Vinoth Ramachandra

I am indebted to the sociologist Les Back’s Academic Diary for some thought-provoking insights on academics from the late Palestinian-American literary critic and public intellectual Edward Said. In his 1993 Reith Lectures, Said commented: “The particular threat to the intellectual today, whether in the West or the non-Western world, is not the academy, nor the suburbs, nor the appalling commercialism of journalism and publishing houses, but rather an attitude that I will call professionalism.”

The professional academic tends to be obsessed with personal reputation, furthering one’s career, publishing as much as possible and in the most prestigious journals.

Said pointed to three dimensions to the damage that professionalism does to the life of the mind. The first is specialization. The specialist can ignore the burning issues of his day, and happily go on mining within a very narrow, intellectually constricted area without ever being troubled by the big moral and political questions.

Secondly, while specialists are hard workers, the work that they perform often has to do with rebutting and undermining others in their area of intellectual expertise. This can be a time-consuming business.

The third and perhaps most damaging dimension has to do with political enticement through the conferring of honours or research grants with strings attached. This leads to timidity, a desire not to rock the boat or be too outspoken. Don’t do anything that might threaten the next invitation to give a conference keynote address or join an editorial board.

By contrast Said promoted a model of the intellectual as an amateur- the passionate dilettante or committed dabbler. The word “dilettante” today implies irresponsible flitting from one topic to another. But, etymologically, it stems from the Latin delectare, to “delight”. The passionate amateur dilettante engages in learning and communicating knowledge out of delight and a sense of responsibility. George Orwell once said that all who choose to write are political activists- they write because they want to change the world. However, making intellectual life a job has resulted in conformity and an aversion to risk-taking.

Such amateurism is, of course, impossible nowadays in the “hard sciences”. And Said’s principal targets are scholars in the social sciences and humanities. But how many scientists and engineering raise awkward questions about research priorities?

One can quibble with Said’s characterization, and the specialists among us will object (typically) that he paints with too broad a brush. Further, not all can be Renaissance Men/Women like Said himself. But such generalizations are often helpful in that they serve to highlight aspects of intellectual life that are too often swept under the carpet. We are too much in awe of people with academic qualifications and do not hold them accountable for what they do -or do not do- with their intellectual training.

Those of us who teach, preach and write not because we are paid to do so, but because of the “inner fire” in our bones that cannot be quenched (cf. Jer.20:9), and who feel insecure when in the company of professional scholars, can take heart from Said’s forthright comments!

I remember mentioning to an American biblical scholar that I have often written letters to newspapers not only in Sri Lanka, but even in the US and UK, on social and political issues that moved me deeply. Sometimes they were done at risk to my life, and many did not pass the local censor. He told me, with a self-satisfaction that shocked me, that he had never done this, as his vocation lay in teaching good biblical exegesis to future church pastors.

Perhaps I have an old-fashioned view of academic teaching. I expect a teacher to embody what he or she teaches, not least when it comes to the Bible and theology. I somehow cannot envisage how anybody can teach from the Gospels while being cautious about saying anything that might “offend” the donors to their institution; or to fail in exploring with their students what following Jesus entails in their global and local neighbourhoods.

For some years now I have declined all invitations to contribute to Christian dictionaries and encyclopaedias from publishing house in the US. I have given two reasons. First, since neither I nor my colleagues in the Majority World can afford these publications, they seem to be a form of “exploitation” of our scholarship. But, secondly, the American Church has more Bible dictionaries, commentaries and other academic resources than the rest of the World Church put together. Do they really need yet another mega-commentary on Romans, say, or another tome on Reformation Theology? Is it not, rather, simple obedience? And more amateur intellectuals who will speak with courage and wisdom into the burning issues of the day?

One burning issue is global warning (no pun intended!). Donald Trump calls climate change a “con job” and “a hoax” propagated by the Chinese to make American manufacturing non-competitive. In his manifesto, he promises to defend the coal industry by pulling out of the Paris agreement, stopping funds for the UN’s climate change work, and forbidding the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating carbon dioxide.

This clearly has consequences for those of us non-Americans who suffer the effects of the “American lifestyle”. It is an issue of global justice. Is it, then, unreasonable for us to expect Christian intellectuals in the U.S to speak up for us, and not just for their fellow-Americans, when addressing election issues in their universities, churches, national newspapers and social media?

Forty years ago, the exiled Russian dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn wondered in a BBC interview: “Why is it that societies with access to every kind of information suddenly plunge into lethargy, into a kind of mass blindness, a kind of voluntary self-deception?”

