Saturday, February 7, 2009

Am I My Brother's Keeper?

Whatever degree of religion, Christianity, secularism, or atheism you claim, your system of beliefs and behaviors will ultimately boil down to a choice: you will pursue life for yourself as an end in itself, or you will incorporate others into your system of beliefs and behaviors at its most basic levels.

Life does not get more elementary than the question that comes out of the Bible story about the brothers, Cain and Abel. You don’t have to be a bible scholar to know that jealousy arose between the two brothers. Cain killed Abel, and when confronted for his anti-social behavior, he asked life’s most fundamental question: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4)

What you believe about the bible, or its authority, does not affect the impact of the question. Either we are our brother’s keeper, and life has an essential social dimension written into it at its foundations, or life is all living (and pleasuring) one’s self. Either I am free to pursue life for myself, or I must cooperate with others for the common good of all.

To some degree, we are all individualists and socialists (now be careful about reading into flash words), but at the core we fall into one camp or the other! Since Jesus is the Lord of my life, I take literally what he said when He summed up Christianity in two statements: love God absolutely; love your neighbor as yourself! That means that life at its core is relational (social) and I cannot love God supremely and reject the common good.

That is as fundamental to life as you can find: individualism versus cooperation. All of our philosophies, theologies, politics and diplomacies fall on one side or the other--either individualism or social cooperation. Life is either all for self or all for the common good. If I serve myself, I compete with my brother and be his boss, or whatever, or I accept working for his good as I also work for my good.

Not only is extreme individualism contrary to the Kingdom of God, it is contrary to life itself. It results in mutual slaughter, wars and rumors of war. Pursuit of the common good results in mutual aid, in one form or other.

Consider the major political players in World War Two: Fascism/Tojoism; Nazism, Communistic Socialism, and Democracy. Fascism at its core was the dictatorship of the state; it resulted in one state warring with another. Nazism was rampant individualism based on the superiority of the Aryan race, which all other races rejected, especially the Hebrews. Communism still lifts up the dictatorship of the proletariat and makes life a class war, individual class against individual class.
Then there was Democracy; we upheld the common good (one nation under God, with liberty and justice FOR ALL). That “for all” puts democracy in the camp of those who cooperate for the common good and rejects the extreme forms of individualism.

As a Democracy, we are having some problems right now with wars, economic recession, and the list is endless. The reason we are having such a struggle is because we have not satisfactorily answered Cain’s question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” We cannot decide whether we are a universe inhabited by human beings that help each other in the basic issues of life, or whether we are just a bunch of individualists out for superiority and all we can get for ourselves.

This question has global implications and no nation, race, or political system can avoid it. Right now many are cheering President Obama for putting limits on Executive salaries. Those executives participated in a system of individualism that allowed no self-restraint from others; their economics was driven by greed (mutual slaughter). In the political realm that would be all-out war!

Those politicians that continually reject government intervention are advocating economic individualism that denies the rights of the common good. If you challenge that, you are a socialist (in the worst sense of the word), and the person calling you that does not comprehend that we cannot co-exist without cooperation (rules, compromises, and limits).

So, what are we do do? I suggest the rules of the Kingdom of God are woven into this blanket we call life, and here I am plowing new ground in my own life applications. It seems to me that the Law of Mutual Aid is pretty well basic to life. Perhaps that is one reason Paul gave us his biblical language of the Body, which he applied to the Church. I believe it is more fundamental than that.

I believe the human body expresses a core unity in which each body part works for every other body part, each is for all and all are for each. That contributes to my good health. I’ve had relatively few injuries in my time, but those I have had teach me that when one part suffers, the whole body suffers. I enjoy good health when each of my body members submits to the head of the body, and when my individual parts cooperate with each other, without competing or trying to dominate.

Actually, that is the way God’s Kingdom works, and when we submit to him and accept his authority into every part of our lives, we find that all this other stuff (power, politics, religion, relationships, et al) comes within our grasp. That, I believe, is the real meaning of Matthew 6:33, a basic rule of life.

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