Erenlai - Items filtered by date: Monday, 31 May 2010
Monday, 31 May 2010 16:55

Culture or rapture

To ask what is culture or what does it stand for may seem to be easy, but there are probably as many meanings to that word as there are cultures and subcultures or maybe even more. For instance, one can say that a culture is often in relation with some kind of religion. Sometimes they are even understood as being an inherent part of one another. Thus there are good things and bad things those two have in common. The one that is absolutely brilliant is their almost magical property of being impervious to any and all criticisms. And isn’t this convenient?

This is in fact something that one comes across quite often in Taiwan. How many times have you heard the phrase: “Well, it’s just a different culture.” And the discussion ends. It doesn’t even have to do anything with criticising one culture or another. Naturally this answer may be perfectly suitable for some situations. It doesn’t really matter if you eat with chopsticks or a knife and a fork. Both achieve the same effect and such a low-consequential decision deserves very little if any justification. You may as well say you just like chopsticks better. But what if you were trying to eat a steak with your chopsticks and I would suggest you use a knife, so you can cut it into smaller pieces? If you don’t like what I’m saying you can just utter this magic formula and that’s it. It’s a bit silly, but most people will just ignore it.

Now imagine another situation like genital mutilation, a practice that can make you a sexual cripple, is a threat to your health and I could keep on going. I don’t think the “it’s a different culture” is enough of a justification. Extraordinary claims or actions need extraordinary evidence or reason, so who are we kidding? There are cultural practices that ought to be scrutinized and criticized.

There is no doubt that culture relates to human values and consequently to human well-being as well. Everyone has heard “cultural values” at some point.

Although religion has been challenged by science in many domains, it seems as it still retains its prime in the discourse on morality and human values. It indeed looks like religious and cultural values are the ones most often used as moral guide-posts. Some people even go as far as to say that we would know no morality, so we would apparently be killing each other on sight if it was not for the moral imperatives of religion. In fact, to many people it appears science can’t tell us what we should value. Science deals with facts and values seem to simply belong somewhere else. What a clever detour. Is this not to say that values are a certain type of facts? They are facts about the well being of conscious creatures and these facts can be observed.

Everybody knows it is possible to live in a failed state where people murder and torture each other on daily basis. We know it is possible to move from there to an arguably better state and we also know there are right and wrong answers to how to move along this continuum. Seems to me then that when we talk about values we effectively talk about facts, because there are truths to be known about how humans and human communities can prosper. There are indeed right and wrong answers to the question how humans flourish.

Or is it a good idea to subject women to pain and suffering by publicly beating them by their partner while people around watch and do nothing? It is not their business after all. Is this truly the best way to encourage healthy emotional relationship and good behaviour? Can we say in the almighty spirit of tolerance that this question has no answer or that the answer doesn’t matter? It’s simply a different culture, a different habit.

But do not confuse tolerance with apathy or indifference. Of course there might be different ways to achieve the optimal state of human well-being, but that is not to say there are simply no wrong answers to that question. There are also all kinds of food that are healthy for you. Some are probably less healthy for you. Nevertheless there is a clear distinction between food and poison. Why doesn’t this fact that there are right and wrong answers about human nutrition tempt people to say there are no rules?

How dare you question the practices of an ancient culture, such as punching a woman in the face when you don’t like what she said? I say who are we to pretend that we know so little about the human well-being that we have to be non-judgemental about such a practice? This is not necessarily a legal question, because even if something like that is forbidden by the law, it doesn’t me unfortunately that it ceases to exist in the culture. In Taiwan for example maybe you wouldn’t even dare to call police, because you would “lose your face” by doing so.

Apparently, generally speaking, people value difference of opinion when talking about morality. Killing an infidel might be moral for my neighbour. Others will be happy with just a mutilation of their children’s genitals. Others fulfil their morality by meditating on compassion or giving strangers their last penny. It is just a different culture. It is a different religion.

If you show up on a biology conference and say you don’t like evolution and you don’t believe in it, nothing will happen. Nothing will happen because you’re not an evolutionary biologist. If we want to talk about facts, certain opinions must be excluded. This is the meaning of having a domain of expertise, this is how knowledge counts. If every opinion counts, than effectively no opinion counts. It just doesn’t matter what Joe from the gas station thinks about evolutionary biology.

How did we convince ourselves that there is no such thing as moral expertise or even a genius in the area of morality? I wonder who came up with the mantra of tolerance saying that every opinion has to count or that every culture has a point of view worth considering.

