Thursday, December 8, 2011

Integration and Domination


A RABBI once wrote to Albert Einstein, asking for advice. He had lost a daughter and wanted his thoughts on helping his other daughter cope. Einstein wrote,
A human being is a part of the whole, called by us “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security.
Every Christmas season, I encounter calls to "defend" Christmas. When I was really young, it certainly did not bother me. Every year it seems to bother me more and more. A friend of mine said, "As a Jew, I'd much prefer my Christian friends celebrate nonoverlycommercial versions of the holidays." His main point, it seemed to me, was "What a shame. Religion is worthy of much more than what commercialism does to it." But I also wonder whether as a father of three, he was bothered by the tacit exclusionary message society was sending his family.

Moreover, the person who loves Christ would want others to embrace Christianity on its merits. The concern of the Bible is for the "inner person" (Eph. 3:16). A desire to dominate the public discussion and exclude others -- "Us versus them" -- has always been the hallmark of fear. Fear of what? Losing my faith? It honors neither Christ nor honest debate to silence others and exclude their viewpoints before they are even expressed.

Every holiday season, there seems to be a "threat to Christmas" story on Fox News (Sorry, but they are the worst.) highlighted to solicit my outrage. The only outrage is the implication that Christianity is wholly unable to withstand a reasonable discussion. This does not seem to be in the spirit of St. Peter's words: "Always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in you; with meekness and fear." (1 Peter 3:15). A person with hope and reasons and who loves his sister wants to know what is really in her heart.

To treat fellow humans, their experiences, and their sincerely-held beliefs as a threat does not jive with the words of St. Isaac (which relate to Einstein's):
What is a merciful heart? It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons, and for all that exists. By the recollection of them the eyes of a merciful person pour forth tears in abundance. By the strong and vehement mercy that grips such a person’s heart, and by such great compassion, the heart is humbled and one cannot bear to hear or to see any injury or slight sorrow in any in creation. For this reason, such a person offers up tearful prayer continually even for irrational beasts, for the enemies of the truth, and for those who harm her or him, that they be protected and receive mercy. And in like manner such a person prays for the family of reptiles because of the great compassion that burns without measure in a heart that is in the likeness of God.

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