My favourite social philosopher Zygmunt Bauman has recently coined the term “liquid fear” to describe the diffuse and pervasive state of anxiety that is evident in Europe and the USA today.

Unlike the fear of concrete, specific dangers that has always been with humanity, today’s Western middle-classes (what Bauman labels the “precariat”, from the French précarité – being on shifting sand) live in a state of constant uncertainty on all fronts: from the precariousness of their marriages/sexual partnerships to fear of unemployment, terrorism, random acts of violence and not knowing when the next threat will be and from where it will come. The metaphor Bauman uses is that of walking in a minefield- we know the mines are there, but we don’t know where they are.

As I have pointed out in previous Blog posts, it is these fears that keep alive the totalitarian temptation. Just when the fear of fascism has receded in Europe, we find demagogues arising both there and in the USA asking the “precariat” to give them the political reins and, in return, they will restore law and order and make their nations “great” again. Such was the rhetoric that ushered Hitler, Mussolini and Franco into power.

Sadly, conservative sections of the Church also give into fear. Conspiracy theories abound in the American Christian media. I was shocked to learn recently that pseudo-scientific Christian institutions in the US involved in so-called “creation research” team up with Muslim fundamentalist preachers in Turkey- to oppose Darwinism! (This is seen by both as an organized conspiracy against “true religion”).

As for conservative evangelical groups in Europe, including in the organization with which I work, the shift of the centre of gravity of the Christian Church to the global South generates fear that “sound doctrine” (defined, of course, by Anglo-Saxons) is being sacrificed on the altar of social transformation by Asian, African and Latin American leaders. I myself have been the target of such accusations since the 1980s. I watch with a sad sense of irony as European Christians now begin to grapple with the issues of poverty, violence, multiculturalism and religious pluralism that we have been addressing for decades. Issues that they once thought were a “distraction” from “the Gospel”.

Bauman also makes the interesting observation that the condition of most refugees and migrants into Europe today- educated people who have lost their jobs, homes and social positions in their home countries- mirrors the very fears of the European “precariat”. The same forces of globalizing capitalism and terrorism, which Third World nations have long suffered from, have come home to roost.

Whenever a mass killing occurs on American or European soil, and the perpetrator (or perpetrators) happen to be Muslim, government leaders immediately make stern public pledges to root out “international terrorism”. This only reinforces the fictional narratives that terror group such as ISIS or al-Qa’ida wish to propagate about themselves. They want to be feared in the West; to be seen as well-armed, well-organized groups that reach deep into the heart of Western societies and wreak havoc on the streets of Western cities.

But the attacks we have seen, whether in Boston in 2013, San Bernardino in 2015, Orlando, Nice and Munich this year, don’t fit that scenario. Some of the perpetrators may have been self-declared admirers of jihadist groups, but the groups themselves don’t seem to have been aware of them until after the attacks took place. Then they seized on them for propaganda purposes.

These were criminal acts and should be treated as such by governments and the media. Invoking the spectre of “international terrorism” or “Islamist jihad” only serves to strengthen the hands of fascists at home and groups such as ISIS abroad. It makes them appear much stronger than they really are. Vowing to fight international terrorism, even destroying ISIS, will not prevent future acts of criminality on European or American soil. Banning assault weapons in the US will not prevent future attacks either, but it would help reduce the number of potential casualties. If, collectively, we focused on grief– mourning with the families of the victims- rather than promising revenge (on whom?), and started conversations about our deepest fears, from whence they arise, and what may lie behind the apparently senseless acts of home-grown violence, we may be able to quell the totalitarian temptation.

I would love to know if Church leaders and Christians working in the media, universities or government, are starting such conversations in their cities and nations?

I arrived in London the day after the results of the British referendum. I found many of my friends in a state of shock and dismay. The Brexit vote has revealed the deep fissures in British society- between London and the rest of the country, between economic classes, between urban and rural populations, between Scots and English, and even between generations (the young voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU).

The vast majority of non-Europeans are unaffected by what has happened here. But what has been most troubling- indeed horrifying- was the way the political campaign was fought. It mirrored the vicious obscurantism of the current American presidential campaign.

