Sunday, January 04, 2009

Christian chauvinism on display

The Rev. Fleming Rutledge is one of the first women to be ordained an Episcopal priest. She's an Evangelical with a wide view of the world and Christianity's place in it. I respect her highly. However, I also think that she falls prey to chauvinism in a recent post on her blog, reproduced below.

For many years I have been testing my belief that the Judeo-Christian heritage is the strongest of all the world’s traditions, and I have not found any evidence to make me change my mind. The superiority of the Jewish and Christian faiths, tied ineluctably together as they are, is certainly not dependent on superior moral performance, however. It can be persuasively argued that no faith is superior to any other in the arena of actual human behavior. There are atrocities and horrors enough to go around (who knew, until the book Zen at War was published in 1997, that Zen Buddhism was profoundly complicit in the whole Japanese military effort before and during World War II—with an added overtone of anti-Semitism?). The Church has acknowledged its manifold sins repeatedly and still continues to make amends. The factor that makes our tradition unique is its self-correcting core. I do not see this deeply rooted value in Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam or Chinese philosophy.

Take for example an article on today’s New York Times front page, “Betrayed by Madoff, Yeshiva University Adds a Lesson.” The point of the article is that the arch-schemer is Jewish, and the Orthodox university is searching its soul. It is an arresting example of the way that Judaism questions itself from within. I argue that this capacity is built into the Biblical faith and derives from its ever-renewing Source. Jews interpret the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) differently from Christians, because they read it through the lenses of the Talmud and the Mishnah, but there can be no mistaking the emphasis on self-criticism in light of the values derived from the story of the Hebrew God.

(Fleming quotes an article about Yeshiva University)

First, the capacity for soul-searching is built into every human being, courtesy of God. What creed we follow matters less. To say that "I do not see this deeply rooted value" in other traditions is very dangerous and brings up the question of how deeply Fleming knows any tradition other than her own.

Second, the Church is very, very slow to acknowledge its sin. While the Church is making amends over anti-Semitism and racism to a considerable extent, we have yet to acknowledge other sins, such as homophobia.

Now, I've often accused Asian cultures and Asian Christians of being low on self-reflection. I think, but cannot prove, that self-reflection comes with development. People exposed to the West are also often cultural critics in their own societies. I agree that self-criticism makes a religion great, I just don't think Fleming has sufficient grounds to say that Christianity and Judaism are superior in that trait. For Christians to say such things will expose us to charges of arrogance and calls into question our ... capacity to self-reflect.

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