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Concern for Others

A few years ago a world-wide media event served as an illustration of how our society does not want us to get along with each other. Recall the cartoons that were drawn of Muhammad by some cartoon journalist in Europe? Apparently someone drew these cartoons which are extremely offensive to Muslims. But I guess not too many people paid it much attention since they were in circulation for months without much fuss. Well, another, more enterprising journalist decided this real offense ought to be published far and wide, so he wrote more about it. And it worked.

Soon the entire world was caught up in a pitched ideological battle about religion and secular society. Politicians and religious leaders weighed in on the issue; riots and demonstrations were held all over the world. Property was destroyed and people were killed over it. And the journalists, newspapers, internet media, and pundits reaped the financial reward of their hard work. And just what hard work was it? The hard work of showing the world the lines of division and discord that they themselves had created! These media sources banked millions of dollars off of our voracious appetite for reading about and engaging in such societal conflict. Conflict created, distributed, and maintained by the media who profited by it!

In this context of division, those of us who care for the presence of a non-divisive and peace-loving religion must stand up and try to make a difference. We do so only by avoiding the urge to fight. By making the personal decision to avoid conflict and seek something greater. One principle in our efforts to get along with each other calls for altruism.

Be Concerned for Others

The intent of 1 Peter 3.15 should move us toward an old value in our society, namely, altruism.

“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…” 1 Peter 3:15 (NIV)

Altruism means that we uphold the interest of the other person as primary in our minds. We set aside our personal interests as the most important part of any interaction and instead set up the interests of the other as of most importance. This is hard in a society that continually encourages us to ask, “What’s in it for me?” Our society pushes us to be egocentric to the extreme. Someone needs to uphold altruism, if we can have any hope for getting along.

This is true on the personal level and it’s true at the international, political level as well. Some simple rules to keep in mind when engaging the other with altruism include the following: First, try to listen without interrupting. It seems so basic but is often not present in our heated conversations with others. When we allow the other to speak we model the kind of character that God would have us practice. Second, we must maintain confidentiality when our conversations are private in nature. The primal drive to be gossipers seems to overwhelm us at times. Altruism pushes us to place ourselves in the shoes of the other and realize that we would not want people talking that way about us, if the roles were reversed.

Why should we uphold the interests of the other, with the reverence that Peter calls us to? We should do so because the other is inherently valued by God. In the book of Genesis 1:27 we read that God created humankind in his image. It is because of this fact, that each and every person carries the image of God, that we must value the other in such a strong way. Even when the other person is a scoundrel, we owe them respect as a creation of God.

Sometimes this pushes us to go outside our comfort zone. Sometime we must negotiate a path between our faith convictions and those of the other so that we can live in peace rather than bloody warfare. In the New Testament book of John, the story is told about a woman who was caught in the act of adultery and then brought before Jesus for condemnation. According to the laws of the Hebrew people, Jesus was supposed to announce condemnation and then have the woman stoned to death. The beginning of John 8 tells how Jesus did not do what the other thought he should do. He upheld the principle of altruism in the face of a crowd of religious leaders who were primarily concerned for themselves. Jesus upheld a primary interest in the life of the woman and taught the others present to do the same. In the end of the story, after the others were gone, he gently chastised the woman to repent and then sent her on her way.

In this scene from the life of Christ, we see that it was the personal character of Jesus that helped ease this tension filled situation. Something he did routinely. Rather than fighting about the rules and regulations of their religion, Jesus practiced the character traits of a loving God as a means of setting aside the ever-present conflict.

Mark F. Carr writes from the Pacific Northwest.

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About Mark F. Carr, PhD

Mark F. Carr, PhD

writes from Alaska.

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