I frequently find myself involved in discussions about the role of religion and/or revelation in the world. It is assumed, on occasion, that when religious people talk about what their faith means to them or has done for them, they are saying that without religion, they would never have pondered those subjects at all, or would not consider the consequences of their actions.
To be honest, every day experience leads me to believe that not many people actually DO consider either the consequences of their actions or their impact on others. Still, I think every thoughtful person considers, to some degree, these consequences. Where religion or faith or spirituality makes a difference is in what factors you take into account, what premise you start from, or what you understand to be the goal of your behavior—or indeed your existence.
To illustrate, on an anti-theist site I once frequented, someone was celebrating having offended their Christian in-laws by replacing the baby Jesus in the nativity the in-laws had given them with a spaghetti noodle (a reference to the “Flying Spaghetti Monster” analogue for God). While this person, and most of the commenters on the thread, felt this was well within the realm of appropriate human treatment, the teachings of faith put that action out of bounds.
I have a natural urge to be sarcastic (perhaps you’ve noticed), but because I’m also striving to live by the teachings of my faith and to internalize them (to write the law of God upon my heart, as the scriptures say), I may start my consideration of what is appropriate communication in a different place than someone who does not share my behavioral benchmarks. In simple terms, my anti-theist confreres on this particular forum did not share with me a common standard for how to communicate ideas to other human beings,
Let’s look at the noodle-tivity situation: my standard starts with the impact of my behavior on the other people involved—in this case, my spouse’s parents. Now perhaps this individual didn’t care much for her in-laws, but it’s more likely that the insult wasn’t aimed at them at all, but at their faith. As one of the correspondents put it: “Showing disrespect for people and showing disrespect for books of spurious origin are two very different things. Books and traditions are not humans, they don’t have unalienable rights or feelings.”
This begs the question of who, then, is the real target of the disrespect. Faith (or any other ideology) can’t be hurt or alienated by any amount of noodles or mockery. Only people can. So, what is the point of being unkind or hurtful to an ideology?
Let’s not be squeamish: the real goal is to affect the feelings of the person who holds the belief such that they will come to agree that their beliefs are worthy of being mocked. I have asked many times if the person doing the mocking has ever changed their deeply beliefs or worldview or even what they ate for lunch because someone they loved or respected (or whom they didn’t even know) mocked them. I have yet to receive an answer.
Jesus makes the point that it’s easy to love the people who love us and who treat us well. Where push comes to shove is when we’re dealing with people who don’t treat us well.
“But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back. And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.
But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.” (Luke 6:27-36)
Jesus presses His followers to love even their enemies and to return evil with good. That’s hard to do—the history of the Christian church demonstrates that, graphically. Few people today seem to live by that dictum, but I think most readers would agree that a lot of grief could be avoided if they did. People fight and contend with each other continually. Some are willing to harm others in insidious ways out of antipathy and, regardless of where it comes from, the Golden Rule is trumped again and again by political, economic and personal considerations.
There are passages in the writings of Bahá’u’lláh in which He says when we feel antipathy for another person, we should “behold Me standing before your face” and love them for the love of God.
Here’s the passage in context:
It is Our wish and desire that every one of you may become a source of all goodness unto men, and an example of uprightness to mankind. Beware lest ye prefer yourselves above your neighbors. Fix your gaze upon Him Who is the Temple of God amongst men. He, in truth, hath offered up His life as a ransom for the redemption of the world. He, verily, is the All-Bountiful, the Gracious, the Most High. If any differences arise amongst you, behold Me standing before your face, and overlook the faults of one another for My name’s sake and as a token of your love for My manifest and resplendent Cause. We love to see you at all times consorting in amity and concord within the paradise of My good-pleasure, and to inhale from your acts the fragrance of friendliness and unity, of loving-kindness and fellowship. Thus counselleth you the All-Knowing, the Faithful. (Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah CXLV1)
I don’t expect everyone to relate to that, just understand that it’s more than a pretty sentiment. As I said, it’s easy to love people who are in your US group. In my experience, the teachings of my faith offer a catalyst to expand that group to include even “enemies.”
Taken to a wider stage, if I apply the teachings of my faith about human oneness to health care or immigration reform, say, or to how I would react to being terrorized or imprisoned for my faith (as are the Bahá’ís in Iran), I begin at a different starting point than most people I’ve observed. I begin from the premise that we really are one family, that there is no THEM and US but only US.
That changes the debate … or at least it should.
If I take seriously the idea that I can love people who wish me ill for the love of God, I stand a chance of not perpetuating the sort of tit for tat we see on a huge scale in places like Palestine or Iraq … or Facebook.