I’ve been travelling in Asia for the last several weeks. As you probably know, most of Asia holds to Buddhist or Hindu (or a mix of the two) religious beliefs. Having spent several years here when I was growing up, this is no surprise to me and has provided for some great conversations with my kids. What is new to me, though, is an observation I made just yesterday about the social impact of those religious systems: while walking on the island of Koh Samui, Thailand, my oldest daughter pointed out a sign for a Thai boxing match aimed at raising relief funds for victims of the Haiti earthquake. Besides the obvious oddity of buying tickets to watch two men beat each other up in order to raise money to help people who have been beat up by a natural disaster, here’s what struck me: this is the first sign I’ve seen anywhere in Asia for anything like this. In America right now there are a thousand charities raising money to help the earthquake victims in Haiti, but over here…nothing. Even this Thai boxing match was organized by American ex-pats and appeared to be being marketed to Westerners.
In other words, the only impulse towards charity I’ve seen here was from Westerners. No great surprise, I guess. Remember who contributed almost all the funds a few years ago to help the victims of the tsunami that hit Thailand? Right, Westerners…and mostly Americans at that.
Now, I don’t mention this in order to say “America is the best!” No, I mention it to ask a question: why? Why should America, which it seems to me is fast-becoming a thoroughly secular nation, still lead the world in charity?
The answer, I believe, is that America still feels the impact of a historic Christian world-view. Even the most jaded of secularists in the States tend to think that people matter and that helping people is a good thing…even if they are utterly unable to give justification for those beliefs. But here in Asia, where Buddhism and Hinduism have dominated for centuries, the moral landscape is strikingly different. Though the people are all so nice and polite, there is little or no concern for larger issues of social justice or humanitarian effort.
My point? I’m not entirely sure. I’m a little jet-lagged and a lot tired…and I have to get up early to catch a plane for Hong Kong in the morning…so I’m not really feeling all that profound. But that Thai-boxing-Haiti-relief sign really got me thinking. In my travels around the world as a Christian speaker and teacher, I think I see the global influence of America declining. In some of the things that we export…through Hollywood in particular…I welcome that. But in other ways, I fear for a world where a Christian worldview (or at least the last vestiges of one) no longer has a serious spokesman.