Individuality and Prejudice

ONE of the evils of prejudice is that it lumps people together into a faceless mass. In short, prejudice would blind us to each person's individuality and identity by fooling us into believing that whole categories of people have no individual worth. If one is bad, they are all bad. I was thinking about this one day in connection with the Middle East situation and reports of attacks on Arabs in the United States. I thought of Christ Jesus' attitude toward others. That made me ask myself, ``Would he too have been suspicious and hateful toward Arabs?''

As I mentally reviewed his life, I was struck by the spiritual discernment he expressed. He wasn't fooled by the masses or their attitudes. For example, he knew tax collectors were despised, yet he chose one of them -- Matthew -- as his disciple.

On another occasion, a rich publican named Zacchaeus longed to see the Master. When Jesus said he would stay at the man's house, people murmured and said that ``he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner.'' Their comments had no effect on the Master's actions.

To me, this illustrates a point Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, makes in her book The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany. She writes, ``Spiritual apprehension unfolds, transfigures, heals.''

Certainly Jesus' understanding of the true nature of man as spiritual unfolded quite a different picture of Zacchaeus than the one other people were seeing. Instead of believing that Zacchaeus could only be dishonest, Jesus was able to look beyond this material stereotype to the man's true nature. He knew that in reality each of us is spiritual and forever at one with God. Then he could expect that Zacchaeus would ultimately express his actual spirituality. This certainty on the Master's part opened the door to Zacchaeus's transformation of character, which the Bible records in Luke's Gospel.

We might say that the difference between Jesus' approach and the one society is often tempted to take is that the Master refused to see only faceless masses. He was able to do this because he specifically knew that man is the idea, or child, of God. And he expected the individuals he met to express this spirituality.

In practical terms, this means that each of us can learn to know ourselves and others as essentially good because God, divine Love, is all good. Each of us is precious to God; so if we deny this worth to another, we deny it to ourselves. As equally loved offspring, we are united by our spirituality and our relation to the one God. None of us is unworthy of divine Love; none of us can be deprived of Love's loving by another.

Understanding our true nature, we begin to see beyond the outward, material characteristics that might seem to separate us. Politics, color of skin, shape of eyes, cultural background, begin to be less important than our own desire to emulate Christ Jesus by seeing our fellow humans as he did. Mentally to cut through the prejudice, we pray to see the spiritual qualities that each individual naturally expresses. These include intelligence, patience, purity, love, energy, wisdom.

In each case these qualities are evidence of the spirituality that is everyone's true nature. As we are able to see and appreciate even tiny signs of this spirituality in each individual -- including those we may at present despise -- we are beginning to free ourselves from the prejudices that would divide us from our fellow beings both around the block and around the world.

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