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Books: Things that go boom

Culture, atomic bombs: An Indian Christian's cultural analysis should be required reading in Washington

A new high-tech arms race threatens to plunge the Asian subcontinent into the horrors of nuclear war. Just when we were beginning to think that the world might be safe for an unfettered expansion of the global economy, this ominous outbreak of cyber saber rattling has put a pall on international markets, international affairs, and international cooperation. And while this most recent crisis may have taken many Americans by surprise-particularly those at the helm of the ship of state in Washington-it is hardly unprecedented. For centuries roiling waves of political instability have rocked this densely populated region of the world and its rival peoples, cultures, faiths, and traditions. These new troubles are merely the same old troubles in different guise.

Vishal Mangalwadi is one of the most remarkable intellectual reformers working in India today. With an academic background in philosophy, a long personal association with the worldwide L'Abri movement, a significant involvement in both local and national politics, a successful career in journalism and publishing, and a ministry working with the untouchable poor in the rural north, he brings to the task of grappling with his nation's challenges a uniquely informed and vibrantly balanced Christian worldview. He offers readers a rare perspective of both the peril and the promise of his native land.

In India: The Grand Experiment, he carefully examines the legacy of the British colonial Raj, the residual effects of the great Christian missionary efforts of the 19th century, the impact of resurgent Hindu and Muslim fundamentalism, and the great inroads of global secularism.

Mr. Mangalwadi makes sense of the tangle of ideological politics, fractious nationalism, and strident religious fervor. He argues that India's two-century-long experiment with democracy-one of the most stunning achievements of Christendom's tumultuous investment in Asia-is imperiled precisely because the very factors that brought it into existence have been abandoned by most of the leaders in both East and West. In just over 350 pages, he surveys the past, critiques the present, and anticipates the future of this vital swath of the human family and this pivotal test of Christian missions.

Alas, this is not the sort of book that finds its way into the hallowed corridors of power at the Department of Defense or the State Department. But it should.

I am always challenged by Mr. Mangalwadi's thought. His Truth and Social Reform (Nivedit) is a compelling inducement to think biblically about the world's poor. His The World of the Gurus (Cornerstone Press) is a penetrating look at the personalities behind the most popular Eastern cults. And his When the New Age Gets Old (IVP) is an illuminating introduction to the symbiosis between Eastern religion and Western pop culture. But India: The Grand Experiment is far and away his best work to date. At a time when world leaders are turning their befuddled attentions toward the Asian subcontinent once again, this is precisely what we all need.