Leslie and I are aficionados of the old TV show M*A*S*H, about a field hospital near the front in the Korean War. The head nurse, Major Margaret Houlihan, is a skilled and dedicated practitioner, but often a bit testy. In one episode, she was treated shabbily by a man, and she expressed her feelings strongly, saying,
“Respect. Simple respect. I ask nothing more, and I expect nothing less.”
I think of that line as we explore, this week and next, our relationship with people of other religions than our own. Humans are tribal by nature; I think; in early eras the tribe was one’s only protection from harm. But with tribalism came a suspicion of the stranger, the other, which sometimes morphed into disdain, fear, and hatred. Sadly, we still see and hear expressions of such hostility toward whole groups, classes, races, nationalities, and religions.
But if we look to Jesus to show us how to live, we see an amazing openness to conversation with those who are different, and an appreciation for wisdom in other religious traditions. The Hebrew Bible, for instance, borrows its creation and flood stories directly from Babylonian sources. Jesus makes a Samaritan – someone despised by the Jews – into the hero of his great parable of mercy and compassion.
Much is said about tolerance these days. Tolerance of others’ lifestyles, perspectives, and beliefs is a good thing…as far as it goes. But we need to push ourselves a bit further: we need to respect other people, not just tolerate them. Jesus doesn’t always agree with people; often he clearly distinguishes his teachings from theirs. But he respects the dignity of every human being, and we should too.
Many thanks to our own Eva Cavaleri for leading us in this conversation on the major religions of the world. She has done this work with students as chaplain of the National Cathedral School for Girls. JBM