Keep Christianity in perspective

Tokyo

Kevin Rafferty’s Jan. 7 article, “Christianity vs. secularism,” was lambasted by secularist Scott Mintz in his Jan. 13 letter, “Inequality in Christian nations.” Now I’ll lambaste Rafferty from the other side.

Mintz starts off right in criticizing the “disjointed and aimless” nature of Rafferty’s piece. Who can figure what Rafferty’s trying to say when he jumps — without a coherent thesis — from bemoaning the Catholic Church’s scandals and defections from the priesthood to saying that maybe the pope has an important message about promoting peace and justice and human dignity?

Although Rafferty rightly notes that excessive faith in material goods can undermine human equality, he concludes that the church is still 200 years behind the times.

Rather than supply a coherent rejoinder, Mintz merely makes the mundane point about the Gini inequality coefficient in “Christian” countries, largely in Africa and South America. Might there be other reasons for inequality in developing countries — even when we control for religious background?

In all fairness to Rafferty, his point wasn’t that nominally Christian countries perfectly embody Gospel values, but rather that those and similar religious values help, in Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ wise words, to counter the destructive tendencies that lurk everywhere in our fallen circumstances.

What both Rafferty and Mintz suffer from is a very short-term focus. For Mintz, it is not seeing that the dominance of the low-end of the Gini scale (higher equality) by historically Christian European countries reflects an evolving awareness of social justice that just might have something to do with the Judeo-Christian notion of the equality of people before God as embedded in the countries’ social compact, and that the lack of that grounding in materialist societies like modern China’s could portend a trend toward increasing inequality.

If these times are China’s equivalent of the age of the robber barons, where, then — without God — will the equivalent of Pope Leo XIII’s “Rerum Novarum” (progressive movement) come from?

Rafferty, meanwhile, nods toward the timelessness of the church’s social justice message, yet wants to demand that the church keep up with the times as, for example, when he criticizes the pope for refusing to take a “new look at sexuality.”

And what (let me guess) could that mean for Rafferty — reinterpreting solid and consistent church teaching on the evils of abortion in the name of modernity, or teaching that marriage is whatever two (or more) people want to make it mean, regardless of the impacts on children and society?

Rafferty should keep things in perspective. Yes, things look bad for Christianity in materialist China and secular Scandinavia, but probably not as bad as they did in Rome in A.D. 70.

thomas clark
tokyo

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.