Thursday, January 29, 2015

Benedict Cumberbatch, racial colors, and political correctness: What should a Christian do?

Benedict Cumberbatch got into the hot seat when he referred to black people as colored:
Cumberbatch, 38, told Smiley: "I think as far as colored actors go, it gets really difficult in the UK, and I think a lot of my friends have had more opportunities here [in the U.S.] than in the UK, and that's something that needs to change." His comments were criticized by some observers on Twitter as being insensitive and out of touch. One user called Sonya Thomas asked: "Benedict Cumberbatch used the term 'coloured' to describe black actors. What year are we in?" (CNN)
A. Skin Color and Political Correctness

There may have been historical reasons why using the word colored for black men and women is taboo.  But I think we are going in circles:
The word "Negro" is used in the English-speaking world to refer to a person of black ancestry or appearance. Negro denotes "black" in Spanish and Portuguese, derived from the ancient Latin word, niger, "black", which itself is probably from a Proto-Indo-European root *nekw-, "to be dark", akin to *nokw-, "night".[1][2] "Negro" superseded "colored" as the most polite word for African Americans at a time when "black" was considered more offensive.[3] This word was accepted as normal, including by people classified as Negroes, until the later Civil Rights movement in the late 1960s. One well-known example is the identification by Martin Luther King, Jr. of his own race as "Negro" in his famous speech of 1963, I Have a Dream. During the American Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, some black American leaders in the United States, notably Malcolm X, objected to the word "Negro" because they associated it with the long history of slavery, segregation, and discrimination that treated African Americans as second class citizens, or worse.[4] (Malcolm X preferred "Black" to "Negro", but also started using the term "Afro-American" after leaving the Nation of Islam.)[5] (Wikipedia: Negro)
Isn't this crazy? "Colored" was superseded by the more polite word "Negro", because "Black" was considered more offensive at one time.  Even Martin Luther King Jr used proudly used the word "Negro." But later, Malcolm X objected to the word "Negro" and preferred "Black" instead.  It's crazy, really.

I think it is time for some objectivity here, lest we become color-blind. Human skin color ranges from black (Africans), red (American Indians), brown (Indo-Malay), yellow (Chinese/Japanese), white (Europeans).  Each race would have folk stories relating the supremacy of their race as defined by their skin color.  One example would be the Filipino creation mythology:
Another popular myth tells of the creation of the earth by gods and goddesses.  Marveling at the beauty of their masterpiece, they decided to fill the earth with human beings.  They got clay, molded it into their likeness, and baked them over a slow fire.  Some clay figures were baked too long and these turned out to be dark-skinned, others too pale, while the rest were baked just right.  The gods breathed life into the baked clay figures and there came the various races. In particular, the black race was the overbaked clay figures, the white race emerged from the underbaked clay figures, and the brown race, typically represented by the Filipinos, is the clay figures evenly baked.  (Philippine History Module-based Learning l' 2002 Ed.)
Classifying and naming people by the color of their skin is a legitimate scientific exercise.  Making a generalization about the level of intelligence of a person based on his skin color may be wrong, but describing a person by his skin color should be right. If we can discriminate the black from the red from the brown from the yellow and from the white, then our eyes are functioning well.  In fact, the human eye can discriminate 10 million colors! Do you wish that your web browser would be able to discriminate only 5 colors?  Do you wish that your printer would be able to discriminate only 5 colors? No, you want web browser and printer to discriminate 10 million colors!

B. So what should a Christian do?

There are three things that a Christian can do:

First, a Christian should not become a slave of political correctness and the fashions of the age. If a thing is black, we call it black.  If a thing is white, we call it white. As Christ said, "Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one." (Mt 5:37)

Second, a Christian should not mind whatever adjective is used to describe his skin color: black, red, brown, yellow, or white--whether these words are in Spanish or another language.  The words that come outside of us do not directly defile us, but the words that come from our own mouths.  As Christ said: "But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile. 19 * For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, unchastity, theft, false witness, blasphemy." (Mt 15:18-19)

Third, a Christian should embrace his cross.  If the words hurled to us are hurtful, then we embrace the words as our cross and offer our sufferings to God. In this way, we share in Christ's passion, so that we may also share in his resurrection.  The Cross of Christ is truly a sign of contradiction: the cross is the instrument of suffering and death in the Roman Era, but Christ transformed the wood of the cross into the sign of salvation.
Benedict Cumberbatch: The Biography
Benedict Cumberbatch: The Biography
Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Final Year
Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Final Year
The Autobiography of Malcolm X (Penguin Modern Classics)
The Autobiography of Malcolm X (Penguin Modern Classics)
Living Color: The Biological and Social Meaning of Skin Color
Living Color: The Biological and Social Meaning of Skin Color
The Passion Of The Christ - Expanded 10th Anniversary (Limited Edition)
The Passion Of The Christ - Expanded 10th Anniversary (Limited Edition)

Friday, January 23, 2015

Why does the state revere Pope Francis but shoot communists? A reply to Julie Po of Linangan ng Kulturang Pilipino

In his letter to Inquirer, Julie L. Po described the similarities between Pope Francis and communism which we shall summarize into three points:
  • Concern and service for the Poor
  • Critique of Capitalism
  • Change the world
And she asked: "Why does the state so revere Pope Francis but shoots communists?"Let's discuss these issues one by one, but in the greater context of the contrast between Communism and Christianity.

