At one time people could have lived in relative isolation from one another, but even then, humankind across the earth was connected. Today, the Internet, mobile access, and social networking make our connections with one another not only more evident, but also more prevalent and on a greater magnitude.
One hundred years ago, a film like Innocence of Muslims, the online film that has sparked controversy due to its portrayal of Islam, probably would not have left the small group it was initially shown to. Today, YouTube and global Internet access have allowed a film like this to travel around the world, leaving a variety of reactions in its wake, some of them violent.
There are a lot of problems raised by this short video uploaded to YouTube, and one of these is that it fails to value the larger community of humankind we all share. The filmmaker was aware of what he was doing when he made the film, but in doing so, he dragged along with him a handful of editors, actors, and actresses into waters they would rather have not gone. Now their faces are associated with the film against their consent, having been tricked into thinking that they were filming an entirely different low-budget indie film.
Recently, Neil Gaiman posted a letter to his personal blog from one of these actresses, Anna Gurji. Expressing her fear over what happened and how she became associated with a film she thought was going to be about a comet, Gurji lays out how she came to be involved in the film and her reactions once she saw what had been posted online. Her reactions were of shock and pain at having been tricked into something as offensive as this film. In the latter part of her letter, Gurji shares many honest, personal reflections. As much as the film displayed the power of media to convey something so negative, Gurji’s honesty displays how we can use that same media to put voice to peace, sensitivity, and respect.
What struck me as I was reading her letter, though, were her reflections upon the relationships people have with one another. Gurji writes:
I was thinking about something a week ago. We are like cells in the body of Earth. Why won’t we work together and support each other instead of killing and destroying each other. If cells kill each other, eventually the body will die. By always speaking the truth and supporting world peace, I hope we will be able to save the Earth from dying…someday.
Her words brought to mind one of my favorite passages of scripture. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul is writing to the Christian community at Corinth, trying to deal with a variety of in-group problems that are causing divisions within the community. In chapter 12, Paul expresses a vision for the Corinthian community, a vision that has come to be a powerful image in describing what Christian communities should look like.
Although Paul was writing for a Christian audience, the wisdom Paul shares can also be applied to a broader human community as well. Paul writes:
Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many…The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. (1 Cor. 12: 14, 21-26, NRSV; Italics my own)
As members of a global community, we are much like the body that Paul describes. When one part of our body suffers, whether we realize it or not, we all suffer. Our diversity is a good thing; this is something to be celebrated as an entire community. What is not good are the things people do to one another, things like this film have caused—disregard for one another, disrespect, and violence. They cause hurt, pain, and division in our global community, and we suffer because of it.
When our bodies are sick, we go to the doctor and try to restore balance and peace within them. We keep seeing and hearing about all the hurt and misunderstanding that happen repeatedly in our world, but where are the stories about all of those who are working towards harmony and peace within our global community?
The interfaith movement can make a difference by sharing such stories. It does, after all, advocate a way of conversing and living together that honors and respects the differences between individuals, rather than trying to find the lowest common denominator that makes us all the same. Films like Innocence of Muslims and the motivation behind them may continue to push towards conflict and separation, but perhaps one way we can begin to work towards peace is by beginning to reflect what this type of dialogue promotes-- a way of honoring each other without reducing us to be all the same, a way that respects the diversity we bring to the global community we share, and a way that seeks peace rather than violence.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and can be found at: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Earth_seen_from_Apollo_17.jpg
Christina Yost is a first year M.Div. student at Methodist Theological School in Ohio and received her B.A. in Pre-Theology and Psychology at Ohio Wesleyan University. She is pursuing ordination in the United Methodist Church and is currently a certified candidate in the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference.