Sunday, October 12, 2008

Indian Giver

Christianity (or at least the Christian nations) rightly gets blamed for a large share of the problems in the globe today. Indeed, it was in the name of spreading Christianity to the furthest corners of the globe (tough to do, of course, because the globe is spherical) that colonization became so fashionable in the second millennium. Of course, economic and political gain were major driving forces as well, but the positive p.r. line was that Jesus's word needed to be taught to the "heathens." And, of course, the displacement of peoples, the redrawing of borders, the cultural (and literal) extermination of peoples, and the playing of one ethnicity off against another that followed played a huge part in ruining the Africa, Middle East, and Central Asia that we see today. And through it all, the most visible face of the Western colonial powers was usually those of the Christian missionary. Also, given that the crusades and Spanish conquest of the Americas led to (probably) the largest level of religious violence in history (not Christianity's best hours), The Common Man can understand a certain level of animosity toward Christ and his teachings, and toward Christian churches in general, throughout the world.

With all Christianity has done wrong, perhaps the greatest testament to the religion (and to its founder) is how it continues to thrive, even in the places that were once oppressed by it. Indeed, it's impressive how fast church populations are growing in Africa, and how they are maintaining their numbers in atmospheres hostile to them (China, Egypt, Afghanistan, etc.). Yet, for all Christianity gets put upon for its failures in the past, and as much as its dominance in the West is taken for granted, it's amazing to realize that Christianity is often on the receiving end of violence as it attempts to grow further in these hostile areas.

In particular, Pope Benedict's decision to declare Sister Alphonsa of the Immaculate Conception the first Indian saint drags this phenomenon, kicking and screaming, into the light. St. Alphonsa was born during a premature labor, brought on when a snake wrapped itself around her mother's neck in the night. She suffered severe eczema for over a year and was permanently disabled after severely burning her feet. Though she apparently suffered greatly in life, St. Alphonsa, according to Catholic Online she "is usually noted for her acceptance and love of suffering and pain" because of its connection to Christ's suffering. "It is a rare spiritual height for the Christian soul than a passive fatalistic resignation to one’s problems or pain," the article continues.

Yet, the suffering that Alphonsa endured and apparently welcomed is also being meted out upon Christians in India by a hard-line element of Hindus, particularly those in the state of Orissa. These attacks, according to the Associated Press, "have left dozens of people dead, dozens of churches destroyed and thousands of people homeless, many forced to live for days in thick forests until they could make their way to safety." Since the August assassination of a conservative Hindu leader (by Maoist extremists having no connection to the state's Christian population), "groups blamed Christians and set fire to a Christian orphanage. That has been followed by mob attacks on churches as well as shops and homes owned by Christian. At least 28 people have been killed." And the problem is spreading and becoming more entrenched, as right-wing Hindu parties are becoming legitimate parts of state governments.

The attacks undermine a) just how weak any minority population is in the face of fervor and b) Christianity's struggles to gain a foothold in the Roman Empire is mirrored today in the struggle of Christians and their martyrdom for their faith in hostile environments. It seems, indeed, to be the nature of any "other" to encounter resistance within a dominant culture. And The Common Man isn't sure whether that's reassuring (as many people seem to have outgrown the competition) or scary (considering all the new and exciting ways people have learned to kill each other in recent years). Either way, this problem deserves greater public scrutiny whether it's in India, Michigan, or England, where the other is unfairly attacked (physically or otherwise) for trying to secure its right to exist. Perhaps by framing the issue in terms of what is happening to Christianity, the West can be roused to act (or to pressure others to act).

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