Are you familiar with the parable of the Good Samaritan? The passage from the tenth chapter of Luke begins with a lawyer testing Jesus by asking him what he may do to inherit eternal life. Jesus asks him what the Law says. The lawyer says, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’” Jesus says that he is correct. The lawyer, wanting to justify himself, then asks, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus tells this parable:
Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, 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. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’ So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?’
Now, consider the opening to this provocative and interesting story in the Washington Post yesterday:
A woman sits alone on a gray chair in a psychiatric ward in a Brooklyn hospital. When we first see her, we do not know how long she has been sitting there. Suddenly, the woman collapses on her face onto the dirty floor.
We watch through a surveillance camera as she lies there, her blue gown above her knees, her legs convulsing. We watch as a guard comes into the room, puts his hand on his hip, looks at the woman, then looks up at the television hanging from the ceiling. Then the guard walks away.
We watch as two other patients sit across the room as the woman lies there. We watch them watch her.
The video, released recently on the Internet, documents the minutes the woman twists on the floor. She stops moving at 6:07 a.m. At 6:35 a.m. a hospital staff member comes in, nudges the patient with her foot. We hope the staffer will do something. But she walks away.
In the time that passes between action and indifference, between life and death, we wait before someone finally rolls in a blue gurney and oxygen tank, puts the woman on the gurney and rolls her away. Later we learn that Esmin Elizabeth Green, 49, an immigrant from Jamaica who moved to New York to make money to send to her children back home, is dead.
The camera goes black, leaving its viewers with the question: What might you have done?
The author, DeNeen Brown, gives another example and then this:
Now, you look on with all the brilliance of hindsight and say you would have done it differently. You would have called for help the moment the woman collapsed on the hospital floor. You would have pulled the man out of the street after the car hit him and other cars just passed him by.
Or would you?
Are you really as good as you think you are? Deep down inside, is there a hero waiting there or an apathetic little soul soaked in indifference?
The Washington Post story immediately gripped me. It reminded me of how my pastor begins his sermons. Like most good Lutheran preachers, he’s fond of pointing out our utter sinfulness before he gives us a full dose of the Gospel.
So I was earnestly surprised while reading the remainder of the piece. Other than that fleeting use of the word “soul,” there’s no discussion of the condition of man in a religious sense. Instead, Brown gets quotes from sociologists and psychologists. She introduces a phenomenon called “bystander phenomenon.”
Which is all fine and good. But hard as this may be for some in secular media to believe, religious folks have been discussing the sinful condition of man for even longer than sociologists have been trying to understand why people don’t behave virtuously at all times. Religious folks even have interesting things to say. Just the simple fact that this parable of Jesus wasn’t invoked in Brown’s story strikes me as weird.
I recently came across an interview of Margaret Sanger conducted by Mike Wallace. A transcript and link to the interview are over at Dawn Eden’s blog. It’s fascinating on all sorts of levels — if eugenics, birth control, 60s-era news media, etc. interest you. But what really got me were the questions Wallace asked.
WALLACE: Do you believe in sin — When I say believe I don’t mean believe in committing sin do you believe there is such a thing as a sin?
He asks her multiple such questions. He inquires about her religious views, her views of the Divine, her views on whether infidelity or murder is sinful, and so on. Her responses are fascinating.
To compare the Mike Wallace interview with the DeNeen Brown piece (which I enjoyed apart from the criticism herein) is almost to experience culture shock. Somehow we went from a culture where media personalities knew enough about religion to ask interesting and provocative questions of a theological nature to one where we avoid spiritual discussions at all costs.