Sunday, June 26, 2005

Ubi Caritas Et Amor - Or Lack Thereof

Run for the hills, because Karen is going to talk about religion again. 

I always get nervous about entries like this one.  Some so-called Christians will probably be angry, if they ever read this; and non-Christians will probably skip it. I may even get a hateful comment or two--it wouldn't be the first time. Still, I'd prefer that you stick around.  It may not be quite the sermon you expect.

I had lunch yesterday with a friend I've known for fifteen years.  This friend has numerous problems--multiple physical and mental illnesses, family and money problems.  She also happens to be Wiccan.

Now, I'm not a big fan of Wicca, especially as practiced by 21st century Americans.  In my extremely limited experience, it seemed silly and fake, more like a self-conscious fantasy role playing game and snubbing of the prevailing culture than a deeply held set of beliefs.  I could be totally wrong here, and probably am, but the only Wiccan ceremony I ever witnessed left me with that impression.

Do people show similar hostility to another kind of star? Still, D/S believes in it, probably more deeply than I would be inclined to credit from my one brief encounter with the religion.  She does absolutely no harm thereby: does not curse or sacrifice or worship the devil, or partake in any other evil practices of which witches have been falsely accused over the centuries.  Wicca, as I understand it, is predicated on a respect for life, human and otherwise.  My friend commits no crimes or atrocities, and is therefore entitled to her consitutional right of freedom of religion. It is appropriate, perhaps, to briefly express gentle disagreement with her, but she should not be subjected to discriminatory treatment, harrassment, hatred, or neglect because of her beliefs.

Nevertheless, as she moves through the patchwork system of government social services and government-sponsored health and rehab programs, my friend frequently encounters all of the above.  She is labeled a troublemaker and treated with hostility by people in authority, or expected to change her ways if she wants to be helped.  "They wanted me to move to a facility that has three hours of Bible study every night," she told me.  A former Christian, my  friend is already familiar with the Bible, but that's not the point. The implication is that she would receive nightly pressure to recant and change her mind about religion, as a condition for receiving government-sponsored treatment.  Sorry, but that's just plain wrong, on several counts.  It's unconstitutional, it's unfair, and it's unChristian. 

Equally wrong is the treatment she gets from her pain doctor--or rather, lack of treatment.  Having seen a "Goddess Bless" sticker on my friend's mobility scooter, the doctor immediately expressed his disapproval.  My friend has since been told by the doctor's staff that she never will be allowed to see him again, and will only deal with the nurse practitioner instead.  Aside from the insult, and possible violation of the Hippocratic oath, the treatment itself is inadequate.  My friend's pain medication was changed to a famously addictive drug that's "as cheap as dirt," as a result of which she recently spent time in the hospital with withdrawal symptoms.

Not right.  Not fair.  Not Christian.

One of the windows I have open right now is a sermon by Father John R. Smith, to be posted on the St. Michael's web site.  Two brief quotes are appropriate here:

Doesn't that look welcoming?In this age it is not enough to throw biblical statements to the outsider. For God’s words remain empty until they are lived. But when the word is demonstrated in our lives, relationships, lifestyles and loves, it becomes "alive and active," manifesting the living Christ in the world so that the unbelievers or the enemy themselves are forced to ask: where do those Christians get this love and this peace?

But it's never an easy peace.  Jesus goes on to say to His disciples, " I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter in law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household." In Jesus’  time, Semitic peoples had a striking way of expressing the love they felt for different people.  Instead of saying, "I love you more than I love him," they would say, "I love you and hate him." This was their way of expressing preference in relationships,and did not mean the second person was hated. So when Jesus said these words it was not meant that we should hate our families but, that our love for Him should come as a priority.  Some of you live this reality: a family member doesn't believe in Jesus, but you love them and would do anything for them, but your belief in Jesus Christ and knowing Him as Lord and Savior is a priority.  You still love them and help them, but you won't follow their beliefs.

This sermon follows on a recent Gospel reading at St. Michael's, in which Jesus eats with tax collectors, 1st century pariahs who were considered sinners and collaborators.  In a choice between the self-righteous or the sinners, the rich and powerful or the humble laborers, Jesus always chose to hang out with the lowly ones: the pariahs, the fishermen, the tax collectors and the lepers.

My friend is as close to being a metaphorical leper as you'll find in the modern world.  She has no husband, no money, and lots of illnesses.  Her own son seldom consents to see her, although he lives nearby.  She is terribly lonely.  My friend is fat because of her disabilities, and a vegetarian in a McDonald's world.  She wants to work, but even self-employment seems to be beyond her at this point.  She furnishes her small apartment mostly out of dumpsters.  To top it off, she's an adherent to a minority religion that is little tolerated and less understood.  And yet she is intelligent and generous and kind, with a keen sense of justice.

So how would Jesus treat a woman like that?  Certainly not with disdain and hostility and neglect!  He would bring her love and peace and healing.  This is what we should also try to do.

