Friday, February 18, 2011

The Transendental God, Ecology, and Vietnam's Future

Thomas C. Fox has an intriguing piece in the National Catholic Reporter.  He explores the interplay between women's religious communities (Catholic sisters, for instance) in Vietnam and the signposts that point to the forces that may help determine Vietnam's future.  Thanks to the insights of the women he is interviewing, he sees ecology as playing an essential role, along with a respect for God's gift of creation.

A brief excerpt from the article:
I asked the women sitting with her what they felt is the single greatest social challenge facing Vietnam today. Without coaxing and almost in unison the women said ecology. Unless the people attend to ecological needs, they explained, all other social issues will only get worse and the fabric of Vietnamese society will weaken.
Studies have indicated, for example, that one third to one half of the Mekong Delta, the nation’s primary food source, is in peril and could be under water in 50 years if expected sea levels continues to rise.
That ecology would be viewed by these women as Vietnam’s number one social challenge took me by surprise. But it was followed by another because they were coming to ecological issues through what was for them a relatively new spiritual framework: the presence of God in creation.
My spouse and I spent some time in Vietnam a decade ago, and we hope to make a return trip as a family in another year or two.  While I'll never claim a full understanding of a culture as rich and nuanced as Vietnam's, I can attest to both the beauty and the economic importance of the Mekong region, having made an all-too-brief day trip there during the three weeks we spent in the country.

I also have at least a simple appreciation for the co-mingling of Buddhism and Catholicism in Vietnam.  It is, of course, chiefly a Buddhist culture, though many Vietnamese self-identify as Catholic, and still others (a significant number, from what I've heard) identify themselves as both Buddhist and Catholic.  That may seem like a jarringly "hyphenated" identity to very conservative Catholics, for whom Buddhism probably sounds as strange as some just-discovered Martian faith.  In truth, however, Buddhism and Catholicism have--at least on a good day--much in common, including the call to compassion and a respect for all of God's creation, both that which is sentient as well as that which is inanimate.  (In other words, don't drill, baby, don't drill, at least not in ANWAR.)  

Fox closes his article with a lovely, and poignant, quote from Sr. Dang Thi Ngoc Bich:
God is a transcendent Creator, giving life to all creation. The task is clear. We need to preserve this creation.
 Amen to that.  Love God, love and care for what God has created.  And consider, on occasion, the consequences inherent in not preserving God's great gift of nature.

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