Monday, May 06, 2013

Denying Imperialisms

The Christian points to Jesus as the master-clue in the common search of humanity for salvation and invites others to follow. It is true that this invitation, when it is given by Christians who are in positions of power and privilege, may be radically corrupted into a kind of spiritual imperialism which is oppressive rather than liberating. Missions have been guilty of this distortion and we have to acknowledge it. But it is also worth noting that most of the vigorous evangelism in our contemporary world is being done by the churches of the Third World which have no such power or privilege.

In similar vein Dr. Samartha calls on Christians to "contribute to the pool of human values such as justice and compassion, truth and righteousness in the quest of different people for spiritual and moral values to undergird viable political structures to hold together different religions, cultures, languages and ethnic groups" (ibid., p. 323). He indicates that we must work for secular political structures which will give space for the different religions to make their contributions. It is indeed the duty of Christians in multifaith societies to cooperate with people of other faiths in seeking a just ordering of society, but this is in no sense a substitute for the missionary preaching of the Church. In using the language of values, Dr. Samartha reveals his captivity to the post-Enlightenment worldview which separates facts from values and supposes that what are called values can be permanently sustained apart from some agreement about what are the facts. For centuries Orthodox Hindus believed that the miserable condition of the outcastes or untouchable communities was the result of the sins of their previous birth and that it was therefore part of the cosmic order not to be interfered with. By common consent the preaching of missionaries among these communities was one of the major factors, if not the decisive factor, in bringing about the change of view which has led to legislation (often-alas-ineffective) to give them justice. There is a struggle within Hinduism to relate the demand for justice and compassion to the traditional belief. The "values" of justice and compassion cannot be permanently sustained apart from some belief about the facts which correspond to these values. Christians cannot simply "contribute" these values as if they were contributions to a potluck supper. Questions of ultimate truth are involved. There is a longing for unity among all human beings, for unity offers the promise of peace. The problem is that we want unity on our terms, and it is our rival programs for unity which tear us apart. As Augustine said, all for secular political structures which will give space for the different religions to make their contributions. It is indeed the duty of Christians in multifaith societies to cooperate with people of other faiths in seeking a just ordering of society, but this is in no sense a substitute for the missionary preaching of the Church. In using the language of values, Dr. Samartha reveals his captivity to the post-Enlightenment worldview which separates facts from values and supposes that what are called values can be permanently sustained apart from some agreement about what are the facts. For centuries Orthodox Hindus believed that the miserable condition of the outcastes or untouchable communities was the result of the sins of their previous birth and that it was therefore part of the cosmic order not to be interfered with. By common consent the preaching of missionaries among these communities was one of the major factors, if not the decisive factor, in bringing about the change of view which has led to legislation (often-alas-ineffective) to give them justice. There is a struggle within Hinduism to relate the demand for justice and compassion to the traditional belief. The "values" of justice and compassion cannot be permanently sustained apart from some belief about the facts which correspond to these values. Christians cannot simply "contribute" these values as if they were contributions to a potluck supper. Questions of ultimate truth are involved.

St Augustine
There is a longing for unity among all human beings, for unity offers the promise of peace. The problem is that we want unity on our terms, and it is our rival programs for unity which tear us apart. As Augustine said, all wars are fought for the sake of peace. The history of the world could be told as the story of successive efforts to bring unity to the world, and of course the name we give to these efforts is "imperialism." The Christian gospel has sometimes been made the tool of an imperialism, and of that we have to repent. But at its heart it is the denial of all imperialisms, for at its center there is the cross where all imperialisms are humbled and we are invited to find the center of human unity in the One who was made nothing so that all might be one. The very heart of the biblical vision for the unity of humankind is that its center is not an imperial power but the slain Lamb.


Lesslie Newbigin. The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, pages 158-9

Post a Comment