Friday, April 28, 2006

My Politics: Faith's Place Therein (Part III)

I closed yesterday's post by noting that while we are to submit to authorities, we do have some freedom to engage in the political realm (including critiques of the government) that early Christians did not have. This is because of a non-scriptural document: The U.S. Constitution.

Now, why, you may ask, after relying on scripture to make the point that we are to submit to authority am I turning to The Constitution to make the point that we can, scripturally, speak out against our government? Great question. I'm glad I asked.

The First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees Americans "the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." In other words, the government of the United States is granting citizens the freedom to be politically active, even to the point of criticizing leaders, or demanding that wrongs be righted.

This is a freedom those in "Bible times" never had granted to them by their government. But it is because of this right, enshrined in our nation's guiding document, that submission to authorities in America today allows for behavior not allowed under other forms of government (say, colonial Britain or ancient Rome.) Things that are illegal in other nations, present and past, are not illegal here, hence do not fall under the purview of the "submit to authorities" rule.

Does this Constitutional right outweigh the Biblical injunction to submit to authorities though? Another good question. It doesn't outweigh scripture. But because our government allows for certain forms of protest and political involvement as guaranteed by the Constitution, scripture does not prohibit behavior here that would qualify as "not submitting to authority" in other places.

This may seem rather technical, and I'd say that's true. But scriptural support for this position is found in the examples of Paul and Daniel. Both these men submitted to authorities considered unjust by our standards. Yet each also worked within the system they had to request better treatment and their rights. Neither bucked authority, and both submitted to it. But while submitting, they pursued the avenues of debate and behavior that was legally allowed. Daniel worked through the guard to find a way to obey both man and God. He also worked within the system to get his friends into positions of influence. He didn't complain about his situation, he worked within it, thereby honoring both his earthly authority and God (the one who established that earthly authority.) The only time Daniel disobeyed man's law was when it directly contradicted God's law - but Daniel accepted authority's right to punish him for disobeying the law of the land. Submission to God came first, but he didn't rebel against unfair punishment.

Paul likewise advised submission, but also leveraged his legal rights in regards to being tried by Caesar for crimes he allegedly committed. He did submit to Roman authority, but insisted that authority be used in the proper, legal manner as proscribed in Roman law.

In each case, these men stayed true to the idea of submitting to government. They also, though, took advantage of legal means to better their situations where possible. That is the key. We as Christians do not have the right to break laws. Paul and Daniel worked within the system, and accepted the risks of being treated unjustly, rather than stand against authority.

So, we can engage in lawful protest, lawful criticism (though as with all things, we need to remember to speak in love even when critiquing our leaders; they were put in their position for God's purposes) and lawful debate about things political. We can't break the law, though, unless that law directly contradicts one of God's laws, and even then we should be ready to face the earthly consequences of those actions. We're blessed here to be able to offer up defenses and hope on the mercy of the court in such cases, but where said mercy doesn't materialize, we need to accept authority's rule.

Next time I'll start to get a bit more practical. Since we know that scripture allows us to engage in politics (as that's legal in this country), how does that work itself out?

Have a good weekend, and God bless!

Thursday, April 27, 2006

My Politics: Faith's Place Therein (Part II)

In Tuesday's post I started talking about politics and scripture, noting that my primary read on the texts speaking to our role in politics start from two key priorities: God's work takes priority over politics (though hopefully the two can coincide), and we are to submit to authorities placed over us - even if they're not so nice to Christians.

The first point should be obvious. Jesus was about His "Father's business" instead of about instigating rebellion against Rome. The second point is more contentious. We often think we have the right to break unjust laws, but scripture doesn't really allow that in all circumstances. As I noted Tuesday, the only time we're "allowed" to disobey laws are when they directly contradict a scriptural command.

The Bible contains many examples of people of faith who submitted to authorities despite injustice. Joseph submitted to the authority of Potiphar and the Pharaoh despite being unjustly sold into slavery. Daniel submitted to the Babylonians (and Medes and Persians) who kept the Israelites in bondage. Paul submitted to the authority of Rome, and encouraged others to do the same. And above all, Jesus submitted to Rome's authority to crucify Him despite His complete innocence.

There is a reason for this demand. God Himself has set up governments for His purposes. Submitting to them is therefore submitting to God (again, noting that any government requiring citizens to act/speak/think contrary to God's direct revelation must be disobeyed due to the precedence of God's will over mankind's - although as noted in this text, Peter and John didn't say they shouldn't suffer consequences; they indicated that the authorities had the right to judge whether they should have obeyed God or man, but Peter and John were going to obey God despite the authorities' judgment.) Jesus was actually submitting to His Father when submitting to Pilate, the one to whom God granted authority for a purpose.

Now, of course, the argument can be made that those were different times. That is true: it was much more dangerous to rebel openly back then, at least compared to modern America. However, there is nothing in scripture to indicate that submission is no longer required when people are freer than in 1st century Rome.

