The logic of hegemony arises in part from the claim that a particular culture, worldview, and language have the privilege of being chosen by God to express God’s truth to humanity.
In Malaysia two pieces of news. First came the circulation of a forged letter saying that if an opposition party won the next election they would turn the 60% Muslim country into a toadying Christian state. Then the announcement by the government that they would restrict the number of Christians traveling to Israel to 20 in a year. This out of a Christian population of nearly 3 million. Malaysia’s Muslims enjoyed unlimited access to Mecca for their Haj and Umrah.
Like a character out of 50 Shades of Gray the present Malaysian government can only imagine Islam either in complete submission or complete control. It is the language of hegemony, and it comes from the claim that being Malay and Muslim gives access to a privileged position in public discourse.
The claim of privilege has often been made by Christians. The current Pope asserted in this address at Regensburg several years ago that the (admittedly fertile) cross roads of semitic religion and Greek rationality created an eternal locus for true doctrine and true faith. For him the Christendom that arose out of this heritage is not a passing historic event, but the greatest achievement of the Catholic church and representation of God’s Reign. Thus he continues to defend Christian Europe against the incursions of Islam and secularism, as his American bishops likewise defend the Christian Americas. Even the flight of Catholics to evangelical and pentecostal communities isn’t seen as a failure of doctrine, but a failure to be pure enough.(Catholic News Agency, Vatican City, Wednesday, July 4, 2012, by David Kerr)
Christian Fundamentalists likewise privilege a particular social and cultural location – one defined by the Greek Textus Receptus, the English King James Bible, and their own heritage of 19th century rationality and Calvinist doctrine. Like the Pope they appear to believe that either they will control America’s destiny, or will see Christianity bludgeoned into submission to a secular-humanist agenda.
Is there an alternative to hegemonic claims? Can we care about the truth without claiming to possess the only standpoint from which it can be recognized?
Post modernism appears to answer the hegemonic claims of universality associated with modernity by locking all truth claims into distinct, if evolving, cultural and linguistic worlds. The result often appears to be at best complete relativism, and at worst pure agnosticism. Since we can only evaluate truth claims within a confined linguistic and cultural framework it is assumed that there is no standpoint from which to judge claims advanced outside that framework.
What post-modernism in this popular form fails to recognize is that language itself continually evolves through dialogue toward universality. It is true that much cannot be spoken intelligibly across cultures, and that the prospects for misunderstanding abound. Yet we humans continue to translate, to try to speak across those boundaries, to seek a common language and understanding of what are clearly shared experiences, hopes, and desires. The boundaries of culture do not determine the limits of our shared humanity, and this shared humanity draws us into inexorably into dialogue.
Truth emerges out of this continual dialogue across cultural boundaries. It emerges out of the continual search for shared meanings, rather than being locked in existing in linguistic formulations and thus specific cultural locations. Expressions of truth cannot be hegemonic because they are never complete. They always await an encounter with another language, another culture, another opportunity to be more fully explored, deepened, and transformed in the process of dialogue and translation.
In public discourse this means simply that the best defense of the truth is engagement in that dialogue which alone both seeks it and does it homage.
For Christians at least this is a matter of faith not possession, for the existence of universal truth is known only through a confidence in things unseen, things unseen because they lie always in a future of ever richer and more diverse dialogue. “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
It is no accident that Paul casts such knowledge into the realm of the transcendent, the eschatological, and the realm of love. Where else can we both know fully even as we are fully known than within the eternal dialogue of the Trinity?
In the meantime for Christians there is in every encounter, every translation and transformation an anticipation of a deeper knowledge of the truth. We need neither dominate nor submit – only love.