Towards Freedom of Conscience: Navigating between the Individual and the Community

A paper that I had earlier presented in Delhi (April 2016) is published as a chapter in this edited volume titled: The Bible in India: Religion and Ethics and is now available on Amazon.

Religion and Ethics

My paper argues that the freedom of conscience is inherent and fundamental to the human noetic structure and thus can be conceived as self-evident. Yet, human rights and freedom of conscience primarily take their shape from within specific background cultures, especially shaped by their vision of a good life.

This paper examines two such visions: Cultures that tend to focus on individual autonomy and those that focus on community. Individual autonomy is a Christian heresy and needs to be critiqued just as much as the communitarian calculus in our culture that tramples on the individual freedom. How may we seek a balance? I argue that the unity in diversity within the community of Trinity provides a prototype for a balance between the individual and the community.


Shifting the Narrative: an intro to JP

If you’ve never watched the Canadian clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson, this is a good intro. I must confess that I haven’t read any of his writings but I have listened to several of his lectures over the last couple of years. I should also warn you that he’s quite persuasive and therefore, this may not be the last video of his you’ll watch! 🙂

I highly recommend listening to him for an intelligent counter-narrative to the dominant ones out here. He shot to fame for opposing the amendment to Human Rights Act and Criminal Code in the introduction of the Bill C-16 (2016) passed by the Canadian Parliament.

I thought this would have been far better if the interviewer, Cathy Newman could paraphrase him more accurately! In this interview, she is often caught between an argument she can’t refute and a position she can’t abandon.



Is Secularism Compatible with Hinduism?

Where severely contested beliefs are held within pluralistic societies, they ought to be governed by principles that provide a framework for those pluralities to be practised unhindered, if not help flourish. Secularism has functioned as a vehicle to enable societies that are plural to navigate through the stark differences in a civic manner.

However, given that secularism itself has doctrines that are presupposed, which specific parties/voices within society may or may not agree with, conflicts remain not only despite secularism but also because of it.

Therefore, one may ask, “what sorts of comprehensive doctrine within societies nurture a secular framework?” or, “is secularism compatible with doctrines that are held in a social context?” My paper specifically addresses the latter question.

SAC_ReligiousFreedomAndConversion copy

This edited volume is a collection of the papers presented at the SAIACS Academic Consultation in September 2015 on the theme, Religious Freedom and Conversion. Along with my co-editors, i hope that the book stimulates and provides direction for Christian thinking on the issue.

Deconstructing Equality

Vinoth Ramachandra

The real test of whether we or our governments understand the concept of human rights is whether we or they are willing to defend the rights of our enemies.

I believe that the near-hysterical denunciation of the white far-right marchers in Charlottesville, Virginia, with numerous calls on Twitter and elsewhere for their sacking from their jobs and expulsion from universities, is evidence of a lack of understanding about human rights.

The marchers were protesting the demolition of a statue of General Robert E. Lee, one of the leaders of the Confederate Army in the American Civil War. Whatever Lee’s political views, no historian doubts his military genius. And if city mayors and state governors are going to expunge memorials to Americans who were “pro-slavery” or “white supremacists”, they should begin with Thomas Jefferson and shut down the University of Virginia. And, in Britain, the memorials to Churchill and a host…

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Holy Spirit and Apologetics

The narcissistic curiosity of googling one’s own name could be a phenomenon worth reflecting on. It could be a form of taking a selfie– with the exception that it is indulged within one’s own cloistered spaces, and thus, exhibits a deeper level of sophistication on the gradient of vanity– a form of deconstruction where I watch myself watching me, unlike when I google someone else!

well, in the process of all the self-indulgence, the google tossed way too many Varughese Johns– 2,67,000 to be precise, and that in 0.68 seconds.

This somewhat explains my adoption of Aruthuckal Varughese John as the nom de plume hence forth. Aruthuckal happens to be my family– house name in Kerala. My efforts to find what it means has thus far failed. It probably means pirate! 🙂

Anyway, the first use of this variant has appeared in the chapter I contributed in this book edited by my friend, Roji T George. The volume is a fantastic collection. My article is titled Third Article Theology and Apologetics.



My paper argues that the loss of transcendence from a culture is maximally a loss of the Holy Spirit. After all, unlike the Holy Spirit, the other two members of the Trinity have a visible trail—the Father, his created order (natural theology) and the Son his historical presence (Theology of redemption). Whereas, the self-effacing Holy Spirit is “neither seen nor known” by the world (John 14:17) or by the Church that succumbs to the spirit of the age. In short, the cultural influence of naturalism has left the church Spirit-impoverished.

