Sunday, 22 November 2015

Embracing the Other

The risk of religion is always that it becomes exclusive.  We relate to those who are like us, but really want to stay away from everybody else.  As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks says in his book 'Not in God's Name': “The great monotheisms believe in humanity as such, but often with one significant qualification: you must share our faith to be fully human.  If not, we must at least subjugate you ….. “

Sacks goes on to say: “A humanitarian as opposed to a group ethic requires the most difficult of all imaginative exercises: role reversal – putting yourself in the place of those you despise, or pity, or simply do not understand.  Not only do most religions not do this.  They make it almost impossible to do so.”  

The challenge is not just to recognise, engage with, or even embrace the other - the person who is different, but to imagine yourself as that person.  What does it feel like?  It is so difficult.  Sacks again: “It is hard to identify with one whom you believe to be fundamentally in error, except with a view to converting him or her.  Empathy across boundaries can sometimes threaten religion at its roots, because one of the sacred tasks of religion is boundary maintenance.”  So how do we get there – because surely we must.  The Genesis account, time and time again, crosses the boundaries, dismisses the taboos.  Is there any chance we can live that out and, if we do, will it help us with the challenge to follow God's way of accepting everybody, even if they are different from us?

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