The “Remain” camp, led by the outgoing Prime Minister David Cameron, exaggerated the security threats and economic fall-out of leaving the EU. But the “Leave” camp, led by the ambitious Boris Johnson, traded on blatant lies which the tabloid media swallowed wholesale and sold its gullible readers. Lies such as: more than 60 per cent of British legislation emanates from Brussels; an invasion of Poles, Rumanians and Bulgarians (not to mention refugees from North Africa) who will be taking British jobs and enjoying social benefits (while neglecting to speak of the millions of Britons living in the rest of Europe and doing the same); the imminent entry of Turkey into the EU (unlikely, at least for another decade); the UK paying 350 million pounds a week to the EU (while neglecting to mention that more than half that returns in the form of rebates).

The Leave campaign, in other words, openly exploited the racist elements in British society. It played to the jingoism prevalent among older Britons, evoking nostalgic fantasies of an island superpower. The glaring social inequalities in Britain, which understandably fuel deep resentment among the poorer communities, were blamed on the EU and not on the biased austerity programs of the ruling Tory party. Unemployment caused, not by European migrant workers or refugees, but rather by globalisation and robotisation were scarcely addressed. “Taking back control” and “Independence Day” were the popular sound-bites of Johnson and his merry band of little-Englanders. In an age of climate change, international terrorism and technological globalization, these are meaningless slogans.

I am not enamoured with the EU. Quite apart from its unaccountable bureaucracy, it is an inward-looking club bent on building a Fortress Europe and ignoring its responsibilities to the rest of the world. But it has proved to be more effective than its member-states in checking the unethical activities of transnational technology giants and countering right-wing movements in Europe. If a nation-state believes that leaving is better than staying and reforming it from within it needs to give reasons more ethical and compelling than the fear of foreigners. (Ironic that a country which colonized half the world still lives in fear of foreigners).

Britain boasts of being the cradle of democracy. It has developed liberal institutions that other nations have sought to emulate. All the more disturbing, therefore, when both Britain and the USA present to the rest of the world an image of electoral politics that seems to glorify selfishness, racism, intolerance and wilful ignorance. I can imagine the leaders of China or North Korea rubbing their hands in glee, and telling their citizens languishing in local prisons: “You want democracy? Look at what is happening in the US and UK- do you want such men to rule over you?”

A referendum works on the assumption that all voting citizens will be well-informed about the issue that is under dispute. It presupposes a mass media that is truth-seeking and not merely free. And on an issue as serious in its long-term ramifications as whether or not to remain in the EU, it is important that a two-thirds or three-fifths majority be sought rather than a simple majority. I am surprised that David Cameron did not consider this with his legal and constitutional advisors before he called for a referendum.

Isn’t it an illusion to think that we can have a democratic society based purely on constitutions and formal procedures, without paying any attention to the moral formation of individual citizens? The kind of people we are -and become- shapes the kind of society we have (though it is also true that the kind of society we live in shapes what we become).

Civility and moral integrity are the presuppositions of public life, not their product. For instance, the parties to an agreement must already have a sense of what is right, and a willingness to abide by it, even when it is in their own interests not to do so. A contract is no contract at all if it is kept only when it is convenient to do so. Also, if elected public officials cannot be trusted to be concerned with the common good, the louder voices in society will prevail.

The quest for good governance begins with a sense of moral outrage at the undeserved exclusion and humiliation of other human beings. Our moral sensibilities are nurtured principally through our families, schools, and religious communities and institutions. Where most families are dysfunctional, schools merely tuition-factories, universities servants of corporate interests, and religious institutions become inward-looking and self-serving, the roots of a well-functioning democracy wither.

In his justly acclaimed encyclical Laudato Si’ (subtitled “On Care for Our Common Home”) Pope Francis claimed that “many professionals, opinion makers, communications media and centres of power, being located in affluent urban areas, are far removed from the poor with little direct contact with their problems.”

This observation may partly explain why it is so often the case that media pundits and political soothsayers get it wrong when it comes to predicting election outcomes. The recent election of an ultra-right wing President in Austria has sent shock waves around the European Union. Donald Trump’s surging popularity among the white lower-middle classes in the USA has caught almost everybody by surprise. If left-wing politicians often incite class resentment, the right-wing thrives on fear: the fear of the stranger and foreigners, the fear of rising unemployment, the fear of changing cultural norms.

Many “liberation theologies” have romanticized the poor. They ignored the racist, sexist and homophobic prejudices that are just as prevalent in many poor communities as among the middle classes. Lacking the educational opportunities that rich kids have open to them, such prejudices are clearly less culpable; but, nevertheless, they have to be acknowledged and confronted. Fascists have long known how to exploit them for political advantage.

