to compensate the lack of communication. Spouses need to properly communicate and compensate the gap without delay, without preconditions and preconceived notions.

10. The grave influence of globalization is the loss of sacramental value of family as a basic institution for the human survival. Globalized family does not consider the sacramental value of family. Godly nature is the foundation of family; "Family is God ordained" and "God joined us together" are firm rocks that do not shake in tempests. Husband loves and cares his wife even as Christ loved His Church by dying for and redeeming it and the wife in turn respects the husband. It helps to build a purpose driven life, where husband and wife are equal partners, same flesh and blood, Image of God as is evident in the first narration of creation in Gen 1:26. St Paul affirmed that husband should love his wife as he loves his own body. Again he said, husband has no authority over his own body but the wife; and the wife has no authority over her own body but the husband, these do not indicate a lesser position to the wife. When that foundation is shaken it upsets the whole structure and destroys the social existence.

Globalization induces an illusion that self-gratification is paramount and nothing else matters. People wrongly think they can build a successful family life if they love each other; the concept of love itself being distorted and measured in terms of self-gratification. Husband and wife ought to have deep conviction that God made them for each other and live for the Glory of God or else family life shall not be successful. The fact is that no spouse is able to know the other spouse fully well in spite of the best efforts and continuous interactions and it is not cardinal to harmony in the family. When God unites husband and wife and continues to mediate in their life, it is meaningful and profitable.

Many parents fail to impart the Christian values. They give more emphasis to external aggrandizements such as costly costumes, big feasts, etc. Marriage ceremonies have been converted as occasions to show family prestige sidelining the spiritual and sacramental value. Achen himself being an effective counselor shared some of his experience. He asserted that counseling is a much talked about subject which has gained momentum in the modern times. There are many counselors world over, too many especially in this country. What we see is; the more the counselors, the more the problem of divorce. The regrettable fact is; counselors themselves need counseling; most of them are not good role models. How a counselor who is unmarried but lives with girl-friend or boy-friend or has divorced twice and lives with a third woman could impart Christian value of forgiving and staying together by way of counseling? In other words, counseling has denigrated as a profession and a means of livelihood. Many counselors are yet to discern that family problems can never be fully solved by human intelligence rather, we need to depend on divine wisdom.

Civilizations come and go, we have learned the rise and fall of many civilizations in history but can we keep a Christian identity or can we return to our old spirituality is a relevant thought. In the second story of creation, Genesis 2:18 says, "God said, I will find him a suitable helpmate." The first narration is more perfect, Genesis 1:26, 27, where both man and woman are part of the same image of God, equality of sex and joint authority over all other creations are explicit.

Reflecting God's nature in husband and wife is the essential criterion of family unity. When that is displaced with other external standards, say, beauty, education, income and social status, the primary human institution is in jeopardy. The Domination and subjugation of spouse especially the weaker sex, is not a Christian idea, but evolved from the world view. In Christ there is no domination or subjugation of either partner. The relationship between husband and wife is that of Christ and the Church, Eph chapter 5. Christ gave himself to the church, so even husband ought to sacrifice self-interest for the sake of wife and, in turn, wife is chaste and respects and adores the husband. It is necessary that each should deeply appreciate the other.

World view sometimes tempts one to think, "There were others better than my spouse;" Don't ever think so. Each one spouse is carefully and wonderfully made, chose and joined together for the other as was good in the eye of God, Ps 139. God's purpose is that the husband and wife should transcend from mere human level to higher divine level. In this sense, the family is a miniature of heaven on earth. Home is also a miniature of church, which is the body of Christ where there is prayer, worship, love, co-operation, care and compassion for the other.

It is possible to have problems, one offending the other, but a Christian is always indebted to forgive. It is a divine quality to forgive and seek forgiveness from the spouse though humanly impossible to forgive. Therefore we ought to pray, "Lord, give us the grace to forgive." Wife should never be shy to ask forgiveness of the husband and the husband should never be shy of seeking forgiveness of the wife. That is, mutually giving in. Get rid of pride, jealousy and anger; they will destroy peace and harmony. Instead, cultivate humility. Humility is the mother of all virtues. There is no other shortcut but to obey God's statutes and return to spirituality.

Source: Couple's Conference held on 31 May, 2008 at St George Church, NY.

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