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Friday, June 13, 2008

A Little Good, A Little Bad

At the restaurant where we had dinner last night, the man at the table behind me was holding forth on Christians and Muslims and the infallibility of the Bible and the need to bring all the peoples of the world into the Christian family.

At one point he lectured his tablemates on the importance of Christians taking the “orphan Muslim” into their homes, treating said orphan “as one of your own.” It wasn’t enough for Christians to love only their own children. “Even Pagans do that,” he said. Christians had to love the children of their enemies.

No word on loving the enemies themselves.

My Pagan-ish daughter and I exchanged looks. I didn’t know whether to laugh or request a change of table. I almost wish I had turned to ask him who or what he thought was creating these “orphan Muslims” in the first place.

I don’t know how to deal with people like this, people who are so certain they have the answers to all the important questions. They know what is sacred, what is holy, what is good, what is evil. Their moral code is binary: Christian/Muslim, right/wrong, us/them. And their thinking rattles my skull. I prefer the wisdom of people who are not at all certain of anything.

Chris Hedges, in his new book, I Don’t Believe in Atheists, is certain of at least a few things, but I like him – and his book – anyway. He finds the binary code of good and evil to be a childish conceit, simplistic and essentially unhelpful, and I agree: people are far too complex, and much in life requires us to wade into morally ambiguous waters where nothing is certain.

Ambiguity is a concept I can appreciate, being somewhat steeped in it these days.

Here’s an example, one that has been troubling my mind lately: I live in an area that relies on coal for energy. In choosing to live here, I am complicit in – among other things – the ecologically devastating practice of mountaintop mining. I can assuage my conscience to some degree with contributions to the proper organizations and calls to my representatives in Congress to pass laws that would stop the coal companies from blowing up Appalachia, but every time I flip on a switch, I renew my complicity.

Another example: I love animals, and I eat them. Even when I maintained a vegetarian diet, wild animals died and habitat was lost so that fields could be plowed to grow my vegetables. As this blogger writes, farmers are in constant battle with other living things. Which is good, which is evil?

Unlike certainty, ambiguity offers no balm for the ego. You can’t really be righteously ambiguous, and therein lies its value: it’s not the last word, it’s an unfinished conversation. Ambiguity means a little this, a little that. Depending. It leaves things open for continued questions and fresh perspective. Instead of ossified belief, it provides opportunities to ask and ask again, What matters now? And why? And it offers the chance to ask and ask again, Are you really my enemy? And why?

I don’t think that man in the restaurant would get it. But I think you do.


credit: folk art sculpture by southern artist Chris Hubbard

1 comment:

  1. I get it. ;) Great post. I have a list handy that has interpretations from many religions about loving one another. I love to see the similarties in different spiritual practices and religions. Despite all the differences and ambiguity, I think the underlying force of LOVE unites us all - if we allow it.
    I feel like breaking into the Beatles song, "All we need is love!" ;D

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