It is all the more tragic when Christians, whether in the USA or Brazil or Uganda or South Korea, support political candidates simply because the latter claim to be “born again”. On 6 May a Brazilian Supreme Court judge suspended Eduardo Cunha as speaker of the lower house of the Congress, citing his attempt to obstruct a probe into his alleged corruption. He is known as a “born-again Christian” and is head of a right-wing party. Despite facing criminal charges including bribery and hiding money in Swiss bank accounts, Cunha has survived months of attempts by prosecutors and a congressional ethics committee to see him brought to justice. Brazilians refer to him as a real-life Frank Underwood- the corrupt American politician in the popular TV series “House of Cards”. The ruling reflected concerns on the Supreme Court that with Dilma Rousseff suspended, Cunha would have moved up to first on the presidential succession list. Justice Zavaski said in his ruling “there is not the least doubt that the suspect does not meet the minimum personal requirements for fully exercising the functions of speaker of the chamber of deputies at this time.”

I returned last week from a very interesting gathering of hundreds of Christian university students and graduates in Kenya. This conference was part of the public launch of a national campaign against corruption called Hesabika (“Stand Up and Be Counted”) led by the indigenous Kenyan movement affiliated to the organization for which I work. Over 70 per cent of Kenya is identified as “Christian”; yet corruption, nepotism, and dishonesty is rife in public life.

I heard several laments from the podium over the (very un-African) separation of the “spiritual” and the “secular” in the lives of Christians. This is the product of years of Western evangelicalism (not least through popular “Christian TV” channels). But indifference towards politics has given way (just as in the USA since the 1980s) to active support for “born-again” politicians who have proved to be disastrous for their countries. Church leaders naively assume that putting “believers” into public office will automatically bring about a Christian politics. Yet non-Christians seem to follow more biblical values than do many such “believers”. Indeed, dictators generally love “born-again” pastors, for they know how to co-opt them into their patronage networks. Simply offer them state lands for putting up church buildings, public money for evangelistic crusades, laws curtailing the activity of Muslims, and banning homosexuality!

Political naiveté, of course, is not confined to such “born-again” pastors. Self-styled “liberal progressives” would do well to note that diversity for the sake of diversity does not translate into progressive politics. The kind of feminism that Hilary Clinton and her (mostly white, upwardly mobile) supporters espouse is out of touch with the different social realities that American women inhabit and so is blind to the wider structural issues of gender justice. The Bush administration, after all, included Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell: demonstrating that identity politics can be deployed by conservatives just as well as by progressives.

To return to where I began. Surely, church leaders everywhere should be publicly renouncing the politics of fear-mongering. They should, instead, be taking a cue from our Kenyan brethren and standing up (“Hesabika”) for a politics of justice, compassion and honesty.

Why cannot Christians of all nations and denominations unite around the Christian political values articulated in books such as Laudato Si’: viz. pursing a global common good, speaking up for the most exploited and excluded in our societies, unmasking corruption, showing hospitality to refugees, respecting the non-human creation, seeking economic justice above addictive consumerism, and protecting the civil and human rights of all people?

A new edition of my first full-length book Gods That Fail: Modern Idolatry and Christian Mission (1996) has just been published by Wipf & Stock. It is available both on the publisher’s website (http://wipfandstock.com/gods-that-fail-revised-edition.html) and on Amazon. The Kindle edition is also available from Amazon in the U.S., United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, France, Spain, Brazil, India, Japan, Italy, and Mexico. (If you are buying the hard copy, I prefer you choose the publisher rather than Amazon!)

The Table of Contents can also be found on the Wipf & Stock web page above.

While the book is addressed primarily to thoughtful Christians in “secular” spheres of work, pastors and non-Christians can also read it with profit.

My sequel to this- Subverting Global Myths (IVPAcademic and SPCK, 2008)is still in print.

Enjoy!

The UK-based international charity Oxfam reported this week that the world’s richest 62 people now own as much wealth as half the world’s population. Super-rich individuals saw an increase of 44 percent since 2010, taking their cumulative wealth to $1.76 trillion – equivalent to the total owned by 3.5 billion of the world’s poorest people. The report also stated that tax havens were helping corporations and individuals to stash away about $7.6 trillion, depriving governments of $190bn in tax revenue every year.

Any regular reader of my Blog will not be surprised by these findings. While conventional economics has long ignored inequality and been obsessed with economic growth as an end in itself, there has been a growing counter-stream of eminent voices (e.g. Anthony Atkinson, Thomas Picketty, Joseph Stiglitz, Paul Krugman) who have argued that not only is economic inequality on such a scale morally obscene, but also bad economics.

