Sunday, February 14, 2010

believing and saying

I've been pondering during the last few days the question of how faith is supposed to define outward actions. People with very sincere beliefs should be allowed to exercise those beliefs, that seems to be a well-established human right. But lately I've been running into arguments that the when and where of said practising should be limited, because it indirectly does harm to others.

Here's a typical scenario, one of many, many, many:

On Boxing Day 2004, natural disasters overtook several places in Asia. The most notable was the impact of the Tsunami in Aceh, Indonesia. Aceh is on a tip of Sumatra Island, and is a highly conservative Muslim region.

Within a few weeks after the tsunami destroyed the homes of thousands upon hundreds of thousands and took countless lives, hundreds of organisations arrived to offer their help (if you've watched the news lately, you've seen the scenario repeat itself in Haiti). Among those organisations were some Christian groups sent by evangelical churches in the United States and several other countries.

In keeping with Christian evangelical belief, these groups came to offer assistance to the poor and the needy as best they could. And they also saw this as a God-given opportunity to witness to some isolated Muslim communities.

Meanwhile, as tends to happen, members of the Muslim communities who were receiving Bibles and invitations to prayer services were insulted. They said that if the help was all a ruse to get them to change their beliefs, they'd try their best to fend for themselves, thank you very much. So they became suspicious of everyone arriving in their villages to help. Any group that might possibly be affiliated with Christianity, in particular, was scrutinised and in some cases turned away - even if they did bring life-saving aid. Faith goes deeper than hunger and shelter for so many people...

The common mantra among humanitarian organisations now seems to be that those religious humanitarian groups would do a service to all if they would limit their activities. In fact, they don't belong in an emergency situation like this, and they are all too often a hindrance to the business of saving human lives.

But if we truly believe in people's right to exercise their beliefs, shouldn't church groups who want to help be allowed to do so in a way that is most in keeping with their personal faith?

I really don't know, and I'm stumped.

1 comment:

Vernon Horn said...

It's tricky business to be sure, and no less of lights then our own US Supreme Court justices regularly tangle with some of these scenerios, and whether you agree or not with any/some/most of what they do, one thing is for sure, they have made a tangled mess out of it, which I think how difficult an issue it is at every level.

In the case you mention above, my own feeling (and nothing more than that, really) is that even though I believe in freedom of religion, it would be better if some groups didn't have to play up their Christian ties in these kinds of situations. Freedom of religion is recognized more, I think as an American value, and not everybody everywhere agrees. I also tend to think that the "google" approach is applicable. By that I mean do something good, do it for free, and later on you will likely be able to find a way to reap the rewards. And (in the case of feeding the hungry) even if you don't get the chance, you've still done a good thing.

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