Faiths in Conflict? by Vinoth Ramachandra – A Review
Here is my analytical review of Vinoth Ramachandra’s latest book: Faith’s in Conflict? :Christian Integrity in a Multicultural World. The way in which I will do this review is share a bit about the author, the authors thesis, an overview of the book and then some of my own personal reflections.
Vinoth Ramachandra, Ph.D. is the regional secretary for South Asia for the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students. Being educated at the University of London, born and raised in Sri Lanka, and having spent years working with university students all around East Asia gives him a unique perspective on how to respond to the social, cultural and political challenges that people face in varying contexts.
Ramachandra makes the case that the best road to a peaceful multicultural society is by avoiding the simplistic stereotyping of the world religions as violent and unmasking militant “secularism” and nationalism as real roadblocks to peaceful co-existence. He argues that when Christians understand they are citizens of a transnational kingdom whose first allegiance is to Christ and his universal reign, we can better engage in the political quest for democracies that truly respect religious differences.
Ramachandra works out his thesis by showing why Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” is an example of how people make simplistic generalizations about religious faiths and cultures that breed mutual suspicions and misunderstandings. He explains that the major world faiths – he takes a looks at Islam, Hinduism and Christianity in particular – are not “encapsulated within any particular culture,” but that leaders of nation-states often exploit religious differences for their own gain. He gets behind the popular stories of viewing conflicts as primarily due to “religious violence” by investigating the rise of political movements “against the backdrop of specific social, economic and political” situations of a culture or country and by identifying self-critical voices in the world religions that identify resources of peace within their faith. He exposes how secularism has lead to the nation-state becoming idolatrous as well as impotent in cultivating a peaceful multicultural society, while the good news of Christ provides the best route for such a society.
Ramachandra’s work in many ways is a practical handbook for peacemaking today. He helps us to remember the vital role that we have as God’s people – to unmask ideologies and popular stereotypes with the goal of truly understanding “the other” from their particular context. He shows that Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, or national leaders greed and envy, may be larger reasons for conflicts in the world today than religious violence. He does well to point out the tragedy of characterizing cultures and faiths by accenting the fundamentalist extremes while ignoring how a peaceful multicultural society would be better served by identifying and building relationships with self-critical voices within other religious traditions.
This book helps any self-reflecting Christian living in America take a deeper look at our allegiances. It calls us to question whether our first allegiance is to the Prince of Peace who followed the way of the cross, or our nation-state that too often follows the way of the sword. Ramachandra’s work helps remind us of the vital role of unmasking idolatries and the importance of following the way of Christ if we want to “live with integrity in a multicultural world.” For some more thoughts on this topic, you can check out a recent talk I gave on Faith and Politics. If you listen to the talk, let me know what you think.