A former Lutheran pastor sharing thoughts on faith and life. Please join the conversation! I love your comments!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Introspection, Privilege, and Non-Christians in Hell

In reading about the history and principles of various religions, it seems to me spirituality has often been, in part, about self-analysis: what are my desires, are these desires helpful or harmful to myself and those around me, why do I do things when I know they are not helpful, what is the meaning of my life, what are my hopes after death, and so on.  We have all become pretty good at launching word bombs at each other, finding our side of whatever issue and demonizing or dismissing those on the opposing side.  Maybe a time out would be helpful to reconsider why we do what we do, why we say what we say and why we believe what we believe.  

This first occurred to me when considering the question: Are all those who are not Christian going to hell?  To me this question brings up some interesting points for introspection:  If you are drawn to argue all non-Christians are going to hell, why would this be a good thing?  To consign your neighbors and other good people to hell ought to be troubling, oughtn't it?  If it is not troubling, one might want to consider what this has to say about one's own sense of compassion, forgiveness, humility, and love for neighbor. If it is troubling then one might consider why something which seems so bad could be attributed to God.  If the answer is no, not all non-Christians are going to hell one might need to consider why one is a Christian, why commit acts of evangelism, and what is the point of it all anyway?  

Another way this call to introspection occurred to me was in the context of discussions about minority voices.  As I listened in on these discussions I noticed how quick those in privileged positions were to defend their right to speak.  Defensiveness was the first response to being asked to listen.  I felt it within myself.  So, then I wondered to myself, "Am I that afraid of losing my voice?  Is this because I feel, even from my mostly privileged position in this world, such horrible impotence?  If I feel such helplessness how much greater must those feelings be for minorities, the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized and criminalized?   Can I set aside my defensiveness and listen before I speak?"  In one group, I listened in upon a discussion about those of privilege being silent for one day.  The snarkiness, defensiveness, and dismissiveness which ensued was depressing.  The privileged cannot be quiet and listen for even one day without feeling "silenced."   Is it so much to ask for those with privilege to make a point to listen to those who have fewer privileges?  Why is this so hard?  Is it simply defensiveness when we are tempted to dismiss stories of discrimination as just a joke, just a jerk, not necessarily because you are a woman/minority/etc., you did something wrong, you shouldn't let it bother you? Why is it so tempting to explain it all away? 

I do realize the contradiction in speaking from my position of privilege about the value of listening.  So, now I will stop and hope others will speak or can tell me of reading opportunities which might expand my horizons.

Often people of privilege respond to these issues questioning why they should have to feel guilty for who they are.  Whether you feel guilty or not is not the point.  The point is do we understand our privilege enough to at least desire to work for change?  People of other faiths or no religion probably don’t care whether Christians think they are going to hell or not.  But, it is important to understand the implications of our beliefs so we can act in ways which are loving to others.  These are just two areas where introspection might be valuable.  I'm not one to advocate a whole lot of navel gazing but sometimes it is necessary to see oneself clearly before one can see the world clearly enough to do what needs to be done.  

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