For a new national Christian identity
The 46th PNG Independence celebration comes at a time when the country is particularly in search of a renewed sense of identity. The individual and typical features of the eight hundred and more original tribes and languages increasingly fade into a common melting pot, which begs for new reasons of social unity and sustainable cohesion. Not a few see a chance for it in the Jewish and Christian tradition brought to the islands of the Pacific just before the end of the eighteenth century and now ours.
The traditional Christian denominations, also known as mainline Churches, clearly focus on Christianity. They consider the New Testament as the most relevant part of the Sacred Scriptures and see the Old Testament as a foundation and a preparation to it. In the case of the Catholic Church, the Tradition, meaning the life and the teachings of the Church across the centuries, is also particularly relevant.
Several emerging (or more recently established) Chistian denominations, instead, show strong Jewish undertones in language, practices, beliefs, and the general religious expression. Bible references from the Old Testament and the life and practices of the people of Israel generally prevail over the Gospels and the other books of the New Testament. The emphasis on the Sabbath, for some, effectively removes the absolute relevance of the Resurrection of Christ (on ‘the first day after the Sabbath’ or ‘on the first day of the week’) as the keystone of the traditional understanding of the Christian revelation.
Not that valuing the Old Testament and the experience of the Jewish people is something bad. It may rather reflect a genuine need of keeping together faith and social life, religious practice and political action; exactly as in the case of many members of the Jewish people still today; or even more clearly the Islamic communities; or some resurgent Hindu or Buddhist movements. People aim not only at leaders to follow, but also at internal valid and convincing principles to spontaneously bow to.
It is at that point, however, that the bell rings. It rings against the recurrent risk of integralism and fundamentalism. That is the attitude, in the name of God and religion, of removing reason, complexity of facts, cultural elements and influences on the historical shaping of the Scriptural message.
It is the New Testament that defuses the risk of Jewish-Christian fundamentalism. Still in so many instances across history, Christians went astray and became integralist. It remains constantly hard in fact to grasp the most genuine and challenging teachings of Christ: that the worst form of slavery, for example, is not the Roman occupation, but the corruption of the heart; and the highest virtue is forgiveness; while stoning a prostitute just serves the purpose of concealing the names of the clients; and sacrificing animals at the Temple is hypocritical when workers are denied their pay; or children their opportunity for education, and the sick vital medicines, we would say today.
A true Christian identity is what we all always long for. But carve it in the heart; and keep an open mind! Or just pave the way to a new phase of religion for power, prestige, perhaps wealth, rather than service!
Happy 46th Independence Day!
REV. FR. GIORGIO LICINI
General Secretary, Catholic Bishops Conference