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ASIAN MISSION IN POSTMODERN TIMES

Updated: May 09, 2000 05:00 PM GMT
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Father Gianni Criveller of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions is lecturer of mission theology at the Holy Spirit Seminary College of Philosophy and Theology in Hong Kong.

He works as researcher on Christianity and China at the Hong Kong diocese´s Holy Spirit Study Centre and has lectured in several major universities in mainland China. Father Criveller discusses his view on Asian mission in postmodern times in the following commentary.

Postmodernity, like everything worldly, is an ambivalent phenomenon, presenting positive and negative aspects. Its positive aspect lies in its being able to overcome the arrogant pretensions of modern reason, science and ideologies. Its negative aspect rests in its inclination toward decadence, nihilism and death of the late/postmodern generation.

Globalization, with its characteristics of preponderant control exercised by international finance and communication centers, is also a decisive trait of postmodernity.

Postmodernism and globalization are influencing Asia much more than it is generally admitted. The financial centers and communications, which are in the hands of a few individuals and companies, in fact control the life of millions of people in the entire world.

Hong Kong in particular is very much a postmodern city with its history of colonialism and deprivation of identity. In perfect postmodern style, making money and avoiding politics is paramount here. Its economy has less to do with production and more with investment of capital and the stock market.

Many Hong Kong people, both Chinese and expatriates, lack a deep sense of identity and roots. A high percentage of families are divided, in Hong Kong itself, or between Hong Kong and mainland China, or Hong Kong and other countries. People are often on the move, either internally in Hong Kong, to China or other countries. The ambiguous formula "one country two systems" tells a lot of the basic uncertainty of the social and political status of things. All these factors contribute to the presence of typical "postmodern" ailments as loneliness, depression, fear about the future and pollution.

New Age thinking, considered the religion of the post-modern era, has profound ramifications in the mentality and behaviors of many contemporaries all around the world, some of whom may not be conscious adherents of postmodernism or New Age ideas. The phenomenon of globalization has made the impact of postmodernism and New Age thought universal.

New Age and a number of other "new religions" capitalize on postmodern attitudes, like their refusal of strong thoughts, ideologies and conventional religious institutions. New Age shares with postmodernism the concerns for the environment, nuclear power, health and feminism. They also share the assumption that beliefs are secondary to experience, that they last as long as they are useful, and are a matter of preference and not of truth.

Postmodern people, isolated and lonely in this difficult and complex society, are ready to accept the idea of looking inwardly for solutions. In a world "in crisis," New Age offers solutions to be found "within yourself." "The only way out is in," as New Agers will put it.

According to the New Age worldview, there is no distinction between creation and created reality, between humans and nature, between humans and God. Such distinctions are illusions. The Ultimate Principle may assume several material and concrete appearances in history. These manifestations are not real, rather they are just an illusory phenomenon, having a mere symbolic value. The enlightened ones of all the great religions, Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, and others, have taught an experience of the same oneness.

There are many paths to one truth, many methods to become one with the One, but the differences are superficial and external. No individual or collectivities or churches possess a monopoly of the truth. This is an attitude shared with postmodernism.

Fundamental in the New Age interpretation of Christ is the distinction between Jesus (a mere human vessel) and the Christ (variously defined divine, cosmic and impersonal entity, the "Christ principle"). Jesus is just one of the many appearances or manifestations of God throughout the ages.

Such teachers appear regularly throughout history to facilitate self-awareness of one´s inherent divinity. Jesus was believed to have embodied the Christ-principle, fully realizing his Christ-nature. But Jesus was not a savior to humankind. He merely "showed the way."

Salvation is not a work of Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected, but rather "your own Christ Self is your savior." Human suffering is just a result of ignorance or of the law of Karma. Inner enlightenment replaces faith as obedience to God. The liberation of one´s creative potential takes the place of salvation, and prayer is transformed into a journey deep into oneself.

If people are joining New Age ideas because they are searching for something to fill their spiritual needs, as they shop around for various religious options, one might be willing to admit that, humanly speaking, New Age has a more suitable answer to the postmodern condition.

In times of weak thought, where different beliefs are matters of preference and not of truth, preaching the Good News of the Gospel appears to many to make no sense, an outdated, arrogant and ignorant attitude. Evangelizing in such a context is not easy. This might be one of the reasons why many, even among the missionaries, have given up the direct preaching of Christ.

In the last 30 years or so, particularly in the Catholic Church, inculturation and interreligious dialogue have been considered the challenges of mission in Asia.

I would say that the person of Jesus, the uniqueness of Christ, has recently become the real challenge of mission in our time, especially in Asia, where there is a particular awareness of religious pluralism.

Evangelization must preserve the "theological" singularity of Jesus Christ and be faithful to the paschal kerigma, to the "diversity," to the scandal and foolishness of the Cross.

The Christian faith cannot be presented simply as a religious answer to human questions and needs. Such reduction will collocate human questions prior and above the gratuitous grace of God, who loved us and came to us on his own initiative and in a way contrary to human expectations.

Since in postmodern-New Age context experience is valued very highly, personal testimony is the most valuable means of communication with postmodern people. Christ´s disciples and missionaries should show to the people a life inserted into the mystery of Christ, who is neither substitutable nor replaceable.

The experience of faith as deep immersion into the mystery of life might sound more meaningful than a rational discourse on the truth of Christianity.

Jesus Christ is true savior because I have personally experienced that in my life, and I witness and share this gift with joy. The testimonial approach means that believers and missionaries should reveal the transformation that the Gospel has brought into their lives.

END

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