Subverting Global Myths: Theology and the Public Issues Shaping Our World

Vinoth Ramachandra IVP Academic, Downers Grove, IL June 11, 2008
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Rich with historical references, Subverting Global Myths challenges readers to consider the validity, meaning, and implications of contemporary global concepts. The London-educated, Sri Lankan author explores several subjects he believes have formed the breeding ground for fallacy: terrorism, violence in the name of religion, human rights, multiculturalism, science, and postcolonialism. Myths, or “imaginative narratives,” as he calls them, are grand and popular stories that shape one’s worldview and sense of significance. This book comprises six essays from his discourses given around the world and is fact-filled. Considering the great number of Christian leaders from the non-West, his perspective is vital.

With each topic Ramachandra reviews its history and practice, high-lighting which portions might be mistaken as truth. For example issues such as terrorism and religious violence, if not analyzed properly, create more myth than fact. From his personal experiences of growing up in a nation plagued by terrorism and from widespread research, Ramachandra analyses how world superpowers and national rebels have created a backlash of the very terrorism they hoped to prevent. Dealing with the just-war theory, he critiques at length the reasoning put forth by Oliver Donovan, submitting that present deceit in polity has undermined civilian access to necessary information with which to assess governmental decisions. In discussing religious violence he notes the dynamics of two Asian countries in particular: Sri Lanka and Indonesia. He then sketches the myths that mass media paints, namely, that global violence has increased as a result of religious fanaticism, rather than as a result of atheistic administrations.

He challenges several myths of secular scientists and society, including deterministic gene theory, reductionism, genetic engineering to the detriment of third-world parties, eugenics, and transhumanism. Moreover, he comments on the “idolization and commercialization of science” and the results from a science driven by profit motive, the moral implications of which are difficult to discuss given the prevailing claim that science is amoral. He asks readers to consider how many modern developments in technology are for business and military interests to the neglect of other aspects of scientific research and to the harm of human welfare.

On another theme Ramachandra remarks that while Christians should applaud cultural diversity, contradictions in current multiculturalism remain. How does a society cohere with unity among its members while touting pluralism and affirmative action? Ramachandra promotes a “shared collective culture,” calling modern-day multiculturalism a myth. He explores secularist fundamentalism and secular liberalism, the former threatening true pluralism and the latter suspiciously promulgating the very paternalism it claims to eliminate. He discusses the definition and ethics of freedom, and in his discussion of immigration he calls first for a “decriminalization of the worldwide movement of peoples” in debating the rights of refugees and foreigners (p. 158). He details how the ideology and practice of human rights originate strictly from the Judeo-Christian theological tradition, with special emphasis on social and legal responsibility to the poor.

In his coverage of postcolonialism Ramachandra opposes the idea that globalization is merely a twentieth-century phenomenon, and he challenges the myth of Western superiority. He historically recounts, in agreement with John Hobson, how the East in fact gave rise to the pres-ent-day West. Moreover, he addresses some of the focal points (and inconsistencies) in postcolonial circles of thought, which is his most eloquent argumentation in the book. He offers a most brilliant description of personhood, of what is both characteristic and catholic in personal identity and global community, differing from the universal definition of postcolonialists.

The author skillfully distills what mistruths may be subsumed in their larger global ideals, and treats them with theological analysis. His conclusions would leave Christians, by most counts, applauding him and occasionally mildly disagreeing with him. Although his acrid assessment may surprise and at times disturb North American Christian readers, this work is recommended for its balanced review and needed Asian perspective. His theological approach self-admittedly is more than a simplistic set of linear arguments. “[Christian theology] is a way of seeing, of so dwelling in a particular language and doing new things with that language so that its revelatory and transformative power is manifest in the world” (p. 13). He means that theology should lead to a change of thinking and practice apart from parochialism, and that believers should be driven not by nationalism but by their global responsibility as Christians.

This evangelical and didactic resource is for contemplative readers, pastors, theologians, and academicians who wish to join the author in clarifying the deeper concerns at stake behind global phenomena. Schooled in the reigning philosophies of both the East and the West, Ramachandra provides an intellectual handle on and qualified assessment of global issues facing the world.

—Jenny McGill

July 1, 2009
 

Biblotheca Sacra

This review appeared in the Jul-Sep 2009 vol. 166 no. 3 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.

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