Saturday, May 21, 2011

Mass for bin Ladin in Florida church, Sunday

By Amy Sullivan, Time, May 20, 2011
Since bin Laden's death on May 1, many of us who follow a religious tradition have wrestled with the question of how to respond. We are taught to view all humankind as children of God. But surely that doesn't include people like bin Laden and Hitler and Timothy McVeigh, right? Instead of praying for their souls, shouldn't we celebrate their deaths?
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This quote comes from a piece that documents a mass on Sunday for Osama bin Laden in Florida.
And the quote brings back a discussion in first-year class of seminary students in an Anglican Faculty of Theology back in 1988. In the room were 18 men and women, including one faculty member, a no-nonsense male of some 50+ years who was well aware that there were at least 12 evangelical fundamentalists and 7 liberals, among the group.
One then engineering instructor was openly appalled that "there would be any misunderstanding of the phrase "born again" or its importance in a "christian" theology school. Another ventured the view, "Hitler is in heaven." And a third almost yelled a rebuttal: "You're wrong and the Bible says so!"
To which the woman, a liberal, who had taunted the "fundies" with the "Hitler" comment, retorted, "Now I know you're full of shit!"
Clearly, the field-education instructor was considerably amused by the exchange.
Christians do not know what to do with the "evil" that is represented in names like Hitler, bin Laden, or others whose views and actions are unacceptable to their view of their faith. In fact, it says here, that Christians, for the most part, belong to an excluding form of faith, that denounces the "underbelly" of society, the criminals, and the tyrants and the thiefs and the rapists.
For the most part Christians have either never learned, or simply forgotten, the "imago dei" aspect of the faith, that declares we are all made in the image of God. They have forgotten, or never espoused the responsibility that accompanies discipleship in the form of tolerance for the other. This is not to take a position that says all sparks of the divine nature that have come to be an integral part of the definition of human being have been nurtured into a common flame for agape love and compassion and empathy for the extreme pain of all people. Praying for a "bastard" who happens now to be in purgatory can be conceived as an extremely patronizing prayer, by a superior prayer agent.
It is the division of people into categories like "acceptable to God" and "unacceptable to God" that provokes this scribe's disdain. Who are we to presume such a disctinction? Who are we to impose such a distinction upon our neighbours and upon the people with whom we share a pew and perhaps even a eucharist?
Those "inside" the faith community who consider themselves superior to those "outside" the faith community are the very people keeping those of us in the latter group from dawning the church doorsteps. We have tried to work with them; we have even sacrificed considerably, in the vain hope that we and they could come to some accommodation; we have even tried to have a less confrontational discussion than the one recounted above, about the differences in our views of God, of human beings, of love and of eternity, without so much as feeling even a modicum of respect.
If praying for bin Laden (who is now in purgatory) is your thing, go for it. Just don't invite me to such a mass.
I will be walking through the forest of the Canadian Shield, marvelling at the work of both God and the ice-age glaciers that cut so deeply into the granite leaving hundreds of small and medium sized lakes, streams and forests in their wake. And I will be thanking God for those whose endurance, skill and courage make it possible to contemplate a world where Obama's patience and faith will trump bin Laden's viscious contempt for the other, in this case, mostly 'christians'.

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