Saturday, February 9, 2013

Isms and the Individual

I really like Steve Paiken and "The Agenda." I wish it was on at a time when I'm not packing lunches and getting the kids off to bed so that I could watch it occasionally. I find Paiken to be more broad in his approach than a lot of mainstream journalism. So I was happy when I noticed an "Agenda" channel on You Tube. I started scrolling through some available programs and I noticed a female professor talking about the recent high profile gang rape of a 23 year old student in Delhi. The question she was asked to answer: is India a culture of misogyny? A number of minutes into the interview she stated that rape in India is often a systematic punishment of women for daring to step beyond the limitations of the class system in India. I'm paraphrasing, but I believe that's the gist of what she said. The question that I was left with after watching the video do you talk about class structure in India and gender inequality and never talk about the underlying belief system from which the caste system originates and is held together?  How do you do that? But they did, for twenty long minutes. More than that, how do you begin to change the caste system, when it is deeply rooted in Hinduism, a religion which Indians generally believe to be the foundation of their cultural and national history and identity?  That's the question I wanted to ask, and may I  mention, something that I see western journalists do ALL the time. That is, we in the west have this outlook, it seems to me, when viewing other cultures, that somehow they think like us, or should think like us, or if they don't, then somehow they will inevitably, eventually think like us. Why would they? Why should they? Why do we have this egalitarian expectation in the west, that we expect other cultures to conform to? Where does it even come from?  How on earth are people equal in the first place? It's not the sacred commercials that tell us that, or our annual incomes or tax statements at the end of the year. So, why do we look at India or in the case of the Middle East, with the expectation that they are on the march toward egalitarian liberal democratic societies? Are they? The Arab spring, I naively thought that was about the surge of western style democracies. Is it? We shall see. Are we seeing?

I've had this question in my mind for some time. Why did human rights come out of the western world? Now, I don't think that the west is above reproach for a moment. We have our own bloody history, our own agendas, own own societal failings and issues, I don't think otherwise. But in terms of this expectation of egalitarianism that we hold up for the world to see, where does that come from? What I'm trying to get at here, is what we all take for granted, this idea of human rights, that did not come out of eastern philosophies. With much respect for people of other faiths may I humbly ask, why would the expectation of egalitarianism come out of a culture dominated by Hinduism, if the castes of India stem from the body of Brahma Him/ It self? Why would egalitarianism come out of an ideology that strives to deny if not extinguish the very individual self?  Why would  human rights come out of an ideology or religion that demands that the individual submit wholeheartedly and without reservation to a conditionally loving God? Why would human rights be sustained or found in an ideology that believes in the violent progress towards a earthly utopia-at any cost?  It seems to me that in each of the above, that the adherent's faith is in the process toward an end, and working to get there, regardless of the amount of suffering that people endure in the meantime in this lifetime. That charge has been leveled against Christianity over the years too, as short of a Bob Marley phase as I went through, but I don't think that's good theology, that view of justice waiting for heaven, so to speak. Jesus calls us to be in the world but not of it. The kingdom of God starts here in short, when we begin to love our neighbor as our self, as we're called to serve God and love other human beings. Please forgive me if you're reading this thinking that I'm missing something or misrepresenting something you hold dear.  My intention is not to offend anyone here, simply to understand. So, feel free to share your thoughts. 

In the case of Hinduism or Buddhism though, as I've heard said, it's not this life that is valued, it's union with Brahma or Atman within or Nirvana, at the cost of suffering through this and many lifetimes. Sorry, but that's why I almost feel like laughing when I see westerners make reincarnation a me-thing.  Reincarnation is not a me-thing lol. I haven't seen the movie (watched "Eat, Pray, Love" last night after I wrote this, wasn't far off what I expected), to be fair, but something tells me that if Julia Roberts or the Beatles had gone to India and lived as an untouchable for a few lifetimes, that they would have a very different opinion of Hinduism. See, that's my test of an ideology, is how does it treat the despised...the outcast? How does it treat the poor soul in the sewers of society, the woman, the children, the immigrant, the handicapped, the reject? And that's where Judaism and Christianity outshine them all. Now some people would claim that this is an evolution. No, it is not.  It is right there on the first page of the Bible. That he created mankind in the "Image of God," and it is there all throughout the Old Testament, in countless admonitions to care for the orphan and the widow, the sojourner and the oppressed. And it is fulfilled in the person of Jesus, who gave himself freely as an act of suffering with the least of these, for all. Am I saying that western societies have always lived up to this ideal ourselves, in the treatment of our own people or other cultures?  Not at all.  What I am saying is that the concepts are Judeo-Christian. To answer my own question, we are equal because we're created in the image of God, because God loves each of us and desires to have a relationship with us, regardless of our station or outward appearance. That gives an infinite value to the individual person, who's soul is eternal. So the question becomes, what are the social conditions that arise with generation after generation of an implemented ideology?  How are the people on the bottom of that ideology treated? Jesus talked about the kingdom of God, where the first shall be last, and the last shall be first. In the west we've had these concepts or ideals, and with time it's gotten better, as people were influenced by the teachings of Christ. Not saying there isn't work to do... 

In closing, as I'm wrestling with this, the thing I find myself wondering as I observe western society throwing off it's conceptual foundation, while Christianity is exploding  in other pasts of the world where there is much suffering... I can't help but wonder if that is a mistake. Sigh...Am I arguing for a theocracy here. No, not at all...but I was listening to an Indian woman speaker some time back, and I remember her commenting that Gandhi had tried to change the caste system, speaking of the untouchables as the "children of God."  Her conclusion as a Christian was that it didn't work because it's very hard to change a society that is very old and entrenched, that you have to change the heart. I'm not someone who thinks that everyone is going to come around to my worldview, but I do think it is very interesting when I hear atheist commentators suggesting that we should call ourselves Christians, regardless of what we believe.

thanks for listening,

M.A. Harvey

Here's the Steve Paiken interview I was referring to:

and a book I heard about recently, "Why We Should Call Ourselves Christians:"

Here's a quote from the above link:

‘In brief: we should call ourselves Christians if we want to maintain our liberties and preserve our civilization…If… [second] our liberties must have, or must be felt as if they had, a religious foundation in order to bind the nation together, then today’s secularized Europe… can never be politically united together… Europe should [therefore] call itself Christian if it desires unification… Secularism [is, thirdly]… bringing about a moral decline. Our moral norms, and with them our coexistence and our institutions… would wither and die if they were to cut themselves off from Christianity. [Therefore] we should — we must — call ourselves Christians.   

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