When the International Olympic Committee (IOC) awarded the 2008 Games to Beijing, it settled years of jockeying among the cities that had been vying to host the Games. But it did nothing to settle the nagging question on many people's minds: How come a nation with such a tarnished human rights record is being given a prize like this? As one critic put it, "This decision will allow the Chinese police state to bask in the reflected glory of the Olympic Games despite having one of the most abominable human rights records in the world" (Associated Press, July 13).
There is, of course, a more hopeful view. One that sees the Games serving as a catalyst for change within China - focusing the spotlight of world attention on the world's most populous nation and thus impelling the correction of some of its most egregious practices. IOC director general Francois Carrard put it this way: "We are totally aware at the IOC there is one issue on the table ... and that is human rights.... Human rights is a very serious issue in the entire world. It is not up to the IOC to interfere in [this] issue, but we are taking the bet that seven years from now, we sincerely and dearly hope we will see many changes" (Associated Press).
I'm not trying here to enter that debate. What might happen over the next seven years is a matter of speculation. And speculation is not nearly as pertinent a focus as transformation. Now, that's a topic to which we can all lend a hand, no matter how distanced we may feel from the levers of power in international politics. Since Beijing is where the Games will be played, regardless of how one views the decision, why not consider some additional factors - spiritual ones - that have a transforming impact? These spiritual factors sustain every sincere step away from oppression and toward greater political freedom and surer human rights. And, like all spiritual facts, they make a tangible difference in everyday affairs whenever they are perceived and employed in prayer.
There's something about the Olympic spirit - a common bond of sharing love of sport and valuing excellence regardless of the nationality or origins of the individual competitor - that prevails against oppression and signals a kind of freedom from limitation to which we all have a right. Does that spirit spring from the bedrock truth that we're all equal, free, unoppressed in the eyes of the Almighty?
It was during a much earlier time, a time when the Olympic Games of ancient Greece were a fixed part of that society's landscape, that St. Paul wrote, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28).
Each time we glimpse more of this spiritual equality we all share, we're moving consciousness a tiny degree further toward the time when such spiritual equality can no longer be ignored by anyone, anywhere. To put it more simply, we're praying. Effectively. In ways that have a transforming effect.
The hopeful view - the view that human rights records around the world can be transformed favorably over the coming years - has something going for it. It might be called a divine underpinning. Trust progress in human rights to political, economic, and social pressures, and the outcome is iffy. Trust the Almighty - see progress in human rights as resting on the spiritual foundation of our God-given freedom and equality - and that progress becomes certain. Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy once wrote: "God has built a higher platform of human rights, and He has built it on diviner claims. These claims are not made through code or creed, but in demonstration of 'on earth peace, good-will toward men' " ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," pg. 226).
What's our role in forwarding the transformation built on "diviner claims"? Our role is to keep on acknowledging the God-built platform of human rights as present and active in human affairs; to see God's workings as the basis of every right endeavor for truer human rights and therefore that these endeavors are under His care; to demonstrate "on earth peace, good-will toward men" moment by moment, in even the smallest dealings we have with one another.
Let the transformation begin!
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor