National Commentary

Reclaiming the ‘Ecumenical,’ Part 3

nfbenton-mugThe savagery we are seeing increasingly in the world is mostly done in the name of some religion or ideological belief structure. Despite all the efforts at peace overtures using the tools of diplomacy, the descent of civilization into more and more chaos will never cease, short of an unprecedented moral offensive involving a broad cross section of major world religious and ethical institutions of good will.

Religious and secular leaders alike need to recognize this and begin to fathom the enormity of the challenge before them. Cruelty and immorality are not the marks of any one society or religion. In the west, craven greed and remarkable indifference to the plight of others has created a society where the wealth is more and more concentrated in a tiny fraction of the population, and the vast majority of people are relegated to systemic poverty and lack.

The most advanced nations of the world are seeing this happen to them and even in democracies seem unable or unwilling to do anything about it.

So, while it is easy to point to overt acts of cruelty perpetrated by ISIS or the Taliban as indicative of what’s wrong in the world, ballooning inequality and disregard for the underprivileged in the U.S. is just as much of a stain and evidence of profound moral decay.

In the effort to reignite a serious ecumenical dialogue that was quashed by the powerful forces of infinite greed and endless war through classic “divide and conquer” counterinsurgency “postmodernist” methods in the 1960s, I propose a starting point at the most central message of the Christian New Testament, the parable of the Good Samaritan and its significance for its ability to set the table for a new conversation aimed at finding common moral ground across cultures.

It goes to the fundamental question of “who is my neighbor?”

In the New Testament, Jesus sums up the whole of his teaching when asked, “Which is the greatest commandment of the law?” (Matthew 22:36).

He answers, “Thou shalt love the Lord with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Then, in Luke 10:27, the same assertion is made, followed by the question, “And who is my neighbor?”
That’s when Jesus presents what has become known as the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

“A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of the raiment, and wounded him and departed leaving him for half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.

“But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, ‘Take care of him and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again I will repay thee.’

“Which now of these three thinkest thou was neighbor unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, ‘He that showed mercy on him.’ Then Jesus said unto him, Go, thou, and so likewise.”

To the extent that all major religions and ethical institutions of the world can agree to embrace the spirit of this parable, there remains hope for the human race.

This becomes the line of demarcation between all those on this planet who yearn for peace and shared prosperity, and cruel, exclusivist cults who would repudiate the spirit of such a parable.

Identifying this critical point of departure is vital for pushing ahead.