A. Concern and service for the poor

It is true that Communists and Christians share the same concern for the poor, especially peasants and workers, but for different reasons.

For Communists, their concern for the poor stems from their hatred of the rich and private property.  And the communists wish to impose this worldview by force of arms.  That is why, they wish to topple existing governments and replace them with Communist models.   So it is no wonder why democratic governments wants to shoot them in order to defend the state.

On the other hand, for Christians, their concern for the poor stems from Christ's words:
Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ 45 He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ 46 l And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Mt 25:44-46)
For Christians, it is a terrifying thought not to be concerned with the poor and serve them, because it is only through such way that their eternal damnation or salvation depends. But note that Christians do not serve the poor because they are poor per se, but because Christians see Christ in the poor.  As Christ reminds us:
The poor you will always have with you; but you will not always have me. (Mt 26:11)
Unlike Communists, Christians do not force their concern for the poor on everyone through armed struggle, for Christ himself did not force the Kingdom of God on everyone.  As Christ explained to Pilate, the Kingdom of God is based on truth:
Jesus answered, “My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants [would] be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here.”q 37 So Pilate said to him, “Then you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say I am a king.* For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”r 38 Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” (Jn 18:36-38)
B. Critique of Capitalism

Popes like Pope Francis may have given a critique of Capitalism, but they also gave a critique of Communism as a failed system.  For example, here are the words of Pope John Paul II:
42. Returning now to the initial question: can it perhaps be said that, after the failure of Communism, capitalism is the victorious social system, and that capitalism should be the goal of the countries now making efforts to rebuild their economy and society? Is this the model which ought to be proposed to the countries of the Third World which are searching for the path to true economic and civil progress? 
The answer is obviously complex. If by "capitalism" is meant an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property and the resulting responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector, then the answer is certainly in the affirmative, even though it would perhaps be more appropriate to speak of a "business economy", "market economy" or simply "free economy". But if by "capitalism" is meant a system in which freedom in the economic sector is not circumscribed within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality, and which sees it as a particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious, then the reply is certainly negative. 
The Marxist solution has failed, but the realities of marginalization and exploitation remain in the world, especially the Third World, as does the reality of human alienation, especially in the more advanced countries. Against these phenomena the Church strongly raises her voice. Vast multitudes are still living in conditions of great material and moral poverty. The collapse of the Communist system in so many countries certainly removes an obstacle to facing these problems in an appropriate and realistic way, but it is not enough to bring about their solution. Indeed, there is a risk that a radical capitalistic ideology could spread which refuses even to consider these problems, in the a priori belief that any attempt to solve them is doomed to failure, and which blindly entrusts their solution to the free development of market forces. (Centissimus Annus)
But Pope John Paul II clarifies that the Church does not side either with Capitalism or Communism, but she offers only her social teaching as a guide:
43. The Church has no models to present; models that are real and truly effective can only arise within the framework of different historical situations, through the efforts of all those who responsibly confront concrete problems in all their social, economic, political and cultural aspects, as these interact with one another.84 For such a task the Church offers her social teaching as an indispensable and ideal orientation, a teaching which, as already mentioned, recognizes the positive value of the market and of enterprise, but which at the same time points out that these need to be oriented towards the common good. This teaching also recognizes the legitimacy of workers' efforts to obtain full respect for their dignity and to gain broader areas of participation in the life of industrial enterprises so that, while cooperating with others and under the direction of others, they can in a certain sense "work for themselves"85 through the exercise of their intelligence and freedom. (Centissimus Annus)
C. Change the world