I have also (following Susan George) called for more studies by economists and anthropologists on the rich than on the poor. How do the super-rich make their fortunes? Who bears the costs? How do they change politics? Why do they need so much money- money that they could never spend in several lifetimes? What does it do to their characters and relationships? Etc.

The most common way that the super-rich in low and middle-income countries have made their fortunes is fairly straightforward: viz. the open plunder of public resources. Think of the Russian oligarchs who bought state enterprises in the 1990s for a song; Chinese business tycoons hand-in-glove with the communist party leaders; ruling political families in Nigeria, Philippines or Sri Lanka who have siphoned off public funds into their undisclosed private accounts in Switzerland, Dubai, Singapore or the Cayman Islands (funds that are almost impossible to recover because of the secrecy enveloping the global banking system).

But is it any different in the U.S and other rich nations?

As I wrote on 18 December 2010 (“Crony Capitalism”), the Clinton and Bush administrations were well-stocked with former senior bankers from Goldman Sachs. Hank Paulson, the Treasury Secretary who engineered the 2008 bank bailout was himself a former chairman of the bank; so, unsurprisingly, Goldman Sachs was one of the first banks to benefit from the scaremongering that the US Treasury initiated to get the deal passed by both houses of Congress, while its rival Lehman Brothers was allowed to sink.

The world’s single largest funder of research into emerging technologies is the Pentagon- through its Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency). DARPA does not engage in research and development directly, but gives large grants to the top American private universities and private technology companies to do so. Without DARPA funding, the computer revolution would not have happened. DARPA (then called ARPA) funded the research that invented the Internet (initially called ARPANET), as well as the researchers who developed the Graphical User Interface, a version of which you probably see every time you use a computer or smart phone. Siri (the virtual assistant incorporated into Apple’s iPhones) was also a product of DARPA-funded research.

So, U.S. taxpayers fund the research that leads to the high-tech products that are patented and sold around the world by private corporations. The technology billionaires that are spawned write their own pay-checks and salt away their fortunes in offshore tax havens out of reach of the IRS. Sweat-shops on the Mexican side of the U.S-Mexico border, or in Southeast Asia, make the components for the computers and smart phones for some of the world’s most powerful corporations.

Isaac Newton, notes Joseph Stiglitz, was at least modest enough to admit that he stood on the shoulders of giants. But these titans of industry, from Microsoft to Amazon, have no compunction about being free riders. “To say that Apple or Google simply took advantage of the current system is to let them off the hook too easily: the system didn’t just come into being on its own. It was shaped from the start by lobbyists from large multinationals. Companies like General Electric lobbied for, and got, provisions that enabled them to avoid even more taxes. If Apple and Google stand for the opportunities afforded by globalization, their attitudes towards tax avoidance have made them emblematic of what can, and is, going wrong with that system.”

The only candidate in the current U.S. presidential race who has the courage to address these moral issues is Bernie Sanders, the veteran Democrat senator. Unsurprisingly, Sanders’ reported net wealth is $700,000, compared with Hilary Clinton’s net wealth- reportedly between $30-45 million- which positions her closer to Donald Trump. (In the Senate, Sanders voted against the Iraq war, bailing out Wall Street, and the 2001 Patriot Act; Clinton voted for all of them).

Last September Sanders visited Liberty University, a private college founded by the fundamentalist preacher Jerry Falwell. Surprisingly a large number of students received his message positively. “Calling on us to help the neediest, that resonates with me as a Christian,” said Quincy Thompson, the student body president, who had a chance to briefly meet Mr. Sanders after the event. “But as a Christian, I think the responsibility to help them falls to the church, not the government.” [http://www.nytimes.com/politics/first-draft/2015/09/14/bernie-sanders-makes-rare-appeal-to-evangelicals-at-liberty-university/]

This, in a nutshell, is the obstacle to support for Sanders from the so-called “Bible-believing” wing of the American church. Ironically, it is ignorance of the Bible. The Church helps the poor, while governments help the rich. I can only hope that a Jew like Bernie Sanders will help these Christians go back and read the Hebrew Bible.

The Malaysian Church, in recent decades, was engaged in a prolonged legal battle with their Islamist-influenced government which prohibited non-Muslims from using the word Allah to refer to the supreme God and creator. Church leaders received directives stating that several words of Arabic origin, including Allah, Nabi (prophet) and Al Kitab (Bible) were not to be used by non-Muslims as Arabic was the language of Muslims. Usage by Christians would sow the seeds of “confusion”. The import of Malay Bibles printed in Indonesia (which used Allah) was effectively banned.

