When I get a chance to grab some exercise after work, I tend to read. It helps me to focus my attention on something other than the exertion. Give the body enough attention to keep it working hard, but not enough for it to complain at me.
My current workout book is Our Endangered Values, by Jimmy Carter, and while reading this evening, I came across something that me really impresionó. To give a little context, the thing that impressed me was expanding on a comment from his 2002 Nobel speech, where he said, “The present era is a challenging and disturbing time for those whose lives are shaped by religious faith based on kindness towards each other.”
Christianity Today asked him to explain that further, leading to:
There is a remarkable trend toward fundamentalism in all religions—including the different denominations of Christianity as well as Hinduism, Judaism, and Islam. Increasingly, true believers are inclined to begin a process of deciding: “Since I am aligned with God, I am superior and my beliefs should prevail, and anyone who disagrees with me is inherently wrong.” And the next step is “inherently inferior.” The ultimate step is “subhuman,” and then their lives are not significant.
That tendency has created, throughout the world, intense religious conflicts. Those Christians who resist the inclination toward fundamentalism and who truly follow the nature, actions, and words of Jesus Christ should encompass people who are different from us with our care, generosity, forgiveness, compassion, and unselfish love.
It is not easy to do this. It is a natural human inclination to encapsulate ourselves in a superior fashion with people who are just like us—and to assume that we are fulfilling the mandate of our lives if we just confine our love to our own family or to people who are similar and compatible. Breaking through this barrier and reaching out to others is what personifies a Christian and what emulates the perfect example that Christ set for us.”
His comments about “I’m better because God’s on my side” and the human inclination to encapsulate ourselves parallel concerns of mine. I can’t count how many sunday school classes I’ve been in where we start talking about what people are like “in the world” and how much “the world” isn’t like us. In respect to a number of standards and norms, this is true. We’re different. In many core respects though, we’re very much the same, and sometimes that seems to get lost, especially when talking about groups of people that don’t hold to the same standards of conduct as one’s own group.
I think one of the most difficult parts of Christianity is the idea of loving people while hating sin. It’s so easy to confound the two, either hating people we consider sinful (potentially running through the “inherently wrong… inferior… subhuman” progression that President Carter mentions), or condoning sins because of our love for the people committing them. (They’re people like you and me after all.)
I come from a background where people have made serious, sinful mistakes, the most painful mistakes being those made by people I care about and am close with. I can look back at energy wasted in the past, raging over what people had done to me and how it wasn’t fair. I wasn’t really able to move ahead in life until I learned to let those things go and remember that I can’t control what other people do and I’m not meant to. With that sort of background, if I err, I tend toward letting something someone does slide.
I hope that leaves me in a good spot. It’s served pretty well thus far in my ecclesiastical work. That said, I’m not in a place where I have to judge the worthiness of others beyond referring them to other authorities when grave issues come up. Even in those cases, I’m often amazed at how easily forgiveness flows and people change. Contrition and atonement make quite the combination.
And with that… I really better get to sleep. Sorry to lose focus at the end here.
Post some thoughts. Kick me into thinking things through a bit more.