Communists want to change the world into a Communist Utopia where "class distinctions have disappeared, and all production has been concentrated in the hands of a vast association of the whole nation, (so that) the public power will lose its political character."  As Karl Marx and Frederick Engels wrote in the in the Communist Manifesto:
We have seen above that the first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class to win the battle of democracy. The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degree, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralize all instruments of production in the hands of the state, i.e., of the proletariat organized as the ruling class; and to increase the total productive forces as rapidly as possible. Of course, in the beginning, this cannot be effected except by means of despotic inroads on the rights of property, and on the conditions of bourgeois production; by means of measures, therefore, which appear economically insufficient and untenable, but which, in the course of the movement, outstrip themselves, necessitate further inroads upon the old social order, and are unavoidable as a means of entirely revolutionizing the mode of production.... 
When, in the course of development, class distinctions have disappeared, and all production has been concentrated in the hands of a vast association of the whole nation, the public power will lose its political character. Political power, properly so called, is merely the organized power of one class for oppressing another. If the proletariat during its contest with the bourgeoisie is compelled, by the force of circumstances, to organize itself as a class; if, by means of a revolution, it makes itself the ruling class, and, as such, sweeps away by force the old conditions of production, then it will, along with these conditions, have swept away the conditions for the existence of class antagonisms and of classes generally, and will thereby have abolished its own supremacy as a class. In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.
But the Christian ideal is not in this world but in the afterlife in heaven.  In heaven, there is a hierarchical distinction between God and creatures, angels and men, saints and sinners, the learned and the simple--yet all love each other because they are members of one family with God as our Father and Jesus as our Brother.  The book of Revelation describes heaven as follows:
I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God almighty and the Lamb. 23 * The city had no need of sun or moon to shine on it,o for the glory of God gave it light, and its lamp was the Lamb. 24 The nations will walk by its light,* and to it the kings of the earth will bring their treasure.p 25 During the day its gates will never be shut, and there will be no night there. 26 The treasure and wealth of the nations will be brought there, 27 but nothing unclean will enter it, nor any[one] who does abominable things or tells lies. Only those will enter whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Rv 21:22-27)
That is why, Christians also struggle to make our world a reflection of heaven.  As St. Paul says:
For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens. (Eph 6:12)
But in doing so, Christians, unlike Communists, strive to attain their ideals through non-violence and martyrdom.

D. Conclusions

Christianity and communism shares many things in common, such as service for the poor, critique of Capitalsm, and the desire to change the world.  The only difference is that Christianity has Christ as its model while Communism has none.  In Christ, Christians see the compassion for the poor and the commandment to help the poor because they are His brothers.  In Christ, Christians see the model for spreading the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom based on truth--not by compulsion through force but conversion of the heart.

 The Philippine government welcomed Pope Francis and not the Communist rebels, because Pope Francis represents the Catholic Church who advocates nonviolence to accomplish her Christian ideals.  The Philippine government and the Catholic Church may be at odds on many issues, such as same-sex marriage, sex education, and contraception, but even this did not make the Church call for the overthrow of the existing government through armed struggle. So if given a choice between someone who wishes to convert your heart (Pope Francis) and the one who wishes to shoot you in the head (Communists), you welcome the former and not the latter.  And that is what the Philippine government did.

The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope (Deckle Edge)
The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope (Deckle Edge)
The Final Revolution: The Resistance Church and the Collapse of Communism
The Final Revolution: The Resistance Church and the Collapse of Communism
The Last Judgment: Michelangelo and the Death of the Renaissance
The Last Judgment: Michelangelo and the Death of the Renaissance
Pilate and Jesus (Meridian: Crossing Aesthetics)
Pilate and Jesus (Meridian: Crossing Aesthetics)
Man of the Century: The Life and Times of Pope John Paul II
Man of the Century: The Life and Times of Pope John Paul II
Communism and its Collapse (The Making of the Contemporary World)
Communism and its Collapse (The Making of the Contemporary World)
On the Hundredth Anniversary of Rerum Novarum: Centissimus Annus
On the Hundredth Anniversary of Rerum Novarum: Centissimus Annus
The Communist Manifesto (Penguin Classics)
The Communist Manifesto (Penguin Classics)
City of God (Penguin Classics)
City of God (Penguin Classics)
Komunista: The Genesis of the Philippine Communist Party, 1902-1935

Friday, January 16, 2015

I wandered lonely in the cloud over posts and tweets: a poem on Pope Francis's visit to the Philippines

(Note: the poem below is based on William Wordsworth's I wandered lonely as a cloud. I followed the metrical scheme and the key phrases-and even entire stanzas, but changed many of the words to describe how I felt sitting in front of my computer while reading the incoming tweets from the hashtags #PopeFrancisPH and #PapalVisitPH.)

I wandered lonely in the cloud over posts and tweets

by Monk's Hobbit

I wandered lonely in the cloud
That hosts the Facebook posts and tweets
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of yellow flags and shirts;

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on Christmas day,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of Manila bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

A window rolled as a car drove past
Then the crowd cried out in glee:
A pope couldn't help but wave
At such a joyful company:
They gazed-and gazed-and great they thought
The wealth his face to them had brought.

Now oft, when on my couch I lie
In browsing or in blogging mood,
His smile would flash on my inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with Pope Francis.
The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium): Apostolic Exhortation
The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium): Apostolic Exhortation
William Wordsworth - The Major Works: including The Prelude (Oxford World's Classics)
William Wordsworth - The Major Works: including The Prelude (Oxford World's Classics)