Thursday, May 27, 2010

Justice: turns out, it matters to us all.

As you may have already determined, I have returned to the blogosphere after a long hiatus. In my first and last post, I alluded to the possibility that I may blog about the experience of settling into my new home of Port Hardy, BC. Alas, the ride was wild enough that it absorbed all of my attention and energy. And as we all know, those rides are the best kind. Since my last post I got hired as a full time Mental Health Outreach Worker and if you think the title is long enough to indicate a significant workload, you only know the half of it. Suffice to say, I have been there more than three months and today I only have the mental energy to write because I took a day of rest. So here we are.

I am now working against a deadline for my reviews of N.T. Wright's Simply Christian, because I promised to return it to it's owner by July 1. So, I may take notes and publish my reviews intermittently, or just write a whole bunch in frequent succession. This whole blog is, after all, meant to be more of an incentive for me to think than a riveting gossip column with a cult following. Oh, cult. That word carries so much intrigue. I should start a cult one of these days...but I digress.

Chapter One, "Putting the World to Rights" is the first portion in Mr. Wright's Part One, entitled "Echoes of a Voice". Both of these titles are suspect to me. They sound like they're trying too hard. Trying to sound enticing and all philosophical - y. But I plowed valiantly on.

Wright spends the first half of the chapter establishing the existence of a common interest amongst humans, that of a desire for Justice. He uses the metaphor of a faintly remembered dream, using it to embody "a voice" that calls out to us all, a voice that tugs at us to desire and crave for justice in the world, on scales both big and small. He points to the elaborate justice systems of developed nations as evidence that humans are very concerned with justice, and implementing it. He also discusses the fact that we are all too painfully aware that nature, individuals, groups and nations get away with gross injustices on a regular basis. One only needs say the words "Tsunami", "Holocaust", "Rwandan Genocide", and "Apartied" to illustrate the point that injustices have happened, and continue to happen, regardless of the pain they inflict and the outrage they inspire. However, the first thought I would like to quote from this chapter is this, "The line between justice and injustice, between things being right and things not being right, can't be drawn between "us" and "them". It runs right down the middle of each of us" (p. 6, Wright, 2006).

Wright goes on to say that there are three ways to explain this still small voice urging us to desire justice: it is only a dream, it exists in a different world, or it is proof that there is someone who cares about justice in our here and now. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam agree on the third option, although they have a myriad of differences. In this section, Wright makes the claim that "...Christians believe that in Jesus of Nazareth the voice we thought we heard became human and lived and died as one of us. It's about justice, because Christians not only inherit the Jewish passion for justice, but claim that Jesus embodied that passion, and that what he did, and what happened to him, set in motion the Creator's plan to rescue the world and put it back to rights" (p. 10, Wright, 2006). To sum up: Jesus coming to earth = proof that there is a Christian God who is both a voice enticing us towards justice and that He desires to bring the earth to the Ultimate Justice, which is peace and joy for all.

I have to be honest. At this point, Wright was not doing a very good job of selling me on his whole "Christianity makes sense because all humans desire justice" argument. It seemed to me like all of his evidence was anecdotal at best and relied on internal validity at worst. However, what came next was a "shit just got real" moment, and this sold me on reading the rest of the book and eventually writing this blog.

What Wright went on to say is that Christians do not have a good track record for promoting justice and peace for all. And to this, I would like to give a great big shout out and thank you to Mr. N.T. Wright because finally I have come accross a Christian writer who is willing to say it like it is. He points to the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition as just a few easy examples of Christians being Royal Failures at the promoting justice thing. My university education filled me up with many, many more examples which have been weighing on my mind for years now, not the least of which are the Indian Act, the Canadian Reserve System, and the Indian Residential School System. I will keep it brief by saying that it has caused me great anguish to ponder that the indigenous peoples of Canada were nearly DELIBERATELY exterminated by those who claimed that they were acting in the name of the Christian God. Whats more, in my profession I see the ongoing, devastating effects of colonization on a daily basis. It is a constant reminder.

So, what is Wright's justification of this, you ask? I will tell you.

