Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Woody Allen and the Buffered Self - Fr. Robert Barron

It was Samuel Johnson, in his poem "The Vanity of Human Wishes," who used the phrase, "To point a moral or adorn a tale." D.H. Lawrence quoted the line and pointed out that often the (author's) moral pointed one way and the tale another (think of the famous example of Milton's Paradise Lost). "Never trust the author, trust the tale!" says Lawrence. Fr. Barron makes a similar point about Allen, his bleak vision, and his art: Don't trust the auteur, trust the film!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Aliens in Our Own Land: Persecution of Christians and Western Indifference - Dwayne Ryan Menezes

Can Christians ever be victims of genocide? asks Professor Mark Movesesian over at First Things magazine. Not only President Obama and his people, but also Condoleeza Rice and policy elites more widely seem to have a blind spot when it comes to the world's most persecuted major religion. Nina Shea of the Hudson Institute reported that Rice's response to her attempts to draw the attention of the Bush Administration to the plight of Iraq's Christians was that assistance to Christians by the United States would appear sectarian. Britain's failure to defend the persecuted Christians in the Middle East has also been shameful.

When I posted a link to Movesesian's article on my Facebook page, my friend Dwayne Ryan Menezes, who is a director of the new London think tank, Human Security Centre and head of its Religion and Politics division, responded with this deeply moving and personal comment.  Dr. Menezes' research interests are in Christianity in the non-Western world and Christians from the non-Western world in the West. Here he tells a story, too little understood in the West, about the meaning for Christians in many lands beyond the West of the embarrassed silence of Christians in face of anti-Christian persecution.  It is a hostile, politically correct multiculturalism that is as insensitive as possible to persecuted minorities where these do not fit the dominant narrative.

This postmodern secularist pose of Western elites approves of every culture but its own, and values, in the name of diversity, every religion except those at the heart of its own culture and civilization, Christianity and Judaism. What Dwayne experienced in India, where he was born into a Catholic family of Indo-Portuguese descent, was rejection as a living reminder of empire, an attitude mirrored in the post-Christian, anti-Christian West, where he and others like him saw no support. "All we  saw was the post-Christian garb of the West, a cultural hemisphere where Christians had been crushed into silence, embarrassment or apathy."

Here are his observations:

Aliens in Our Own Land: Persecution of Christians and Western Indifference

by Dwayne Ryan Menezes

The fear of 'appearing sectarian' or 'showing favouritism' is the poorest, the weakest and the most appalling excuse for not speaking up for a persecuted group in a distant land that happen to share your beliefs.

During the wave of intensified persecution of Christians in India in 2008, I had to head to Ottawa and Washington to get people to even listen to my concerns. It was only later - once the overseas Indian Christian diaspora was mobilised into action - that the West took some notice.

I shall never forget how despondent and frustrated I used to feel as the sole Christian in my school in India for 10 years. Throughout my childhood, you were accepted, but only to a point, and only so long as you surrendered to the expectations of the majority on the minority.

I shall never forget how it felt to be treated as an alien in one's own land, where I was expected to defend everything the West did as if being Christian made me its Ambassador, all while the same West appeared so removed from my plight, so beyond my reach, and so embarrassed and reluctant to come to my defence.

I will never forget the year 1999. I was 14 when the Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two boys were burned alive by a mob of 50 or so in Manoharpur, Orissa, while they were sleeping in their vehicle. His two boys - Philip (10) and Timothy (6) - were only a few years younger than me. I saw them in my dreams that night, their little hands tapping the window of their locked vehicle, summoning me to do something.

I remember the pain and confusion I felt in my 14-year-old heart when I saw people celebrating their demise and warning other Christians that the same fate would befall them. I remember some of my best friends remarking scornfully the next day, "You've still gone back to school? Haven't you learnt a lesson? Why don't you go back to Rome or London or Lisbon, wherever it is that you come from?"

I would have left, had I happened to have come from any of those places, but what could I do as one born into a Roman Catholic family in India of Indo-Portuguese descent? The West didn't want me, if at all they knew "my kind" existed. The Indians didn't want me, for they saw "my kind", quite literally, as the last, but living, vestiges of the empire. There I was: an alien in every land, a stranger to every people.

