Overcoming our intolerance of the intolerant

Today’s contributor explores the idea of disarming the temptation to respond in kind to those who hate us by coming to value the nature of all as God’s creation, through new views of God’s goodness and love.

Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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For the past decade and a half since I returned to England after a spell abroad, I’ve felt there was less prejudice than when I left, including in regard to the anti-Semitism I’d faced as a Jewish teenager.

These days, however, signs that progress is still needed are coming to the fore. Just this week, seven British Members of Parliament resigned from the main opposition party, citing anti-Semitism in party ranks as a major reason. Meanwhile, rallies have taken place around France in protest against the rise in anti-Semitic attacks there, while The New York Times reported that of 55 hate crimes in New York City so far this year, nearly two-thirds have targeted Jews.

Prejudice in all forms is a terrible trait, with no justification, and it needs to be overcome. But from experience, I’ve found how tempting it can be to nurse intolerance of the intolerant. To resist this temptation isn’t to say we should let hateful acts go unaddressed or stop holding people accountable for their behavior. It’s about avoiding the trap of becoming a hater ourselves.

I had to learn this over time. But to do so took a change in perspective from a mainly material sense of myself and others to a more spiritual understanding of one and all, through understanding the example of Jesus and learning about Christian Science. The latter helped me see what Jesus had done in a new light. I came to understand how he shows us the healing Christ, the true idea of what it means to love as God loves, which we can all learn to emulate, step by step.

For instance, Christ Jesus evidenced such mental freedom in the face of hostility. He articulated and epitomized the idea of loving our enemies and even turning the other cheek to those who strike us, and loving those who hate us and not just those who love us. The basis for his ability to do this was his crystal-clear understanding that God is Love, and that the true nature of all is a spiritual nature we each inherently have that concretely expresses that divine Love.

In striving to understand what that demanded of me in practice, I realized my intolerance for those I feared, though humanly logical, was self-defeating. Heaping hatred on top of my fear was just taking more of my thought away from perceiving and feeling God’s love. Even if just for our own sake, I saw, we need to turn that other cheek.

But doing so does more than just bring us an inner sense of freedom from negativity. It also frees us to see the debilitating nature of hatred’s influence over those succumbing to its silent allure, and to wholeheartedly desire their freedom, too – to see that hatred isn’t so much anyone’s personal opinion as it is an impersonal, mental imposition on people that derives from a limited, mistaken view of life and mind as material. To love spiritually is to see that the opposite and truly substantial mentality that is the divine Mind, God, alone has authority over all of us. It is to trust that a humble acceptance of that truth can reach beyond the borders of our thought to touch the heart of somebody, somewhere, who’s ready to be liberated from what Martin Luther King Jr. described as the burden of hating.

Even politically, it could be argued that intolerance of the intolerant adds fuel to the fire. But more profoundly, if we want to bring the healing power of God’s love to bear on overcoming prejudice, we need to yield the human logic of reactions to higher views of everyone that can lead us to inspired practical steps.

As Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science, once put it, echoing Jesus’ example: “I would enjoy taking by the hand all who love me not, and saying to them, ‘I love you, and would not knowingly harm you.’ Because I thus feel, I say to others: Hate no one; for hatred is a plague-spot that spreads its virus and kills at last” (“Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896,” pp. 11-12).

Can we stand firmly against intolerance while at the same time doing the hard work of making the commitment to “hate no one”? Can we sincerely utter these same words of love when we think of those who speak or act out of hostility based on whatever harmful identifier they associate with us? The task of continuing to make gains in dismantling prejudices such as anti-Semitism might depend on more and more of us unleashing the healing influence of being able to answer, “Yes.”

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