September 16, 2005

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Americans love life, but what life is worth loving?

Recently, we saw a depressing television documentary on the 9/11 disaster, including what led up to it and what happened during and directly after the event. At the end, Osama Bin Laden was quoted as saying, “We love death, the U.S. loves life, and that is the difference between us.”

That idea was particularly depressing to me and, I thought, probably not entirely true. After all, we don’t see Osama throwing himself into a suicide bombing or any other situation in which he might be injured or killed. That’s a task reserved for the zealous and naïve recruits he dismisses to oblivion.

It is certainly true that Americans are much hated and distrusted in many quarters of the world, often for the kind of life that seems to be embraced in this country. If the only “American” things they see in movies, television or the press about our country are greedy corporations, vulgar entertainments and celebrities or crime in the streets, what else could they think?

It seems to me that love of life is an idea, which has grown in importance over the years as civilization progressed. Early people were so busy just surviving they probably had no time to think about how sweet life is, or can be. Life was cheap in tribal societies, feudal systems and the like. And, if there was such a thing as a good life, it probably belonged to someone in the upper classes.

Middle Eastern fanatics are not the only current examples of tribal mentality, either. Think about Hitler and the Jews, or the Serbs, Orthodox Christians who tried to destroy Kosovo and other Albanian Muslims purely out of ethnic hatred. The blood feud and other remnants of cruel ignorance remain active in our world.

Still, Christianity and most other religions, including Islam, taught us then as they teach us now, to value life in any form because it is a gift from God. Increasing respect for life through lifelong religious conversion is accompanied by an increasing ability to care for ourselves and others.

We love life when we’re able not only to fill our basic physical needs, but also to enjoy more comfortable, aesthetic and intellectual activities. And, we gain ­spiritual fulfillment in direct proportion to how we empathize with others. God has graced us with his love, and we can do no less in our human relationships.

So, if others see American life as corrupt, greedy and blasphemous, how can we change their perceptions? Are these true assessments of our culture or merely glimpses of its dark side?

We have a responsibility here, as Americans and as believers, to try to present what we really stand for. If tolerance is the primary virtue of our society, as it seems to be, perhaps we should take a closer look at what we tolerate.

We need to examine the television shows we watch, the Internet sites we access, and the values we admire, such as making a lot of money or living in a trendy neighborhood. We need to think about what causes broken families, spousal and child abuse, infertility and venereal disease.

Life-giving relationships and activities are what make a life worth loving. And, despite what Osama thinks, God indeed wants us to love life, not death.

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


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