Sunday, June 24, 2007

Dignity and Drawing Lines

Is it automatic that the minute you take a stand believing in something you automatically draw an invisible line of sorts between you and those who do not believe? Do we need some “other” person to stand for all that we are not in order to give us our own sense of identity? By making them the “not-me” we see them only as a two-dimensional featureless being whose only purpose comes in relation to me: what they are does not matter, only that they are NOT this. But why must our sense of self come at the price of another person’s dignity?

It breaks my heart that religious people are often the best line-drawers of them all—not only between us and those on the other side of the belief line, but also among ourselves. We are so quick to set up the lines, the “shoulds” and “have-to’s” and all the detailed explanations of our belief that clearly mark the lines around us, shutting off all those who do not meet our criteria. Can we see past the lines to the person on the other side? Can we see past the lines to the reality of our own contradictions and complexity and allow that same contradiction and complexity in others?

Moral superiority feels great, and I freely admit how easily I slip into it, especially with those who are supposed to believe the same things that I do but live as though none of it really matters. I “get it” so much more than they do, I tell myself, and I feel great sitting in judgment on them. I enjoy drawing lines between myself and them just as much as they may enjoy drawing lines between themselves and non-believers.

But what is missing in me, in everyone who draws lines and allows other people to become two-dimensional representations of some anti-belief is a fundamental value of human dignity. What would change if even in my worst “enemies,” even in those believers whose lives seem empty and shallow and selfish, I began to see real people filled with confusion and suffering and mystery—real people with failings no more or less than my own? Am I up to the task of loving that much? It’s far, far easier to draw lines than embrace dignity. And no matter how I wish I was a person who loved unconditionally and saw the dignity in every person, I know in my heart I am the worst line-drawer of them all.

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