Tag Archives: self-righteousness

Are People Evil or Just Different?

shabbat-queen-elena-kotliarkerLet your home be open to all.

-Ethics of the Fathers 1:5

I have traveled to many communities to lecture on various subjects. I have also attended other guest speakers’ lectures. Invariably, after the lecture, the speaker is invited to a home where a small group of people gather for an informal chat, while hors d’oeuvres are served.

It has been very distressing to me that even when my audience appears to receive my talk well, no one may invite me to a post-lecture gathering. Why? I keep kosher, many of these people do not, and they find it awkward that the guest would not partake of their refreshments.

This baffles me. If my lecture was not well received, I could understand people’s reluctance to invite me. But when the response is virtually ecstatic, and I receive immediate requests for repeat performances, why, then, am I shunned? If I were a person of any other faith or nationality, I would be welcomed in everyone’s home. Why are the doors of my own people closed to me? The abundance of kosher foods available no longer makes keeping kosher an inconvenience.

Observant Jews adhere to kosher laws as a matter of conviction. Even if someone is not of that mindset, he or she can at least maintain a home where every Jew can be welcomed (or at least have a cup of coffee!).

So many doors are closed to Jews. We should not be closing our doors to our own.

Today I shall…

…try and make my home a place where every Jew can feel welcome and comfortable.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Tammuz 5”

I know a lot of you Christians reading this may be asking what’s so special about the Jewish people that we should go to extra lengths to accommodate them. Why would Rabbi Twerski specify that he should make his home feel welcome and comfortable for just Jews and that all Jews should do the same for other Jews? Is it only a “kosher food” thing? Why shouldn’t we Gentile Christians be given extra consideration? After all, what are we, chopped liver?

No, it’s not that at all. But if we expand on the thought begun by Rabbi Twerski and acknowledge that the Jewish people were specifically chosen by God (and the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ didn’t “unchoose” them), and we know that they have been especially targeted for persecution and even destruction, even to this present day and even among the body of believers, then we must realize that as disciples of the Jewish Messiah and worshipers of the God of Israel, we have a special duty to show love to those whom God loves.

Thus says the Lord, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar—the Lord of hosts is his name: If this fixed order were ever to cease from my presence, says the Lord, then also the offspring of Israel would cease to be a nation before me forever.

Jeremiah 31:35-36 (NRSV)

As part of his blog post for today, Derek Leman discusses the interdependency between the Jewish people and the nations, and the nations as particularly represented by Gentile believers: Christians. At least one of my reviews of the Rudolph and Willitts book Introduction to Messianic Judaism (I gave my Pastor a copy but with his brutal reading and studying schedule along with his Pastoral duties, he won’t be able to crack it open until the latter part of July), also addressed this mutual dependence and interlinking relationship between believing Jews and Gentiles.

We really can’t do without each other and yet, the divisiveness between some believing Jews and Gentiles, at least on the web, exists in sharp contrast to this principle, more’s the pity.

how-it-feels-to-disagreeI was encouraged by one non-Jewish Hebrew Roots supporter when he said (amid a sea of negative comments), “That being said, I agree with your sentiments re: not vilifying each other…We should be in the business of building one another up, not tearing one another down.

I agree, too.

It stands to reason that as human beings, we are going to disagree with each other on a good many things. As religious human beings, we are going to disagree about religion. Persecutions, pogroms, and inquisitions have all been justified in the name of God. Wars have been fought and many people have died over religious differences. Today, the weapons of choice, at least in the western nations, are not bombs and bullets, but words and blogging. We don’t just disagree, we attack, we “demonize,” we declare our opponents not only wrong but actually “evil” and that their teachings are “sending people to hell.”

Is that really what we’re supposed to be up to as disciples of the Master? What ever happened to the “unified” (as opposed to “homogenized”) body of Christ? If the so-called body of Christ were actually a human body, it would be dismembered into hundreds of individual pieces and lying dead in a large pool of blood; a scene that could only appeal to the Jeffrey Dahmer’s of the world (no, I’m not accusing anyone of being like Dahmer, I just said that for effect).

The comment I quoted above about “not vilifying each other” is an exceptionally rare one on the web. It has been said that the Internet was made for (adult material), but it seems more realistic to say that it was made to encourage rudeness and divisiveness. Most people “hide” either behind some pseudonym or, if the blog or discussion board allows it, behind the mask of “Anonymous.” From that perch, any one can say anything that occurs to them in the emotional “heat of battle” with no apparent consequences. Almost no one would say the same things or at least not in the same way if they were having a face-to-face conversation.

