Psalm 120:1 following Psalm 119 (and its 176 verses) is like a tiny fern sitting next to a giant kauri (tree). And the stark contrast doesn't stop with size. All but two verses (I think I am right on that one - my grandma used to tell me it was every verse, but she was wrong) in Psalm 119 delight in specific mention of the word of God. It is a celebration of the word-aligned life. Shift to Psalm 120 and immediately the world-aligned life greets us. "Save me, O Lord, from lying lips and deceitful tongues." From word to world; from truth to deception; from delight to drowning.
These 119:120 contrasts came to mind as I waded through Vinoth Ramachandra's Subverting Global Myths (IVP, 2008)
He makes a case for the weapon of mass deception being more dangerous than any weapon of mass destruction in today's world. He explores "six areas of contemporary global discourse" (14) which generate myths that deceive and hold sway: terrorism, religious violence, human rights, multiculturalism, science, and postcolonialism.
One of the arts to living in a globalised world is to learn to see how others see us - and listen to them. Christianity has such an advantage because it has made its home in so many cultures. There are many people to whom we can listen. On matters of culture and theology and ethics, Ramachandra is certainly one of them. Actually Sri Lanka has given us two because on matters of spirituality and leadership and exegesis Ajith Fernando is another one to be prized. A lot of blindspots can be exposed by reading what these two men write. Afterall "we need the whole human family to unmask our cultural idols, to free us from our cultural addictions, and to draw us out of our narrow obsessions." (145)
Ramachandra has been represented as being a bit anti-Western. While this book will fuel that sentiment I think it unfair. What he is doing is making a case for a distinctive Christian mind in the very areas where it is easy for the minds of Christians to be swayed by the rhetoric and the deception in which we drown. The reality is that sometimes the Christian mind can be anti-Western! He offers the book as "an invitation to journey with the author in heretical subversion of the present reality in order to make way for another." (16) And as Stanley Hauerwas proclaims across the cover, "I have read few books from which I have learned more."
Hauerwas is right. The book needs to be read. I'd like to think that Barack Obama could take the time to read it - and you too for that matter.
Essentially the book is about truth-seeking and truth-telling in troubling and troubled areas of global life. But "lifting my body from my couch in front of the TV to start exploring the evidence ... is too discomfiting and intellectually demanding." (88) While I am not the sharpest tack in the box and I did find some parts difficult to follow, this was compensated by some purple patches for which my surrounding world had to stop and listen as I read portions aloud: "Needed: Humility and Courageous Imagination (50-56)" in the discussion on terrorism OR "Toward an Alternative Story" (99-105) in the discussion on human rights OR "A Defense of a Multicultural Society" (143-147) in the discussion on multiculturalism OR "Some Theological Reflections" (245-261) in the discussion on postcolonialism.
This post is getting long. You can quit now if you like! However I want to include some one-liners because I do not want to lose them and Ramachandra is one of those quotable people! Here goes...
Twenty-five one-liners that jolted me:
"What frightens a people serves as a reliable guide to their idolatries." (12)
"A people convinced of their own innocence cannot make peace." (50)
"History gives countless examples of yesterday's terrorists turning into today's statesmen." (51)
"For the vast majority of people on the planet life has hardly changed since 9/11." (51)
"Military spending globally is about fifteen times the amount spent on international aid." (53)
"Suffering, conflict and violence form the usual contexts in which the covenant people of God are called to witness to the power of redemptive love." (55)
"The opposite of secular is not spiritual or the sacred, but the eternal." (63)
"(it seems that) some lives are worth more than others." (81)
"The inability to think outside the boundaries of nationalism leads to idolatry." (82)
"We cannot put our faith in parentheses in order to connect with another's faith." (87, quoting Anthony O'Mahony)
"The closer we get to God, the more human we become, not less." (103)
"Europe is about slavery, fascism, colonialism and genocide as much as about Chartes Cathedral, Dante, Shakespeare, the Magna Carta and democracy." (136)
We need to learn "to live with the otherness of others ... (and not just reduce them) to exotic commodities for tourist consumption." (148)
"Legal citizenship is about status and rights, but belonging is about being accepted and feeling welcome." (149)
"Intellectuals are especially prone to self-deception." (154)
"While for a rich person from a rich country borders are a mere formality, for a poor person from a poor country, the border is an obstacle to be confronted." (158)
"Those who enter the market with least are likely to leave it with least." (164)
"(Darwinian science) is too undersized to function as as a worldview that accounts fully for why we are purpose-driven, meaning-seeking and truth-oreinted beings." (186, quoting John Haught)
"The university is a place of tribal warfare, and every academic tribe feels that the only way it can gain social recognition is by exalting itself over others." (188)
"Technology has made evil anonymous." (193, quoting Freeman Dyson)
"The combination of profound creativity with moral naivete, intellectual passion with personal and national ambition, has made science an instrument of great violence today ... it is less and less a quest for understanding, a humble delight for in truth. It is tied to military power and huge commercial interests." (193)
"This is what love entails - the capacity to be hurt by the other and to transform that hurt into creative action." (212)
"The origins of change in world history have always been multicentred. World history thus needs to be decentralized." (224)
"Why are North American or British or German theologies never named as such, but Indian or Latin American or African theologies are?" (258)
"The insularity of most Western theological institutions is astonishing." (258)
nice chatting ... and remember to pray
"Show us, good Lord, the peace we should seek, the peace we must give, the peace we can keep, the peace we must forgo, and the peace you have given in Jesus our Lord." (quoted on p56)