07 October 2007

An outsider looking in

My column for this week's issue of Vox Bikol.

WHEN Kristian Cordero approached me to do a review of Fr. Andrew Recepcion’s “God’s Global Household -- A Theology of Mission in the Context of Globalization,” I hesitated initially, considering that I belong to a different faith: I am a Jehovah’s Witness.

Kristian, however, said the author wouldn’t mind having a non-Catholic do it; after all, we are neighbors at the Vox Bikol opinion page. (Come to think of it, the book launch is practically a get-together of the paper’s staff.) Having said that, let me proceed to my main task this afternoon.

One, as can be expected of most published dissertations, the book is not an easy read. In this age of infotainment -- which is how some senators characterized, for instance, the recent hearings on the ZTE broadband deal -- the generation who grew up with Harry Potter will find it “heavy” stuff.

Nonetheless, if you are that Harry Potter fan who found great relief in the fact that -- after Book Seven -- the young wizard and his friends survived Voldemort and his minions, and good ultimately triumphed over evil, there is a strong likelihood that you must already be in college and will be asked to research into the phenomenon called “globalization.”

Well, have no fear: the first third of Recepcion’s book neatly summarizes the various aspects of the debates on globalization, something that Wikipedia does not offer. In 50 or so pages, he will tour you around the critical issues attending the debate, including Huntington’s now famous clash of civilizations thesis; the theories that attempt to explain it; as well as the paradigms that help clarify our present understanding of the phenomenon.

The bottomline, if I’m not mistaken, is represented by that ancient Indian fable about the six blind men of Hindustan -- better understanding can only be made possible by looking at an issue from multiple dimensions. Or better still, the synergistic concept that the whole is greater than sum total of its parts, especially when informed by knowledge from the Divine.

Of course, the book will certainly be a most useful guide for most mainline Christian churches insofar as modern missionary work is concerned. But it is precisely with the rest of the book that I am ambivalent about, mainly because of the reason I pointed out at the outset.

On the one hand, I find it remarkable that the Catholic Church has rediscovered “missionary theology” only in recent times, when smaller denominations in the margins have been doing so, driven by the mandate to “preach the good news of the kingdom in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations.” (Mat 24:14)

On the other, the theology of mission it proposes -- built around the doctrine of the Trinity -- is quite alien to us inhabiting the fringes, unitarians as we are whose beliefs are more akin with those advanced by Arius of Alexandria. In a big way, therefore, if the objective is to promote dialog across various global divides, this approach is rather exclusive.

Nonetheless, notwithstanding the absence of a long tradition of catholic scholarly work -- to which Recepcion’s opus properly belongs -- we outsiders looking in find great comfort in the following passage from Mark’s account of the Gospel:

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?"

"The most important one," Jesus answered, "is this: Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbour as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these." (Mark 12:28-31)
Come to think of it, living out these commandments can bring about at least two probable outcomes: (1) at the very least, the same global household envisioned by Recepcion in an increasingly globalized world, and (2) beyond that, for us who believe differently -- if rewarded by the risk we took on taking the road less traveled, to borrow from Frost -- the scriptural promise of everlasting life in an earthly paradise.

Remarks during the God’s Global Household book launch held at the Madrigal Center Amphitheater, Ateneo de Naga University, on October 6, 2007.