Christians countered by pointing out that Allah was the common term used to refer to the supreme God long before Islam came into existence in North Africa. Arab Christians continue to worship God as Allah and Malay-speaking Christians have also been using Allah for centuries. Far from sowing “confusion”, it has facilitated communication and promoted mutual understanding between Christians and Muslims.

Clearly this was more than a matter of official historical ignorance. Islamists fearful of the conversion of Muslims sought to deter the latter from reading the Bible by claiming that Christians and Muslims worship different Gods. They have been successful. Christians lost the legal battle, with dire consequences for the future of social justice and religious harmony in Malaysia.

How ironic, then, to find these Islamist arguments flourishing among ultra-conservative Christians in the USA.

Earlier this month, the authorities at Wheaton College, a prominent “evangelical” liberal arts college aligned themselves with the Islamists. They suspended a tenured professor for referring to Jews and Muslims as “people of the book” (a common Qur’anic expression, distinguishing Jews and Christians from polytheistic pagans), and stating that “Christians and Muslims worship the same God”. In the statement of suspension, the professor was accused of not “upholding theological clarity”. The obsession with “clarity” and fear of “confusion”- at the expense of other intellectual virtues such as desiring truth and tolerance of different theological opinions- have long been hallmarks of religious fundamentalisms.

The eminent logician Gottlob Frege (1848-1925) famously drew an important distinction between the referent of a word/phrase and its sense or meaning. He took the example of the planet Venus which is, paradoxically, described as both the “Evening Star” and the “Morning Star”. The two expressions have different senses or meanings, but they have the same referent, namely the planet Venus.

The earliest Christians, most of them Jews, found themselves worshiping Jesus as Lord and ascribing to him all the titles and functions that applied to Yahweh, the God of the Hebrew Bible. They were not bi-theists. Nor were they rejecting Yahweh. As they reflected more deeply on their experience, they eventually came to articulate a deeper and fuller understanding of who Yahweh is. They became Trinitarian monotheists.

Arab Christians share many beliefs in common with their Muslim neighbours. Not only do they both worship Allah as the unique creator and sustainer of the universe, but Christians accept most of the 99 Beautiful Names for Allah in the Qur’an. The differences, of course, are crucial and decisive. Belief in God as Trinity, as Incarnate as the person Jesus of Nazareth, as crucified for the salvation of the world… these are foundational to all Christian believing and living. It grieves Christians that these are misunderstood and rejected by Muslims (and Jews). Therein lies the great challenge to communication. Christians ascribe a different narrative identity to Allah and Yahweh. But if there were no overlapping areas of agreement, no dialogue between Christians and Muslims (and Jews) would be possible. (Indeed, even argument would be impossible because argument presupposes that we are arguing about the same subject matter). And Christians, Muslims and Jews have engaged in mutually fruitful dialogue for centuries in Europe, Africa and Asia (along with monotheist Hindus and Sikhs).

All the distinctive Christian truths are paradoxical. Christians, therefore, should be at home with paradoxical thinking and not shun it.

So, do Christians and Muslims worship the same God? Yes and No. To use Frege’s terminology, the same referent but different senses.

But why is this question not raised in conservative American circles in relation to Jews and Judaism? (This is what makes many suspect that underlying this debate is fear or even animosity towards Muslims. If so, it would be deeply disturbing.)

The actions of the Wheaton College authorities, like much of what is done in the U.S., reach a global audience. I can imagine how they will be seized upon by Islamists around the world as ammunition to deploy against Christians. And how betrayed Malaysian Christians must feel.

American Christians- especially those studying and working in colleges and universities- cannot remain complacent with theological, historical or political naiveté. Wilful ignorance is inexcusable. Americans have ready access to a wide range of scholarly literature and the latest information technologies that the rest of us envy. They don’t have to watch Fox News or listen to the latest chauvinist or demagogue. Some of the finest biblical scholars, theologians, philosophers and historians are found in the American Church (sadly, it is not their works that are exported to the rest of the world).

Moreover, every American city is multi-cultural and multi-religious. You can meet Christians from all over the world, as well as thoughtful Muslims from every Muslim sect, Jews, Sikhs, Jains or Buddhists. You can have your prejudices dispelled, your viewpoints and worldviews enlarged through such encounters and friendships.

If American Christians do not avail themselves of the resources and opportunities on their doorstep, they will remain culturally marginal, intellectually lightweight, politically reactionary, and a deep source of embarrassment to the rest of the global Church.

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