Sunday, September 12, 2010

Guilt by Association?

Recently, I read this comment on FAcebook:

"****, you belong to a group of people that have killed, raped,terrified, tortured,sexually abused women and children and have started wars all in the name of your god since the beginning of time and to this very day...
When my children were little I told them that if they hung out with people that shoplifted, took drugs or where bullies that even if they didn't do these things that by law and by public option that they would be shoplifters, thieves and bullies too. Guilty by association! All wars are started over religious differences and christians have done their share of bloodshed and mayham.
Children are being molested in churches from the very people that should be protecting them( or so they would like us to believe).
It amazes me how the bible is twisted so anyone can justify their actions good or bad!
These are some of the reasons for my comments.....everything I have mentioned is the truth.
I am not going to stop because it makes me sick, it also makes me sick that christians allow the bad ones to get away the things they do in the name of god!
This is what Uncle ***** and Uncle ***** where talking about, this minister was going to burn the Karan,start a war, put young solders in harms way all in the name of christainity with your, not your blessing!
Where was your protest?
It makes me think that not one christian showed up to protest maybe because they believe the act is justified and to sacrifice a few young men for the cause is justified."

Aside from the fact that if the first paragraph was directed at Muslims or Jews or Hindus instead of Christians, we would all be horrified by the sheer bigotry and hatred and ugly of it all, this passage highlights one of the major faults and causes of conflict in our society. Namely, ignorance. Simple thinking. I might add, this comment comes from someone who I recently heard explain the natural tragedies in far off countries, such as hurricanes, tsunamis and earthquakes that kill hundreds of thousands of people, as "population control". I was so horrified, I was struck dumb. So, what, cancer and drunk drivers are the developed world's "population control"? Egad. By this person's logic, though, by not challenging her assertion that the multitude of deaths in the third world are necessary for the health of the planet, I was agreeing with her.

She sites the term, guilty by association. This term is based on the premise that, for example something that is associated with something else must automatically share fundamental qualities with that which the association is made. For example, dogs have four legs, cats have four legs, therefore all cats are dogs. A chef has a bad temper. I am a chef. Therefore I have a bad temper. My friend uses drugs. I am her friend, therefore I use drugs. As far as I can tell, this is the basis of prejudice and bigotry. A Muslim is a terrorist. You are a Muslim, therefore you are a terrorist.

This is called an association fallacy, because, of course, it is in no way based on actual truth. It is not true that all animals with four legs are dogs, or that all dogs are vicious because some dogs are, or that all Muslims are terrorists because some are or that spending time with drug addicts means that one is because, I know for a fact, this just isn't true. The association fallacy is used because it appeals to emotion, not fact. If you will notice, the above example is rife with emotion, mostly anger, fear and hatred. There are few facts involved, although she claims to be speaking the truth. In actuality, she is speaking to someone who is known by her peers and family for being the very opposite of what she is accused of being. The truth, even when obvious, bears no relation to the argument.

To ascribe to a "guilt by association" argument creates a slippery slope, because it can be used to avoid offering help to the poor or struggling, or to connect with anyone who is connected by association to anything negative. We should, therefore, have no Muslim friends, because by association, they all must be terrorists and I will be considered a association. I should not befriend a young black man, because by association he may be a hood and then I, by association, would be a hood. How far do we want to take this?

This person says that she has warned her children to stay away from troubled kids, because by association, her children would be just as guilty. I have to admit, as a Christian, this is not a lesson I have been free to teach my child. Jesus commands us to love others, regardless of their sins, as we are loved by Him regardless of our sins. My daughter has known and loved Jesus since she was two years old. Not once did it ever occur to me that in being a part of loving and caring for people who struggled with various problems, that she would adopt those problems. What she has adopted is the capacity to love. To understand. And most importantly, to not fear people because of their weaknesses or prejudice.

One of my most cherished and divine moments came while my little girl sat at my table and sipped tea with a friend, who also happened to be an addict and a drug pusher. Tattoos, pony tail, leathers and all. He smiled at her and raised his pinky in high tea style, and she looked at him with glee, in all the innocence of one who has not yet learned how to judge and hate. It was Christian faith personified. Jesus was often criticized by the religious leaders of His day for hanging around with sinners. They subscribed strongly to the "guilty by association" argument.

Jesus reserved His harshest words for those who would use fear and bigotry to marginalize the lost and protect their own privileged positions. Jesus came for the wounded and broken and lost. He did not come to protect His own position as Rabbi, as Messiah, as God. His only concern were those who needed Him. When a child knows this Messiah, is filled with His passion and love and courage, not even the threat of being thought "guilty by association" will keep her away from people who need love and care, no matter what they have done.

It is true, it takes a tremendous amount of courage to care about people based on their own merits despite their "associations". It is easier to avoid and reject people, using the guilty by association theory. It may be safer, although I doubt it because I suspect that having to maintain all that anger, fear and hatred against entire people groups must be exhausting and difficult on the body.

The ironic thing is that the very thing that the above quote is upset about, namely the threats of a Florida pastor to burn the Koran, is based on the theory of guilty by association. To vilify the use of "guilty by association" from this pastor by using the "guilty by association" argument, makes no sense. It is foolish. And dangerous. This is how wars are started. This is how hatred and violence and evil multiply. Lots of emotion, hatred and fear, no logic, love or peace.

To accuse a peace-loving person of being bigoted, hateful and evil because she shares the title Christian with someone who is bigoted, hateful and evil is siding with the evil, not the cause of peace and love. It may be easier. It may lead to feelings of self-righteousness and pride. But is is weak and empty and sad.

There is a different way. There is a peace-full way. We can choose to see people as they are, to take chances and open our hearts to love and surprises and hope. We can be brave. We can be gentle. We can be truth-full. For me, I find these things in the wonder of having the Spirit of Jesus Christ living inside of me, calling me continually to His way and forgiving me each time I stray. He heals me when I am wounded and lifts me up to love some more. I am not free to pre-judge anyone, and if I do, I answer to a God who sees each one of us as an individual, responsible for our own messes and no one else's.

Whew. Because, frankly, I can't afford to carry anyone else's sin. I'm dealing with enough of my own, thank you very much!

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