But contrast this with the text of a banner I saw last night on a website that a Jewish friend of mine considered absurd enough to be funny.  The web page was primarily about Noah's sons riding dinosaurs. Frankly, I was too angered by the page's header to be amused by the pseudoscience:


I totally missed the fact that the page was satirical, no more in earnest than The Onion. The words on this banner are more blatant than most of what one sees from the religious right, but I found it all too plausible. Churchesall over the country struggle with issues of tolerance, and all too many come down on the side of exclusion.  I'm thinking particularly of the gay issue here, but it also extends to the denial of communion to politicians who don't want to pass secular laws to enforce church doctrine.  Admittedly, there's a serious issue of morality involved here, but it seems short-sighted to place that single issue above all others, especially since reasonable people disagree on the subject. Jesus never mentioned homosexuality, birth control or abortion, but that's all some people seem to care about, not the "love your enemies" stuff that Jesus did talk about.

Some groups of Christians routinely declare that other Christians aren't really Christian at all, because they don't pass some sectarian litmus test.  Come to think of it, I suppose I'm doing that myself here.  It's not that I think that the most homophobic, intolerant Christian conservatives don't believe in Christ.  It's just that they have a twisted way of showing it, informed more by Us and Them mentality than by the Beatitudes.

It galls and astonishes me that after all these centuries and all we've learned, after crusades and pograms, burnings and persecutions and an Inquisition, people still use Jesus to promote hatred and discrimination instead of love and peace. My friend will never be inspired to return to a religion that's supposedly about love and peace, when its practitioners primarily exhibit the opposite qualities in dealing with her.

Welcome - even if you don't conform.Reminds me of the Whos of WhovilleFather Smith's sermon today pointed to a much better approach, and St. Michael's sets a much better example.  The church and its parishioners feed the homeless, help the sick, and welcome refugees and the marginalized.  Even the graphics provided by the Episcopal Church USA, an entity that currently struggles with issues over gay clergy, send a better message than those who hate others in the name of Jesus. 

When religion and hatred and intolerance go hand in hand, neither God nor humankind benefits thereby.  Instead there is evil and malice.  This is true whether the religion in question is Islam, some form of Christianity, or anything else.

If, on the other hand, a person practices peace and love and tolerance, helps others and does not judge them harshly, that person is following Jesus's example.  This is true whether the person believes in Jesus or not. These principles are universal ones, taught by many religions as well as secular ethicists.  The Ten Commandments are not a Christian invention, although certain presentations of them may be.  Even the numbering of them varies by denomination. But the basic principles of honesty, kindness, and fairness are acknowledged the world over in one form or another.

Myself, I'd rather eat lunch with a kindhearted Wiccan, or Jew, or atheist, than someone who claims to love Christ and yet treats non-Christians (or gays, or any other category of "Them") with hostility and disdain.

And so, I think, would Jesus. 


Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.  - "Where charity and love are, there is God."


plittle said...

A good post, Karen. However, you seem to have missed that the Landover Baptist Church website is satirical in nature. Biting, at that.

jmorancoyle said...

     Those that use Christianity as a basis to exclude or damn someone else is using Christianity as an excuse, not a reason. You're absolutely right. Not only is treatment your friend getting unchristian, it is also unconstitutional.
P.S.:  Thank you for visiting my journal. I am really enjoying yours.

ondinemonet said...


This is an amazing entry, I wish more people could read. I applaud much of what you have written with such passion here. Too many in America are using Jesus to spread their own personal agendas, a practice I find loathsome. You always amaze me with how eleoquent you are when stating something you feel passionate about. Excellent entry my dear!

Always, Carly :)

jabarett said...

Gosh, I was blogging at my LJ yesterday on something similar in nature. Great minds, eh? ;-)

georgannawrt said...

Your friend could be worse off.  Imagine if she were agnostic or (gasp! shudder!) an atheist?  Then she would have no community at all.

ryanagi said...

Amen, Sister! I agree with all you have stated here. Your friend should complain to the AMA. Religion is NOT a valid reason to refuse treatment. I think she should get a lawyer and sue that doctor for malpractice. She ended up in a hospital over missmanagement of her medication. And the whole Bible study bit just pisses me off. I am a Christian and I would be TICKED if I were forced to study the bible. It should be a CHOICE. As for the rituals of the Wiccan faith...I imagine if someone totally unfamiliar with how a Christian service works were to sit and observe, they would find some of the things we do look and sound rather silly. ;-)

xasia71 said...

Hi, I found your website on accident (to be honest not sure how I got here, except I was looking up info on Disneyland's New Year's Eve tickets and your website came up, I was intrigued by your fitness journal, then scrolled down to read this entry. Coincidence? I don't believe in those, but I digress.) and I have to comment.

