“Human beings cannot live without a group identity, and religion might be the most powerful of them all. By definition, groups require an Us and a Them. …’You’re either for us or against us.’ There’s no middle ground, no subtlety or nuance, only black and white, in and out. By nature, we extend altruism toward my In group, and hostility toward my Out group. Here again the Hebrew revelation subverts our natural inclinations by commending a radical role reversal. Do not oppress the stranger, the people outside your group. Why? Because you know what it’s like to be oppressed as a stranger in a strange land (Exodus 22.21). The Hebrew word ger (alien, immigrant) occurs 92 times in the Jewish Scriptures, along with similar words like toshav (migrant), zar (stranger or outsider), and nocri (foreigner). Don’t oppress the stranger, have mercy on them, remember that you too were once aliens. ‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people,’ says Leviticus 19:18, ‘but love your neighbor as yourself.’ Protect the weak, care for widows and orphans, help the poor, speak up for those who have no voice. Do justice, love kindness. Don’t long for power, for you can’t impose faith or truth by force. Religion … is an anti-politics that lives without power. Instead, it persuades by example. Demographers tell us that people of religion will increase in the coming decades, whereas secular populations will decrease. Problems of religiously motivated violence are here to stay, at least in some form. We must reclaim our common humanity that takes precedence over our religious differences. …Ironically, whereas the roots of human violence are found in religion, so too is its subversion, for the original Abrahamic promise was that ‘through you all the families of the earth will be blessed.’ To bless the Other, not to curse him, is the sign and spirit of true faith.” Dan Clendenin
“In that day Egypt and Assyria … will move freely between their lands, and they will both worship God. In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth. For the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will say, ‘Blessed be Egypt, my people. Blessed be Assyria, the land I have made. Blessed be Israel, my special possession!’” Isaiah 19:23-25
Moving From the Head to the Heart
- Do you think in terms of “us” and “them?”
- Does your political or religious group encourage hate for outsiders?
- Isaiah reminds us God loves and will bless not only Israelis, but Egyptians and Assyrians. Are you determined to love without borders?
Abba, make my faith subversive to the kingdom of violence.
For More: Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence by Jonathan Sacks
Thanks for following and sharing my blog. – Bill