I was a visitor at a Catholic service today. The sermon was delivered by a remarkable priest from Nigeria and was meant to be positive, but it still depressed me. He began by thanking the church and United States' generosity, then later recommended the wonderful restaurant McDonalds and the even more affordable soup kitchen a few blocks away. He praised America for being a nation blessed by God, admiring the "sea of drugs" in Walmart and CVS pharmacy when so many of his countrymen are sick and malnourished with no access to medical care. He condemned the "enemies" of the church such as the media for sensationalizing the pedophilia scandal and HIV crisis in Africa, and for not covering the persecution of Catholics by Islam in Nigeria. He went on to describe horror stories of the conditions in Africa, and how people are being shot or burned alive by Muslim fundamentalists while leaving church, and said of the church's enemies, "we are better than them."
I'm sure if I had even experienced a fraction of what this man had gone through, I would probably be even more hostile to Islam-but fortunately for me, I am not. I'm wary of any religious message that includes "we are better than you," or "this country is blessed by God," which logically means Nigeria must be cursed by God.
The comments I heard from others after the service were "he hit it out of the ball park" and "he spoke The Truth!" I'm sure the congregation was uplifted by his message - and donated generously to the second offering specifically for charity. One visitor to the church said she wanted to go home to get her check book so she could come back to the next service and donate more. A cynical thought occurred to me that the sermon, with its lavish praise of America, might be a well crafted fund raising appeal. Even if it was, there's nothing wrong with persuading people to donate money for good works. What bothers me is how this message would translate to another religious group or setting. Condemning another religion entirely as an enemy, dismissing reports of abuse that has happened in one's own religion, and claiming this one true denomination's people are better than everyone else is arrogance.
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