As a born again Christian, I do agree that non-believers shouldn't be treated poorly. As hard as it may be for Christians to embrace the non-believer, who shun our Lord & Savior and do not give Him the devotion that He so greatly deserves after His *IMMENSE*, immeasurable, selfless, pure, LOVING sacrifice, we must still make the effort to embrace the non-believer. "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven." (Matt 5:16)

However, non-believers cannot understand that for some of us who are devoted to Christ, the thought of anyone rejecting Him can sometimes be met with anger or sadness. This is not an anger or sadness that comes out of a hateful heart, but out of utter devotion to, and love for, the Lord Jesus Christ. There is nothing wrong with this - this anger is righteous.  I agree that for people to reject your friend and treat her poorly because of her beliefs and/or her "Goddess Bless" sticker is the wrong thing to do. No question there. But for you to expect that every Christian should respond appropriately to her sticker is equally wrong. You don't know that person and you don't know or understand their personal walk with Christ ... "Who are you to judge another's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand." (Rom 14:4) And as you know, NO ONE is free from sin. “Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things." (Rom 2:1) "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory o

xasia71 said...

You said, "If, on the other hand, a person practices peace and love and tolerance, helps others and does not judge them harshly, that person is following Jesus's example.  This is true whether the person believes in Jesus or not."  That’s true. But, keep in mind what the Bible says: that we are saved not by WORKS but by FAITH in Jesus Christ!  "But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men." (Titus 3:4-8) As the Bible cautions us here at the end, yes ... we must continue to follow God's law (which are the works) but God's mercy saves us from DEATH, the precious blood the Lord Jesus spilt for us all saves us from DEATH, and faith in Jesus Christ saves us from DEATH - not works. You can be the kindest, most wonderful person, tirelessly giving of yourself to the poor and needy until you breathe your last breath ... and yet if you are not born again, you will not make it to heaven. "Jesus answered and said to him, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." (John 3:3)

xasia71 said...

"for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23)

"And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will." (2Tim 2:14-16) Yes, this is what we all aspire to ... we all aspire to be like Christ, but we fall short ... and we as Christians will *ALWAYS* fall short. But we will keep trying, keep making that effort to be more like Jesus. Just as you condemn others for falling short and not loving your friend as she is, you too fall short by judging the “hostile and disdain”, and not forgiving them. Does that make anyone any "less Christian" than another? Of course not ... this is all about our individual and personal walk with Jesus. It can never be perfect, we just have to pick up and keep trying. So, even though many Christians have been unkind to your friend, you just have to love her a little bit more to make up for that, don’t you think?  Try to show her more of the One we center our lives around, which is Christ Jesus.

xasia71 said...

Also, there is nothing wrong, Biblically, with Christians wanting to distance themselves from non-believers. That is biblical: "But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth." (2Tim 3:1-7) The Bible warns us here about the sneakiness of the evil one. So for some, they may not want to sit with a wiccan or an atheist; maybe in their experience it somehow limits their ability to grow in Christ.  Would Jesus sit with a wiccan or atheist? I wouldn’t presume to know what Jesus would do, but given what I have read in the Bible, Jesus would probably sit with them. BUT ... HE is JESUS! He is our Savior, perfect and pure in every way. No one can make Him falter. The same can't be said about you or I, because we are mere children of the Risen Lord, we are not the Risen Lord Himself. So, if you can sit with a wiccan or atheist and not falter … I applaud you. God has given you a special gift of tolerance, I hope you use it to spread His truth. For you to expect that every Christian can and/or should do the same is not realistic, however, nor is it Biblical.

xasia71 said...

You also said "Jesus never mentioned homosexuality, birth control or abortion", and yet the Bible says countless times that homosexuality is an abomination, and Jesus Himself declared that the sexually immoral (which includes homosexuals, but also adulterers and fornicators) will not make it to Heaven. "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination." (Lev 18:22) "For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well." (Acts 15:28-29) "Now the body is not for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body." (1Cor 6:13) "For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality" (1Thess 4:3) "As Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them in a similar manner to these, having given themselves over to sexual immorality and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire." (Jude 1:7) ...To offer just a HANDFUL of examples of why homosexuality (and all sexual immorality) is not biblical, birth control is not biblical if you're a fornicator,  and I'm not even going to “go there” on the abortion topic.

xasia71 said...

I finally wanted to mention, regarding your friend and her hard luck, poor treatment, ailments, etc.  You are a Christian, and you know as I do where her rejection of the Lord will lead her when its time for her physical body to die. Maybe your friend needs this difficult time in her life so she will finally fall to her knees and look UP to the LORD. I hope you do everything possible to win your friend over, before it’s too late. "For so the Lord has commanded us: "I have set you as a light to the Gentiles, That you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth."' (Acts 13:47, Isaiah 49:6)

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3:14-17)

cste609371 said...

I DO BELIEVE in that all babies all colors, boy or girl are needed in life!
Maybe the cure for cancer(and so many other issues)are
not resolved- because,we aborted that baby (that was chosen by GOD)
to cure the world! I cant see how any one can have abortion, a pregnant
woman or girl-  must be in a very low mental state to kill like this (BUT I DONT JUDGE- I have never walked in their shoes) for government has not given those's lost girls enough education and help to not be so lost! Politically, we need better sex education to our teens and Preteens.
We need better Child care voucher & assistance for pregnant girls  not to  feel so trapped. Untill we fix those reasons WHY peopple get abortions- people will still seek them out- legal or not!
I do believe when I write that as long as it's from my inner heart's voice, then it will be good mentality. If not for anyone else, for me~  sounds you write the same way too- from the heart. Best of luck, Cheryl~