Who is My Neighbor?

Folks were hanging around after an evening prayer service Sunday, when someone came into the building and started shooting. 19 of the 50-plus folks there were injured, five hospitalized in critical condition. Six are now dead:

  • Ibrahima Barry
  • Mamadou Tanou Barry
  • Khaled Belkacemi
  • Abdelkrim Hassane
  • Azzeddine Soufiane
  • Aboubaker Thabti

They were fathers, a grocer, a professor, civil servants, an IT worker: and like I said, now they’re dead.

I am not happy about that, at all.

This week’s news hasn’t been all bad. A GoFundMe page raising funds for the Islamic Center of Victoria, Texas, that burned last Saturday has collected upwards of $900,000 so far.1

I’ve never met the men who died Sunday night, I don’t know their families. The same goes for folks affected by Saturday’s fire. Why should I care what happens to them?

I’ve got reasons: some involving enlightened self-interest.

Love and the Samaritan

Between associating with tax collectors and other “sinners,” and making sense about what God had been saying, Jesus gave at least some of the Pharisees and Sadducees fits. One of our Lord’s run-ins with those pillars of the community shows up in Matthew 22:1546.

That’s when a scholar of the law asked Jesus for the greatest commandment, and our Lord gave two:

“He said to him, 22 ‘You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.
“This is the greatest and the first commandment.
“The second is like it: 23 You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
24 The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.'”
(Matthew 22:3740)

Those two ‘first’ Commandments show up in Luke 10:2528, too. That time, the conversation is followed by the ‘good Samaritan’ story.

The Samaritan: An Unexpected ‘Good Guy’

Two millennia later, the shock of a Samaritan being the ‘good guy’ in this sort of story has worn off. Jews and Samaritans did not get along: at all.

These days, it’d be like telling a story in a redneck bar: where a coal miner, poor farmer, and truck driver wouldn’t help the accident victim; but a Muslim immigrant did.

“Love your neighbor” wasn’t a new idea:

1 Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your fellow countrymen. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.”
(Leviticus 19:18)

Jesus wasn’t redefining “neighbor.” Our Lord was reminding anyone who would listen that principles outlined in Exodus 23:9 and Leviticus 19:3334 still matter.

Humanity is a single — sadly dysfunctional — family.

Again, that’s not a new idea. Genesis 10:132 describes folks known by the ancient Israelites as descendants of Noah.

My ancestors aren’t included in the list: most likely. My family records don’t go back that far. Not nearly. That doesn’t mean I don’t exist, or that I’m a Cimmerian.

It’s another example of the Bible having been written by folks who didn’t have knowledge we’ve gathered so far: or will have when the 30th, 40th, and following centuries roll past.

When Genesis 10 was being transferred into writing, some 29 centuries back, my forebears were almost certainly living somewhere well north and west of the Ashkenaz. Where they were before settling in and near places later called Hibernia and Ánslo, I can’t be sure.

I’ve explained why I think Adam and Eve aren’t German, Earth isn’t flat, and all that, before. (September 23, 2016; August 28, 2016)

I also keep saying that since I take Jesus seriously, I think loving God, loving my neighbor, and seeing everybody as my neighbor, makes sense. (Matthew 22:3640, Mark 12:2831; Matthew 5:4344; Mark 12:2831; Luke 10:2530; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1825)

“Everybody” means everybody. No exceptions.

Weeping With Those Who Weep

(From Getty Images, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“Khaled El Kacemi, vice-president of the Islamic Cultural Center of Quebec, grieves during a news conference”
(BBC News)

6 Bless those who persecute (you), bless and do not curse them.
“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”
(Romans 12:1415)

I haven’t been persecuted by folks in Quebec City. But I think it’s okay to weep with them, anyway; and rejoice that the folks in Victoria, Texas, are getting help rebuilding.

I also weep for Alexandre Bissonnette, the young man who apparently killed those folks.2

I think what he’s accused of doing is very wrong, but like I keep saying, “everybody” means “everybody.” (January 11, 2017; November 15, 2016; September 20, 2016)

I shouldn’t pick and choose who I see as a real person. The divine image is in each of us; no matter who we are, who our ancestors are, or what we’ve done. (Genesis 1:27; Catechism, 357, 361, 369370, 1700, 1730, 22682269, 1929, 22732274, 22762279)

Apparently Mr. Bissonnette has been studying political science and anthropology, and plays chess.

I don’t think that’s a good reason to hate political science majors and anthropologists, or outlaw chess.

Hating any person is a bad idea, and I shouldn’t do it.

I can’t love my neighbor and hate my neighbor. That doesn’t mean I need to like what my neighbor does.

Forgiving is a good idea, pretending that an injustice never happened would be crazy, and I’ve talked about that before. Also respecting the “transcendent dignity” of humanity and working for justice. (Catechism, 976980, 19291933, 2820)

Indulging in the verbal equivalent of leaving a pig’s head on someone’s front steps3 — is a bad idea on several levels.

So would be letting myself start hating folks who indulge in vandalism and similar acts of self-expression at Catholic Churches.4

On the ‘up’ side, it could be worse. Father James Coyle‘s execution in 1921 was, by some standards, justified. Hours before his death, he had performed a wedding between a Ku Klux Klan member’s son and a Puerto Rican.

I don’t see a problem with ‘mixed marriages’ like that: but I’m about half Irish: and that’s another topic. (January 13, 2017)

Why the Rights of Muslims Matter to This Catholic

The Catholic Church teaches that freedom of religion is important. (Catechism, 21042109)

That’s religious freedom for everybody. (Catechism, 2106)

Defending the rights of non-dominant folks to practice religion as they see fit is the right thing to do. It’s also, I think, simple self-interest.

