Posted April 2, 2011on:
Back to Blogging after a short break. I was travelling in the USA, accompanied by my wife, on a speaking tour of eight American universities, organized by the Veritas Forum. Two of them were in Atlanta (Georgia Tech and Emory) and the rest in the northeast region (Harvard, Boston College, Tufts, Wellesley, New Hampshire and Brown).
The US has an astonishingly high proportion of the best universities in the world, but they take their toll on students and faculty. Graduate students, many of whom come from outside the US, often tell me they feel exploited by a system that is profit-and-status driven. Faculty are pressurized to publish, and the quantity of publication often matters more than quality when it comes to securing tenure. I also find a reticence on the part of many Christian faculty to openly be identified as Christians for fear of persecution. Some intend to be more bold after they have obtained tenure; but, usually by that time, not only has their integrity been compromised but they have little interesting to say as Christians since their understanding of the Christian tradition has lagged far behind their academic “success”.
I kept raising the matter, wherever I could, of why alleged war crimes and acts of torture by Americans are not investigated by the Justice Department, while the US postures on the global stage as the great champion of human rights. I came up against a stony silence. The same silence that seems to have greeted my last Blog post “Does Truth Matter?”. I find it interesting that, whenever I write on some traditional “mission” issue, the comments flow thick and fast. Touch on what US citizens can do to help us deal with our own political repressions, and I come up against a blank wall.
Some of you out there have asked me to comment on the upheavals going on in the Middle East and North Africa. That would be pretentious, not least because I have no first-hand experience of that part of the world. I simply adopt a “Let’s wait and see” attitude to the political revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere.
I cannot help observing, however, that it is relatively easy to overthrow tyrants, especially when one has the support of the army and police. The really difficult bit is what comes after the revolution. Will the rights of religious liberty and freedom of thought be respected, and will hitherto voiceless minorities have a say in their own governance? Frankly, the prospects for the Middle East and North Africa are not very promising in this regard, because what is called for is a cultural transformation that runs deeper than political revolution. Sudden, violent revolutions may excel at destroying the past, but they are generally impotent to create a future.
While I support the UN resolution over Libya, I continue to be sickened by the hypocrisy and double standards of the permanent members of the UN Security Council. Who sells weapons to these tyrants around the world? Which banks and companies have been doing business with them? Where do they and their families stash their ill-gotten funds? These are the questions that the serious world media ought to be exploring.
And why has Libya displaced the Ivory Coast in the world’s media? In the latter we have a President refusing to relinquish power, despite having lost decisively to his rival in recent elections, and willing to slaughter his own citizens and turn a million of them into internal refugees rather than accept defeat. If any situation calls for humanitarian military intervention today on the part of the UN, it is surely this! But, sadly, Ivory Coast only produces chocolate, not oil.
David Bentley Hart, in his book Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and its Fashionable Enemies (Yale University Press, 2009) points out that the revolutions that transform societies at the deepest levels are those that also reshape the imagination and reorient desire. Christianity, in its first three centuries, argues Hart, was “a revolution of the latter sort: gradual, subtle, exceedingly small and somewhat inchoate at first, slowly introducing its vision of divine, cosmic, and human reality into the culture around it, often by deeds rather than words, and simply enduring from one century to the next.”
Hart is not, however, offering a triumphalist version of Church history. He writes: “The gospel has at best flickered through the history of the West, working upon hard and intractable natures- the frank brutality of barbarians, the refined cruelty of the civilized- producing prodigies of sanctity and charity in every age, institutional and personal, and suffering countless betrayals and perversions in every generation.”