April 25, 2008

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

This should not be an ‘us’ and ‘them’ world

Cynthia DewesIn early summer, two new “greats” will join our family.

As of this moment, their names will be Rasmus and Joaquin, boys born to two of our granddaughters. Rasmus is a Scandinavian name for our German baby, and Joaquin is a Spanish name for our American baby.

They will join our Dutch-Korean-American, Norwegian, Korean and German family members in our rapidly-globalizing family. It seems to me this is a worthy American phenomenon, which is spreading around the world. It’s a celebration of inclusion, not division.

Lately, I’ve been reading Garry Wills’ book on What Paul Meant in which he discussed St. Paul’s evangelization of the Gentiles.

St. Paul went against the disapproval of his fellow Jews by welcoming Gentiles to participate in salvation offered by the Jewish Messiah. He said that, in Christ, there was no more Jew or Gentile, slave or freeman, etc. All were alike in God’s eyes.

The Jews were upset with St. Paul because they believed themselves to be exclusive in God’s favor as a chosen people. They couldn’t imagine that God would allow just anybody into the club, and certainly not those who didn’t follow the Jewish Law and were uncircumcised.

This has the familiar anti-immigrant ring to it, the old “mongrelization of our community” argument so beloved of those who would close our borders and our minds to others. It’s a way of thinking that began with original sin and has cropped up in human history ever since. I’m sure that the Jews of

St. Paul’s era didn’t invent it.

The Celts and other early Europeans resented invasions by the brutish Vikings. Cultured Romans feared and hated the uncivilized Huns threatening their borders. Japanese people traditionally felt superior to Koreans, and African tribes lived or died according to tribal pecking orders. Somehow, throughout time, there has always been an “us” and “them” human mentality.

Well, if we really believe what St. Paul said, namely that we’re all alike in God’s eyes and all welcome to God’s graces, then we need to abandon this idea. And no more so than during a presidential campaign such as we are witnessing at present.

The reason I am ranting about this now is because of e-mails I’ve received, articles I’ve read and remarks I’ve heard from other people who claim to be devout Christians. Sad to say, many of these denounce Islam as evil, implying that American Muslims are not to be trusted.

Of course, the corollary is that presidential candidate Barrack Obama is a closet Muslim because of his parentage and dubious damning evidence composed of his quotations, photographs, speeches, religious affiliations and whatever. Ergo, Obama is not to be trusted.

In addition, much to my chagrin, I’ve sensed a subtle racism in many people’s attitude toward this candidate. Apparently, we’ve come far enough along in race relations to know better than to be bigots out loud, but secretly we still can’t tolerate the idea of a black president.

So, we’re back to “us” and “them” again. No matter what political party or candidates we favor, this is wrong. It’s right up there with other crass displays of class, rank, superiority, fear and hate.

St. Paul reminded us that Jesus taught that we should love unconditionally as God loves us. We must trust in this advice even though we may be disappointed now and then. It’s true we may be subject to human error, but we’re still made in God’s image.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.) †

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