Valentine Meditations: Valentine Culture and Western Civilization

So this is another Feb 14th, I am reading C.S.Lewis’ ‘Four Loves’, again, trying to get wrap my mind around the idea of love – an honorable thing to do (I guess) on the day which venerates love. I am also working on writing something about Valentines day – my valentine meditations…

Valentine’s day is predominantly a celebration of the affluent. Having lived both in the east and the west, in my experience, Valentine’s day is celebrated with fun and frolic in the affluent west and in pockets of the eastern hemisphere where affluence is pursued as the chief aim of life. In also think that in any society where the ‘social standard’ of affluence is high, the pursuit of affluence is often accompanied by an advent of a prolonged singlehood, delayed marriages and ultimately, fewer children. Affluence is not the enemy of marriages. The modern western society’s high standards for affluence and the mind-numbing pursuit of the high standards causes within the heart of man a dilemma in choosing between a high single lifestyle of freedom and luxury or a shared lower standard of family living characterized by commitment and sacrifice.

By the standards of the western society, unless one is relatively rich, to be married and to have children has become akin to being burdened by a much lesser standard of living, so most singles who are forced to pursue affluent standards by the society have no option other than to wait until they are (college) debt free and rich enough to enjoy an affluent married life. In most cases, this does not necessarily mean that singles are alone until they are married. Most end up with the compromise of living with make-shift mates and celebrating valentine’s day.  Valentine’s day in much of the affluent world appears to have morphed into a celebration for the singles, to celebrate it with their make-shift mates and still remain single.

This ‘valentine culture’ that pursues society’s standard for ‘individual affluence’ at the cost of marriage, children and family will undermine the very foundation of the western civilization. This may not be the straw that breaks the back of the western civilization, it is most likely the rottenness that is eating it from within. G.K. Chesterton said, ‘There are many ways a civilization can fall, there is only one way it can stand. The western civilization is now testing the angles’. I live in an apartment complex in mid-town Houston which has nearly 200 apartments and I hardly see any kids. Whereas in India in an apartment complex of the same size, occupied by similar demographic age group, I would be constantly and pleasantly disturbed by the sound of screaming kids.

A column in the Wall Street Journal said that to bring down the western civilization, the Islamic Jihadists need not really risk attempting another 9/11. They can just sit in their caves and continue to have as many children as they can and then wait for the western world to fall under its own weight. The western civilization as we see it, will eventually fall because this generation of westerners aren’t getting married neither are they having enough children. Without children, no civilization can exist. The theory is that when the western world falls because there aren’t enough children to prop it up, the children of Middle eastern world will, by default, inherit the world of tomorrow.

A huge part of the ‘unsophisticated’ east though hasn’t fallen prey to this Valentine culture. I read an article which said that the ‘Commission for promotion of virtues and prevention of vice’ in Saudi Arabia, (no, this is not a joke there is indeed a commission by that name in the Saudi) has banned any form of celebration of the valentine’s day. This may sound retarded, but I think, the middle eastern Clerics have the prescience that allowing any form of valentine culture of the affluent west to become the norm in their culture would rob defeat from the jaws of victory they are eagerly and patiently waiting for. In fact, Islam is the fastest growing religion, not through propagation of its ideals, but through procreation by its followers.

The Church is not silent either, it too is fighting against this decadence. I went to a Church for a Valentine’s day special event. A special speaker was flown in from 1000 miles afar and interestingly, the theme of the message was “How to stay single and find wholeness (in God)”. But there wasn’t even a cursory mention of getting married or raising families. Perhaps I am ignorant, but I really do not know why one’s pursuit of one’s sense of wholeness in God has anything to do with ones marital status. The message of Evangelical Christianity to singles appears to be that singles should behave, be patient, be blessed and wait for the marriage ‘calling’. The gist of the Christian message, I think, isn’t that different from what I get from TV series ‘Friends’. ‘Friends’ tells singles to be single, confused and cool until something happens and you find yourself getting married. The Church tells singles be single, blessed and cool until you have the ‘calling’. The Church is right fighting against the idea of having make-shift mates, but it appear to not be fighting against the root cause, neither is it giving a solution to the problem.

God commanded man to be fruitful and multiply. The modern society that dictates man to pursues personal affluence does not understand what this command from God means. Modern man is caught in a dilemma. One part of the modern man wants to be free and affluent. Another part of man wants to be married and have kids and a family. Modern man, without the Bible, does not have the framework to reconcile this dilemma that is gnawing from deep within him. This generation that addicted to affluence, tarries on in anguished confusion about marriage and raising families seeks its solace in the valentine culture of make-shift mates.

The pre-modern society had a sense of community and traditions which helped man get married and then helped him stay married. The place held by community and traditions in the previous generation is empty now. The Church, in most cases, instead of stepping into this lacuna and helping the modern man have a Biblical and culturally relevant understanding of being fruitful and multiplying, is, I think, overreacting (against the make-shit mate culture) and asking singles to find wholeness in singlehood first and then think about marriage as a special ‘calling’.

