Global Perspective

April 18, 2006 Vol. 4, No. 2

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Edmund Chia is a Malaysian theologian of Chinese descent. He served the Asian church as secretary of Interreligious Dialogue from 1996-2004. He is on the faculty of the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.



What do you do with my Resurrection?

By Edmund Chia

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About two years ago I wrote a piece for Global Perspective recounting my experience of Easter in Japan, where the people had no idea what the event was or who Jesus is. The subsequent week I received a few emails from friendly readers. One, however, turned out to be not too friendly. The reader first lamented that there are still people in the world who do not know Christ and then went on to commend Asian Christians to step up their evangelization efforts so as to bring Christ to them. His rationale: “Christianity is the only religion with a savior who rose from the dead. It obviously is the only true religion.”

I am baffled by how the resurrection of Christ is being used (or misused) by good Christians who probably are repeating what they learned in Sunday School. First, how does one arrive at the conclusion that just because of a raised messiah Christianity must be the true religion? Second, is that conclusion suggesting that other religions must be false or at least less true? This train of thought smacks of a “capitalist spirituality,” where religions are pitted against one another in a competition for the survival of truest. This seems like a carryover from our daily lives where people are seduced into competing for the biggest bank account, fastest car, prettiest house or smartest child.

That we are inclined to see the resurrection as “proof” of Christianity’s authenticity may have as much to do with our competitive culture as with the fact that religions have generally developed independently of one another. Christians are, therefore, indirectly catechized to view persons of other religions not so much as neighbors or co-pilgrims but as competitors or enemies.

Let me illustrate with an example from my own country, Malaysia.

I had been invited to speak at a post-Easter catechumenate session. The participants, all adult converts, had had a full year of Christian instruction before their baptism at Easter. I began the session by inviting the recent converts to share about their challenges in life, especially in light of their recent baptism. One woman in her 50s talked about how when her elderly mother asked for a ride to the Hindu temple, she was challenged into deciding whether she should oblige and be guilty of encouraging pagan worship (albeit at the very temple she herself had worshipped in for most of her life) or to say no and be guilty of not being a dutiful daughter.

Isn’t it a revelation that within a span of one brief year -- of instruction amounting to no more than 50 hours -- the new Christian has already been taught that “thou shalt have no other gods” is more important than “thou shalt honor your father and your mother”? Where is it written that the first commandment is privileged over the fifth?

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This “Christianity versus other religions” mindset feeds on a theology that regards other religions as at best a preparation for the Gospel or at worst in error or even demonic. It is premised on an ecclesiology that regards the church as synonymous with God’s Kingdom and fuels a missiology that seeks the conquest and conversion of others. It then articulates itself in a triumphalistic and crusading mode, all for the sake of the risen Christ who had also been tortured, crucified, died and was buried.

Such a Christianity emphasizes Easter without a Good Friday. It is kind of like Peter on the way to Caesarea Philippi. To Jesus’ question of “Who do you say I am?” he immediately responded “You are the Christ.” But upon hearing that the Son of Man must suffer, be rejected and killed, Peter protested and rebuked Jesus. Jesus’ response: “Get behind me, Satan! You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of humans.”

What if Jesus were to now ask: “What do you do with my resurrection?” If we had in mind the things of humans then we would say it is used to pass judgment upon other religions. If, however, we had in mind the things of God, then we would be reminded of the passion and the cross. The latter response, of course, might seem a bit too humbling as it is even tantamount to acknowledging that it is in failure that we are resurrected. This is much like a student of mine who began studying theology so she could use it to convince her daughter not to bring up her children as Muslims. At the end of the course she had this to say: “I realize now that I am the one who needs to change. I have enrolled in an Islam course so that I can at least understand the faith that my grandchildren are being brought up in.”

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