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Denis Haack, who critiques films, books, and music on his Ransom Fellowship website, says that Christians often act like they live in Jerusalem. Not so, argues Haack—we live in Babylon, as aliens and strangers. Why, therefore, are we surprised when we see a movie that offends our values? Babylonian movies reflect Babylonian values, not Christian ones.

I liked Haack's point, but I had a nagging sense that he was missing something. Eventually I figured out what: We don't live in Babylon. We live in Samaria.

Babylon is far from Jerusalem and doesn't know much about its religion. What you believe or how you worship is of little significance to Babylon, so long as you keep the peace and contribute to civic life. Daniel and other Jewish exiles did. They got in trouble only when they were perceived to undermine the government or got caught up in petty politics.

It's different in Samaria. People there know plenty about Jerusalem's religion (though some of their information is distorted), and have a definite grudge against it.

"Jews do not associate with Samaritans," John says (4:9) in commenting on Jesus' conversation with the woman at the well. The two groups had a long and grievous history, like estranged family members. They had a partly shared worldview (both revered the Pentateuch, though in different versions), a shared point of origin ("our father Jacob," as the woman put it to Jesus), and well-defined points of contention (where should you worship, at Mount Gerizim or Jerusalem?). They knew each other; therefore, they did not associate with each other.

Gospel-writer Luke tells us of the Samaritan village that refused hospitality to Jesus and his followers. Why? Because they were Passover pilgrims headed for Jerusalem. Samaritans ...

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February 2008

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