Troy Van Voorhis, an MIT theological chemistry professor, premiered Veritas Forum in Asia on 7 April 2016 at University of Hong Kong (HKU) amidst a time of losing faith and hope in the Chinese enclave.
Triangular relationship of science, suffering and hope
Mr Van Voorhis’ theoretical foundation lays on his theory of the inter-relationship amongst science, suffering and hope. According to Mr Van Voorhis, this triangular relationship is the way science plays its double-sword role – achievements and consequences – and the self-contradictory yet potentially revolutionary paradox that characterises modern scientific and technological development. Having briefly touched upon the relationship between science and suffering and science and hope, Mr Van Voorhis quickly moved on to which he described as “the only filed [in the triangle] that I am not an expert on”, the relationship between suffering and hope. Mr Van Voorhis defined hope as a blurry dimension between certainty and delusion which can only be attained through suffering and redemption, just as Jesus Christ had demonstrated. Using two very personal examples of his own faith-searching past of falling into depression in college but returned to God’s grace later on in life as well as seeing his five-year-old son’s miraculous recovery from an incurable illness of low red cell level since three months, Mr Van Voorhis articulated on the cause-and-effect dynamic of redemption and miracle.
Popular books echo
The unique position of hope existing in between certainty and delusion does not only play a role in private sphere. It can be a tool of imposing absolute rule. In the popular dystopian trilogy The Hunger Games, written by Suzanne Collins, hope is exploited by president Snow to rule over Panem. Following the quelling of the country’s first rebellion seventy-four years prior to the story begins, the Hunger Games was set up to place the entirety of twelve ruled districts into such a dimension. Death is not certain as a one twenty-fourth chance is left for those reaped to fight in the arena and slave living conditions under humongous human rights violations are left for the population to salvage. However, any attempt to ever rage another rebellion or express any dissent is a delusion under Snow’s iron fist. The one hope of being able to live is what kept Panem going and Snow in power, until a lone voice Katniss stepped out of line to volunteer for her sister Prim in the reaping, covered Rue’s body in the Games and pulled out poisonous berries to commit double-suicide with Peeta. Once omnipresent fear is broken and the balance in the certainty-delusion dimension is shifted, the regime’s days are numbered. Mr Van Voorhis said he did not think so when commenting on whether Katniss would choose not to go into the war if she would have known the outcome of rebel leader’s betrayal and the repeating of historic circle of a renewed round of repression in a post-talk private conversation. This is perhaps because of people’s redeeming might amidst great suffering has prepared for the miracle.
Fear does not have to be overcome by God’s grace. Instead it can be attained by self-initiating the kind of Mr Van Voorhis’s suffering and redemption. Such a heartfelt move is evident in Maria Chaudhuri’s novelistic memoir Beloved Strangers. Never being able to feel love and embrace from both parents at home in her native Bangladesh, Ms Chaudhuri continued to be fearful of returning home when she moved to the US for university, and even sacrificed her feeling to marry a Tanzania-born middle-aged man when being told that she was being loved, thus becoming what she calls a “martyr” – to give the man who claimed to love her the necessary compassion that herself lacked since childhood. Only after breaking free from the first marriage by experiencing a period of affair did she began to search for true love in the sense of mutual embracement. Suffering and redemption subtly linked Ms Chaudhuri’s life threads. Going through the “extremely introspective”, as Ms Chaudhuri called it in Hong Kong Book Fair 2015, length of writing the book is also a part of this process. “I wouldn’t say the fear go away; they are there. But that’s [writing the book] what I wanted to do”, said Ms Chaudhuri.
Named after the Latin word of truth, Veritas Forum “is committed to courageous conversation, helps students and faculties ask life’s hardest questions, places the historic Christian faith in dialogue with other beliefs and invites participants from all backgrounds to pursue truth together,” according to its website. Since inception at Harvard University in 1992, the Forum has held over 2,000 times at over 200 universities in North America and Europe. The Forum’s first Asia-stop is a part of HKU’s Faith and Global Engagement Initiative which was inaugurated by former British prime minister Tony Blair in June 2012. Mr Blair's inauguration talk was interrupted by a “citizen’s arrest” attempt made by Tom Grundy, editor-in-chief of online media Hong Kong Free Press.