Friday, April 19, 2013

Musings on Life and Death

It's Friday morning.  I'm sitting here reflecting on the news of the hour -- as I write this one of the Boston Marathon bombers is dead and the other is perhaps cornered by police.  All we know right now is that the two brothers implicated have Chechen connections.  Yes they are Muslim, but whether driven by religion or some other ideological cause, we don't know yet.  In any case more are dead, and violence continues to make itself felt.  Added to this reality is the aftermath of an explosion at a fertilizer plant in Texas, which raises its own set of questions about plant safety and diminished governmental oversight.

This past week we also witnessed the introduction of a comprehensive bi-partisan immigration bill into the US Senate.  I have hopes that this will move forward and help resolve a long festering issue in American life.  But at the same time I'm frustrated that the US Senate is again stymied in its efforts to produce meaningful and sensible gun legislation.  Why many in Congress seem to think that regulating access to guns purchased online and at gun shows is bad policy is beyond me?  If one must go through a background check to buy a gun at Walmart, why not online?  

As I think upon these things I'm in the midst of a post-Easter series of sermons that reflect on the transformative encounters with the Risen Christ.  As people who embrace the Risen Christ, should we not also embrace the sacred value of life, especially human life?  My thoughts on this subject are being stretched as I read David Gushee's powerful new book The Sacredness of Human Life.  Even if I'm not on board at all points with Gushee's positions, I'm finding this to be a very helpful.  

In a section near the end of the book -- where I've now reached -- he speaks of the issue of human rights.  He notes that many Christian critics of human rights talk -- especially the Universal Declaration of Human Rights -- focus on the cross.  Some argue that in imitation of Christ we should dispense with rights talk, because in imitation of Jesus we should be giving up our rights.  

But for Christians perhaps the conversation should be less about rights and more about duties.  And its here that I think we can come together -- seeking to find ways of living out the command to love our neighbor.   Gushee writes:

The biblical command to love one's neighbor, to treat her as the "sacred animal" (Lactantius) that she is, creates binding duties for the Christian.  Examination of the human condition reveals that our neighbors are needy creatures who are vulnerable to harm and even desecration from every side.  They have bodies that are exquisitely responsive to pain (this can be exploited to terrorize or torture them); they have relationships that matter deeply to them (this also can be exploited to terrorize or torture them); they need food and shelter (this can be denied them long enough to immiserate or kill them.  The obligation to love our neighbors in a manner commensurate with their sacred worth and responsive to their vulnerability and neediness creates a Christian duty to intervene on their behalf when their worth is being isolated  their core needs are going unmet, or their vulnerability is being exploited.  (The Sacredness of Human Life: Why an Ancient Biblical Vision Is Key to the World's Futurep. 377).

Perhaps it all comes down to the question posed by Cain to God -- "am I my brother's keeper?"  And the answer is -- yes, I do have a responsibility for my brother and sister, my neighbor whom I know and the neighbor who is a stranger.  Perhaps if we took this seriously then we wouldn't see the cycle of violence that remains prevalent in our world.  


John said...

It seems to me that opposition to human rights from the Christian Right is indefensible from the perspective of authentic Christian principles.

First of all, as Christians we need be concerned about what WE are doing, not what others are doing, so any opposition to the "rights" of others is theologically insupportable. Second, as Christians dedicated to serving the 'other,' there is a priority call upon us to safeguard and enhance the rights and the dignity of the 'other.' Even at our own cost and peril. Moreover, the burdens of sacrifice laid by God upon Christians belong to us and not to other, non-Christians. It is not for us to tell others what they should and shouldn't be concerned with.

Finally, it appears to me that Christian based opposition to human rights arises not out of genuine love and concern for the other, but out of more selfish motivations, usually having to do with not being willing either to make the sacrifices necessary to secure those rights, or, more often an unwillingness to 'share the wealth.'

In truth such opposition arises out of a sense that "if 'our people' can do it so can 'yours,' but like us, you are going to have to do this on your own, if for no other reason than to prove you are worthy if it. Nor are we willing to forgo the systemic advantages and benefits we now receive at your expense - so good luck to you, while we pray for our continued good fortune, we'll pray that all goes well for you so long as it doesn't cost us anything."

Do sound unduly cynical?

John said...

So I was sitting with some friends last night when we learned that 19 year old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured. One of my friends angrily exclaimed that he hoped the kid was killed in the take down.

All I could think was that 'he's just a kid,' likely cajoled into this whole mess by a controlling older brother who lost his mind. My sense is that this kid is more terrified by his circumstances, and more horrified by his actions than his victims. He will have a lot to answer for, and a terrible legacy to live with for the rest of his life. And I want to think he knows this already.

He's just a kid, and before Monday all who knew him thought of him as a good kid, who was smart, popular, and fun loving, with great prospects for the future. Did he become a bad kid? Something went terribly wrong; evil came into the world, and he was one of its first victims.

So I think we need to pray for him, for his healing along side of the healing of the victims of this horror.