I think that most people would agree that a group of suicide bombers does not have a point of view on biology or physics worth considering. How is the ignorance of such a group any less obvious on the subject of human well-being?

Maybe it would be better if we allow simple rigorous observations to propose the answers rather than keep on listening to all the mambo-jumbo that is coming on us from all the directions. Or you’d rather rest assured that all that nonsense is equally tolerated? I’m certainly not saying that we should silence everyone, but I’m saying that we should not probably be basing our actions on such evidently random opinions

Photo by C. Phiv

 
Monday, 31 May 2010 11:41

In the footsteps of Francis Xavier

Without Francis Xavier, the co-founder of the Society of Jesus. The grounds for Matteo Ricci's mission in China, may not have been laid. In fact, Francis Xavier actually touched on Chinese soil in the same year as Matteo Ricci was born. Although Francis Xavier never made it to the mainland and passed away on Hong Kong, the significance of his legacy cannot be understated.

 

In a pilgrimage comparable in scope to that of the Monkey King in Journey to the West, the KPS decided to produce an 8-part docudrama following the footsteps of Francis Xavier:

 

A young Asian vacationing in Europe stumbles onto the story of St. Francis Xavier and begins a personal pilgrimage that takes him to the places Xavier travelled to during his life. In this docudrama, the story of the 16th-century missionary is rediscovered through the eyes of the Asian Pilgrim. But this is more than just the story of Xavier's life retold. As the Pilgrim grows more and more involved in Xavier's story, he discovers the many parallels between Xavier's life and his own. In following the footsteps of Xavier, he meets people of different races and backgrounds, and finds himself confronting some of the important issues all Christians face today. At the end of his journey, the Pilgrim begins to understand his role as a Christian living in today's world and the meaning this has for his life. It is a pilgrimage every young Christian must make.

 

So come and join us on the final leg of Francis Xavier's pilgrimage...

To purchase the full version of the DVD In the footsteps of Francis Xavier contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit the Kuangchi Program Service of Taipei. Also available are educational documentaries on Matteo Ricci, his good friend Xu Guangqi and Fr. Adam Schall von Bell: In the service of emperors..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
As we know, Matteo Ricci was the first Jesuit to make a significant impact in China however since then there has been various other Jesuits who have had shaped the history of dialogue between the western and Chinese civilisations. Among the most significant is Fr. Adam Schall von Bell

In 1618, Fr. Johann Adam Schall von Bell, a brilliant young Jesuit scholar from Germany, set out for the mysterious and still little-known land of China. Following in the footsteps of his Jesuit missionary predecessor Matteo Ricci, Schall mastered the Chinese language and diligently adapted his lifestyle to Chinese culture. When Schall's talents in astronomy and mathematics attracted the attention of the Ming Dynasty Emperor, he was appointed head of the Bureau of Astronomy and given the monumental task of renovating the Chinese calendar.

Schall retained his position even after the Ming Dynasty fell and was replaced by the Manchu Qing Empire. He became the close friend and spiritual guide of the young Qing Emperor who raised Schall to the highest official level ever attained by a westerner in Chinese history-Mandarin of the First Class. When the Emperor met with an early death, Schall was influential in choosing his successor - the great Kangxi Emperor - who came to be China's longest reigning and most respected ruler. It was the Kangxi Emperor that issued the edict giving the Catholic Church legal status in China.

In memory of Fr. Johann Adam Schall von Bell The Kuangchi Program Service, Taipei and Jiangsu Broadcasting Corporation, Nanjing have jointly produced a two-part TV docudrama following Schall throughout his long and dramatic life in China, his accomplishments, his struggles with his fellow missionaries as well as his own conscience, his persecution and narrow escape from a cruel death, and his official burial presided over by the Emperor himself.

To purchase the full version of the DVD Adam Schall von Bell: In the Service of Emperors contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit the Kuangchi Program Service of Taipei. Also available are educational documentaries on Matteo Ricci, his good friend Xu Guangqi and Fr. Francis Xavier.

 

Paul Xu Guangqi (1562 -1633) from rural Shanghai rose to the office of Grand Secretary of the Ming Dynasty Emperor and is known as the forerunner of modern science in China. His friendship and collaboration with European Jesuit missionaries, especially the renowned Matteo Ricci, is the first instance of real cultural dialogue between China and the West. Together with Ricci, Paul Xu introduced western mathematics, astronomy, and scientific method into Chinese scholarship. By developing new crops to combat famine, Xu triggered China’s “green revolution”. This 4-part docudrama shows China at the start of its cultural relations with the West and provides us with a wealth of material for reflection on globalization today.

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