by Max Ediger
The past several months have seen yet more mass killings of innocent people around the world followed by a response of more military attacks and threats on the perceived sources of those killings. In the United States some people are calling for a ban on all Muslims wanting to enter the country despite the fact that the majority of the killings in the country have not been done by Muslims. The rhetoric against the “other” grows ever louder and uglier.
It seems almost normal now that any harm done to us must result in our doing greater harm to others. Yet all of these military responses against the “enemy” seem to make little difference. In fact, some observers say that they actually play into the hands of those who wish to create division, anger and hatred. If that is true, then we allowing them to teach us how to act and how to live. Surely we can find better teachers.
I recently had the opportunity to listen to an address entitled “Spiritual Friends in a Suffering World” given by Dr. Kyeongil Jung, Director of Saegil Christian Institute for Society and Culture. He shared many very helpful insights, but his suggestion for how to deal with the kind of extremism that is causing so much anguish in our world today requires special attention.
After looking at the many forms of suffering in our world, he proposed three antidotes for religious extremism and violence. He made clear that religious extremism and violence appear in all of our religions and we must all take action to stop it. The three antidotes he proposed are:
- Hospitality vs. hostility
On this point he emphasized that hostility comes from the fear of the other, and that fear comes from ignorance of the other. We are afraid of that which we do not know nor understand.
To move to hospitality, we must be willing to learn new and good things from strangers. We must be willing to open our homes and our hearts to those we do not know or may even fear. It is through this hospitality that we can overcome hostility.
We must also recognize that in our interconnected world, we are both host and guest. We must welcome the stranger but also be ready to be welcomed by the stranger. This is true hospitality and is taught by all our faiths.
- Humility vs. hubris
Hubris is exaggerated pride or self-confidence in one’s self and one’s beliefs. This is a great barrier to humility which is required for us to live together peacefully and with mutual respect.
We all must recognize that we do not have the Truth; rather the Truth has us. We must be willing and ready to hear the Truth from the “other”.
The goal of interfaith friendship is not agreement but rather understanding. Through true dialogue we learn to understand each other even though we may not have full agreement. It requires humility to dialogue with those who are different.
- Empathy vs. Apathy
Dr. Kyeongil Jung gave the illustration that when we feel pain in some point of our body, that point becomes the “center of our body.” So too, where the world suffers must become the center of our universe. That is the true meaning of empathy.
Sometimes, he emphasized, we focus only on spiritual practice such as meditation and prayer to seek peace. However, spiritual practice without social practice is empty. Our spiritual practice must draw us to the center of the universe – those points at which there is suffering and pain.
Hospitality, humility and empathy are three antidotes to religious extremism and violence. Our lives should focus on making them realities in everything we do and say.