Thursday, April 08, 2010

What the Chinese Know--and We Forget

The Chinese are nothing if not studious; they inquire, and think. Here, Fr. J. Schall, SJ, recaps an address from Cdl. Pell of Australia in which the Cardinal reminds us of the First Things.

In a recent address in Melbourne...George Cardinal Pell addressed the “Key to Our Civilisation.” Pell began his lecture by citing 2002 studies from the Chinese Academy of the Social Sciences. In analyzing the superiority of their own culture, the Chinese have long been puzzled by the speed and causes of Western power. Why did this development of civilization happen there first?

By a process of elimination, the Chinese scholars recognized that this superiority was not due to guns, or political systems, or economies. The key was religion, specifically, Christianity. These conclusions, Pell recalls, are roughly parallel to the studies of Christopher Dawson on the nature and cohesion of culture. ...Yet the Chinese realized that not all religions are the same, not all produce the same results.

The Chinese concluded that we must combine an objective moral code with the spirit of enterprise, both of which require a proper and unified understanding of man and his destiny.

But in the context of China, this conclusion has a drawback. The Chinese “these days do not believe in anything,” no God, no judgment, no after-life. Pell reminds us that such skepticism and unbelief are quite prevalent in the West, though here, even among the atheists, a residue of Christian moral categories remains.

Pell’s conclusion, not unusual for him, is “countercultural.” We cannot understand ourselves “without Christianity.” Nor can we survive without what even the Chinese have discovered is the basis of our strength. Yet this “strength” depends on our recognition of what is higher than ourselves, of what it is that we are finally revealed to be. Civilization points not to itself but to what is beyond itself. When it does not, as the Chinese worry, we lose even ourselves.

It's not a long essay; you might want to read all of it.

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