Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Peace on Earth?

Anthropologist, Wade Davis writes, “The world in which you were born is just one model of reality. Other cultures are not failed attempts at being you. They are unique manifestations of the human spirit.
If more people opened their hearts to that reality, “Peace on earth, good will toward men,” would be more than a Christmas season platitude.
That Biblical pronouncement from angels on the first Christmas has moved people throughout the ages. It’s served as a reminder at the celebration of the birth of Christ to let go of mistrust, grudges, and bigotry and seek kinship with people around the world.
Recently some Biblical scholars have argued that, “Peace on earth, goodwill toward men,” was a greeting from God meant only for the Christian faithful. A couple of popular online dissertations express condescension toward those who use the phrase to urge peace and understanding for all mankind. Their tone suggests: “Peace on earth and good will toward . . . only those men who worship as I do.”
It’s heartbreaking and a little terrifying to see such a fundamentally good ethic turned upside down and backwards, because it’s a prescription for not just political and social strife, and war.
A couple years back I went to hear the Dalai Lama, the world’s Buddhist leader speak at an event in Bloomington, Indiana. He said that we couldn’t have peace until we, “disarm ourselves from within.”
Isn’t that what, “peace on earth, goodwill toward men,” means - disarming ourselves of not just mistrust of those who are different, but also the arrogant belief in the exclusive superiority of our own personal experience?
This week my local newspaper chirped the question, “How’s your Christmas shopping coming?” And every other media outlet is keeping me posted on Tiger Woods’ personal shortcoming. But I’ve stopped listening. As Christmas gets closer I’m thinking about what the Angels, the Dalai Lama, and Wade Davis had to say. Obsessing over buying shit and ogling at other people’s transgressions feels like a journey in the wrong direction.
The world has 2.2 billion Christians, 1.3 billion Muslims, 350 million Buddhists, 25.8 million Sikhs, 870 million Hindus, and 13 million Jews, while 16% of the world’s population is agnostic or atheistic. The fastest growing religion in the world is Islam.
Some in each faith category no doubt believe those who lack their faith are doomed to damnation. Some Christians believe other Christians who don’t practice as they do are destined for hell, just as some of the Islamic faith – Shiites or Sunnis, believe adherents of the other sect are doomed.
Yet each faith also calls on their faithful to care for the wellbeing of others – all others. In ancient text and poetic language they each echo a mash-up of Wade Davis and the Dalai Lama: “Other cultures are not failed attempts at being you. They are unique manifestations of the human spirit. Disarm yourself of the arrogant opposition to that reality and love everyone.”
But it seems that everywhere we look this season, from Afghanistan to Iraq to the Internet, to TV news, too few care much about that.
And forget about foreign countries, people, and religion. It happens right here and it’s thinly sliced among variations of people.
Watching video of the health care protests, time and again I see a sign that reads something like, “Why should I have to buy healthcare for people too lazy to work.”
A little research reveals that the average American household living below the poverty line includes at least one adult working full time . . . for minimum wage. And you don’t have to look much further to realize that we all are already paying for those people because our system leaves them with no other option but to show up at emergency rooms for routine care. This leads to the highest hospital and insurance bills in the western world – bills that lead many other Americans into bankruptcy and reduced coverage.
It’s a complicated issue. But WWJD?
Most likely – not carry a hostile sign that brands all poor people without healthcare as lazy freeloaders. If anyone was disarmed from within, it was Christ.
Across our social and political landscape it seems people are armed to the hilt with misjudgments, unfair accusations, resentments, bigotry and rage.
Peace on earth, goodwill toward men. That is my wish at Christmas time. It’s more than a wish for me or those I love, but for this entire world and all the people in it. And they need not all think what I think or worship as I worship. I don’t care if they’re Muslim or Jewish, gay or straight, black or white, conservative or liberal, rich or poor. I wish it for them all the same.

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