The difference between then and now, though, that does matter is the form of government we have. In our democratic republic, we have a government that itself grants the right to "buck authority" to some extent. In other words, we're freer to counsel against one government action or another than were the original disciples. This brings me to my final point about political involvement, which is something of a corrolary to our responsibility to submit to authority. When it is not against the law to do so, we are certainly able to use the processes outlined by our authorities to address and demand resolution of our grievances.

As this post is already getting long, I'll go into more detail tomorrow. But as a preview, I'll just say that Paul and Daniel, while submitting to unjust authorities, certainly were not shy about using legal options available to them to request better treatment. And in America, so long as one obeys applicable laws (remember: lawbreaking is NEVER scripturally condoned unless lawkeeping directly violates God's word) we are free, both scripturally and legally, to attempt to influence authorities and question their judgment. In short, we can submit in such a way that we can fight injustice and oppression in ways people couldn't in the past.

God bless!

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

How to Find the Northern 'Burbs - 4/26

Well, apparently people are still using search engines to find their way to this blog. Here are the latest that leave me scratching my head. I'm not sure how these maps lead to the Northern 'burbs...

  • free instructions for making bible flannelgraphs Yessir, I'm a secret Betty Lukens pirate.

  • +"global warming" +"does it really exist" Actually, I'll refer this to Alice who has a post on the topic. I tend towards the "maybe, but not likely due to man-made causes" camp.

  • the bible paul save hell "trade places" Proof positive search engines don't require coherent sentences.

  • celibacy quiz Of all the quizzes I've done, this isn't one of 'em.

  • biblical roll of the husband I have too large a roll, but I'm trying to lose it. Or did you mean role?

  • big bubs Again, I'm trying to skinny up here. Give me some time!

  • teaching in northern canada Actually, the Sunday School/Awana clubs I teach are a bit south of there...

  • who started euthanasia The same guy who let the dogs out?

  • what does nbb mean It means I'm too lazy to always type out "Northern 'burbs blog."



And blatantly ripping off the idea from Ed, you can also find the NBB via this week's Christian Carnival at Brain Cramps for God. Plus lots more good stuff there.

God bless!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

My Politics: Faith's Place Therein (Part I)

Yesterday I kicked off another series (hey, it's what I do.) This series, as yet still lacking an agenda, is going to be about politics. As I said then, I find politics fascinating. And I really love this country. I can worship as I please, speak as I please, blog as I please, travel as I please. We have more blessings than any nation in history. There is much to commend the U.S.A. and part of that is directly attributable to many wonderful politicians (although ultimately all blessings are from God of course.) However, there is also much about the U.S.A. that does not make me proud, and again politics plays a part there.

I can't think of much in life that's not affected by politics. In this way, politics are much like faith. A person's faith, in the form of one's worldview, informs everything that one does. This includes politics. Faith (or a lack thereof) guides what one believes about politics, and how one should engage in political activity or dialogue. I would even go so far as to say that one can't separate one's worldview or faith from any aspect of one's life. We may think we can compartmenatlize like that, but in reality we can't. The classic example is our last president. President Clinton's defenders in the Monica Lewinsky days said he could separate his personal life from his professional life. That lie was quickly shown for what it was. His personal lie to his wife became a public, political lie to the nation. The personal became the political.

So if our faith informs our politics, and I'm talking about my politics, I need to start with my faith and what it says about politics. Some of this will be a bit surprising or controversial to some. So be it. I appreciate any questions or discussion.

So what does my faith say about politics? First, it says that politics should not be my highest priority, regardless of my interest in it. Jesus commanded us to make disciples and help the poor. He told us to leave the work of government to the government and to focus on the things of God. God is to be our priority above all things, including politics.

My faith also tells me that submission to authorities is demanded in all circumstances save one: when the politicians try to mandate I act contrary to scripture, I must obey God above government. However, even here I need to accept that there will be earthly consequences to my choice. Many a disciple went to his death (or her death as persecution against Christians increased over time) for obeying God over a conflicting law. The key is that in these cases, disciples died for disobeying man, not God. They submitted to their government in all things until told to disobey God.

This leads to some interesting conclusions, one of which relates to the very founding of this country. Scripture is filled with directions given to people living under persecution, yet not one of these directions is to overthrow or rebel against the government. In fact, the Word is clear that whatever our circumstances, we are to submit and be good witnesses. Even slaves were not commanded to seek freedom first (though that's not a bad thing to seek), but rather to instead use their position to serve God: that is what's paramount.

Which brings me to the American Revolution. Honestly, I see no justification for the American Revolution in scripture. Now, before you light the torches, let me say I'm glad that the U.S.A. exists. And I don't doubt the intentions of the Founding Fathers. But I think that starting a war that killed many people was a violation of scriptures like Romans 13. In a Roman empire that was much more unjust and oppressive than 1776 Britain, Jesus did not call for overthrow. Nor did Paul or Peter or any other NT authors. They called for submission to authority unless submission meant disobedience to God. And when such occassions arise, we're not to rebel, we're to simply obey God and let the civil chips fall where they may.

