Friday, October 24, 2008

The Meta-Narrative

October 24, 2008

Two books have kept me wondering about the feasibility of Christianity providing a ‘meta-narrative’ or story that is at least potentially for everyone in a pluralistic age. The first is from William T. Cavanaugh, Theopolitical Imagination: Discovering the Liturgy as a Political Act in an Age of Global Consumerism (T&T Clark, 2000) who argues that the Christian Story transcends time and space (in a sense) most particularly in the Eucharist which itself transcends geopolitical boundaries, class distinctions and the like. The other is by Lamin Saneh, Disciples of All Nations: Pillars of World Christianity (Oxford, 2008) who explores what amounts to a shift in Christianity’s ‘center of gravity’ from the West to the post-colonial world. In the course of his encyclopedic work he makes the case that part of the genius of Christianity (and part of what contrasts it with some other major strains of religion) is its use of the vernacular and its consequent ‘translatability’ allowing it to take root in may differing forms in many differing cultures. In different ways, both authors are retaining the possibility of entering into serious conversation with people of other faiths and none with both a proper humility and also a sense that our story could be for others in the grace of God.

So far, so good. But where this begins to become problematic for me is when we come up against someone who also believes that their story is for everybody, that it ‘trumps’ all other stories, and is the pre-eminent vehicle for the will and grace of God. Is the ‘Christian stance’ to sit by and let that happen (as will happen in Europe as a matter of demographics)? Barring some major shift it seems that the majority of people born in Europe with in a couple of generations will be born into a Muslim household. Or is our stance protectionism, as in the various proposals for a European constitution defining Europe as ‘Christian’?

This is a similar concern as that within Christianity. I am not terribly worried about the end of Western hegemony and see it offering some real possibilities for the development of faith in our time. I am not worried insofar as I see such ‘hegemony’ as problematic for people of faith. It is the issue that Lamin Saneh spends time sorting out as to when missionaries were purveyors of Western colonial culture and when (as happened more frequently than we might realize) they stood in opposition to such in favor of the development of indigenous expressions of the faith. I don’t mind letting go of some kind of coercive ‘power’ for the good of the whole, but I do mind letting go of it so that you or anyone else can have it. That is a real issue of faith and a real stumbling block to my full embrace of a pluralistic vision for the world. All direction and help welcome.

No comments: