Some commentators have suggested that since our ideas of human rights are strictly western concepts, it is an example of both ethnocentrism and cultural imperialism for us to insist that eastern nations — for instance China — be bound by them.

I find such an argument difficult to swallow. I simply cannot fathom the legitimacy of such “ethical diversity.”

If morality is not absolute and universal, along the lines of the laws of physics (and perhaps even, in some sense, a consequence of those laws), then I am at a loss as to how we could legitimately question the behavior of Nazi-era Germans who murdered millions of Jews. I doubt that any of those who suggest Chinese behavior is acceptable would agree that killing Jews is a good thing. Consequently, I would suggest that they don’t really believe the argument they’re making, and in fact that they haven’t thought through the implications of their suggestion.

I’ve even read some who try to excuse the treatment of Christians in China by arguing that Christianity is a foreign imposition on that ancient land and an example of western imperialism, so of course the Chinese are going to react harshly. And besides, in the past, some Christians were persecutors and oppressors.

Yet in the west, aren’t we supposed to be open to new ideas and accept cultural diversity? So it’s good for us to accept foreign ideas, but we can’t expect the Chinese to be this enlightened? Doesn’t this strike you as patronizing at its worst? Plus there’s the ethical problem of it all: the Christians somehow deserve to be persecuted because Christianity isn’t a native Chinese faith and besides, some of the Christian’s ancestors might have been bad people? I think I detect some injustice here, don’t you?

Yet, China deserves censure for its treatment of Tibet and the Dali Lama.

I would agree that it does, but I’m mightily annoyed at the inconsistency and shallow thinking evidenced by certain pundits who will decry the treatment of one group at the same time they accept the persecution of another, simply because one group seems more “deserving” than another.

Frankly, if one group is being persecuted, it might as well be me being persecuted. If I don’t think that way, then I run the risk of falling into the trap attributed to Martin Ni¬emoeller:

In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm the interim pastor at Quartz Hill Community Church. I have written several books. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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