Now, this may lead you to think I'm all about meek submission even when my "rights" are being violated. To an extent, this is the case, but it is not the complete picture. I believe that where the government allows for an opportunity to offer a defense in the legal system, Christians should have no problem taking advantage of it, ala Paul working within the Roman legal system. The twist here comes from the structure of our nation, where I am (in theory) part of the governing authorities as an elector in a democratic republic. Some forms of protest in this country are, in fact, not rebellion but designed-in components of democracy. To the question of how my faith leads me to behave in a democracy (beyond submission to authorities and prioritizing the things of God above politics) will be the subject of the next post. Following that will be a post or two on the church/state question, after which I think I'll turn towards more specifics along the lines of why I'm an independent, political affiliations, and perhaps a Christian perspective on an issue or two. If there's anything else you'd like me to address - even if only to provide fodder for mockery - let me know.

God bless!
...

By the way, for a little fun, here's a worldview quiz for you. I found it interesting the quiz didn't label me a funadmentalist!

You scored as Cultural Creative. Cultural Creatives are probably the newest group to enter this realm. You are a modern thinker who tends to shy away from organized religion but still feels as if there is something greater than ourselves. You are very spiritual, even if you are not religious. Life has a meaning outside of the rational.

Cultural Creative

75%

Postmodernist

56%

Fundamentalist

50%

Romanticist

50%

Existentialist

31%

Modernist

6%

Materialist

6%

Idealist

6%

What is Your World View? (updated)
created with QuizFarm.com

Monday, April 24, 2006

Bloggin' Political

Well, a few of you have asked for it. So the rest of you are stuck with it, I guess.

I've had an interest in politics since high school. I've found competing theories and political wrangling to be fascinating. At times I've even thought it would be fun to run for office, and then I remember I have a family who I wouldn't want to put through that and the idea passes on.

But of late politics has seemed to get less interesting. Perhaps it's becaue there really aren't any surprises out there. We once had great politicians. Now we have archetypes. At least this is how I see things, and I'll admit I'm only going on 20-some years of experience. Perhaps it's always been this way, and it was only my relative inexperience that led me to believe things are less interesting today than even 10 years ago.

I am a politicial independent. I have voted for Republicans, Democrats and Independence Party candidates (and even one Green party candidate a while back), although I will admit I've voted for Republicans and Democrats much more often than I have for members of other parties. I've also voted Republican more often than Democratic, although certainly not overwhelmingly so. My philosophy is to look for the preferred candidate for a position, not for a political party.

This has led to some interesting conversations with some of my conservative brethren/sisterthren (is that a word?) who feel obligated to vote straight Republican tickets. These are always cordial, of course, but sometimes I just get this feeling I'm considered an odd duck.

But there's much more to this than what I'd like to post here today, so I'm doing another series, this one on politics. I'll cover personal political views, but also hopefully touch on what I see as the Biblical approach to dealing with politics. It will be less structured than some of my other series (ha - like those are structured!) as I'm pretty much working agenda-less for this one. I hope it's interesting, but if not, well...I guess I'll hear about that too.

As always, I thank you for comments and emails. However, since politics (more than most other topics sans sports and religion) can get people riled up, I'd ask that you please remember your civility. And please call me on it if I fail to respond in kind.

God bless!

Ron

Friday, April 21, 2006

Meme-ories...

Ed "tagged" me (what since I have an "R" in my name) with this meme, and since I have such profound respect for him, I'll do my best to do the question justice.

Name 10 of life's simple pleasures:

  1. Hearing "Daddy!" screamed joyfully by two little girls when I get home from anywhere

  2. Hearing my wife say she loves me

  3. Prayer

  4. Sunny, warm days in Minnesota

  5. Crisp, cold days in Minnesota

  6. The feel of a well-hit golf shot - Or so I hear

  7. Turning a double-play

  8. A hammock, some lemonade, and Herb Carneal on the radio

  9. Some time to read

  10. Seeing my family snuggled up asleep at night, knowing we were blessed with another full day


  11. So...who to tag, who to tag. Quite the conundrum. I think I'll take the tagging portion of this off, but if you want to answer the question please let me know in the comments when you post the answers!

    God bless, and have a great weekend!

Thursday, April 20, 2006

How to Find the Northern 'Burbs - 4/20

You'd think finding the northern suburbs of a major metropolitan area would be easy. And for most people you'd be right. Finding a blog written by someone living in said suburbs, though, is somewhat easier. After all, instead of typing the URL of this blog into the address bar of your favorite browser, you can type these phrases into a search engine and get here:

  • barber bug fever: I'm not sure what a barber bug is, but during my recent illness I probably hallucinated a few...

  • wives in bikinis: I'm hoping someone wasn't looking for pictures...or guessing I had more than one wife!

  • blindness sucks: I imagine it would.

  • case of involuntary euthanasia: Involuntary euthanasia? Isn't that also called, um...homicide?

  • marriage sex blog: Am I the Dr. Ruth of the northern 'burbs?

  • position of sex: Okay, now I'm getting weirded out, to borrow a passe colloquialism. Apparently the 'burbs are adding a red light district I didn't know about.

