Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Status Quo Does Not Benefit All

When we are too concerned with the details to see the big picture, we may be told "You can't see the forest for the trees." This tunnel vision can mar the historical record when we select some incident and think we know what happened without understanding the background of the incident. the society, and the mind set of the people living in a different culture than our own.  Sister Im Keum-cha of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Community has written a historical novel, " Break," which intends to show that the entrance of Catholicism in Korea was not only a Catholic thing but affected all of society.

The novel centers around the years 1830-40, as seen through  the eyes of its two protagonists, who are not Catholic but are able to see the problems of the society from having traveled widely and benefited from the status quo. They realized that this stratified society of  privileged and disadvantaged citizens has to be be broken; this goal to break the status quo gave the novel its name.

Catholicism brought into Korea a belief system that spoke about the equality of all. This thinking was not absent in Korea but Catholicism was showing how this could be achieved by putting into practice its beliefs.  It was because Catholicism was breaking down the status quo that brought about the persecution.

Sister has a doctorate in oriental philosophy,  studied in Taiwan and has taught in universities here and in the States. Her intention in writing history packaged in a historical novel was to make available her more academic works in a genre that would be of interest to all. She did this by introducing to us two protagonists whose primary concerns where not for themselves but for all of society. They could  see the world as bigger than their own life situation.

Both Catholic papers reviewed the book, one review quoting the words of one of the protagonists, who at the end of the novel whispers to his son: "Those who adhere to only one way will not allow for  change. But when we don't have change only a few will live well and the rest will live with anguish and without meaning. Change means to look for a new way. That is the way you should go. It is the  way to find meaning in life." It is this message the sister wants to  leave with the reader. (The word used in the title of the novel is the word I  translated as change in the above paragraph.)

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