Sunday, February 04, 2007

Forgetful Christians

One of my favorite ambulance experiences occurred on the Yom Kippur holiday several years ago. I was called to a Jewish home where the aged grandfather had passed out and fallen from his chair just as the large family was finishing the fast-ending dinner. Per protocol, a paramedic from another agency also responded. With family surrounding us, my Muslim paramedic friend and my Presbyterian self gently examined the man and determined that his condition was likely not life-threatening. He had, in observance of the fast, not taken his medications that day; moreover, the large meal after the fast had likely shocked his system. The family thanked us effusively as we prepared to transport the now-conscious patient to the hospital where his system would be re-balanced.

Although three distinct religions were represented at that emergency, the influence of religion was positive rather than negative. Everyone in that home acted in the best spirit of their beliefs: we respected their Hebrew tradition and valued the strong family bonds that it helped maintain; the family respected our commitment to providing the best possible care for any person who needed it. We all recognized our religious differences, but our religious commonalities were far more obvious as we worked together to sort out and resolve the old man's problem. All three religions emphasize "helping the stranger".

I remember this call because, during the past week, I've received Muslim-hating communications from two people who have been good friends for many years. These two people have held significant executive positions in large corporations, and they are excellent family-men and regular church-goers. These men, by listening to right wing radio and TV, have become full of fear and hate for Muslims in general. They have become scary people.

One forwarded email stated "Peace-loving Muslims have been made irrelevant by their silence. Peace-loving Muslims will become our enemy if they don't speak up, because like my friend from Germany, they will awake one day and find that the fanatics own them, and the end of their world will have begun." Even though the letter focused primarily on the danger presented by Muslim extremists, it obviously encouraged readers to see all Muslims as potential terrorists. Their inaction in confronting the extremists was considered complicity, and therefore worthy of punishment.

The second item, a personal email to me, stated "we are in a worldwide religious culture war" and "the radical Muslims want us eradicated and have 1.2 billion Muslim people agreeing to it by not openly disagreeing....If we aren't very very careful, our wives will be wearing veils and black robes and we'll be riding camels and "filling up" at the stone water trough while AK-47's watch over our activities." "Live and let live is pure folly!" The letter attempted to convince me that Muslims are a big threat and "we must not let them populate the USA".

My friends have an answer for the Muslim terrorists - be just like them! Appropriate God as our own and nobody else's; lump all people of a certain kind together, and name them as a monolithic threat; accept force as the only way for us to survive. I find this almost impossible to comprehend, that educated people in America - Christians - can get to this place.

Whatever happened to "love your enemies, do good to those who persecute you". Apparently when the going gets tough, many Christians have a short memory of what their own faith teaches. They need to be reminded that Christians believe all people are children of God, that violence is counter-productive, and that love is the solution to the problems of the world. So I have a job to do: to find a way to get through to my friends in a way that will be helpful. I'm thinking hard about this very difficult task, but I'm also invigorated. My religion would be empty if it didn't force me to live up to it from time to time, with challenges more difficult than lifting a sick old man off the floor.


Dave said...

Glad you are back to writing more frequently, or is this an abberation?

I read somewhere over the weekend that there have been tensions between Sunni and Shia muslims in the US recently. I don't know the genesis of it. Probably more sectarian than religious.

As is usual, you have more optimism than I do. I see the various Muslim factions and us fighting for years.

Ron Davison said...

There are so many things scary about this. One is that it is not just the xenophobic right wing talk show hosts who are saying this kind of stuff - Sam Harris, new darling of America's thinking class, spouts similar fears. It's a big, complex world. There is enough data out there to support about any position. I'm with you - let's focus on the data that suggests hope. After all, without hope it's hopeless.