  • teaching in northern canada blog: Northern Twin Cities, Northern Canada...po-tay-to, po-tah-to. We both like our hockey and fishing. And it can get cold out, at least according to people too wimpy to enjoy the wonder of below zero temps.


I've also received a few searches regarding Jay Leno's Jaywalking segment, which a few days ago covered Biblical topics. Like the original (which I blogged about here) it showed that there are at least a few Americans who need a Bible refresher course.

Not to steal an idea from Ed, but you can also find the NBB via this week's Christian Carnival, which can coincidentally be found at Ed's blog. Much more there too...read and enjoy!

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Trippin' 'Round the 'Sphere - 4/19/06 Edition

Since I'm soon to start a short series on politics, figured I'd give you an early look at where I stand:

Want to know your affiliation? Take the World's Smallest Political Quiz.
...

I'm also kinda quirky, but not terribly so. Perhaps that's the borderline libertarian in me?
Your Quirk Factor: 55%

You're a pretty quirky person, but you're just normal enough to hide it.
Congratulations - you've fooled other people into thinking you're just like them!

(HT: Blogotional.)
...

Review time...

I'm working through The Politically Incorrect Guide To Islam and the Crusades and so far it's an interesting read. I didn't know this much about the history of Islam/Jihad/Crusades, although I did know that the Crusades were not quite the Christian evil so popularly "understood" today. I'd concur with Challies' review and recommend the book. My rating is 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Speaking of books, I just finished The Da Vinci Code during my week of strep throat. Perhaps it was the fever, but I was mildly disappointed with the writing. I can see how, if people accept this fictional work as factual (at least insofar as history is concerned, if not the plot) that it presents an interesting theory. But the writing was pedestrian, and the "thriller" genre has been done better. That said, the book was not bad if you can get past the historical inaccuracies. I'm looking forward to renting the movie. My rating is 3 out of 5 stars.

We also took the girls to see Ice Age: The Meltdown. The girls loved seeing their first "movie in a theater" and Ice Age wasn't a bad route to go. The first Ice Age was a wonderful movie. This one slightly less so. There were some funny moments, and for kids there's not much difference between the two Ice Ages. For adults, though, the laugh quotient wasn't quite as high, and the story wasn't nearly as interesting. The animation was, as with Ice Age I, very good. Rating? 3.5 stars out of 5.
...

Ten years for Lileks? Muy congrats. I didn't even know what a blog was four years ago, and he's had something akin to one going for a decade. I think the term is "early adopter."
...

Interesting maps of religion in America. (HT: Blogotional.)
...

Stand to Reason has some interesting presentations on The Da Vinci Code, and some other Bible reliability topics. Check 'em out!

God bless!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Free the Dalits: So What Can I Do?

I hope this series on the Dalits has been educational. I think most people in this country have at least heard of the "untouchables" of India, but in my own experience there is little in the way of full understanding of what Dalits go through. This series has barely touched the surface in so many ways. I have, though, outlined the basics of the Dalit situation. As way of review, this is where we've been:

Knowledge is good, but if you can't apply it, knowledge isn't really useful. I would like, therefore, to end this series by pointing to some resources where you can (a) learn more, and (b) contribute if you feel God leading you to do so. I'm not going to get preachy here (a risk you take when reading the blog of a pastor's kid), and I know that the past 18 months or so have seen multiple tragedies that have taken your time and attention. Katrina, tsunamis, earthquakes and war; there are many places to direct your time and attention, and I wouldn't presume to tell you where your priorities should lie in giving.

But I do want to ask that you consider doing something for the Dalits. There are more Dalits than Iraq war victims, than southern-U.S. hurricane victims, than tsunami victims (and many Dalits were victims of the tsunami too.) The problem isn't as well known - hence this series - but it is ongoing. We can't forget the chronic problems of this world for the acute flare-ups and "tragedies of the month."

As I mentioned yesterday, there is hope for Dalit freedom. That hope lies most strongly in a few places: education, end of caste, and in a faith that tells the Dalits God loves them.

You can help provide education for Dalit children through Gospel for Asia and The Dalit Freedom Network. By teaching children English, these organizations help provide hope for the next generation of Dalits.

You can help end caste by praying, and if so led, by supporting those who are speaking out against caste. Caedmon's Call, for instance, are speaking out against caste, and using their music as a platform from which to speak against oppression. Write letters to government representatives encouraging them to come out against oppression in all forms, such as happened at the U.N. at Durban a few years back. Seek out and get involved with groups that work to end human rights violations.

And you can help Dalits find the God who loves them. These are a people who've been told for centuries that God hates them, that they're not worthy to enter the temple. Many Dalits have therefore left Hinduism for Islam, Buddhism and Christianity. Consider supporting organizations like AICC, OM India, and Gospel for Asia who are trying to show people the love of God. God has a heart for the poor and downtrodden. Organizations like this are trying to demonstrate that love (not preach it - demonstrate it) to people who've not before heard that God loves them.

