In Support of the Rally to Restore Unity.
A few years ago, I tuned in to Larry King Live as he was moderating a friendly debate between a Catholic priest and a Protestant minister (despite being an avowed agnostic, Larry frequently welcomed religious-minded guests and treated them with uncommon respect).
As a born-and-bred Catholic currently attending a Protestant church, I was drawn in by the discussion.
I can’t even recall the specific topic at hand, but I do remember wanting to immediately pick sides. The debate was civil and non-confrontational, yet I felt the need to align with “my guy” (the Protestant minister) while awaiting opportunities to discredit the other guy.
After the first commercial break, the discussion continued – but with the addition of a third guest: a Jewish Rabbi.
Now the stakes had changed. Suddenly – and unwittingly – my perspective shifted, and I latched onto the priest-minister duo. Given the new threat on the scene, the differences between the first two guys didn’t seem as significant.
This conversation progressed until it was time for another break, after which a Muslim cleric appeared on the set.
Now my world was really shaken. Clearly, this new imposter was the real adversary, and the Judeo-Christian trio was an alliance I felt compelled to throw my support behind.
The final segment introduced the most troubling panelist of all: a card-carrying atheist. And darn it if I wasn’t forced to revise my perspective yet again to accommodate the latest configuration of guests. I cocked my gun and aimed it squarely at newest Enemy #1.
No question about it, this show cleverly messed with my mind, stretching and challenging it in the process.
I came away from the experience with a few personal epiphanies, which I have taken the liberty of broadening into general principles about humanity:
1. We are most comfortable with those who think, act and look like us. It’s safer and helps preserve the status quo.
2. The more we surround ourselves by “clones,” the more uncomfortable, threatened or frightened we are by anyone who isn’t one. Our holy huddle ends up serving as a bomb shelter whose primary function is to protect the occupants.
3. Getting to know – even like – someone with a different belief system doesn’t have to threaten or diminish ours. In fact, it can strengthen it.
When we completely dismiss someone or deem him dangerous/untouchable, we essentially release ourselves from having to treat him with dignity or respect. Which means, of course, that we also negate the potential of actually developing a relationship that is potentially life-changing for both of us.
All because of fear. Or pride. Or complacency.
I’m grateful to Mr. King (a non-religious Jew) for illuminating that reality for me.