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Salt to the World – Reclaiming Our Compassion
If the church truly wishes to be salt to this world, then one of its most urgent tasks must be to address our society’s post-modern, post-Christian drift away from the biblical worldview that undergirds our culture.
Here is what theologian George Lindbeck has written:
Every major literate cultural tradition up until now has had a central corpus of canonical texts....Without a shared imaginative and conceptual vocabulary and syntax, societies cannot be held together by communication, but only by brute force (which is always inefficient, and likely to be a harbinger of anarchy). But if this is so, then the biblical contribution, which is at the heart of the canonical heritage of Western countries, is indispensable to their welfare, and its evisceration bespeaks an illness which may be terminal.
Now of course we don’t have to live in a culture governed by the stories of the Bible. We could find something else. For 17 years I lived happily in Japan under a moral code based largely on a mix of Confucianism and Buddhism. Japan’s is a society that clearly works pretty well, and I’m sure I’d be quite comfortable living in the West under a Confucian system where the husband is the undisputed head of the household, and children have an absolute, lifelong duty to honour and respect and care for their parents.
But here in my country Australia we live in one of the most multi-cultural societies ever in the history of the world, yet there are no signs of our culture embracing any alternative system. Instead, we are moving from a system of values given to us by the Bible to - nothing. It is a trend that is evident throughout the West.
Of course, if we were abolishing God in order to install a different values structure, it might matter only to those of us who are Christians. But our societies are working to abolish God, without finding anything else, and that surely has to matter to every thinking person in the West.
We urgently need to reclaim the stories of the Bible. And if we in the church don’t do it, then certainly no-one else is going to.
I wrote a few days ago of how for some years in Japan I was deeply involved in Buddhism, and that one of the incidents that disillusioned me was the sight of a group of homeless men in a public park. It made me question what hope Buddhism could offer these men, other than its traditional teachings that the world is a miserable place and our lives are meaningless.
Yet a couple of years ago, concerning that incident (which I have written about several times before), I received an email from a man in Europe who had become a Buddhist. He wrote: “Regarding those drunks you came across in the park. You must realise that those people made that hell for themselves; it is their karma.”
That is the teaching of Buddhism and some other Eastern religions. That the victims of misfortune have created their own suffering, because of sins in a past life, or simply because it is their karma, or fate.
In fairness, I must say that Buddhism does include teachings on compassion for the poor. But it is hard to have much compassion when you believe that those who are suffering are themselves, for whatever reason, utterly responsible for their plight. And unfortunately, that belief is becoming pervasive throughout the West. Even within the church.
October 11th, 2002