the events unfolding in the world--the killing of a young black man in a suburb of st. louis and the ensuing turbulence, the fighting in syria, iraq, and ukraine, the war between the israeli government and hamas, the civil unrest in thailand--have amazed and troubled me of late. it is easy to sit in my comfortable chair, smugly congratulating myself like the pharisee in jesus' story that i am not like other men: i am rational and compassionate, i would never embrace a religion and lifestyle of intolerance that participates in the execution of those who disagree with me, i would never shoot an unarmed teenager. or would i?
how much does the culture in which we were brought up and continue to live influence us? when i am honest with myself i know that i am a christian because i was born a christian and live in a society in which christianity is the dominant religion. that i am a "progressive" christian rather than a partisan of the religious right probably has as much to do with my upbringing and education as it does with convictions arrived at through thought and inquiry. had i been born in most parts of the middle east, chances are i would have been a muslim and, had i been exposed from an early age to radical expressions of islam, chances are i would have been as radical as the fighters of isis. had i been born in thailand or burma, i would be a buddhist most likely. had i been born in india, i probably would be hindu.
so i wonder if the way to end senseless violence and racism is to convince others that my religion is the true one, as many christians suggest. is my version of christianity or some other's version the solution to all the world's problems? is believing that the religion of another is the source of evil and clinging to our own as the true or favored way a valid path out of the quagmire? or is the answer to work together to eliminate the poverty and lack of education that provide a fertile ground for hate to flourish? should we not meet those who look and believe differently from us with respect and tolerance, rather than seeking to impose our own culture and beliefs on them? would we be as concerned for those under the control of the islamic state in syria and iraq if only shiite muslims were being persecuted, rather than all religious minorities including christians?
i can't know what is in the heart of another, but i can know what is in my own heart. i must ask myself if i am harboring racism and intolerance within me and confront the prejudices i find. as i think about how to view the world and the actions of others, i must be honest about the cultural biases that filter my view and use my intellect to push aside those biases. may each of us see the humanity in every person, including the policeman who shot an unarmed young man in ferguson, the fighters who kill those with whom they disagree, the religious zealots who would have us persecute others because of their sexual orientation, the hamas fighters who bomb innocent israelis, and the israeli soldiers that kill hundreds of innocent palestians in gaza. may each of us learn to see past the influences of background, culture, and education that makes us appear different and see the suffering person that is not so different from us. shalom