3.12.07

This I Believe

During Thanksgiving Dinner I had a conversation that I'm still mulling over several weeks later. I must preface this by telling you that my MIL and my SILs are going to India in January. They are going to the province of Orissa, which is one of the poorest provinces in the country, much of it is still tribal, animistic. People live in the most primitive conditions, in the utmost poverty. In Orissa an unwanted child is dealt with by leaving it outside to die. Sometimes some midwives will slip a small stone into a new born's throat so that they gradually fade and die because they can't get enough food, but the mother will not feel as much guilt over this apparent "failure to thrive" as would be felt on leaving a child laying outside to die. In both cases the child dies, because the family doesn't feel that they are able to support another mouth to feed. In an even more evil twist, if you pick up and care for one of these abandoned children, the laws are such that you can go to jail on charges of kidnapping.

We know people who have been working in that province to change things for a long, long time. Recently they found a way, they hope, to work within the law and create an alternative for these abandoned babies. They are starting a "baby house" and my MIL the veteran baby holder extraordinaire has been asked if she would help to establish it, and train national staff volunteers in how to love babies, because it seems a foreign concept there. This was the exciting news that she shared with her guests at Thanksgiving.

Among those guests were a dear family who are from India, and have only been in the west a few years. I was talking to my friend, who is Hindu, over dinner. We started out by discussing the fact that Orissa is so poor because of the corruption that lies at every level of government. The poor are exploited, federal money is misappropriated, and it's every man, and baby, for themselves. He says this with the matter of factness that I've learned is common to the Hindu mindset. They don't think to change a situation, because they believe that everyone is where they deserve to be karmically, and that there will be many more lives for those people to live or move past this one. (I am over simplifying dreadfully, and I apologize for that but while I may miss nuances those are the basic essentials.)

We then moved on to discuss stem cell research and harvesting stem cells. He's been surprised to discover what a huge issue this is here in the US because in India no one cares what you do with dead babies, there are enough living babies who are dying because of lack of basic necessities, no one has time to worry about the ethics of using aborted fetal tissue.

I don't remember what my response was at the time, or if I responded at all. But I've been saddened by this conversation ever since. Here's what I wish I had said to my friend, and will if it ever comes up again.

What he just described is the difference between a Judeo-Christian world view and a Hindu world view. You see, with the belief that God created man in His own image comes the idea that human life is precious. If every child bears the image of God, every child's life matters. Compare ancient Roman practice with ancient Jewish practice. Roman children were left to die unless their fathers acknowledged them. Foreigners where conquered and condemned to slavery and death. The strong ruled by might. For those who weren't citizens there was no justice, no mercy, and no compassion.

Now look at what God instructs His people to do in these situations.

"Anyone who sacrifices any of his children to Moleck is to be put to death...If the members of the community close their eyes when a man sacrifices his children and fail to put him to death I will set my face against him and he will be cut off from his people."

"When foreigners reside among you in your land, do not mistreat them. (They) must be treated as your native born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt."

"Do not use dishonest weights or standards."

"Do not pervert justice."

"Do not hold back the wages of a hired man over night."

"Do not degrade your daughter by making her a prostitute."

"Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor's life."

Leviticus 19-20

Whether you are Jewish, or Christian, or not, the fact that you think that these things are wrong, the fact that you consider it wrong to sell girls as prostitutes, or to murder children, or to cheat others is due to the fact that you grew up in a culture whose roots are firmly established in the Judeo-Christian mindset. The rest of the world doesn't think like this. Parents in Thailand consider it an economic opportunity to get paid by a westerner for their five year old girls to perform blow jobs. (Terrify No More, Gary A. Haugen and Gregg Hunter, International Justice Mission)

It was Gentile Christians who had encountered the Spirit of the Living God who began to change history by picking up babies off of garbage heaps of Rome, adopting unwanted children into their own families, and raising them to adulthood, just as they had been adopted into grace and love and freedom.

Of course there have been spectacular screw ups in our history: the Crusades, the Inquisitions, the witch hunts, the murder of Protestants and Anabaptists by the Catholic church for crying foul and turning from what had become pervasive corruption, and then the retaliation by the Protestants when they gained the upper hand. Basically, anytime we mixed up politics and faith, church and state, and tried by coercion to turn men's hearts to God.

Did we not read where it says, "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after widows and orphans in their distress and to keep oneself blameless from the world."

It says of the early church, "All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had." Not because a Socialist state was compelling them to do so, but because they were compelled from within, by the transforming power of what they had encountered.

To my friend, and any one else, I would say that the reason people here care about fetal tissue, is because we believe life is precious, because we believe that even aborted babies bear the image of the divine and are not merely merchandise. Or at least, enough of us still do. We have fewer poor, we have less suffering, we have education for every child, we have health care, and basic needs, and a state that takes care of orphans, however imperfectly, not because we have more resources or are wealthier than in India. (India has more millionaires per capita than any other country, but they also have generations of people living in garbage dumps and in indentured servitude, modern day slavery, making bricks and cigarettes and performing the menial labor which makes others wealthy.) It's because we have not yet gotten so far outside of our heritage of faith that we can think that it's okay for things to be any other way.