And you can help the Dalits in person. Find a church taking people to India on relief or mission trips. Find Indian citizens who've moved to your neighborhood and befriend them. Learn what you can, and God will lead you to places your unique gifts can help. My wife is already wanting to return to India to work with the Dalits. It's truly something that I cannot recommend highly enough. The change in her life has been wonderful - and she was already pretty wonderful to begin with.

I closed yesterday's post with two stories involving wells, one from scripture one from India. As Jesus said, at the well talking to the Samaritan woman, the harvest is ripe. There are millions of Dalits seeking the God who loves them, rejecting the gods who want nothing to do with them. Jesus loves the Dalits so much He died for them. What better message to bring to a downtrodden people? Jesus loves the Dalits so much He told us to feed the poor and help the oppressed. How can we love them any less?

Thanks for your consideration and patience through this series.

God bless!
...

To learn more:

Monday, April 17, 2006

Free the Dalits: Hope

Apologies for being gone last week. My takeaway is that childhood diseases, like strep throat, should not be allowed in adults. That's all I'm saying. But, I'm back upright, and can even speak a little again. So, back to my series on the Dalits. To refresh your memory, this is what we've covered to date:

Hope? There's hope? After all, I've already pointed out that, historically even many Christians and Muslims haven't shown much interest in abolishing caste. And despite the recent example of a Dalit ascending to India's presidency, the number of Dalits provided the opportunity to succeed, let alone thrive, remains abysmal. Fifty-some years after caste has been deemed illegal, the government still practices discrimination against Dalits - even in light of serious tragedy.

But hope there is. Dr. Joseph D'souza is the president of the All India Christian Council, and the Dalit Freedom Network. In his book, Dalit Freedom: Now and Forever, he outlines an agenda for moving Dalits into freedom. The steps he outlines are these:

  • Work with Dalit leadership in support of Dalit freedom. Dalits and their leaders are stepping up and demanding freedom; they can't, though, go it alone.

  • Provide English language education for Dalit children. English is the means by which Indians can find better jobs, ergo better lives.

  • Work with Dalit leadership to find an alternate spiritual ideology for Dalits, one that does not include oppression. Hinduism's ties to caste are leading large numbers of Dalits to leave that faith for others.

  • Address human rights violations against Dalits. Raising this with the U.N. is one means of doing this, raising awareness with the world another.

  • Affirm and redeem Dalit culture. Dalits shouldn't have to lose their culture to avoid oppression.

  • Utilize affirmative action programs to "catch up" Dalits. If used well, and not as a means of guilt-assuaging welfare, such systems can help provide opportunities as the next generation of Dalits becomes educated.


These are all worthy goals, and there is much we can do to help accomplish them. I'll discuss that tomorrow; indeed, we can do quite a bit, collectively, to provide hope for Dalits seeking true freedom.

Back in the first post in this series I talked about the story of the well. Dalits in many villages are not allowed to drink from the same well as upper caste members, or they must destroy any cups they use when drinking from public water sources so that upper caste members won't risk pollution by using a cup used by a Dalit. As Jennifer noted in her comment, this brings to mind another story of a well, and it is that story that I think brings the most hope for the Dalit people.

At that well, Jesus talks with a woman of ill reputation, an outcast from the chosen people of Israel, a Samaritan. He tells her that the savior has come, not just for the Jews, but also for her and her people. He tells His disciples that the harvest is ripe - and this as the Samaritans come to the well to hear this Jesus speak. Because they came to the well and heard Jesus, they believed and received the greatest freedom of all. It is this hope that I think is the greatest the Dalits (and all of us, really) have. The hope of freedom and salvation through Jesus Christ.

While we work to allow the Dalits to come freely to the well to drink water, a goal towards which we absolutely must strive, we should remember to offer them the living water from that other well. Therein lies the hope of us all.

Tomorrow I'll talk about ways you can help Dalits today take steps towards freedom and equality with all Indians, as well as resources for more information.

Until then, God bless.

Monday, April 10, 2006

This blog...

...has taken ill. Apparently the good virus that waylaid the family for five days at a time has gotten around to me (making me wonder what it was that I had the first time.)

So,blogging may not be frequent over the next few days. Apologies.

And God bless:)

Free the Dalits: The Here and Now

I'm at about the 2/3 mark in this series on the Dalits of India, so time for a checkpoint. So far, I've covered the following agenda points:

This brings us to today, both literally and figuratively. I think the documentation of caste-related abuse of Dalits is fairly consistent historically: the Dalits have been mistreated for ages, held down by a system that makes distinctions based on race and class, and that is abetted by prevelant Hindu teaching.

But as I've pointed out, in 1950, the Indian constitution was ratified, and that document outlaws discrimination. As Americans know from our post-slavery days, abolishing the remnants of oppression can take time, but isn't the situation in India much better now than 50-some years ago?

Yes. And no.

In some respects, treatment of the Dalits has improved over the past half-century. There has been a Dalit president for instance. And the literacy rate for Dalits is growing in absolute terms. The United Nations has noted, if not enthusiastically enjoined the conversation about, the Dalit plight at the 2001 Durban World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. Urban areas tend to show much less discrimination against Dalits than in times past, and the reservation system acts to guarantee Dalits some amount of representation in education and certain professions - akin to affirmative action here in America.

