A Pilgrim writes to the Metro Lutheran

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In February, ELCA St. Paul Bishop Peter Rogness wrote about his recent visit to Israel and Palestine. The depth of the region’s conflict, Rogness wrote, comes from each groups’ religious and historic beliefs that they have a right to the land. He further states that God chose this area to be a holy place, where the Prince of Peace came.
The beliefs held by Palestinians, Jews and Christians have two things in common. First, they are certain their beliefs are true, Second, their beliefs are an “accident.” For the most part, everyone’s beliefs are an accident. We get them from the culture into which we are born (an accident of birth). Be born somewhere else and you’ll believe something else … and you’ll believe it with certainty. If we Metro Lutheran readers were born in Tibet we wouldn’t be Lutheran.
The accidental, yet strongly held, beliefs of human beings fuel world conflicts. The feeling of certainty, of being right, of having the truth, is a natural human emotion. But in a complex world, living and fighting based on accidental beliefs isn’t working. Somehow we have to transform the way we think and believe.
Bishop Rogness ended his article expressing uncertainty about how to deal with the Middle East conflict. I don’t know either. It seems, though, that showing up at the peace table with the attitude that our beliefs are accidents, and that the feeling of certainty about our beliefs may be an illusion, would be a new start.
Allen Zumach
St. Paul, Minnesota
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2 Responses to “A Pilgrim writes to the Metro Lutheran”

  1. Reva Says:

    I agree with Al in part. Our beginning beliefs are accidental, but then we add information and our beliefs becomed informed – maybe even become more objective. It depends on who we are turning to for information!

    For instance Al, you and I are members at Pilgrim Lutheran. I was raised as a Lutheran; I don’t know your religious upbringing. I do know that both of us read and have been influenced by Buddhism. As we grew up, we devoured new information and it disturbed, tested and informed our previous ideas. What a great experience!

    Incidentally, there is plenty of Christian evangelism going on in Tibet! This certainly aids the Chinese government by severing the Tibetans from their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and their cultural and religious identities. A pity, though one can hope the Christian evangelists tell them about the great Christian leadership of Martin Luther King Jr., as well. I sincerely doubt that happens because the evangelists I met in China never talked about MLK.

    Interestingly, the Chinese government has taught the Chinese people about Martin Luther King, Jr. He is used as an example of the hypocrisy of democracy and the oppression of minorities in the U.S.A. The facts that we now celebrate his work with a national holiday and that he is praised in our schools is not mentioned.

  2. David Thompson Says:

    Al,
    Thanks for asking my opinion on your posting.

    First, here’s what I think you said:

    Since one’s faith is accidental,
    then it shouldn’t make sense to believe one has an exclusive understanding of truth.
    Therefore, folks should lay off beating each other over the head with opposing “truths”
    and get on with the business of solving their problems.
    Am I close?

    I could get caught up in responding to the notion of accidental faith, and the same goes for a discussion of an exclusive truth. But I think your point is that it is just so ridiculous to fight about who’s right.

    Being right don’t get the bread baked. Being right doesn’t satisfy anyone’s need for food, water, a homeland, or anything else concrete. So ultimately, I agree with you. In fact I’ll go another step and say that I think that most of the time it should be possible for people who are in opposition over a concept (like truth) to work together on just about anything concrete (like not killing each other). Self interest is a pretty good motivator.

    But it’s not as good a motivator as justification.

    One group says God gave them a particular chunk of land. Another group makes the same claim. Each group will fail to follow God’s will, (each group will fail to be justified by God) if it allows the other group to have possession.

    It’s not just about being right, It’s about failing one’s God given role in life.

    That’s a pretty tough nut.

    People will fight to the death, and kill a lot of their enemies doing so, for a lot less than their immortal soul. They’ll do it for freedom, for land, for the girl next door (whether she wants it or not), or for a pair of shoes. And feel justified doing it.

    As far as things go with the Palestine/Israel thing, I suspect there will never be a resolution that lasts very long, unless the people are convinced that it is in their own self interest to do so.

    Until then, those whose faith is expressed in compassionate actions will be the ones to bring a bit of peace here and there as it is possible. Whether the faith is accidental or not!

    David Thompson

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