First, he makes the distinction that terrible things have been done by Christians and that said Christians may or may not have claimed that Jesus was supporting them (p. 12, Wright, 2006). I like that he states, "There's no point hiding from this truth, however uncomfortable it may be" (Wright). Second, he points out that those who muddled the reputation of the Christian faith were mistaken as to what Christianity actually is. He goes on discuss that unfortunately, Christianity is still unequivocally related to "The West", when in actual fact most of the world's Christians live in Africa and Southeast Asia. Furthermore, the governments of the West are proud of the fact that they do not govern according to Christian principles, even though they continue to wage wars on Muslim countries, so that there is the erroneous perception that the "Christian World" is making war on the "Muslim World" when in fact the West is far from being Christian or even aspiring to it.

Third, he goes on to extol the virtues of great heroes such as William Wilberforce and John Woolman (two Christian men who fought tirelessly to end the slave trade), Martin Luther King Jr. (leader of the American Civil Rights movement), and the Archbishop Desmond Tutu (who helped to end Apartheid without mass bloodshed) . He points out that the powerful stories of these Christians with a passion for justice are not told often enough, in part due to the ways that skeptics in the West do their best to forget them. Wright mentions men like Deitrich Bonhoeffer (killed by Nazis toward the end of WWII), and Oscar Romero (shot by an assassin because he was speaking on behalf of the poor in El Salvador), and that the stories of these heroes should be told and retold, to remind ourselves and the world that there have been examples of True Christianity and True Passion for Justice.

This was a breath of fresh air for me. It was like a nice brisk slap on the face on a cool day, to wake up. Because wow, I really needed that truth to counter balance all of the negativity about Christianity that I absorbed at that wonderful and academically superior of all learning institutions, the venerated University of Regina. That being said, I would like to give a feminist analysis on this chapter and point out that Wright did not mention even one female hero such as Mother Theresa, who undoubtedly gave her life combating the injustices running rampant on the streets of Calcutta because of her passion for Christ.

Wright concludes the chapter by re-asserting his statement that Christians believe the "voice" all humans hear, ie) the innate desire for justice, became human in the form of Jesus, who made a sacrifice which ensured that the world could indeed be "put to rights".

I am not convinced that Christianity has an exclusive claim to the innate human desire for justice. However, Wright is not making a case for world religions. After all, the tagline of the book is "Why Christianity Makes Sense". Therefore, he is taking the raw facts of the human condition and overlaying them with the Christian world view in an effort to bring clarity and validity to that world view, and I can't say that I disagree with him entirely. He makes some intriguing arguments and it is well written. The second chapter addresses the human thirst for spirituality, which I suspect will follow in the pattern of the first chapter (in regards to taking generalities about humans and making them specific to Christianity). However, I look forward to reading it and subsequently pontificating about it.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

There's a First Time for Everything

Hello to all of my future avid readers! Although blogs have been a major cultural trend for several years, this is my very first foray into the art. This form of expression has always intimidated me a little bit's just out there, for the whole world to see, if they want to. However, I have come to realize that no one thinks about a given individual as much as s/he thinks they do or should! So here I am, eeking out my small thread of interweb space, to publish my thoughts, rants, meanderings and ramblings.

My main motivation for this blog is to have a sort of "assignment" for myself, to: 1) think and, 2) then write about what I think. Thinking is in and of itself a most rewarding exercise, but I have found that subsequently writing about said activity adds depth and further opportunity for reflection. And I believe we could all use a little more reflection once in a while. Having finished my post secondary education (at least for now) little more than a year ago, I am finding myself hungry for reading and learning and some brain calisthenics. The beauty of the situation is that I am now free to read whatever I want, at my leisure. So my first choice is a deceptively "light" theology book called "Simply Christian" by N.T. Wright. It was loaned to me by a friend so I figured it's as good a place to start as any.

I read the first few chapters over a month ago, during a major transition in my life where I was packing up my entire household for a significant move. Our new location is some 6.5 hours and infinite degrees of idealogical separation away from our residence at the time (metro Vancouver to the isolated North end of Vancouver Island. It's a different world!). So it's been an adventure to say the least but I am enjoying the ride.

I am planning on posting my thoughts/ review for each chapter of the book and then I'll let the blog continue to take it's own life after that! It's quite possible that I will be blogging about other things in between to keep it interesting, and for all of my curious friend out there :)