However, when you look beyond the surface, Dalits are still very much an oppressed people - especially in rural India, where the vast majority of Dalits live. Even some of the items to which I linked above, which point out advances for Dalits, highlight problems. While Dalit literacy is rising in real terms, the gap between Dalit literacy rates and the rates of non-Dalits is growing; that is, the upper castes' gains in literacy are much higher than those of the Dalits. The reservation system has opened some doors, but only applies to the public sector. (Interestingly, there are many Indians now arguing against the reservation system due to the inherent unfairness of judging people based on caste rather than on merit. Same argument conservatives here use against affirmative action.)

But it's not just literacy or economic opportunity. Stories like this are too easy to find,and these just from the past year or so:

In short, while some advances have been made towards equality for Dalits, much is yet to be done. Very much. And unfortunately, this isn't just an Indian problem, it's also a Christian church problem. A large number of Dalits have left Hinduism for Christianity. This is a good thing, but such conversions don't solve problems for all Dalits. Especially since the church isn't exactly running away from caste. This is a huge area of concern for me since, as the linked article says, Christianity is egalitarian. We shouldn't be engaged in divisive practices that discriminate.

But this same church is also a source of hope for the Dalits. To that I turn tomorrow.

God bless!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Free the Dalits: History of Caste

Before I get to today's topic, I want to make a general observation about my fly-by on the Dalits and Caste. I am trying to get across some basic information, but as this is a blog I'm constrained a bit. Therefore my posts are necessarily going to skim the surface; Caste and the culture of India are incredibly complex, and the interplay between the myriad jatis and their associated dharmas is much beyond the scope of this series. I'd encourage you to visit some of the resources to which I link to learn more.

So far in this series, I've introduced the Dalits and talked "a little" about the caste system in India. Today I want to address the history of caste in India, or the "where it came from" question.

The area we consider to be northern India was settled earlier than 2,300 B.C. by a group of people known as the Harappans. The Harappa civilization was relatively advanced, and from this group the roots of Hinduism first formed. This civilization lasted until, for some reason I haven't yet found, it began fading out in about 1,700 B.C. This left a vacuum into which a group known as the Aryans moved in circa 1,500 B.C. These Aryans were cattle farmers, and came into India from the northwest looking for new territory on which to raise their cattle1. The Aryans, by most accounts, formalized the initial caste structure as a way to control the indiginous peoples, and to separate the native Indians from the conquering Aryans2.

The initial caste structure was not as rigid as it would later become. There were three main caste groups at first, and as the Aryans moved southwards and conquered additional peoples, the two lowest groups (the Shudras and out-castes - now Dalits) were brought into the caste system3. The Aryans used caste to strengthen their power, and keep the native Indians (Dravidians) under their thumb. The Aryans, too had lighter skin color, which made higher caste members physically identifiable4. Race was a differentiating factor in caste.

Over the next millenia or two, India dealt with wars and changes of control, seeing Greek and Pandyan rulers, as well as Indian rulers. In the 3rd - 5th centuries A.D., the Gupta dynasty emerged, and it was at this time that the caste notions of purity and the diminished role of women were developed5.

Since that time, the caste system has remained fairly stable for a couple of reasons. First, the Hindu notion of karma served to act as a control by teaching caste members that their lot in life was determined in earlier lives. If they obeyed their dharma in the current life, they could be reincarnated as a higher caste member. Second, the higher caste members controlled the military, the leadership and management of the company, as well as the educational insitutions. They were able to maintain control by enforcing discrimination and strict control of power. Religious teachings of Hinduism were used to successful effect by higher castes who used the myriad gods of Hinduism and caste divisions to keep the castes separated and unable to unite against those in power.

This is not to say there weren't attempts to change the caste system. Various attempts were made by individuals and groups, especially from other faiths, to break the cycle of oppression of lower castes. Buddha and Mahavira (founder of Jainism) fought caste in the 6th century B.C., for instance6. However, even the majority of those in other faiths (like Christianity and Islam) did not rebel against caste. Many Christians and Muslims, even those who converted from Hinduism, embraced the structure of caste. And while the British did reduce some of the more egregious problems of caste (such as, sometimes and not universally, sati), they did not eliminate caste altogether.

So for the better part of two millenia, caste remained fairly stable. Then, in the first half of the 20th century, during India's last decades before independence, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, a Dalit activist, became a driving force in the fight for equal rights for Dalits. Despite persecution, he was able to rise to a position of prominence, and in large part because of his work the Indian constitution included legal protections for the Dalits; legally, persecution was no longer permitted. Realistically, though, caste discrimination has remained in place, and even among those Dalits who've managed to rise above their station have faced persecution. In recent years, more Dalits have started leaving Hinduism as the priests of the faith have retained the historical teachings that the Dalits are not even worthy of the gods' attention.

