Tuesday, September 26
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
In today's Herald, a letter writer asks, "Can we find our spine before it's too late?" A better question might be, "Can we find our soul before it's too late?" For a nation that prides itself on its Christianity, the teachings of Jesus on conflict and peace seem to have been largely left behind. Whatever happened to "love your enemy", or even, "love your neighbor" for that matter? I saw an improvised bumper sticker on the road the other night: "Die liberal scum". I don't know if I'm a liberal or not (most people I know are not so easily categorized), but I'm not sure I like the message. If I disagree with you, I have to die? Why does that feel so eerily familiar?
The above-mentioned writer is apparently upset by the "smug rooting for our enemies by Democrats." Apparently, any American who thinks the Iraq war was a bad idea is now a traitor, an enemy. The dominant emotion seems to be resentment, the dominant mode of communication, blame. It's the one thing that really unites us all. Not our shared humanity, but our collective need to lash out at those we feel are responsible for evil, always getting the judgment a little bit wrong, a little bit off balance, gradually ramping up the rhetoric and the rage as things go from bad to worse.
As a skeptic of organized faith (or a hell-bound heretic, depending on who you ask), I really have no business telling Christians how to honor Jesus. But his teachings, reflected in the ringing voices of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., and carried forward in the good work of people who truly love their enemy and pave the way to peace in their hearts and in their lives, have profoundly affected me in a way that I can only describe as spiritual. There are Christians who love people on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide, who connect from the heart rather than being single-mindedly stuck on talking points and pigeonholes and End Times visions of mass slaughter, and who respond to insults as Jesus commanded, with humility and blessing. They seem to remain in the minority, or perhaps they are only the more vocal wing of a meek and silent majority. While I can find some love for those who hate and can feel some empathy for the pain beneath political cliches and epithets, I find it difficult to understand the rationalizations that lead from the gentle teachings of Christ ("If your enemy is hungry, feed him"..."Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse") to the shrill howling for blood on the political and media stage, the venomous talk radio name-calling, as each side rationalizes its own Machiavellian tendencies by pointing fingers at the other. The blind leading the blind will never shed light on complex issues, the system they're tied to requires them to hit hard, and never admit fault. Christians in politics serve two masters, even as they use Jesus as their brand identity. I have compassion for them, too.
Christians who were deeply moved by The Passion might want to take some time in prayer to reflect on the teachings Jesus said were central to Christian life: love your enemy, bless those who curse you, love the sinner while hating the sin. If we fall back on "an eye for an eye" instead of showing our humanity in the world (yes, even to people who don't like us), we will have serious problems down the road. As Gandhi bluntly put it, "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." Perhaps that's changing, now that more Christians are disentangling themselves from political and cultural webs that promote division and mean-spirited judgment. If there is any doubt about the Biblical view on nationalism, read Acts 10:34: "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right."
I have no problem with people who leave Christianity, finding their spiritual home elsewhere. But lip service to Christianity with so little genuine love is not pretty. The above-mentioned writer asks "are we doomed?" Perhaps history will doom us to repeat our mistakes. But I believe we have a hidden spiritual side, a uniquely American ability to respond to challenges creatively and moral clarity, when all other solutions have failed and apathy is dissolved in catastrophe. America may become a beacon of freedom to the world, after we've exhausted power, money and pride and discover that love for enemies and strangers is not just a theoretical virtue, but a requirement of civilization.