If the historical St. Valentine did what history says he did, he did not invent boxed chocolates wrapped with ribbons or red roses, neither did he ask them to wait for some special ‘calling’ or for the right opportunity or compromise with make-shift mates. He appears to have done exactly what the Christians needed to do. He stepped into a lacuna created by the ‘social standards’ of that day and helped singles get married. He supposedly paid a very heavy cost for it. No wonder he made himself the most venerated Saint of all time across all nations irrespective of religion or race or creed that the Muslim Clerics need not have a decree that no Muslim should celebrate St. Paul’s day but has a decree that none should celebrate St. Valentine’s day.

The Church (of today) I think has a great opportunity to speak into this anguished culture unable to reconcile the dilemma between society’s standard for ‘personal affluence’ and the yearning in the human heart for ‘family life’. Christianity has to reverse the damage done by this valentine culture by speaking INTO the valentine culture, in a language they understand as Paul did at Athens. If Christians cannot make themselves relevant to the plight of this culture, historians of tomorrow may observe that Christianity, which by subjugating the authority of kings to the ‘law from above’, gave mankind the basis to the creating the democratic golden era of western civilization, couldn’t save it from the decadence that had set in.

My Name is Khan – A Message to Christian Charities

I haven’t seen the new much hyped Bollywood movie ‘My Name is Khan’ which has famous Indian movie stars acting and directing in it. I just read reviews. The goal of movie’s Protagonist, Mr. Khan a gullible Muslim living in the US, is to somehow meet Prez Bush face to face and tell him, ‘My name is Khan and I am not a terrorist’. It appears that the film will have internatinal appeal as it attempts to show that one rotten apple in basket does not mean every other apple is rotten as well. Films of this kind tend to have a good and timely message.

But sometimes, flims of this kind are prone to over-stating their case by using misconstrued examples. They inadvertently tend to take a dig at a good cause by misconstruing or even misrepresenting it for a bad one. I think ‘My Name is Khan’ isn’t an exception. In this, I think it wrongly takes the US Christian Charities to task, especially in how it funds other Charities around the world.

Apparently, in the movie, there is a scene, where a ‘Christian-only’ Charity contribution is taken in the US for Somalian Christians and Mr. Khan gallantly volunteers to donate to the non-Christians in Somalia. I know quite a few US Christian charities that work with folks in Africa and India, but I have never heard of a ‘Christian-only’ Charity. It is true that Christian charities work with Churches in Africa. This is because the Chruch has the widest network and strong sense of community orientation and commitment that helps reach out to the common man in Africa. Even villages that do not have electricity will still have a Church. Places where the ‘Uncle Sams’ cannot reach, are reached-out to by the Church. To call this Church-modelled Charity giving as ‘Christian-only’ Charity, which excludes non-Christian beneficiaries is to competely misconstrue the logistics of how charities work in villages that has been neglected by every other institution of the world save the Church of Christ.

Before I delve further into what I really want to say, I think, I need to state something that the movie makers have conveniently chosen to not give credence to at all. Over the last few decades, it is the non-Christian Indian Social Service Organizations that have raised more charity money from the west than the Christian organizations. Funding to Indian Christian charity has reduced phenomenally over the past few decades. Only a few Christian institutions get funding from abroad. This fact not withstanding, during relief work after natural disasters, it is the Christian Charities that out-do the non-Christian ones. In fact, I was told sometime back that during natural disasters, the villagers hope that the relief work in their village is taken over by a Christian Charity rather than a non-Christian one because Christian Charities have least corruption and money really reaches the people in need.

My chief intent to write this is not to say what ‘My Name is Khan’ is wrong about in its depiction of Christian charity, but to state what, in spirit, it is partly right about and more importantly, what lesson Christians, especially Indian Christians, have to learn from this. I think the movie makers were, partly right in this portrayal in that it points out a glaring mistake of Indian Christian Charities. I think the impetus for the movie makers to take a dig at Christian charities is because Indian Christian Charities over the course of the ‘past few decades’ have become self-centered in as far they have become wealthy institutions in catering to Christians.

Let us rewind, go back to the times when our Christian institutions had humble origins and were more concerned about the society around then about the resources within. If we looked at the political arena of yesteryears, most Hindu leaders where people who were educated in Christian institutions and they had a positive opinion on Christian Charity institutions. Our Christian charities then, were existing for non-Christians, our Church Fathers and Mothers expended themselves in helping others as the Word of God calls for us to do. But that has changed over the last few decades. The problem with Indian Christian charity organisations and institutions of this day is that we have become wealthy and have become unable to handle our resources in that we are holding on to our resources too tightly. We have become a closed system.

We have drawn a circle around ourselves as ‘minorities’ and are ‘pooling’ our own resources to enjoy them ourselves. We think our institutions belong to us. We forget that the last person a Christian Charity organization belongs to is us. Our institutions belong to the Kingdom of God. We are just humble custodians who need to give an account for our institutions to the King.

Our institutions in many places, have forgotten the Christian principles of going the extra mile to embracing the marginalized and the oppressed and are instead fighting over which Christian institution has control over which mile of land. We have forgotten to live for others in a way that our Church Fathers did, such that others would see our work and glorify the God we worship.

The Christian organizations abroad that contribute to Indian charities often fail to realize that quite a number of Indian Christian charities do not wish to be a city on the top of a hill that is a beacon to the rest of the society, but want to be a cloistered castle in a lush green valley. Christian donors would need to do due deligence  that the money sent abroad is used to build the Kingdom of God and not the Empire of Christians.

No wonder Mr. Khan wants to donate money to the non-Christians in the third world.