As with all things history, this summary leaves gaps, and there are some discontinuities I've found in my readings. Some historians tend to discount the impact of Aryans, saying caste was already in place ca. 1,500 B.C. Others have emphasized (or criticized) the role of Mahatma Gandhi in fighting for Dalit rights. But for the most part, what I've outlined above is described most consistently. At the least, hopefully this puts some context around the caste system: a division of people, millenia old and stable for at least two thousand years, heavily influenced by religion, and based in part on race and gender.

...

Footnotes:
1 - Culture Shock! India - Gitanjali Kolanad, 2001 (ch. 1). Note: There is some dispute over both the nature of Aryan culture and the migration of Aryans into India itself.
2 - http://uwacadweb.uwyo.edu/religionet/er/hinduism/HORGS.HTM
3 - ibid
4 - Culture Shock! India - Gitanjali Kolanad, 2001 (ch. 2)
5 - Culture Shock! India - Gitanjali Kolanad, 2001 (ch. 1)
6 - Culture Shock! India - Gitanjali Kolanad, 2001 (ch. 2)

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Since my wife's a Terrapin*...

...Yes!

Especially wonderful as the title required defeating Duke#.

*Not that terrapin. This terrapin. And don't mock the turtle. My high school's sports teams played as the Teddies.

Free the Dalits: Caste

I'll be up front: this is a loooong post. You've been warned.

So far I've given a brief introduction to the Dalits. But what is it that holds the Dalits back, and keeps them oppressed? Caste. That is what we're talking about today.

Racism, sexism and classism are all anathema to the modern American mind. At least in polite society we say the politically correct things, even if such agreement is not universal. We're all assumed to be "created equal" regardless of income, job, race or sex. And it's easy to feel that our experiences and philosophies are common worldwide. In fact, this phenomenon is so common and natural that it leads to the majority of inter-cultural conflicts; we assume others should perceive/act/believe as we do, and encounter problems when they don't. An example of a cultural perspective that turns our view of equality is found in the caste system of India.

The Dalits' oppression is directly related to the Indian caste system. In order to understand their plight, we need to have a basic understanding of caste, and how it affects life in India (and some other countries, most notably Pakistan.) So what is a caste? And how does it affect the Dalits?

A caste (etymology: Portuguese for "a race of men") is a division of society to which one belongs. They are also called varnas. Indian culture, entwined with the prevalent Hindu faith, has four castes to which people belong1:

  • The Brahmins are the top class. Members of this class are the priests and religious leaders.

  • The Kshatriya are the next class, and are political leaders and warriors.

  • The Vaishya are the third class. Members of this caste are the tradesmen, merchants, farmers and craftsmen.

  • The lowest caste is the Shudra, who are laborers and servants to the higher castes.


Each caste is further broken down into sub-castes, called "jatis" (the Hindu term for a sub-caste.) Within the caste, jatis are arranged hierarchically to the net effect of hundreds, if not thousands, of societally distinct social groups. Jatis are defined along specific job lines, so that one jati would cover bakers and another shepherds, both of which would fall under the Vaishya caste.

The caste and jati into which one is born is, with rare exception, the caste and jati in which one lives his/her entire life. There is little movement across castes. There are also strict restrictions on inter-marrying across castes, which has the effect of controlling caste membership; marriage is limited to the same social strata.

The concept of dharma is big in the caste structure. Dharma2, or virtue, refers to the virtues and proper behaviors for a given caste. The dharma for the Brahmins is different from the dharma for the Vaishyas. Caste distinctions also cover things like where one sits at celebrations and banquets to your ability to get into school.

Castes also have differing standards for purity and cleanliness. The top class, for instance, is considered highly pure. To maintain this purity, Brahmins emphasize virginity and fidelity for brides, for example. They also have elaborate purification/cleansing ceremonies to follow if "polluted" by contact from a lower caste member. This is a source of turmoil for Dalits who have been abused for accidentally touching, or even allowing their shadow to fall upon, a Brahmin (thereby "polluting" the Brahmin.) Further down the caste hierarchy, though, standards for purity are relaxed. Virginity and fidelity aren't necessarily requirements for women in the Shudra caste, for instance3.

You may notice that I've so far not mentioned where the Dalits fit into this caste structure. That is because they technically don't. They are considered beneath the lowest caste, the Shudras, and not worthy of being in a caste. This restricts the Dalits to the lowest jobs, such as cleaning bathrooms and sewers. They cannot worship in higher caste temples, and getting ahead through education is rare since most are too poor to be able to attend school. Even Dalit children are often entering the workforce in order to help the family survive. The Dalits are segregated within villages to their own "ghettos" (my wife and her party had to travel through the village they visited to a walled-off section housing the Dalits, entering through a gate.) The caste system acts as a buffer between the elites and the downtrodden, and ne'er the twain shall meet. Out of roughly 1 billion Indians, roughly 20-25% are Dalits. That's a lot of oppression, with rare success stories.

There is some good news to report about the caste system. It was made illegal in 1950, with a Dalit chairing the committee that drafted India's constitution in 19504 (although this obviously hasn't stopped abuse of Dalits or discrimination against them.) The UN has noticed, and awareness is rising that the caste system has enabled violations of human rights. And within major urban centers, Dalit persecution has in fact reduced. However, these are baby steps towards equality, and a couple hundred million people are still being held down, especially in poor rural areas.

