In Wednesday’s New York Times (2004-11-24), editorialist Nicholas D. Kristoff wrote about the Left Behind series of books (and assorted merchandise), which are the best selling books for adults in the United States. These books paint a grim picture of the Second Coming of Christ based on the authors’ interpretations of some passages in the Gospels and, in particular, the revelatory language of St. John the Divine.
Kristoff writes: “If Saudi Arabians wrote an Islamic version of this series, we would furiously demand that sensible Muslims repudiate such hatemongering. We should hold ourselves to the same standard.” But let me digress.
I feel lucky and blessed that my strongest early impressions of Christianity were of love and compassion. Growing up in my early days amidst Southern Baptists, Bible Churches, and devout yet more pluralistic Methodists and Episcopals, I managed to latch onto Matthew 22:36-40. I managed to see the love in God’s grace and mercy as expressed through the salvation offered by His Son.
That I am not a Christian today is not important at the moment.
I feel blessed that I have known many good Christians, particularly in the context of interfaith dialogue, and that from a young age I was exposed to the beauty of Christ’s message. But I am beginning to feel more empathy (beyond the intellectual understanding) for those who did not grow up with this message, who instead only heard the hatred - especially for those who did not grow up as Christians, and were subjected to day after day of scorn, whispers behind their backs, forced prayers. I wish I could appropriately express the anguish and anger of people I know who grew up constantly subjected to taunts, damnation, and dismissal (particularly those of Middle-Eastern extraction, for whom the epithet “terrorist” was added to “heathen.”)
Thus I say this to you, my friends who are good and wonderful Christians everywhere: be strong! Be forthright in your faith! Reach out to your Christian brethren with your equally (more?) valid message of pluralism, love, and hope. This doesn’t mean you must bless everyone’s religious choices; it doesn’t mean that you should accept other faiths as having equal “access to God.”
In the Nostra Aetate of His Holiness Pope Paul VI, it is written:
“The Church reproves, as foreign to the mind of Christ, any discrimination against men or harassment of them because of their race, color, condition of life, or religion. On the contrary, following in the footsteps of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, this sacred synod ardently implores the Christian faithful to “maintain good fellowship among the nations” (1 Peter 2:12), and, if possible, to live for their part in peace with all men (cf Roman 12:18) so that they may truly be sons of the Father who is in heaven (cf Matthew 5:45).”
This is a message that seems to speak to all Christians, regardless of what authority they place in the Bishop of Rome. But to be a non-Christian living in the climate that has created and is abetted by Left Behind is not to live in good fellowship and peace. It is rather the birthplace of anger and resentment perhaps equally strong as that created amongst Christians in reaction to Muslim jihadists.
Most of our traditions have some place where fundamentalism and/or fanaticism can break the bonds of fraternity. Thus it is that we must all continue to deepen our intra-religious dialogue even as we engage in the inter-religious kind.
The full Kristoff article (which is a bit more pointed/angry than my little exposition) can be found at http://www.nytimes.com/2004/11/24/opinion/24kristof.html?ex=1259038800&en=c982a8d18d38c2c4&ei=5090&partner=rssuserland. Please note that this link bypasses the Times’ normal registration/logon process and should work even after Wednesday (articles normally require payment after 7 days).