If you are a Christian, you may be aware of the gospel reading where Jesus is sharing dinner with various nefarious (and outcast) types. In the words of the Pharisees:
“This man welcomes sinners and eats with them”
They sat on the sidelines and shunned him because they felt the company he kept was unclean. However, he was only obeying the same law that he lays out quite clearly elsewhere in the new testament: “To love your neighbour as yourself.” While Jesus was open to welcoming all types into his circle – sinners, saints, liberals, conservatives, men, women, jews and gentiles. The Pharisees were busy setting up their own silos to isolate themselves from those they felt were sinners; standing on the sidelines insulting those who were more open than them.
These days, with the Internet and global communication, we are exposed to more ideas, peoples and diverse interests than ever before. This is truly an age where we can get to understand varying viewpoints and try to understand and love our neighbours more than ever. Yet, I feel we have degraded back into the days where we find similar minded people, and isolate ourselves from those “sinners” we disagree with. Those who don’t follow our limited set of rules that we have arbitrarily set for ourselves. We’ve become pharisees.
My theory is that because we are able to connect with so many more people, we are also able to connect with more people who share precisely our view of the world. Thus, it is easier for us to find only those we agree with and not have to put in the effort to try and understand those we don’t understand (or even disagree with.) It’s simply easier. You just parrot the same lines that allow you to dislike people among your small social group and then you all feel a bit better about yourselves. You simply block them on Twitter when they state something you disagree with, argue with them during Thanksgiving, dismiss any reasons behind their beliefs or banish them entirely.
Sadly, I must admit that I’ve fallen into this trap from time to time. Yet, what does that gain me? What does that gain us? It’s easy to see that every group has their own “sins” and their own “sinners.”
Some eco-minded folks demean those who shop at Walmart and not Whole Foods as if they were adulterers. Simply not comprehending that for some families that is the only way they can get by week-to-week.
Some fiscal conservatives insult those who require food stamps and government assistance as if they were lepers, claiming some undefined sin has placed them into this category of life.
Some educated liberals insult those who view the world differently than them and have some ideas that actually are quite well founded when you dig down to find why they believe them as if they were blind beggars in the street.
What does this accomplish for us as a society, other than make it harder for us to work towards common goals and still feel good about ourselves because it’s not our fault?
Further segregation, less cooperation, and eventually more crises without any capacity to solve them. If you dismiss anyone who you disagree with as a sinner, you inherently have less knowledge, less manpower and less capacity to work towards a common goal.
To use the Christian reference, Jesus not only could work with sinners, but sat down at the same table and ate with them congenially. How many could sit down at a table with those we disagree with and share a congenial meal? I know I’ve seen enough vicious arguments over family dinners to know it feels like very little these days.
Perhaps though, we should try to change that.
While I cannot speak for other religions, although I believe many have similar constructs. If you are Christian, we have all been invited to the table of plenty; Invited to sit down with sinners and saints, understanding that even though you are also a sinner, you are forgiven; This is precisely how amazing works are accomplished and communities like the 1 billion strong (and growing) Catholic church came to be; not by excluding sinners, but welcoming all with open arms.
For myself, after much frustration from doing the opposite, I have found that the best thing is to try to extend that forgiveness to those you disagree with and even those who have harmed you, listen patiently to what they have to say, and don’t dismiss them as yet another sinner, even if you believe they are wrong.
Even those you disagree with can have many valuable things to say.