Tomorrow I'll talk about how we got to this point, and the history of caste in India. But this should at least provide an idea of what the caste system is, and how it defines life in India. Despite being illegal, classism in the form of caste is alive and well in India. Caste's racist and sexist aspects come into play tomorrow.

God bless!
...

Footnotes:
1 - Information in the discussion, including examples, taken from the University of Wyoming's Religious Studies page written by Paul Flesher.
2 - For fans of the TV show Lost, this understanding may (or may not) provide a clue into the mystery that is the Dharma Initiative
3 - http://countrystudies.us/india/89.htm
4 - http://countrystudies.us/india/109.htm

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Free the Dalits: Who are they?

So I'm writing a series on the Dalits of India. As I mentioned yesterday I have a heart for these people as I've come to "know" them through both my wife's trip to India and my own studies. I also love the Indians with whom I work on a daily basis, be there here in the States or back in India. They are universally a gracious and hard working group of people, and I'm privileged to work with them.

But to understand the plight of the Dalits, I should first introduce them. The Dalits are the people group often known as "untouchables." They are the lowest in Indian cultural hierarchy, as a group, and the most vulnerable to abuses such as:

The Dalits are one of the largest oppressed people groups, IMO, on earth. It is estimated that Dalits make up 20-25% of India's population, which at just over 1 billion people would number the Dalits at more than 200 million1.

They usually work in the dirtiest jobs, and have the fewest opportunities for advancement. Dalit children often have to work, and are far less educated than other Indian children.

In short, the Dalits are the downtrodden, the "least of these" of whom Jesus speaks.

But of course this isn't the whole story. Society can keep a group down; we did it in this country for many years, and still deal somewhat with the residue of slavery. But society can't control everything. There have been many Dalits who have risen above their station to become key figures in Indian history. B. R. Ambedkar chaired the committee that drafted the Indian constitution. Kocheril Raman Narayanan was a president in India. Chandra Prasad has become the first Dalit news columnist in a major English language Indian newspaper. While these are the exceptions (and there are more; but out of 200+ million, even a million such examples would be fewer than 1% of the total) they are proof that when given a chance anyone can flourish. It is my prayer that someday all Dalits are given that chance.

God bless!
...

Footnotes:
1 - I've seen estimates from 160M (from the early 1990s) to 260M Dalits in India. 200+ million seems an appropriate number for the purpose of this series.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Free The Dalits: Introduction

God made every man forward and free (sub kooch ho sak-ee day*) /
Rich man, poor man, every man free (sub kooch ho sak-ee day) /
Politically, socially, everybody free (sub kooch ho sak-ee day)

Dalit Hymn - Caedmon's Call

Why, you may wonder, am I writing a series on the Dalits of India? I am not of Indian descent, nor have I traveled there. The stresses of war are creating serious hardships in Iraq, and life in Darfur is a highly visible problem; why not address these problems?

There are a few reasons for my interest in the Dalit people. One, my wife has recently returned from working with some Dalits in India, and has first-hand accounts of that trip that I find compelling to address. Many of my co-workers are from India. And the situations in places like Iraq and Darfur are being well-addressed by other bloggers. Most of all, I find I need to do more to help, if I can, a quarter of a billion (yes, "B" billion) people who face a life more dangerous and oppressive than I do.

I'll be honest, though, and concede I'm not an expert. There are many who know more about the Dalits than I do. I am writing this series based on my own learning to date, but there are still gaps remaining. To some extent, then, this series is as much me blogging aloud about something I'm still trying to understand as it is me trying to raise awareness of the Dalits' plight. Please, if you have any understanding in these areas I would welcome your comments.

There are (as of now) six coming parts to this series:

  • Introduction: Who are the Dalits?

  • Background: Caste system

  • Background: History lessons

  • The Nowadays: Modern life

  • The Future: Hope

  • The Practical: Resources


If there is something else you would like to see addressed, please let me know via the comments or email me.

Before I go, though, I'll share the brief story of the well. Christian music group Caedmon's Call went to India a while back. That trip led to their project "Share the Well." The title of the CD alludes to a situation described in this Christian Music Planet article. The story goes like this:

In one city in India, [Caedmon's Call's Cliff] Young says, there is a public well where the residents go to draw drinking water. But only some are allowed to do so. The rest must wait by the well and hope that someone will take pity on them and draw water to pour into their buckets. No one does. In fact, many of those not allowed to collect water are brutally beaten for even being so close to the well. If, somehow, they do get water, they must drink from clay cups so the vessels may be smashed immediately after. That way, there is no possibility that anyone else may drink after them and become tainted.

The Dalits are often beaten for things like trying to get water from a public well. For walking to close to members of a higher caste. For having the misfortune of being born to the wrong parents.

They are a people who need our help, who need our prayers, and most of all who need to know they are loved. I pray this series will in some small way help fill some of those needs.

God bless!
...

*Sub kooch ho sak-ee dey: Punjabi for "Anything is possible with God"