Anthropologist, Wade Davis wrote, “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.
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 who worship as I do.”
It’s heartbreaking and a little frieghtening to see such a fundamentally good ethic turned upside down and backwards, because that’s a prescription for not just political and social strife, but war. If you don’t believe me, turn on the evening news.
A few 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 wouldn’t have world peace until we each, “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?
We're in the season in which chirpy TV news anchors ask, "How's your Christmas Shopping Coming?" And of course all of us are still marveling at a year of unprecedented political hatefulness. 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, ogling at other people’s transgressions, and wallowing in fear all feel 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, or evil, or unclean.
Yet each faith also calls on their faithful to care for the well being of others – all others! In ancient text and poetic language they each echo “Peace on earth, goodwill toward men,” and 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 obstacles to that reality and love everyone.
On my Facebook feed is a regular stream of complaints of a war on Christmas. When I was a kid, people freely said, “Happy Holidays.” Now it’s politically incorrect in some circles to dare say it, to open up your well wishes to people of all religions in this, “season of giving.” I think of comedian John Stewart’s sarcastic quote: “You have confused a war on your religion with not always getting what you want.”
It’s like we’re acting out that Seinfeld episode where George’s father, Frank creates his own December 23rd holiday called, “Festivus,” which includes a ceremony called, “The Airing Of The Grievances.” Across our social and political landscape this season, 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 Christian, Muslim, Jewish, atheist, gay or straight, black or white, conservative or liberal, rich or poor. I wish it for them all the same.
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