On becoming less self-absorbed

Photo by: Sana Design
Photo by: Sana Design
Published April 4, 2016

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a recent interview on American TV thathe wishes the United States “paid somewhat more attention to the world.”

Many Canadians across our geographic, political and religious spectrum were probably proudly supportive of what he said. We tend to view Americans as insular. We assume that his term “the rest of the world” might imply the U.S.  ignores Canada in particular. We chafe when we hear even well-intentioned Americans suggest that we are America’s “northern frontier.”

Still, as much as we might agree with the prime minister, I think his words should also be deflected back to Canadians. In our own ways, we too are a self-absorbed people. When we return from travel, business or service in other countries, that point is sadly obvious. We too need to see our world from other points of view.

Recently, we have been tackling histories of Judaism and Islam at our Monday Night Study at church. We are frequently confronted with complex, differing viewpoints as we learn more about those other two faiths of Jerusalem. Here are some of my discoveries.

It seems to come as an unsettling surprise to us that there are alternative ways of reading the Hebrew Bible (our Old Testament) than we have traditionally assumed. Modern interfaith dialogue has exposed a deep-seated anti-Jewish bias on our part. We have interpreted the New Testament to view Jews as Christ-killers. They are people who rejected God’s covenant and failed to recognize Jesus as the Messiah.

I personally continue to support the existence of the modern State of Israel in spite of its tragic treatment of the Palestinians in their midst. At the same time, I have concerns about the long-term intentions of Islam when we study the continuing persecution of minorities, such as Coptic Christians in Egypt.

The “chosen people” doctrine is both a blessing and a curse for Israel. Christ and Christianity are perceived differently through the Qur’an and the ongoing interpretation of Muslim faith.

Palestinians have given Jews good reason to be fearful of terrorism, and Israel has been relegated by forces beyond itself into taking extreme positions to guarantee self-preservation.

Some violent acts by some Muslims have their roots in political and economic colonialism. We in the West have contributed to this.

We need go no further than the history of the Crusades to discover why Muslims have an inherent fear of Christian invasion.

* * * * *  *

What a complex mix of good and evil is part of any objective, contemporary review of what is happening in the Middle East! And that is just one example.

We in Canada enjoy the blessings of study and travel that can help us become less insular and more aware of alternative ways of viewing reality.

Thanks, Justin, for pointing out in such a refined way, a blind side many Americans evince.

At the same time, I hope our prime minister, and others, will challenge Canadians over our own myopia.


  • Wayne Holst

    Wayne A. Holst was a Lutheran pastor (ELCIC) for twenty-five years; he taught religion and culture at the University of Calgary for a quarter century and, for 15 years, he has coordinated adult spiritual development at St. David’s United Church, Calgary.

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