In 1947 and 1948, respectively, Christian scholars C.S. Lewis and Reinhold Niebuhr appeared on the cover of Time magazine.
Since then, commentators have bemoaned the disappearance of the Christian intellectual.
Powerful social changes are behind the apparent decline: increasing pluralism, secularization, the decline of Protestant hegemony, and the supposed triumph of science over faith as the best way to understand the modern world.
Augustine’s principle of avoiding revictimization and providing care can be applied to those who are sexually exploited. As my colleague Lani Prunés points out, the federal government and most states have Safe Harbor Laws which treat trafficked minors as victims rather than criminals.
These victims didn’t violate their own chastity and, therfore, are not guilty. But an unfortunate number of states don’t provide trafficking victims immunity from prosecution or adequately fund reintegration services. In so doing, we continue to maintain the shame-based morality of Greco-Roman culture in which the victim of exploitation is responsible for the sin and crime of human trafficking.
Legal protections are essential to aid reintegration, but moral protections are also necessary to support trafficking survivors. By funding recovery programs, we can learn from Augustine the value of not blaming the victim. Victims should be given the help they need to reintegrate into society (as organizations such as FAIR girls, Courtney’s House, or End Trafficking are doing), rather than leaving them vulnerable to returning to a dangerous and degrading form of life.
If we allow people to be shamed or forced into crime through a lack of viable alternatives, we are morally culpable like the Greco-Roman society which taught women that their life was only worth as much as their physical purity.
In his New York Times column,“ Alone, Yet Not Alone,” David Brooks laments the “strong vein of hostility against orthodox religious believers in America today, especially among the young.” Even more disturbing for Brooks is that in his experience, the opinion of young people is too often justified. He observes that religious believers can be “judgmental,” “hypocritical,” “old-fashioned,” and “out of touch,” and he wonders why that’s so. Brooks, who is Jewish, knows that the Judeo-Christian tradition reveals a God who desires mercy and not sacrifice, who calls us toward a radical love that includes our enemies. As evidence of the core of orthodox belief, he offers two giants of the Judeo-Christian tradition, Rabbi Abraham Heschel and Augustine, who give testimony to lives of compassion and love inspired by devotion to the biblical God. Lives that tolerate ambiguity and uncertainty as essential components rather than disqualifiers of faith.
So what gives? Why do religious believers spend so much energy reinforcing their (our – I’m one of those orthodox believers) borders, building thicker and higher dividing walls designed to keep out the underserving, the sinners whom not even God can love? Just who is kept out varies widely, but it seems religious people are utterly convinced that they are on the inside with God. No doubt about it. Musing on this sad fact, Brooks comments:
There must be something legalistic in the human makeup, because cold, rigid, unambiguous, unparadoxical belief is common, especially considering how fervently the Scriptures oppose it.
Brooks is on to something here – there is something rooted in our “human makeup” that the Scriptures fervently oppose, but it is not legalism per se.
BECAUSE I'M A Jew in Bethlehem, Pa., also known as “Christmas City USA,” I spend December celebrating Jesus’ birth. Representations of other religions are largely absent, but with evergreen trees adorning lampposts, the nativity scene at city hall, and 6-foot-high electric Advent candles, Christmas here is both beautiful and unavoidable.
Given Christianity’s dominance in the United States, similar examples extend into other seasons and across the country. Christian holidays and Sunday receive scheduling deference, Christian worship options are varied and plentiful, and debates over public “religion” focus almost entirely on Christianity. In contrast, Jews use vacation days to observe holidays, Jewish religious communities are far fewer, and there is no movement advocating Jewish prayer in schools.
Even in interreligious settings intended to be neutral, Christianity retains primacy. Exchanges emphasize concepts in Christianity, such as belief and faith, and downplay the Jewish stress on action, behavior, and ritual. When interfaith interactions turn to biblical texts, they rely on Christian hermeneutical approaches such as using English translations without acknowledgment of their underlying Hebrew and eschewing the Jewish practice of viewing the Bible through subsequent commentaries. To me, these verses look discomfortingly naked when not swaddled with sages’ centuries-old wisdom, and Christian translations often conflict with how I understand the original language.
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