Breaking the chains of oppression

Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life

Perhaps you've Had the same helpless feeling I've had at times about the world's problems. It seems that the more one reads to understand them, the more unsolvable those problems appear.

But solving them seems ever more urgent as I read about outbreaks of violence stemming from deep-seated and dangerous insensitivity to others' religious convictions still is.

I say still, because much of this is paralleled in early biblical history where Israel was often at war with its neighbors. The strife between religious and ethnic groups that followed over the centuries resulted in wars and dislocations.

Today, ancient feuds, still held in place by conflicting religious beliefs and practices, have erupted on a global scale, demanding resolution. Historical knowledge and political maneuvering have proven inadequate to solve these problems.

As I turned to prayer for an answer, I saw that the problem is with oppression itself, and that differences of religion, race, gender, or age have become the tools of oppression. Where no one attempts to rule in the name of some assumed personal superiority, these need not be issues in themselves. This is proven in places where peoples have long coexisted peaceably - until stirred to strife by outside forces.

While tolerance for human differences may ease many situations, something deeper is needed to get to the root of oppression. An answer came from a hymn in the "Christian Science Hymnal" (No. 2):

The advocates of error

Foresee the glorious morn,

And hear in shrinking terror,

The watchword of reform:

It rings from hill and valley,

It breaks oppression's chain....

To hearts and homes benighted

The blessed Truth is given,

And peace and love, united,

Point upward unto heaven.

There is so much more implied by this hymn than mere human activity. It speaks of Truth, which signifies God, the Creator of each of us. And to me, the "watchword of reform" signifies a spiritual revolution, bringing the truth about our nature as God's creation - sinless, pure, humble, and upright - and above all, free.

As I thought more about this, I remembered a classroom exercise in prejudice, in which children with blue eyes, for example, were subjected to ridicule by their classmates because of their eye color; and then the exercise was used upon the brown-eyed ridiculers. The purpose, of course, is to teach how baseless such prejudice is.

But the sad fact is that eye color, skin color, or hair texture can lead us into making wrong assumptions about each other. And those assumptions play out in everyday life. Then, if we aren't careful to challenge them, they can be used to make us unsuspecting or unwilling players in the ploys that lead to war and genocide.

The antidote to such attitudes and behavior is Christlike love for oneself and for others. One has only to think of Jesus teaching the Samaritan woman who belonged to a racial group despised by the Jews. Or further back to the prophet Elisha healing the Syrian military leader Naaman of leprosy. In the latter case, it was Naaman who had to overcome his national pride - his sense that the rivers of Syria were better than those of Israel.

We may indeed feel overwhelmed by the daily news reports. But surely we are all offered daily opportunities to practice tolerance - and to go beyond mere tolerance to a recognition of every individual's worth as a child of one God who has made us all inherently spiritual.

Oppression - from whatever basis - would deny our spiritual birthright and seek to demean us from the standpoint of a mortal, material basis. If we see that oppression itself is the problem, we won't be tricked into following prejudices, despite their lengthy history. We will not be tempted to use these tools against others, and we will be able to find freedom from oppression.

Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands
of wickedness, to undo
the heavy burdens,
and to let the oppressed go free,
and that ye break every yoke?

Isaiah 58:6

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