By Arthur Brown
As I have looked at various news articles over the last few weeks, it has struck me, yet again, how good we all are at apportioning blame on others whilst neglecting to ask questions about our own faults. Have you ever noticed that the trouble with ‘our society’ – and ‘our society’ could be anywhere – is more often than not, the result of, young people, immigrants, homosexuals, the sex industry, the poor, or some other category of people that ‘we’ or ‘I’ am not a part of. Heaven forbid that I could ever accept any responsibility for the multitude ills of my community or the world. It regularly seems that it is those who are already at the margins of society, who already feel excluded, that become the ‘easy targets’, the cause of social disintegration, the scapegoats.
The situation seems to get worse when, as a group, we develop an identity based on what we are not, rather than on what or who we are. When we bring religious beliefs into this equation it becomes even more easy to justify attacks on those already marginalised or different, as we say ‘we are doing this for God’, which essentially seems to mean we have carte blanch to attack as much as we like. Whether it be denomination, religion, political allegiance, pro-choice/pro-life etc. it seems that the most common course of action is to create an enemy, and seek to justify our negative view toward them by allocating blame.
On a global scale recent events resulting from the offensive movie about the Prophet Muhammed that led to one group attacking another based on their view of what is sacred, i.e. the ‘defense of God’ with little value given to His creation – namely human life – vs. the seemingly limitless ‘freedom of expression’ without any sense of social responsibility – again with little consideration given to the potential for fatal consequences. This, by the way, is one of the topics we will be covering in next years Middle East Conference here in Beirut, 17-21 June 2013.
On a national scale this approach is often used to justify military attacks, as pre-emptive acts of ‘self-defense’. Self-critique tends not to be high up the list of most politicians skill-sets. At a more localised level it often means media condemnation or government legislation that targets minorities. Take for example the recent human rights abuses carried out against members of the gay community in Lebanon, who were subjected to anal inspections by the authorities, in order to ascertain their sexuality, and as a result criminalize them. Whatever ones view on homosexuality, the fact remains that a small minority of any population [maybe 5%?] does not pose anywhere near as much as a threat to the rest of society as do, for example rampant greed and consumerism, vitriolic attacks on political or religious rivals or violence done by men towards their wives or children. And yet, it seems, often the larger issues are left unchecked, because we, the majority, may be complicit, and therefore unwilling to ask ourselves the tough questions that would cause us to recognise our own faults. And yet we are willing, and perfectly able to target others. It’s the easy option that does not call for our own transformation. It’s always them that need to change, and never me.
The words of Jesus in Matthew 7 ring out in my mind.
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye”.
The ability to engage in self-critique is one that I have discovered to be particularly important for people entering foreign cultures. As a westerner living in the Middle East it is all too easy to be critical of elements of this culture. However I must also be willing to be critical of my own culture when it does not meet the standards set by the King. But again, it is easy to wear such tinted glasses to come up with our own, comfortable version of what that Kingdom may actually look like. If people believe in the same way we do, behave in the same way as we do, then perhaps, if they are lucky, we will accept that they could potentially belong with us. However we always reserve the right to exclude, as by doing so we affirm our own position of superiority. Would it not be refreshing to be known for what we stand for, in positive terms, rather than what or who we stand against?
As a church, we should be the ones who’s primary concern is for those at the margins of society, the other, rather than our own self-preservation. Rather than focusing on ‘our rights’ maybe we should first consider our responsibilities to ensure the rights of others, others also created in the image of the One God.
IMES’ Middle East Conference 2013 will address the subject of ‘Your Rights and My Responsibilities: Christian and Muslim perspectives on Human Rights’. As well as the ‘freedom of expression issue’ we will explore religious rights and freedoms, the role of human rights within the Arab Uprisings, as well as human trafficking as an issue of human rights. Stay posted for more in this over the coming months.