Although there are over a billion Catholics in today’s world, here in America my faith makes me part of a religious minority. Some Americans apparently feel that what America needs is fewer Catholics: and none in “their” country.

I don’t think that all Protestants share the Pillar of Fire Church’s view of Catholics. (January 22, 2017)

I also don’t think that all Muslims are terrorists.

I’ve heard and read some fairly wild claims about ‘those Muslims over there.’

They remind me of what radio preachers and others were saying about ‘those Catholics over there’ in my youth.

Vendors of malignant virtue5 indirectly helped me become a Catholic, and that’s yet another topic.

Defending the rights of others as a way to defend one’s own rights is a point made in “First They Came….”

Martin Niemöller, a German pastor, is credited with writing the poem: or speech, depending on which version you’re reading.

Over the decades I’ve seen rewrites of “First they Came” that were politically correct, some reflecting a conservative viewpoint.

The more imaginative versions I read a few years back aren’t online any more. I figure that folks who put them up changed their minds and deleted that page, or lost interest and closed their site. But more — colorful? — explanations are possible.6

All versions have the same basic message.

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
(Martin Niemöller: “First They Came for the Socialists…”, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)

“There were no minutes or copy of what I said, and it may be that I formulated it differently. But the idea was anyhow: The communists, we still let that happen calmly; and the trade unions, we also let that happen; and we even let the Social Democrats happen. All of that was not our affair. The Church did not concern itself with politics at all at that time, and it shouldn’t have anything do with them either. In the Confessing Church we didn’t want to represent any political resistance per se, but we wanted to determine for the Church that that was not right, and that it should not become right in the Church, that’s why already in ’33, when we created the pastors’ emergency federation (Pfarrernotbund), we put as the 4th point in the founding charter: If an offensive is made against ministers and they are simply ousted as ministers, because they are of Jewish lineage (Judenstämmlinge) or something like that, then we can only say as a Church: No. And that was then the 4th point in the obligation, and that was probably the first contra-anti-antisemitic pronouncement coming from the Protestant Church.”
(The Martin-Niemöller-Foundation “classical” version of a 1976 speech, via Wikipedia)

“When Pastor Niemöller was put in a concentration camp we wrote the year 1937; when the concentration camp was opened we wrote the year 1933, and the people who were put in the camps then were Communists. Who cared about them? We knew it, it was printed in the newspapers.
“Who raised their voice, maybe the Confessing Church? We thought: Communists, those opponents of religion, those enemies of Christians – ‘should I be my brother’s keeper?’
“Then they got rid of the sick, the so-called incurables. – I remember a conversation I had with a person who claimed to be a Christian. He said: Perhaps it’s right, these incurably sick people just cost the state money, they are just a burden to themselves and to others. Isn’t it best for all concerned if they are taken out of the middle [of society]? — Only then did the church as such take note. Then we started talking, until our voices were again silenced in public. Can we say, we aren’t guilty/responsible? The persecution of the Jews, the way we treated the occupied countries, or the things in Greece, in Poland, in Czechoslovakia or in Holland, that were written in the newspapers.
“I believe, we Confessing-Church-Christians have every reason to say: mea culpa, mea culpa! We can talk ourselves out of it with the excuse that it would have cost me my head if I had spoken out.”
(Partial translation of Niemöller’s speech for the Confessing Church in Frankfurt on 6 January 1946, via Wikipedia)

Catholics in America probably won’t be herded into internment camps in the immediate future, or fined if we try to hold office. But I think history strongly suggests that ‘my end of the boat isn’t sinking’ isn’t a reasonable position.

Uniting in Prayer

I’m a Catholic, and take my faith seriously. That’s why I must recognize the “goodness and truth” in all religions that search for God. (Catechism, 3943, 839845)

It’s also why the Pope’s urging us to unite in prayer with our Muslim neighbors isn’t a surprise, or shouldn’t be:

“…Pope Francis stressed the importance of for all, Christians and Muslims, to be united in prayer….
“…The full text of the telegram, written in French, is provided below in an English translation…

“Most Eminent Cardinal Gérald Cyprien LaCroix
“Having learned of the attack which occurred in Quebec in a prayer room of the Islamic Cultural Centre, which claimed many victims, His Holiness Pope Francis entrusts to the mercy of God the persons who lost their lives and he associates himself through prayer with the pain of their relatives. He expresses his profound sympathy for the wounded and their families, and to all who contributed to their aid, asking the Lord to bring them comfort and consolation in the ordeal. The Holy Father again strongly condemns the violence that engenders such suffering; and, imploring God for the gift of mutual respect and peace, he invokes upon the sorely tried families, and upon all persons touched by this tragedy, as well as upon all Quebecers, the benefits of the divine Blessing.
“Cardinal Pietro Parolin
“Secretary of State of His Holiness”

(from Vatican Radio)

Asking “for the gift of mutual respect and peace” makes sense to me — particularly considering the alternative.

Somewhat-related posts:

1 This week:

2 The accused:

3 Last year, a pig’s head:

4 From last year’s news:

5 From a fictional discussion of dope runners and their victims:

“There are times, Charles, when even the unimaginative decency of my brother and the malignant virtue of his wife appear to me admirable.”
(Lord Peter Wimsey, in Murder Must Advertise, Dorothy L. Sayers (1933))

6 Conspiracy stories can be entertaining, in fiction, but are a poor substitute for reality:

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About Brian H. Gill

I was born in 1951. I'm a husband, father and grandfather. One of the kids graduated from college in December, 2008, and is helping her husband run businesses and raise my granddaughter; another is a cartoonist and artist; #3 daughter is a writer; my son is developing a digital game with #3 and #1 daughters. I'm also a writer and artist.
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