Discrimination is bad – neither is it good to be indiscriminating.
You know that feeling of simpatico – that warm feeling of recognition that washes over you when you meet someone who looks like you, thinks like you, is from your hometown – whatever the commonality might be. Maybe you’ve had similar negative experiences. The thing is, your similarities are a connecting point, a positive encounter, because there is something so encouraging about meeting a kindred spirit. You just know that person will see life as you do, and it cheers the heart. You feel warm towards your new friend and you grant your new ‘Homie’ a closer place in your heart. You gravitate towards this person, giving him or her a higher preference in your considerations than say, a less familiar person, who shares – it seems – less or nothing in common with you.
It is good also, to be discriminating. To be discriminating is to be selective, to be perceptive, to be able to distinguish diverse elements. Discrimination, characterized by prejudicial, partial conduct, however, is bad. Widely frowned upon, it is dreadful to be the subject of discrimination. Yet, the impulse to discriminate is instinctive. Imbued in our very human nature is the instinct to welcome ‘like’ and to veer away from what is ‘different’.
Like yearns for like. In the garden, Adam had so much to keep him occupied, but there was no-one else like him there in Eden, so he was lonely. Because we are not meant to be lonely, God brought forth Eve – from Adam, for Adam, like Adam, and so like was paired with like – in a perfect world – and it was very good.
There is nothing wrong in yearning for the companionship of those that are like you – the ease of understanding, the shared heritage is so pleasant. But, this yearning has been corrupted and now tends to become twisted. Like does not merely rejoice in the sameness of like – the likeminded – first subtly, then blatantly – dislike, and thus reject and discriminate against the dissimilar. The cancer of discrimination has long been with us.
Israel during the earthly life of Christ is a case in point. Romans – conquering oppressors – discriminated against and persecuted Jews. Jews in turn discriminated against and persecuted Christians. Centuries later, so called Christians turned around to discriminate against, and mortally persecute Jews. In each instance, the persecution was provoked by the ‘different’ cultural and religious identity of the persecuted. The ‘offence’ of the persecuted was simply being ‘the other’ – being of a different cultural and crucially – religious persuasion.
In Jewish society, discrimination was certainly present at that time – Pharisees haughtily distinguished themselves from Sadducees, and both looked down on Samaritans, though all three groups considered themselves adherent worshippers of the One True God. Teachers of the Law and the Prophets ostensibly were primarily concerned with exhorting and preserving obedience to God’s laws, yet the former repeatedly instigated murders of the latter. Emergent practices within that burgeoning ‘illegitimate’ offshoot of jewish religious culture – the early (christian) church, were also marred by discrimination – fir example, hebrew widows received preferential treatment over greek widows in the distribution of food for a time.
Ordinary jews, trusting in the leadership of their religious teachers, were led in directions that liberated them from the more stringent requirements of obedience to God’s laws. This created a tragically persistent pattern: God would instruct the people through His prophets to adhere to His laws and to resist adopting the cultural mores of the distinct people groups around them, but His people would not listen. Time and time again, they chose to listen instead to words that tickled their ears with what they preferred to hear and thus disobeyed God. The result was they repeatedly drifted away from God and God’s ways, ultimately finding themselves subject to grave consequences. Even the wisest man in history, King Solomon, fell into this trap to his undoubtable grief and regret.
God repeatedly sent His prophets to exhort His people to return to His ways, but isn’t it the truth that nobody likes a reprimand? His people so hated being reprimanded thus that they would kill the messenger time and time again.
Cut to Jerusalem, where Stephen, a follower of Jesus is on trial for his beliefs. Reported to the High Priest by members of a local synagog, the incident seemed first to be one of rightfully concerned Jews seeking to eliminate an ungodly, potentially infectious influence. The thing is, their perspective was wholly shaped by the warnings of leaders who were utterly unwilling to sincerely consider the possibility that this Jesus of which Stephen spoke, could be the awaited Messiah. Despite compelling evidence that Jesus was the awaited Messiah and Savior of the world predicted by Moses, Isaiah, and other Hebrew prophets, the priests and teachers of the law denounced Christianity as a blasphemous attack upon their spiritual purity. The authorities began to search out christians, with a vengeance, to eliminate by death the beguiling prosyltysers.
The very fact that it was jewish elders and priests that instigated – at least on the surface – the crucifiction of Jesus and the prosecution of the early church became, centuries later, the espoused motivation for a thoroughly evil widespread discrimination against later generations of Jews. The beloved chosen became a scapegoat for racial and societal grievances whipped up to diabolical frenzy by Nazis and other extremist political movements. In the nations where the jewish diaspora had scattered, differences rooted in jewish spiritual and religious identity became the basis for distinguishing, separating – ultimately discriminating against – an entire people group. In the United States, the jewish experience included discrimination in housing and commerce, subjection to racial slurs, and the endurance of a once pervasive cultural reproach regarding non-Sunday religious observances and the non observance of Christmas.
[Continued in Part II]
(originally posted 08/31/2014; 964 words)