Two recent events have highlighted what I consider to be the basic underlying issues which roil our nation psychologically and emotionally. One was an article in the
In response to the first observation, the newspaper article, I can hear my own mind saying- well, let people prove trustworthy and then I'll begin to trust them. As long as they don't behave in a way that earns my trust, I am obliged to distrust them in order to protect myself. The implications of this type thinking are crystal clear- you have to earn my trust; I can't just grant it arbitrarily.
In relation to the bumper sticker, I suspect many are inclined to dismiss its sentiments as those of some irreligious cynic who is merely mocking the whole idea of Jesus and the church. Those of a Christian persuasion generally view their theology as an extension of Jesus' love for mankind, so naturally any comment which challenges that assumption is dimly viewed.
My perception of the thoughts expressed in these two events suggests that they both stem automatically from the Christian theology which pervades our society. The church's insistence that everyone outside its fellowship is a God condemned reject can't help but lead people to look unfavorably and therefore distrustfully at the majority of humanity. It couldn't be otherwise. All the stories about Jesus and his love will never be powerful as long as the church simultaneously teaches condemnation, segregation, and Christian exclusiveness as God ordained. In effect, the very essence of church practice and theology is a promotion of the bumper sticker message. Jesus may love you but you are dangerous to be around, rightfully condemned, and probably irredeemable. So why waste my time. Rejected by God and therefore rightly rejected by me, with the church's full blessing.
On the matter of trust and how that comes about, I consider again the words of Jesus-Matt 7:12 Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets. Like so much of what Jesus taught, this passage seems to turn the issue of establishing trust between ourselves and others on its ear. Instead of confirming that others must earn my trusting behavior by demonstrating trustworthiness, Jesus calls on me to demonstrate trust in others if I want to be trusted myself. In other words trust does not follow from my demand on others performance but rather from my own performance in extending trust to others. I am trusted as I trust. Behavior modification comes about, not from condemnation and performance demands; it stems from a powerful, personal example.
Some may argue that the issue here is not others trusting me and how to bring that about; the issue is how I come to trust someone else. Can I really just decide to trust another person without any evidence on which to base that trust? Despite that objection, it is significant that Jesus' words don't leave room for me to wait around and see how the other guy will act before I act. I am admonished to act based on what I would desire for myself. Do I want to be assumed trustworthy or not?
In further response, I would note that we all have two options in relation to how we approach others. We can assume the worst, the theologically prevalent way; or we can extend the benefit of the doubt and act accordingly. One needn't ponder too long to see how these different views likely lead to vastly different societal interactions.
The prevailing obsession with guns, gated communities, private schools, law and order politics, the war of terrorism, and countless other issues are fundamentally a reflection of the thoughts expressed in the article and the bumper sticker. We don't care for or trust one another, for the most part. We simply tolerate and/or ignore our neighbors as best we can.
As a society we embrace and cherish the need to be fearful, and eternally angry. These are not the seeds of a unified nation. Do we desire to be a united people, or is that some impossible dream from a bygone era of our history. I don't think the founding fathers thought that a national union could be formed without a national sense of shared sacrifice and a commitment to something bigger than personal self interest.
Somehow we have allowed the idea of personal responsibility to morph into an obsession with getting every advantage I can without any regard for others. Somehow the successful pursuit of what is good for me has become the primary standard by which we judge one another. The fixation on acquiring wealth, renown, and power as the source of our identity demands that we view all others as opponents who will steal our show if they can.
If all of this is ever to change for the better, a new mindset is necessary. Thinking like the church is not working. Thinking like Jesus is a challenge, but maybe that is the challenge we need to consider.