We carry with us an idea of how things were meant to be. Here I quote Scott Bessenecker in The New Friars,
Never have there been thousands of people dying because they are dangerously overfed sharing the planet with billions who are dying because they cannot get enough calories to sustain life. In the economic laws that God established for the nation of Israel, there were built in safety valves designed to keep the gap between the rich and the poor small. "There should be no poor among you," God says in Deuteronomy 15:4 (NIV) Every seven years, those who had loaned out money were to forgive any borrowers who had not been able to pay them back. Can you imagine the impact of such a law today? Credit card companies are founded on the hope that you will be forever paying on your debt, but never paying it off. (my note, whole families are enslaved in this way as well.) Such a law would limit the amount of borrowing that took place to the bare minimum, and ensure that the rich had a vested interest in the poor getting back on their feet...
"If there is anyone among you who is in need...do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. You should rather open your hand willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be" (Deuteronomy 15:7-8)...
Even more radical was the jubilee law. Every couple of generations (fifty years to be exact), all the land that one person had obtained from another was to be returned...
The old testament laws did not allow anyone to get rich out of interest income, real-estate development or usury...that is, if the laws were actually followed. Unfortunately, the laws were not obeyed, at least not for long. Perhaps that is why the very same passage that states "there should be no poor among you" also says several verses later, "There will always be some in the land who are poor. That is why I am commanding you to share freely with the poor and others who are in need." (Deuteronomy 15:11)
However poorly we have adhered to these tenants in the past, or present, they are a standard that shaped us as a society and as a culture. Although we are rapidly losing this, enough people in the west have been concerned about the welfare of more than themselves for long enough that we don't have such corrupt governments that children are left beside the street and no one blinks an eye, and those who try to help them are put in jail. We have laws to prevent the rich from exploiting the poor and we usually enforce them. We have a government that redistributes a portion of the wealth for the benefit of all. We challenged the status quo on issues like slavery, racism, and women's rights and though change has been too slow for some, it has been possible. I would bet it would be a lot harder, and in fact it has not happened yet outside of the western world.

It's been cool lately to be tolerant of everyone else, including Islam which still has radical fundamentalist groups who consider killing people who don't agree with them a righteous act, but to beat up on Christianity. And there are aspects of the way that the Christian faith is represented in this nation that I, for one, find personally embarrassing. But even those embarrassing, highly political, often judgemental, apparently backward and not so intelligent, and suffering from what seems to be a severe case of very poor exegesis representatives of Christianity have compassion. They care, they value life, and they do what they can to make sure that this nation especially, and the world at large, is a place that is safe for children, a place where the poor are helped, and no one lives in bondage.

As I write this I am very aware that the US and our economy is one of the largest oppressors on the global market. I am aware that globally we feed the problem more than we help it, by our rampant consumerism. But I don't think you can blame Christians for that, though there is a tendency for the church to buy into the consumer culture also. We deserve all the ridicule we get for the things that happen when we abandon our blueprint and look to our own comfort instead. But what is there to belittle in the practice of mercy, kindness, compassion, and selfless love? It sure beats the hell out of the alternative.

I honestly believe that there is no cure for that which ails our planet better and more all encompassing than that all of humanity encounters that same Spirit which first breathed fire into that little Jewish community more than 2 thousand years ago. Call me naive or dogmatic if you want to, but do you have a better answer?

6 comments:

  1. God I s good, at all times, and circumstances
    We are human full of sin, thoughts that been watched by the blood of Jesus will fall.
    Peter fell when he denied Jesus three times. He was forgiven .Did he stop sinning.
    No Paul confronted him when he would only sit with the Jew and avoids the gentiles
    11When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. 12Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. However, when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group11When Peter came to Antioch; I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. 12Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. However, when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group.
    Galatians 2:11-12
    So even as Christian, we mess up but God loves us
    With all the trouble that each religion has with power. When we get it we miss use it we start hurting the children in all the of religion
    Let do what Jesus did and look at the true power

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  2. It always amazes me how important the "word" is to the deeply religious.
    I wonder if you will rely on the same when your child or family member is afflicted by a disease that could be cured by the cells, the itty bitty tininess, of a life that God has already taken?
    If we should truly live in the image of a Holy Spirit, then we should marvel at the power of intellect he has given some to cure the diseases of others.
    You are an excellent writer. I would, with all due respect, like more of your own words.

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  3. ms picket.

    thanks for your comment.

    First of all you mention my use of the "word". Since the point I am trying to make, perhaps unsuccessfully is that the Judeo-Christian tradition has formed our culture and ideas of justice in different directions from other cultures, my quoting of the "word" is in order to demonstrate that point. I quote directives in the ancient laws that were completely different from the surrounding cultures and the source of our own. How shall I prove my point about their influence without quoting what it says? How would one write a literary analysis without quoting the literature? I'm not using it as proof in the way you seem to think, but more as illustration.

    As to your second sentence, there are two things to say. First, how can you say "a life that God has already taken?" when we both know we're talking about a life that a person deliberately terminated? I don't consider that a life that God has taken.
    Second, stem cells can also be found in umbilical chord blood. If that were harvested there would be no need to use fetal tissue.

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  4. I agree. Very eloquently stated.

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  5. ponderer3:35 PM

    I have just found your blog and I appreciate what I've read so far. I think it is wonderful that you have taken the time to ruminate on your conversation over Thanksgiving and then eloquently articulated your thoughts about Judeo-Christian heritage. Here in Australia we have a newly elected Prime Minister ( head sharang ) and he had said that he understands that God is on the side of the weak, the marginalised, and that he is motivated as a politician from that understanding. He's just gone off the Bali to sign the Kyoto protocol too, and stressed that it is a caring for poorer countries issue as much as a protecting the future issue.
    Getting off the subject perhaps...

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  6. ponderer7:21 PM

    I have just found your blog and I appreciate what I've read so far. I think it is wonderful that you have taken the time to ruminate on your conversation over Thanksgiving and then eloquently articulated your thoughts about Judeo-Christian heritage. Here in Australia we have a newly elected Prime Minister ( head sharang ) and he had said that he understands that God is on the side of the weak, the marginalised, and that he is motivated as a politician from that understanding. He's just gone off the Bali to sign the Kyoto protocol too, and stressed that it is a caring for poorer countries issue as much as a protecting the future issue.
    Getting off the subject perhaps...

    ReplyDelete

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