Perhaps there were people (like yourself) and organisations (like Christian Solidarity Worldwide) then who did indeed stand up for Christians like me, but how was I - a child born in distant India - supposed to know? All we saw was the post-Christian garb of the West, a cultural hemisphere where Christians had been crushed into silence, embarrassment or apathy.

If you are born a Muslim in India, you can at least tap into some sort of transnational Muslim community that is visibly and vocally attentive to your concerns. If someone in Denmark publishes a cartoon that Muslims find offensive, Muslims in lands as far as India will rise up in uproar. There is a sense of collective honour and collective responsibility, at least within some transnational sectarian communities.

We must not stigmatise Muslims for their transnational and trans-ethnic solidarity; we must learn from their example. We must put Christian teachings into practice, see (and not just call) ourselves a global 'community of the faithful', have a sense of transnational solidarity and responsibility, and set a 'Christian' example of how to respond to the challenges the most vulnerable among us face: a response borne in dignity, peace, love and humility.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Chinese State Theology: Caesaropapism Lives - in China

Chinese State Theology

Why on Earth would an officially atheist country’s ruling class decide to create a new theology? Furthermore, why on Earth would anyone listen to what that ruling class had to say? The answers to those two questions: to buttress their authority and because their people have to listen to what they say on fear of severe penalties, may give you a hint as to which country we’re talking about. Yes China! The Communist Party controlling China has decided that spying on the menstrual cycles of its citizens is no longer enough, now it is going to pronounce on theodicy, the problem of consciousness and the whether it is holy because God wills it, or whether God wills it because it is holy. According to the International Business Times:

“The [Chinese] government will create a “Chinese Christian Theology” to guide the practice of Christianity in the country, the China Daily reported Thursday. Although the government has yet to provide any details into what this new theology entails, its purpose is clear: Speaking to China Daily, Wang Zuo, director of the State Administration of Religious Affairs, said, ‘The construction of Chinese Christian Theology should adapt to China’s national condition and integrate with Chinese culture.’”

I always thought that Christianity was universal and that the state should have little to say about Christian practice, but I suppose Caesaropapism has a long history. I think the importance of this attempt at a new theology is that the Chinese government is worried about an “unguided” Christianity, a religion that is claiming more and more Chinese adherents:

“Since relaxing prohibitions on religious faith in 1982, the Chinese Communist Party now recognizes five official faiths: Protestantism, Catholicism, Taoism, Buddhism and Islam. Because much religious faith remains underground, it is difficult to establish the precise number of worshippers in China. But a 2007 survey estimated that 31 percent of the country’s population, a number exceeding 400 million people, practiced a religious faith of some kind. Each religion has an organized, government-sanctioned hierarchy that is headquartered in Beijing and under the direct supervision of the Chinese Communist Party.”

There have been other attempts that the government has taken over the years to ensure that religious belief is according to the government’s rules:

“In 2007, Beijing passed a law prohibiting Buddhists from reincarnation. (The government has thus far not revealed whether there have been any violations.) In Tibet, government minders have replaced monks as supervisors of Buddhist temples throughout the region, reversing a long-standing policy.

In the far-western Xinjiang region, whose 9 million ethnic Uighurs practice a mild form of Sunni Islam, Beijing limits permission of Muslims to make the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, while in July China banned fasting during the holy month of Ramadan. And this month, in Karamay, the local government said residents wearing Islamic clothing, and men wearing long beards, could not legally board city buses.”

It will be interesting to see what the Chinese government approved theology ends up looking like and to what extent it is followed by the various Christian denominations in China. Quite frankly I’m not surprised at the attempt to “de-fang” Christianity. The trouble for a totalitarian dictatorship is that the state is not able to tolerate a competitor for people’s affections and faith.  Especially a competitor that presumes to judge the actions of the state and its officials according to a universal moral precept that isn’t that espoused by Marx, Lenin and Mao.  The attempt to defang may be a bit late however:

“Still, in a country where Web searches for Jesus far outnumber those for President Xi Jinping, Beijing may have a major challenge on its hands.”

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