Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion, too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace… You…
– John Lennon
You, implored Lennon – you can use your imagination to visualize your particular religion being reformed at the root of its exclusionary foundings so that it no longer works as justification for inflicting pain on others. If I could be in conversation with Lennon I might ask him, “Do you really think I can do that? Imagine the end of brutalizing religious practices? What would my part be in that ending? Do I have to throw the baby (what I love) out with the bathwater (the “impure”)?” I do not know what Lennon would say, but I can imagine that a conversation about ending the codification of the right to religious discrimination which leads to violence is an interfaith conversation many of us would like to have with each other, especially now as Europeans and Americans are becoming increasingly aware that “religious violence” maims and kills within U.S. borders. I am hopeful about this interfaith conversation because the parable of the Good Samaritan in U.S. secular culture holds inspiration and transforming power when the parable is unpacked and understood more fully. All in all, this article is an attempt to help us see our way towards living life in peace with religion and without codifying our impulses to discriminate.
In the Good Samaritan parable, two religiously-respectful men see a helpless man and refuse to help him. A third man, a Samaritan, helps the man in need. “Random” acts of kindness happen frequently, and when we notice people engaged in these “random” acts, we call them Good Samaritans. But calling someone a “Good Samaritan” just because they were helpful is actually an uninformed and thus unintentional insult from an interfaith perspective.
Samaritans, who were Jewish, were part of a racially-mixed society. For some, racial mixing was taboo. Samaritans believed that only the first five books of the Bible were sacred. Samaritans were considered by other Jewish people to be racially and ritually impure. So when we call someone a “Good Samaritan,” if we know how Samaritans were viewed by other Jewish people, we are subliminally also saying that Good Samaritan do-gooders are an exception to the impure tribe of which they belong – that their act of mercy redeems them, makes them special, and purifies them. This is not an interpretation I recommend because the misconception of people being impure (LGBTQ-identified) , and thus others being pure (heterosexually-identified), is at the crux of why the codification of the religious right to discriminate against LGBTQ people, in particular, is taking hold in the U.S. right now. When Lennon wrote “And no religion, too…” I believe he meant imagining the end of the delusion of pure groups of people vs. impure groups of people. Can you imagine an end to this delusion?
The right to discriminate based on religion is as old as religion itself. Many religious traditions were founded in opposition to the existing order. Opposing the existing order is part of what makes religions prophetic and attractive — especially to those who are oppressed by the existing order. With our U.S constitutional protections, as long as there is religious freedom to discriminate there will be some freedom to discriminate within the tradition. When adherents want to exercise their freedom to discriminate outside of their religious community and cannot, the impulse to codify discrimination becomes highly problematic for others, but it need not be problematic. For example, one of my former friends discriminated against me when she learned I was a member of the LGBTQ community. How did a friend become a foe? First, it is important to understand how we became friends.
Hope (not her real name), is an African-American woman just a few years older than I am. When we began working together, we were two of only three African-American people in the office. We noticed each other right away and became lunch buddies over a few months. I had just graduated from law school, and Hope was really impressed by my accomplishment, so much so that she invited me to mentor her teen-aged daughter. Not having any children of my own at the time, I readily agreed to mentor her daughter, but over a few days I began to harbor doubts. I remembered that Hope was part of a religion that ex-communicates LGBTQ people. Having already experienced “excommunication” within my family, I steeled myself, and told Hope that I was gay and wondered whether she would still want me to mentor her daughter. Hope told me that her religion prohibited us from being friends, so there was no way I was going to be her daughter’s mentor. End of friendship, end of collegiality. Another relationship broken by the belief in purity vs. impurity. Another wedge between Black women. Sadness. The good news about the end of our relationship is that the end was the end. The end was not the beginning of an impulse to segregate me from the rest of my colleagues, nor was the end the beginning of Hope trying to get me fired. Hope did not lobby city government against the LGBTQ community. The discrimination stopped with the end of the relationship. To put it another way, it was a good discrimination.
The codification of the religious right to discriminate is an activity that will not let the end of the relationship be the end. Why? I suspect that the unconscious and conscious belief in one’s purity is strong. The belief in self purity is so egosyntonic when conscious, that it takes a parable (a story through analogy that cannot be met with defensiveness) to counteract the egosyntonia. If we are to unravel the archetypes, anachronism, and apartheid for our collective survival against the codification of the religious right to discriminate, we will need to look closely at how the treasured parables giving life to archetypes like the Good Samaritan, also operate to perpetuate apartheid thinking, in the United States.
In the United States we have a few songs we sing to express our love of God, country, ancestors, and freedom. In Samuel Francis Smith’s song “ My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” also known as “America,” we sing:
My country, ’tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing;
Land where my fathers died,
Land of the pilgrims’ pride,
From ev’ry mountainside
Let freedom ring!
We do not sing “My country, ‘tis of thee, Sweet land of liberty, of Thee I…Discriminate.” But try singing it and pay attention to how you feel. Reflect. Take a moment to practice mindfulness of the body and mind. Did you just feel something unpleasant? The dissonance caused by love of country, love of freedom, love of God and love of our ancestors on one side, and the impulse to discriminate against others on the other side , should be confusing, disturbing, polarizing, and create a pause. We need a reflective pause. This pause can be a moment to discern what time in civilization it is. The pause can be used for mental reorganization — a cognition process that follows dissonance that may help us to get a grip on a reality. The pause can be used to resolve dialectical condundrums, but will our attachment to the purity delusion prohibit us from reflectively pausing on our impulse to separate and punish the “impure?” Engaging in interfaith dialogue offers us opportunities to ask important questions like, “Do you believe God is the ultimate lawmaker, jury, and judge?” If dialogue partners answer this question in the affirmative, a follow up question might be, “If you believe God is the ultimate lawmaker, jury, and judge, why do you tolerate vigilantism in the name of God?” Another set of questions may be, “If you believe in liberty for all U.S. citizens, how does your life reflect this belief?” I believe our turning away from and against one another is motivated, in part, by ancient archetypes, anachronistic moves, and apartheid. In the interest in authenticity, if there is interest, it is time for a long pause.