Sunday, July 15, 2007


Twice now, the monitor has put itself to sleep before I have managed to put anythng onscreen for a post. I've made great headway into the bag of potato chips and downed a Moosehead beer, but I haven't thought of anything to write about.

Perhaps you should stop reading right here. Apparently I've got nothing to say. This may be messy.

There is plenty I could sputter about tonight. I could list the ways in which the world would be better if A) people made an effort to understand one another's needs and feelings; B) everyone had access to affordable health care; and C) the U. S. could just get out of Iraq and have that whole mess turn out okay. All three of those topics have plenty of assumptions to question, plenty of twists for an ending.

For the record, my position on C is stop playing politics domestically and get going with diplomacy. On B, I'm for a single-payer system. I've had much less trouble with Medicare than with my HMO.

I don't have a remedy for A, though I like to think acting classes for children and teeens might help. Of course, even when people are pretending to be someone else, they still need imagination and critical thinking to discover that other people's thoughts and feelings may take different turns than their own. Plenty of performances are spoiled by selfishness.

This morning's Gospel lesson was the story of the Good Samaritan. Our pastor's sermon opened with an invitation to envison an imaginary easel, paper and magic marker on which to list the things that are not the way they should be in the world. That could take a good long time. Jesus' story of the Samaritan who cared for the man beaten and robbed on the road after other, more religious men had passed by, announces a new way of doing things in the world. We as Christians, all of us children of God, are called to seek and do good for everyone, even those beyond our own tribal group.

Evolutionary psychologists, behavioral anthropologists, or whatever mixed-discipline scholars study the origins of human behavior have put forth different theories to explain the evolution of altruism. There's the idea that an adult will risk his life to save a daughter or a nephew because that ensures that the family gene pool will continue. Members of a tribe fall into dominant and subservient roles, because social cooperation makes them better able to hunt, gather and fight together. Neither one of these explains the actions of the Samaritan.

Plenty of studies show that humans are naturally mean to outsiders. Of course, that's hardly news. I have observed this behavior in myself. It's everybody else causing my problems. And they're stupid, or less evolved than I am. Sometimes this is my self-centered point of view talking. Sometimes this is objectively true. In the first case, I had better take a deep breath, get over myself, and try to be more generous. In the second case, well, I still need that deep breath and a more generous outlook.

The process of seeing the same dimensions in others that are we know in ourselves requires love and trust. Who loved that Samaritan and nurtured his generous spirit? Christ himself told the story, created the character, and then in giving himself for the sins of the whole world, moved way beyond tribalism and ins and outs. Christ goes before, and we follow.

Our evolutionary competitiveness and our innate tendency to separate insiders from outsiders make this mighty difficult. Other organizing principles make more practical sense--enlightened self-interest, the free market, democracy. Fundamentalist jihad (and not just the Islamic variety) appeals strongly to our need to be right.

Or we can take it on ourselves to care about and minister to those messes by the side of the road.

No comments: