Last week’s Musing got quite a response. I would like to respond to one comment, from Tom, which was posted. (If you are comfortable posting your comments rather than sending them privately to me, I do appreciate it.) I gave my thoughts on the Ramadan part in the comment section following the last posting, but decided that further elaboration was threatening to turn my answer into a short story. I said there that I would expand further in a new Musing. Here is the continuation:
As to other, tragic, loss of life, I did think about writing more -including about abortion as another comment mentioned – but the Musing was turning into an essay rather than a blog. I don’t begin to understand how God values different lives, but as a human being, I try to keep a few complementary, if on the surface seemingly contradictory, thoughts in mind. Firstly, as an American and a Jew, I do mourn more for American and Jewish dead. This is no different than my being more emotionally involved with my own family than with my friends’ families, my neighborhood’s families or millions of other families around the world. I believe that the concept of ‘loving everyone equally’ paradoxically leads to less generosity and compassion rather than more. Since we can’t take care of or help everyone, there is a danger that we end up taking care of or helping no one. There is a Jewish concept which gives a hierarchy for charity, which says that, “the poor of your city come before the poor of another city.” In practical advice the phrase, “your city,” means your ‘group,’ be it family, institutions from which you personally benefitted, friends and co-workers, etc.
This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t feel an emotional shudder when tragedy strikes people far away with whom we’ve had no contact. And as individuals we may feel the desire to do something rather than just feel something, which is praiseworthy. But like most other things in life, if we let emotion take over too much, we can cause problems rather than solving them. I have too frequently seen good-hearted people neglect their own spouses and children while heading a charitable event for a worthy cause. If this becomes a constant in their lives they sometimes end up doing tremendous harm to themselves and their family. It turns out that someone else could have replaced them in running the charitable event, but no one can replace their unique role as husband, wife, mother or father. Likewise, I know many church groups which most commendably send missions to Africa, South America and Asia to deliver medical care, work in orphanages and the like. When there is a disaster like a tsunami or earthquake, they raise large quantities of money as well. However, while it is less dramatic, they also consistently work with people needing assistance in their own neighborhoods, whether by providing homes for unwed mothers, tutoring or buying school supplies for kids whose families can’t afford them, etc. In my mind, if they only helped those far away or who made the headlines news, or even disproportionately helped those while ignoring the needs in their own back yards, it would be misplaced emphasis and the end result would eventually be less available for everyone.
So, I do not apologize for mourning the loss of American troops more than the loss of other country’s citizens.
As to the United States not having a monopoly on virtue, I would agree that we don’t have a monopoly, nor was virtue the topic of my Musing. But I think one would be ignoring reality to posit that all countries and populations are indistinguishable in the blessing they bring to the world. I think that it is a reasonable hypothesis to think that the entire world loses more in potential benefit through the death of American SEALs than by the death of an equal number of Pakistani or Iranian soldiers. It would be wonderful if other societies would change and evolve so that wasn’t so, and certainly there can be and are outstanding individuals, but statistically speaking American society does produce citizens who contribute more than the citizens of most other countries. Should America aspire to be greater and better than she is? Of course she should. But the world would be a better place for all if hundreds of other countries aspired to be as great as America is right now.
Once again, I am not speaking of the value of a specific human life in God’s eyes; I certainly cannot speak for God. But I think we diminish humanity’s potential by not recognizing that certain societies live in ways that produce more prosperity, technological progress and peaceful living. If we think that all societies are equal, then those of us who are blessed to live in America won’t examine what is special about our country, which places us in peril of changing in ways that will lead us to lose our advantages. If we insist that all ways of organizing society are equal, then citizens of other countries who face abject poverty and danger every day have no hope that they can seek to better their own lives. If countries’ successes and failures are random, the future can only be bleak.
So, while I certainly agree with you that America has made mistakes and is currently making mistakes, I give no apology for feeling more deeply when American troops are killed. I do not apologize for believing that America is a blessed and unique country. I pray that she will continue to be a blessing to her own citizens and to the world by cleaving to the special characteristics which have made her so and which so many urge her to abandon.