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August 30, 2007

A Modest Proposal

Anyone else read Jonathan Swift's satirical pamphlet A Modest Proposal in high school? For me it was just about exhilarating as The Scarlet Letter. Now I'm realizing that every boring reading assignment had a purpose. In his Proposal, Swift criticizes 18th-century Irish nobility for their harsh treatment of the poor, by suggesting that instead of allowing the poor to burden them, they ought to just eat all of the children. Problem solved.

Of course, it was an absurd analogy--an absurd analogy that made an excellent point. But, what if Swift wasn't joking? What if disregard for the poor was truly analogous to killing a nation's children? And, what if this was not a "modest proposal" but a raw reality?

Now, allow me to make a less than perfect jump to a possible example of this graphic reality. Two days ago, Catherine spoke of the shocking betrayal of Tutsi people during the 1994 genocide by the Rwandan church. There was no gathering place known for more mass killings of the Tutsi than church buildings. Some clergy, like the pastor in Immaculee Ilibagiza's account of survival, risked their lives to save the Tutsi in their parish. Many more turned an indifferent cheek. Others ratted out the Tutsi they were pretending to protect.

Antoine Rutayisire, vice president of Rwanda's Unity and Reconciliation Commission, turns the tables on the West's pointing finger. Last year, in an interview with my friend Laura Waters, who is creating a film on reconciliation in Rwanda, Mr. Rutayisire pulled a "Jonathan Swift," although, unlike with Swift, there was no satire involved. He said:

I often tell people that when it comes to social issues, ethnicity, other social issues, the church is always lagging behind. In every country. Far worse even in your countries. . . . someone cornered me about where was the church during the genocide, and I said, right where your church is now . . . allowing babies to be killed.

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Thank you for this post. I had completely forgotten about "A Modest Proposal." I think I need to re-familiarize myself with it's contents.

Steve (SBK)

I think this could be a complicated discussion.
I'm not even sure I know what Mr. Rutayisire's words mean:
"when it comes to social issues, ethnicity, other social issues, the church is always lagging behind" - he mentions "social issues" twice and ethnicity. Who are we lagging behind and what is 'progress' in a 'social issue'?
And worse, his analogy just doesn't seem to work. From what I've been reading, for the 'analogy' to 'work' - it implies the babies (or mothers of these babies) are coming to the churches for 'sanctuary' - and the church then turns around and invites the abortionists in. This is 'where the church was'.

Although, maybe the 'church in our country' isn't even open to taking in those who are afraid and in need? But betrayal?

Do we need to pursue social justice? Yes! Are we "allowing babies to be killed"? Is that a fair question? What does he want: clinic bombings so we can ensure, thus not allow, any babies to get killed? Or is it more complicated than that? Of course it is!

Maybe though, it's just a good kick in the pants to make sure we aren't myopically pursuing our own wants - and see that there are real needs - outside of ourselves.

I just think (and of course I could be wrong) the quote is an oversimplified, vague soundbite - mainly avoiding the question.

(I don't mean to sound aggressive, I mean to work out some questions)


Steve, you make a good point. The analogy doesn’t quite fit, and it is an oversimplification. Thanks for challenging my use of Mr. Rutayisire’s quote. After reading your comments, I went back to the transcript and found more qualifying statements by Mr. Rutayisire:

The church, very often, it’s not that the church is complacent or supportive, it’s that the church is so blind to dangerous social issues . . . The case in Rwanda, when the massacres of the Tutsis happened in 1969, etc, the church said nothing. Then people spent years in the refugee camps, the church never raised their voice to say those people living in camps...I think the church is the same everywhere because we tend to avoid those dangerous issues, so we simply keep quiet and preach about the love of God because we don’t dare preach against injustice.

I agree that it’s a vast oversimplification to say that the American church is doing the exact same thing to the unborn that the Rwandan church did to the Tutsis. But, I will say that maybe we are more blind than we think. There are many wonderful pro-life organizations out there, such as Care Net and Crisis Pregnancy Center, but if it’s really true that more than 1 million unborn children are being killed every year, doesn’t it seem strange that there are not many, many more churches and organizations devoting their full-energy to pro-life causes?

Steve (SBK)

Zoe, thanks for your insight.

(For further disclosure, I'm Canadian, but I think our cultures, churches etc. have most of the same 'issues')

To be honest, your last sentence has been on my mind/heart quite a bit lately.
Do we...no, do I - really care?
I am, sadly, not showing it if I do.
I am afraid. I'm afraid not only of rising up for the sake of justice (because of fear of reprisal or harm, or not knowing what exactly I can do...), but I'm afraid there's other social issues I'm blind towards - and appear callous or uncaring to those I don't see.

Of course, I should start with what I do see. But, like I mentioned, I'm not sure what I can do. I don't think our young women need Bible thumpers at the gates of the clinics. I think to myself, we need to change the worldview of those who think this is the solution to their problems. But I don't change it just by talk or just hoping that someone (a 'professional') will come up with a solution. I think to myself, we're all part of the same body, and I can't keep waiting for the 'important parts' to decide when to take action, I've got to start living a life of God's love (whatever temporary pains that might cause) - with integrity, and holiness.

All this introspection, I hope, is God's hand molding me - humbling me. (Too often I, as I'm sure many Christians do, put up a facade that implies 'Hey, I'm pretty good... God doesn't have much more to do with me...' - ya right.)

I'm tired of just talk (though I do appreciate the insights of The Point's contributors).
But I wanted to mention how your words and those of Mr. Rutayisire (even if there are some inadequate analogies) - strike a chord.

Gina Dalfonzo

Analogies generally are inadequate if we try to stretch them too far. Usually they don't include point-for-point matches for every detail of two different situations. Their purpose is just to draw simple comparisons that help us see aspects of situations we may not have considered -- and to make us think, which this one certainly has done.


I also wonder if there are other (possibly even more effective) approaches to curbing abortions besides lobbying Congress and picketing clinics. Is there a way we can reach these mothers on a human level and demonstrate to them that we will not abandon them after they've made their decision?

jason taylor

"Do we need to pursue social justice? Yes!"

I am often suspicious of the term "social justice". For two reasons. One is that it distracts from the pursuit of individual justice. We all have met people who are "loving" toward those they have not met and self-righteous and hateful in person.
Another reason is many of the things claimed to be "social justice" are really means for obtaining justice. Calling them "social justice" can imply that those who think those means counterproductive are unjust.

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