February 26, 2010
WOOSTER, Ohio - Building walls to make the world a safer place is actually having the opposite effect, according to Charles Kammer, professor of religious studies at The College of Wooster. "Day by day, the world is becoming more dangerous," he said in his address at the final Spring Academy of Religion lecture of the semester on Thursday night in Lean Lecture Room of Wishart Hall. "Walls become agents of resentment, misunderstanding, and violence. Religions that proclaim the message of God's love to draw boundaries of faith that declare some to be outside the circle of God's love, generating resentment, suspicion, and hostility in the name of the God of love. Who is it that we are walling out and walling in, and why?"
The answer in most cases, according to Kammer, is the poor. "Certainly the walls seem to be constructed to wall out others with different ethnicities and nationalities," he said, "but with a closer look, we discover that it is primarily the poor (that are being isolated)."
Kammer pointed out that some of the most imposing walls are not the physical structures but the intellectual and ideological ones that exist in the mind and spirit where the poor are rendered anonymous and invisible. The reason we construct these walls is so that we can remain separate from a class of people that evokes both fear and guilt among the wealthy. "We are certain that they are envious of what we have," he said. "Whether it is the thief or the beggar or the person on welfare, they are trying to take what his ours. If we didn't protect ourselves, they would take everything."
On a deeper level, Kammer pointed out that we fear how we might respond if we were in that position. "How would we react if we were living in poverty watching a rich man with no compassion," he said. "How would we respond?
"It's frightening to imagine being poor," added Kammer, who noted that half of the world's children live in poverty. "Watching the affluent living a life of excess would cause anger to well up in us. So we build walls to distance ourselves (from the problem)."
Fear also gives way to guilt, and guilt interferes with our lives of luxury. "The poor are rarely in the news, until events like the recent earthquake in Haiti," said Kammer, who chided Rush Limbaugh and Pat Robertson for their remarks after the tragedy. "As we watch, the guilt eats at us and robs us of our joy."
What role should religion play in the ongoing global struggle with poverty? A prominent one, according to Kammer, who noted that the world's largest faith disciplines provide clear and comparable direction on the issue. "Buddhists believe that we are all interconnected," he said. "Muslims proclaim that God's bounty is meant to be shared by everyone and that helping the poor is not optional but required. Judaism reminds its followers that they were once strangers in a foreign land and that it is their obligation to take care of the orphan, the widow, and the stranger. Humanists recognize that all have been born with equal worth, brothers and sisters of each other. Hindus say that God is love and that love is the most powerful force in the university. In Christianity, of course, Jesus makes the treatment of the poor the touchstone of doing God's will."
Kammer cited the parable of Lazarus and the rich man from the Gospel of Luke and noted that things haven't changed much since Biblical times. "Lazarus sat outside the gate while the rich feasted, but they did not give him any food," he said. When the two men died, the roles were reversed. The rich man was punished, not because he was wealthy, but because he refused to show
compassion to the poor.
Many academics believe that poverty continues to exist because "the poor are not like us - they squander money and have a poor work ethic," but Kammer pointed out that although there may not be any physical walls preventing their escape from poverty, there are plenty of educational and socioeconomic walls that are impeding the process.
So, what's the solution? Kammer believes that a groundswell movement will loosen the boulders and bring down the walls at their foundation. "The pictures of earth taken from space show a globe with no borders, no boundaries," he said. "It is not nature that builds walls, but rather human beings. It is we who make divisions where there fundamentally are none. It is we who, in our
suspicion and divisions, cause a world of hatred, a world of violence, a world of suffering. It is we who, in our building of walls, wall off our own humanity. Truly, as in the story of Lazarus, it is those we wall out who hold the key to healing the world's divisions, to restoring us to our full
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