Month: December 2016

Empathy, acceptance and tolerance

This is a followup to my last post, because it seems mildly incomplete. I should have perhaps mentioned empathy.  Empathy seems to me the only means of truly communicating with anyone, of understanding them. It’s what we all want, for someone to see the world as we see it. And yet, a fully empathetic experience, actually getting into the head of another, being in their mind and experiencing emotions from their perspective, is not possible. Nor, I suspect, are we capable of understanding just how far apart from one another we really are. All of this begs for tolerance and acceptance of differences as critical to building relationships.  And it goes a long way towards explaining why the human race is in such trouble…and maybe why humanity today can be such a lonely...

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Ask for acceptance, don’t expect understanding…

Coming back from Europe last week reminded me of coming back from Chile and the Peace Corps back in 1980. This time I was only gone five months, back then it had been 30. Trying to explain to anyone what I had experienced was pointless, because no matter how carefully chosen your words, no one who hadn’t been there could really know. And, with the exception of the uniquely insightful and curious, I suspect few really care.   I shared this insight with a young French college student a few years ago and he understood immediately. He commented that he had recently spent a full year drifting around the globe, only to return home to his parents in Normandy who’d questioned him for 15 minutes. Then they began discussing lunch. And our experiences pale alongside those of soldiers returning home from war. How could any of us who haven’t been there grasp that? But then there are many things I can’t know: What it’s like to have a son or daughter, to shoulder commitment to a wife and family? To be extremely wealthy, or even poor? To be a woman, or black or Muslim? To be an addict, or live in a Haitian slum? All of of this is just an amateurish way of commenting on individual lives and the perspectives those lives create within each of us. We...

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Reflections on reading “A History of God,” by Karen Armstrong

Because of its breadth and detail, this is among the more difficult books I’ve tackled. In brief, Armstrong reviews the theological histories of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the three related monotheistic traditions. She expounds on the complex and often surprising evolution of each, from their origins through the 20th century. It is an expansive treatment, but well worth the six months it’s taken to get through it.  I want to enumerate here the principal insights I gained. This is not a review or critique of the book, but a melange of Armstrong’s historical narrative, my own opinions, and personal reflection. In other words, it should not be attributed en toto to Armstrong. 1. As individuals constrained by short lifespans, we fail to appreciate how our respective religious practices have changed over time. In all three traditions, teachings often presented as absolute have been plastic and malleable. They have all been revised and reinterpreted continuously. Since their inceptions, the respective clergies and other intelligentsia in all generations have argued about right belief and practice. In so doing, they have taken each far from its origin, to the point that rigid and dogmatic interpretation of any is absurd. In fact, Armstrong points out that, over the centuries, people have constantly reinvented the idea of God to keep it relevant to their times and their lives. In this vein, she traces the...

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