Sunday, January 6, 2008

Walking the Walk

NPR has a series called This I Believe. They air three-minute essays from a diverse group of people, famous and not, rich and poor. The goal of the series is to
encourage people to begin the much more difficult task of developing respect for beliefs different from their own.
I have to say I always enjoy this series. Often, because the first line is usually, "I believe in xxxx", I’m sure I’ll disagree with the person and then surprised when I can see much to agree with. So this morning, when I heard that the essay was going to be from a Roman Catholic nun, I was positive I’d have much to disagree with and instead found much to admire.

Sister Helen Prejean, Sister Dead-Man-Walking, starts her essay,
I watch what I do to see what I really believe.
Sister Helen embodies the ideal of what I thought the Catholic church should be but fails to live up to. She's the Brother Sun, Sister Moon type Catholic church. People like her are to be found in every religion and are often pointed to as why religion is such a good thing. But Sister Helen and people like her don’t do what they do because of their religion. They mold their religion into a reflection of themselves, fortunately or unfortunately, as do we all.

In her article, Would Jesus pull the switch? she writes:
I cannot believe in a God who metes out hurt for hurt, pain for pain, torture for torture. Nor do I believe that God invests human representatives with such power to torture and kill. The paths of history are stained with the blood of those who have fallen victim to "God's Avengers." Kings, popes, military generals, and heads of state have killed, claiming God's authority and God's blessing. I do not believe in such a God.

She speaks often about the gospel of Jesus. Her Jesus is very real to her. He’s the Jesus that many good people have created. He’s an externalized projection of her best self. He’s the “moral compass” that believers think atheists lack. Because they think that this projection is some external entity, they don’t realize that we have that moral compass as well. People who fear secularisation, and I’m not speaking of Sister Helen here but people like Mitt Romney, believe that we have the ability to take that external projection away. Because they don’t realize that the good part of people comes from within those good people, they think there is a danger of getting separated from that good part.

In the cartoons, the devil and the angel sitting on a character’s shoulder always look like the character they’re fighting over. Perhaps those cartoonists recognize what most people fail to see. We are god and we are the devil and we daily fight the battles within ourselves over who will win. There are no outside supernatural forces at work.

Sister Helen Prejean is working to fight capitol punishment as well as helping the families of victims of violence. While she and I are definately on different sides when it comes to abortion or euthanasia, I can at least honor her consistancy in her pro-life stance. I also honor her belief when she writes:

The only way I know what I really believe is by keeping watch over what I do.