I was blessed to grow up in a very sheltered and safe environment. My childhood was lived inside a virtual cocoon. In the remote, rural, first-generation immigrant community I grew up in, we all knew each other, all went to the same church, all belonged to the same political party, were all white, all came from the same ethnic background, all shared the same accent when we spoke English, all had a similar slant on how we understood morality, all shared similar hopes and fears about the outside world, and all worshipped God quite confidently from inside that cocoon. We knew we were special in God’s eyes.
There’s a wonderful strength in that, but also a pejorative underside. When there are no real strangers in your life, when everyone looks like you do, believes what you do and speaks like you do, when your world is made up of only your own kind, it’s going to take some painful subsequent stretching, in some very deep parts of your soul, to accept – existentially accept – and be comfortable with the fact that people who are very different from you, who have different skin colours, speak different languages, live in different countries, have different religions and have a different way of understanding things, are just as real and precious to God as you are.
Of course, not everyone has a background like mine. But I suspect that almost everyone also struggles to accept, beyond our too easy espousal of how open we are, that all lives in the world are equally as precious to God as is our own. It is hard for us to believe that we, and our own kind, are not specially blessed and are not of more value than others. There are lots of reasons for that.
First, there’s our innate narcissism. Simply put, we cannot not feel that our own reality is more real and more precious than that of others. After all, as René Descartes put it, classically and forever, the only thing we can know for sure is that we are real, that our joys and pains are real; we may be dreaming everything else.
Beyond that natural narcissism, other things begin to play in: blood, language, country and religion are thicker than water. Consequently, our own kind always seem more real to us, particularly regarding race and country. Too many of us live with the notion that God has blessed our race and country more than God has blessed other races and countries, and that we are special in God’s eyes. That’s a dangerously false and un-Christian notion, directly contrary to the Judaeo-Christian scriptures. God doesn’t value some races and some countries more than others.
Where might we go with all of this, given that it’s hard to see how everyone else’s life is as real and precious as our own? How do we bring our hearts to existentially accept a truth that we espouse with our lips, namely, that God loves everyone equally, with no exceptions?
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