Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men

Driving down the street earlier this week, I caught sight of this bumpersticker and winced.  I thought, in the words of someone I found later blogging about this bumpersticker, that it was "extremely smug and intellectually slovenly."

Someone designed a parody of it, in which the "e" becomes a hammer and sickle and the Star of David becomes a swastika. Of course the Jews took offense at the latter, claiming it was anti-Semitic; but its purpose wasn't to slam Jews at all, but to point out that co-existence may not be is not always possible.

And that's because not all ideologies, let alone religions, believe in peaceful coexistence. The Quran, for example, gives mixed messages at best on the subject, and the hard historical fact is, Muslims have never lived in peace with their neighbors if they had the power to do otherwise, except when they were severly oppressing non-Muslims.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church gives a politely worded but clear message: it does not advocate violence, to be sure, but it says how much religious liberty you have is, by rights, up to the pope. So coexisting is not just as easy as the bumpersticker may make it appear to be.

Nevertheless, to try very hard to coexist peacefully is required by Christian tolerance, isn't it?  In fact it is the minimum required, for  Jesus taught us go much further than that, to love those who hate us, bless those that curse us, pray for those who depitefully use us. That, for the Christian, is what tolerance of other faiths and ideologies means.

It doesn't mean you have to suppose that all religions are equally good or equally bad, because they just aren't and it would be dangerously naive to pretend otherwise.  Some are more benign or malignant than others. It doesn't mean you always have to be super-polite about ideologies that enslave people or lead them down dark paths. It doesn't mean you cannot speak out against other people's religious practices, like polygamy or human sacrifice or suicide bombing.  It doesn't mean you must refrain from pointing out to people how certain doctrines tyrannize over them.  (How can you, if you love them?)

It does mean that if you do all this, it should be for love of the other person and not to prop up your own beliefs. It is to be done in charity and with kindness. It needs humility. And although a Christian is not required to respect false beliefs, he is most certainly required to respect other people, to respect, love, and coexist in peace with other people.

I'm not saying a Christian doesn't have the right to defend himself against violent people, although as a former absolute pacifist, I've always leaned in that direction. But I am saying we ought to prefer martyrdom to harming anyone.  Christians are called to embody peace on earth and good will to all men.

I am not a gentle person, never have been accused of tact, and am a stranger to humility.  So to all I have offended by my blunt remarks, I offer sincere apologies and promises to try to be less acrid in future.  Please forgive me.

And may the Prince of Peace be with you, and  merry Christmas!


Randy Asburry said...

Well said, Anastasia! Thanks, and Merry Christmas to you and yours.