(This is the final post in a series. Links to prior posts are available below.)
Many Americans seem to view Muslims with a disdain similar to that with which the Jews of Jesus’ day viewed Samaritans. Like the Samaritans, Muslims are a religious minority in our midst. They strike the majority of Americans as profoundly “other.”
Twenty-five percent of Americans surveyed by the Pew Center report know “nothing at all” about Islam. “Not very much” is the way another 30 percent answered the question, “How much do you know about Muslim religion?” Nearly 60 percent of Americans say they do not know a Muslim.
Prior to 9/11 these differences were easy to tolerate. But when terrorists claiming to act in the name of Islam attacked the United States and the United States went to war in Muslim-majority Iraq and Afghanistan, it is not surprising that tolerant ignorance might slide into ignorant intolerance.
Contributing to the troubled Samaritan-Jewish relationship was the complicity of Samaritans in Hellenistic oppression of Jerusalem over several generations before Jesus. Religious otherness, ethnic otherness, and political otherness combined to produce deep prejudice between Jew and Samaritan. Contemporary attitudes toward Islam are influenced by profound political, ethical, social, and religious disagreements that ought not be obscured. These disagreements are expressed within Islam, as well as between Islam and other faith traditions and cultures.
In the six references to Samaritans we have examined, Jesus accepts the difference between Jew and Samaritan. If anything Jesus highlights the differences to encourage his Jewish listeners toward greater self-criticism and self-awareness. The gospels seem to say: if even a Samaritan can know and do God’s purposes, how do you explain your separation from God?
The religious practices of Samaritans – or Jews – did not much concern Jesus. As long as the rituals served to bring believers into a mindful and loving relationship with God and neighbor, Jesus honored the effort and participated in the practices. But religious practice was secondary.
As with the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus calls us to approach each other with profound respect for the particular person. Who is this neighbor? Samaritan, Greek, leper or whatever is less important than knowing how this person is in relationship with God and how we are to be in relationship with each other.
If there is a helpful analogy in all this for homeland security it may be in the sort of discrimination we bring to any encounter with the “other.” The Samaritan sayings of Jesus absolutely depend on a mindful sense of otherness. We need not — ought not — obscure the differences. The differences have myriad implications. The differences are worth serious engagement. Is homeland security dealing directly with such contemporary differences?
But we should avoid using the differences to exalt ourselves and disdain the other. The Samaritan sayings are consistent in engaging the other not as an undifferentiated group but as particular personalities with specific attributes both good and bad. Is this our practice in homeland security? Is this the character of our political and social discourse?
In most of the sayings Jesus uses the otherness of the Samaritans primarily as a tool to clarify and restore the core principles of his Jewish audience. The “other” is engaged to expose the gap between “our” principles and behavior. In the homeland security domain, how might an American encounter with otherness expose — and bridge — any gap between our principles and our behavior?
In word and example, the Samaritan sayings encourage positive and proactive engagement of the other as a way of learning more about the other, more about ourselves, and how we are in relationship. I began this series with a focus on the Muslim “other” and this remains my primary cause. But I close the series recognizing the analogous potential for a range of relationships important to homeland security: public-private, inter-governmental, inter-disciplinary and more.
Previous posts in this series:
The first post on December 3 was Tis the season… to deal directly with religious difference.
The second post on December 4 was Avoid Samaritan Towns.
The third post on December 5 was The Woman at Jacob’s Well.
The fourth post on December 11 was Jesus accused of being a Samaritan.
The fifth post on December 12 was A Samaritan town rejects Jesus (including several reader comments).
The sixth post on December 18 was The Parable of the Good Samaritan.
The seventh post on December 19 was The Thankful Leper (including several reader comments).