By Jasmine Obeyesekere Fernando

Subverting Global Myths: A Discussion Guide

What if the beliefs of our times that we take for granted are not true after all? Dr. Ramachandra gives historical and global perspective to understanding pressing contemporary issues in breadth and depth. We offer here the questions that guided our online book club on selections from Subverting Global Myths: Theology and the Public Issues Shaping Our World.

Dr. Vinoth Ramachandra holds both bachelors and doctoral degrees in nuclear engineering from the University of London. Instead of pursuing an academic career, he returned to Sri Lanka in 1980 and helped develop a Christian university ministry there. He is on the IFES Senior Leadership Team as Secretary for Dialogue & Social Engagement. His international ministry includes promoting among students and professors a holistic, dialogical engagement with the world of the university; and helping Christian graduates act with Christian integrity in the face of the social, cultural and political challenges they face in their national contexts throughout the world.

Chapter 2: Myths of Religious Violence

  1. How did reading the history of non-Western influences on Islamic civilization and these same influences shaping European culture impact you? Why?
  2. In learning a more nuanced view of religious violence, which complexities caught your attention? Why?
  3. How do you respond to the case studies of Sri Lanka and Indonesia?
  4. Are there ideas, opinions and information in this chapter that you are uncomfortable with? Why?
  5. Does the author’s depiction of the secular university’s attitude to religion ring true in your experience? In what ways is it similar or different?
  6. Which aspects of recovering our Christian integrity spoke to you? Why?
  7. How can we begin talking across religious divides, striving for mutual learning including understanding differences without ignoring them?
  8. In what ways can your university or local community listen to the voices of faith communities?
  9. How might you be strategically placed to advocate for religious pluralism instead of secularism in public discourse?

Chapter 3: Myths of Human Rights

  1. The author states that present day Western secularists want to discuss human rights considering equality of all persons as a given, but that this is a cultural assumption given the centuries of Christian influence.  Instead if we look at the early modern era, the ancient Greek era or the ancient East, we observe that all persons were not considered equal.  What is your reaction to these ideologies that do not recognize the fundamental equality of all human beings? 
  2. The author states that a vision of human rights can be argued and sustained well only when there is a theological understanding of the human person, where the value of human beings is based on each having been formed in the image of God. Why is a theological understanding of human rights important, even necessary?
  3. If the most fundamental right is the right to life (and therefore to the resources that sustain life), Ramachandra asks whose lives are most vulnerable and shows that the protection of the vulnerable is a priority. 
    • What is your response to the Old Testament laws that protected the poor? How does this expand our vision of who God is?
    • How does this inform our attitude to property & possessions and human rights? How might this speak to our consumption of goods and the booming storage industry?
  4. Old Testament laws also protected the rights of strangers and the socially vulnerable. Ramachandra also mentions the story of the Good Samaritan as an illustration of loving one’s national enemies. How do you respond to these scriptures?
    • In what ways did your family (maybe some generations ago) try to assimilate to their new lives in America, what prejudices might they have faced?
    • How do we respond to refugees and "undesirable" immigrants?

5. What collective rights (if any) do you think are important at this point of time?

6. How can the church speak prophetically to specific contexts, rather than affirming human rights in the abstract?

Chapter 4: Myths of multiculturalism

  1. The author states that our belonging to a common species is culturally mediated, that we are human in different ways – not fully alike nor fully different. What are some ways that diverse cultures respond to life’s experiences differently?  
  2. How can we reconcile the idea that all cultures have truth, goodness and beauty that add to human life, with the idea that all cultures do not carry equal moral worth?
  3. What is an attribute you value in your own culture? What is an attribute that troubles you, that you are disturbed by?
  4. How does a majority community define itself as a nation and claim cultural ownership of the state?
  5. How do we respond to the following statements? How might they help us to think about our present socio-political landscape, and help us build a united and inclusive political community?
    • “The shared political imagination of a nation centers on the kind of community its members think it is, their understanding of how it came to be what it is, and what they think it should become in the future”.
    • “Learning to live with the otherness of others whose ways of life may be deeply unsettling to our own involves more than practicing tolerance”.
    • “Legal citizenship is about status and rights, but belonging is about being accepted and feeling welcome. The feeling of being citizens and yet outsiders..”
    • “Equal respect does not always mean treating people identically”.
  6. How can churches seek to build genuinely multicultural congregations?
  7. What are some ways you have ventured into entering a "real" cross-cultural friendship, or ways that you can deepen a cross-cultural friendship that already exists?  
  8. How can we avoid cultural paternalism when interacting with people who are different from us?

Chapter 5: Myths of Science

  1. In what ways might an unconscious tendency to think of humans as computers or information processors impact everyday living?  
  2. What are the ways in which Science is idolized?
  3. How do Ramachandra’s views help in holding together both the truths of Creation and the truths of Science?  
  4. What drives your research agenda? Who sets the research agenda for your department and/or your school? To what degree does the world of business influence your institution’s research interests? How much of its research is driven by the public good?
  5. Who gains the benefits and who bears the risks in new technological developments?
  6. How is the erasure of the boundaries between human and machine (including proactively redesigning human nature) impacting human life?
About the Author

Jasmine is WSAP’s book club host and vocation specialist. She hails from Sri Lanka and has a thirty-year relationship with its national university ministry, the Fellowship of Christian University Students (FOCUS). She has also been involved with InterVarsity for twenty years. She has a BA (Hons.) in English from the University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka, and a MA in International Relations from Syracuse University. She loves writing about theology impacting real life and enjoys British, Korean, and Chinese drama. Jasmine lives in upstate New York with her professor husband and two teenage children.

Comment via Facebook