Saturday, September 22, 2007

Wishing Death or Wishing Life

A recent article in Time Magazine speaks of a well known writer’s crusade against anything religious. Here’s how it starts:

Christopher Hitchens once devoted an entire book to portraying Mother Teresa as a phony, so perhaps Billy Graham got off easy when Hitchens described him, in a recent C-Span appearance, as "a self-conscious fraud," who didn't believe a word of what he preached, but was just in business for the money. The celebrated atheist, whose latest polemic, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, is firmly entrenched on the bestseller list, also called Graham a power-worshiping bigot who made a living by "going around spouting lies to young people. What a horrible career. I gather it's soon to be over. I certainly hope so." (http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1662757,00.html)

I’ve only read parts of Hitchens’ latest book, so I can’t speak fully to his argument, but I do know that he thinks religion is the cause of most of the horrors in the world. In some ways, he may be right. Most thinking people are pretty horrified at the toll that religious wars have caused. There is just something about the nature of our religious beliefs that often leads to extreme intolerance and even hatred and violence. No question that it is disturbing.

I also know the other side: the enormous amount of good that has been done in the name of religion. Here, Christianity leads the pack. I have no clue how many hungry have been fed, naked clothed, prisoners visited, immigrants welcomes and sheltered, or hospitals built and maintained in the name of Jesus because people know that God’s call on them is to relieve suffering wherever they find it.

Now, are good things done by those who have no religious beliefs? Of course. But the argument holds the other way as well. Horrible things are done by people who have no religious belief.

I wonder sometimes if Hitchens is raging not so much against religion but against the power of the human soul to do evil. There’s certainly plenty of evidence to support that contention. What fascinates me about the quote above is that Hitchens’ freely wishes death upon another person, i.e., Billy Graham. He himself in that statement is guilty of just as much evil as anyone else who has wished death upon another person, whether that person is doing it in the name of religion or some other cause. Like most of us, however, it looks like Hitchens has a well-developed ability to stay blind to his own shortcomings while feeling very, very free to point out anything he doesn’t like in others. And to feel free to wish something upon others that I’m betting he doesn’t what to happen to himself.

John Wesley, who founded the Methodist movement, spent his life seeking to be a true Christian. He knew that such a goal meant much more than saying words that brought eternal salvation. He knew there must also be a component that actively sought to do powerful and transformative good in the world around him. He was not afraid to examine those parts of his soul that might wish death upon another person and then to actively repent and learn to give life instead. Sometimes that is a very difficult process. It means an active and sometimes personally painful choice to love those who differ violently from us. It means doing what Jesus did—going to the cross for others by saying, “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they do,” in the midst of our own suffering.

I ache for the Christopher Hitchens’ of the world, for those people whose only exposure to religious thinking has been that of hatred and intolerance and rigidity and an inability to be graceful. How sad that those called Christians have failed to live out our call to love one another as Jesus loves us. Unfortunately, I’m betting that these words from Hitchens that were quoted in the Time Magazine article will lead to more hatred poured out upon him by those acting in the name of Jesus. That would only vindicate him. Surely God’s heart breaks when we refuse to love, no matter how painful it is. It’s time to change this pattern once and for all and learn to give life, not death. That is the way of Jesus.

1 comment:

Angie Hammond said...

I too hurt for the Christopher Hitchens of the world, but for a different reason. It is not for the type of exposure they have had to religion, instead I ache because they are living in darkness and have not experienced love. God's love or anyone else's for that matter. Perhaps that is why they strike out at others that have experienced it. They are like children who have been abused and hurt deep down inside. They want the love and attention but the only way they know how to get it is to lash out at those around them. It's a self fullfilling type of behavior which in the end gets them right back to being abused or unloved.

I teach in a school with children that have all kinds of issues and they lash out at the very people who offer love and hope to them. They do this because that is all they know how to do. They are still children, but will one day be adults who will do the same kind of things if they don't change. However, if they grow up having been shown the love of Christ instead of the world of hate, then perhaps they will not grow up to be like those who claim that religion is a fraud.

Because I teach in a school that is not considered private, I have to follow the rules about separation of church and state. This means no religion, but that does not mean that I can't practice the teachings of Jesus. I can offer love and hope to those I teach even on the days when it is hard to love them. And believe me I have those days. In fact I told a difficult student one day last wwek that he was making it hard for me to love him. To which he replied: "I didn't know that you did." I then told him that I did indeed love him. No, it didn't make it any easier to love him, but it did make a difference to him. I offered him my love and forgiveness and didn't require anything in return from him. No, it didn't make him into a perfect young man instantly, but I'm sure that it gave him something he didn't think he had before. Someone loved him and he knew it, and that gives hope for the future. Which by the way is what my school is all about. You see, I am a teacher for the University of Texas Charter School, Methodist Children's Home campus in Waco,TX. Where our school's mission statement is: The Methodist Children's Home School provides a hope filled learning community equipping students with relevant knowledge to pursue a productive future.

The key here is hope filled because our students come to us many times without hope and with many failures in their young lives. It is up to the teachers and staff of the school to show our students that they have a future filled with hope.
We do this by accepting them with love and forgiveness, while teaching them how to believe in themselves. We do this one child at a time, but all are equally important.

So, yes I agree with you Christy. The future is now and we can change it one person at a time if we offer life to those we find hardest to love. It's not easy, but I can say from personal experience that it will change not only those you offer life to, but it will change you as well.

Will I have that same student give me problems again? Yes I'm sure that I will, but I'll continue to love him just the same. And he will know it by my actions as well as my words and we will both be transformed by God's love.