Accept truth from whomever speaks it.

-Maimonides, Kiddush HaChodesh 17:24

Some extremely choosy people will accept guidance or teaching only from an acknowledged authority, because they consider accepting anything from anyone of lesser stature a demeaning affront to their ego.

Among my physician colleagues, I have observed this phenomenon when a patient requests consultation. Those doctors who have self-esteem and know that they are competent have no problem accepting consultation, but those who are less self-confident may interpret the request for consultation as an insinuation that they are inadequate. They may be insulted by this request, and if they do comply with it, they will accept as a consultant only the chief of the department at a university medical school or some other renowned personage. Any other consultant constitutes a threat to their ego, an admission that “he may know more than I do.”

Physicians are not the only guilty party; professionals and artisans of all types can also show a lack of self-confidence by displaying this intellectual snobbery.

The Talmud states that truly wise people can learn from everyone, even from people who may be far beneath them. Limiting ourselves to learning only from outstanding experts is not only vain, but it also severely restricts our education. Humility is essential for learning, and we should accept the truth because it is the truth, regardless of who speaks it.

Today I shall…

…try to learn from everyone, even from someone whom I may consider inferior to me in knowledge.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Tammuz 7”

Let’s change “consider inferior to me in knowledge” to “different from me,” or “someone who disagrees with me,” or “someone I don’t like.”

Agreeing with a statement made by someone you don’t like is probably one of the most difficult things for a person to do. Imagine you are against another person because of their religious, political, or moral beliefs. You disagree with each other on almost everything. Then the person says something that you can’t disagree with because it is also one of the principles you choose to live by. Imagine they said something like, “I agree with your sentiments re: not vilifying each other…We should be in the business of building one another up, not tearing one another down.

agree-or-disagreeWhat would you do? What would you say? Would you…could you say anything?

If you agree with them, you have to admit the two of you have something in common. If you agree, then you are saying there is at least one point on which the two of you can stand together, a platform that could potentially be used to construct a dialog and to find other points of agreement. You might even have to admit you could learn to cooperate on certain projects to accomplish goals you both believe are worthy.

What a shock. Could you do it?

Imagine you have either publicly or in your thoughts, vilified someone. You can’t stand them. You think they’ve done you wrong. You think their religious teachings are false, dangerous, heretical. You believe what they say “sends people to hell.”

You’ve worked up quite a justified dislike if not hate for that person. And then they go and ruin it all by saying something you completely agree with…a truth that’s impossible for you to deny (at least unless you are willing to go back on stuff you’ve said in the past).

It is possible to disagree with someone, even strenuously, and not personalize the conflict (I know…that’s probably a radical idea to some folks). I won’t name names but I recently publicly disagreed with someone, a leader within his own organization. Although I acknowledged that this person has many fine qualities, I expressed concern over an area of behavior I thought could be improved, relative to everything I’ve said so far in this blog post.

Sadly, that was interpreted as a personal attack by several people including an employee of the person I was mentioning, resulting in a list being posted of this person’s many fine recent activities “proving” that he was without fault and that I was wrong to criticize that individual about anything whatsoever.

This is the sort of discussion that is “crazy making.” A person can be a good person and still be vulnerable to human faults, frailties, and temptations. I’d like to think I’m a good person but I know for a fact that I make mistakes (hopefully writing this blog post isn’t one of them) and have faults that I continue to address (being married is an enormous help in this area since spouses are just made to point out how we should improve ourselves).

We really need to be able to acknowledge others we disagree with when they do good, and even if we find it necessary to disagree from time to time, said-disagreement doesn’t mean the other person if evil, rotten, criminal, or any other bad thing. They may even say the truth about stuff sometimes and we may even agree with them sometimes.

There are days when I think there are very few voices of reason and sanity on the web. I know that most of us are trying to be good people and to serve God to the best of our abilities. If we could acknowledge that quality about each other, maybe we’d be heading in the right direction and finally, finally starting to obey our Master:

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

John 34-35 (NRSV)

I promise that by Monday, I’ll feel better and that will be reflected in my blogging but in the meantime, I just want to take this opportunity to encourage you, me, and everyone else who puts their thoughts and feelings out into the public realm to shape up, start reading our Bibles more, and start realizing what God is actually trying to tell us. Hint: The Bible doesn’t say, “be more snarky.”