Thus, I explore how we may recover this loss and prioritize the Spirit? If we looked carefully, a Spirit priority seems to follow the structure of function within the economic Trinity. That is, while the Trinitarian order follows the Father sending the Son to complete the work of redemption followed by the sending of the Spirit to sanctify the Church, human encounter seems to always require an inverse Trinitarian order. It is the Spirit who testifies to the Lordship of Christ, for “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 12:3), and it is in Jesus in whom the “whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col 2:9), that we see the face of the Father (John 14:9).

Exploring the epistemic role of the Spirit, I conclude that the Spirit is the epistemic agency as well as the starting point in turning the Christian message into an intelligible account for anyone who hears it.

Given the self-effacing nature of the Spirit who points humans towards Christ, who in turn points us towards the Father, a Spirit priority inherently provides a Trinitarian mould for theological thinking and practice.

@ the JNU Philosophy Colloquium

it was an honor to be invited to speak at the JNU Philosophy Colloquium earlier last year (April 2016) on the theme Freedom of Conscience: Navigating Between the Individual and the Community. It was hosted by the Centre for English Studies and School of Language, Literature and Culture Studies.


I fumbled when I realized that they were recording the presentation. Yet, here I am engaging in shameless self-promotion, despite how insufferable it is! There were some great discussions that followed, although that was not recorded.


Taylor, Authenticity & Cultural Exegesis: scribbles from my talk . . .

In The Ethics of Authenticity, Charles Taylor writes, “It is easy to see how standard morality itself can come to be seen as inseparable from stifling convention. Morality as normally understood obviously involves crushing much that is elemental and instinctive in us, many of our deepest and most powerful desires.”

This shift is from defining moral freedom predominantly as the power to choose against my natural inclination to seeing it as a right to choose according to my inclinations. Clearly, the latter is a form of freedom and one should be free to choose what one wants. But when the culture more or less entirely shifts towards defining freedom in the latter sense, then, there is a slide.

What does this do to a culture where people see moral freedom fundamentally as a “right” to do what one wants?

~ It entails a culture of narcissism where I become the center of fulfillment.

~ One could expect a slide in the level intentionality in individuals to strive towards cultivating virtues held in honor within societies, gain mastery over natural appetites, overcome compulsions for immediate gratification.

What happens when you have a culture where everyone seeks immediate gratification? Follow the law of diminishing returns- quickly we’d then have a culture where there are souls more sick of pleasure than you are sick of pain, as G. K. Chesterton says: Meaninglessness does not come from being weary of pain. Meaninglessness comes from being weary of pleasure.

~The culture eliminates conventional virtues because traditional morality stifles who I am and comes in the way of my right!

Yet, no culture can exist without virtues. So authenticity replaces all other virtues. Of course, authenticity in the classical sense is great. But the redefining of moral freedom entails a redefinition of authenticity as well.

“Authenticity” now becomes the opposite of what it used to be: being true to who you are and how you feel in terms of your inclination or orientation– therefore, we embrace who we are, celebrate even, rather than change or fix us! After all, if authenticity is being true to one’s inclinations, it is one’s ethical duty to be true to oneself!

So it follows: if authenticity is the highest virtue, phoniness has to be the worst vice. So one can be an embezzler and an adulterer or whatever else one wishes . . . yet being honest about them makes him or her worthy of honor.

Btw: an interesting case is made that Trump won votes using this calculus! People could almost hear Trump retort these words to Hillary as one commentator said: “Maybe everything they say about me is true, but at least I’m authentic, at least I’m real: you, on the other hand, are a bloody, disgusting hypocrite.” But I guess people are free to advocate a particular logic and hate it when someone uses it really well.

This logic affects the church too: “by focusing on brokenness as proof of our ‘realness’ and ‘authenticity,’ we turn ‘being screwed up’ into a badge of honor, its own sort of works righteousness.” – Brett McCracken

Given that being authentic is to be oneself– an original, one would have to express oneself uniquely. One has to create something new and shun imitations.

“Artistic creation becomes the paradigm mode in which people can come to self-definition. The artist becomes in some way the paradigm case of the human being, as agent of original self-definition. Since about 1800, there has been a tendency to heroize the artist, to see in his or her life the essence of the human condition, and to venerate him or her as a seer, the creator of cultural values.” – Taylor

The artistic becomes both the means and the end. But what does this do to a culture?

~ We slide again– from those times when there were a few great poets to one where everybody is one, but none of them great. My guess is, if everyone is a poet, no one is!

and if there are no great artists, will there be a culture?

ps: of course, it isn’t all that hopeless as I make it sound! 🙂