Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Is Becoming Inclusive Even Remotely Possible?

After posting my previous blog article, I expected to hear from one or more people saying that the idea of doing away with us/them divisions was fuzzy idealism and not at all possible.

Alas, no one made such comments, so I have to do it myself! How can we possibly become completely inclusive in October, the peak of the baseball season? Right now it is us (Go Royals!) against them (the Blue Jays, which is not even a U.S. team, for Pete’s sake).

Competitive sports is based on a strong us/them dichotomy. True, there is a type of volleyball in which rotation occurs from one side to the other. While that can still be fun to play, I’m afraid it is never going to be included in the Olympic Games.

Several days ago I saw the following image on Facebook:

This is a nice thought—but, no, I can’t really imagine it. There is so little love and respect for so many people even in our own neighborhoods and cities I, can’t imagine most of us are going to be able in any meaningful way to love and respect the more than 7,000,000,000 people in the world.

Here in Tucson where June and I are visiting for several weeks, there are “We Stand with Rosa” signs in many yards I have driven past, including in the yard next to my daughter’s place (pictured).

Rosa Robles is a 41 year old Mexican woman who was originally detained in 2010 after a routine traffic stop revealed she was in the country illegally. In August 2014 she moved into a Presbyterian church here in Tucson for sanctuary after receiving an order of deportation.

Rosa said she came to the U.S. in 1999 to give her kids a better life. They were born in Mexico, but qualify for relief by the President’s executive action. She admits that she did break the law by entering the country illegallybut thinks those with families and clean records should be spared deportation.

Those who are standing with Rosa in Tucson are loving and respecting her and her family. But Rosa is just one out of millions of “illegals” in this country—and many voices cry out for “them” to be deported—and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency is trying to do its job by deporting Rosa.

There is widespread clamor for securing the borders—not just against terrorists and criminals, but against all who seek to come into this country without going through the lengthy, and expensive, legal immigration process.

In a world where there is only “us” and no “thems,” there would be no borders, national or otherwise. But, sadly, that is not possible in today’s world. Most of the people in this country would fight rather than have completely open borders.

But what if we all loved and respected each another, if we loved others as we love ourselves, if we practiced the Golden Rule?

In his Civilization and Its Discontents (1930) Freud wrote that the commandment “Love thy neighbour as thyself is impossible to fulfill.” He is probably correct.

Writing five years later in Interpretation of Christian Ethics, Reinhold Niebuhr cites Freud’s words in “The Relevance of an Impossible Ethical Ideal,” the fourth chapter. Then he goes on to insist that “the law of love is an impossible possibility.”

Yes, becoming completely inclusive is, no doubt, not even remotely possible. But becoming more and more inclusive is a real possibility—and a constant challenge for all who seek to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ.


  1. This is first time I've been able to read your blog for a few weeks; I also read last week's after reading this one. I appreciate both of them for their vision of inclusiveness. They remind me of Ed Chasteen's vision that we could all go anywhere, anytime, and meet with anyone and feel safe (although I probably don't have the quotation quite correct).

    For years, I heard people quote Reinhold Niebuhr as a supporter of conservatism because of his realpolitik. Then I started reading him seriously, and started suspecting that those appealing to him as an authority hadn't really read him. One of my favorite quotations is from the book most often cited for its warnings against trying to achieve perfect justice in the world; but it comes at the very end. Here it is, from Moral Man and Immoral Society:

    “In the task of that redemption the most effective agents will be men who have substituted some new illusions for the abandoned ones. The most important of these illusions is that the collective life of mankind can achieve perfect justice. It is a very valuable illusion for the moment; for justice cannot be approximated if the hope of its perfect realization does not generate a sublime madness in the soul. Nothing but such madness will do battle with malignant power and ‘spiritual wickedness in high places.’ The illusion is dangerous because it encourages terrible fanaticisms. It must therefore be brought under the control of reason. One can only hope that reason will not destroy it before its work is done” (p. 277).

    1. I also meant to express appreciation for your awareness of Niebuhr's awareness of irony in human affairs.

    2. Anton, it was good to hear from you again, and I appreciate you sharing the quote by Niebuhr.

      Although I have problems with Niebuhr's willingness to use military force--I generally agree with John Howard Yoder's rebuttal of Niebuhr's arguments for that--I have great appreciation for the bulk of what he wrote.

      I made a couple of references to Niebuhr in my book "Fed Up with Fundamentalism," and then made many references to him in the sequel, "The Limits of Liberalism."

      In the latter I wrote, "In 'An Interpretation of Christian Ethics' (1935) Niebuhr admitted that there is much of value in liberalism, but he still insisted that 'the loss suffered by liberal Christianity’s too uncritical accommodation to modern culture was very great' (p. 7)."

  2. Jesus did not achieve perfect justice. His followers have sometimes subverted it. But it seems to me a quiet revolution is taking place in Christianity--a Christianity in which the law of love is replacing the law of law. I want to be, and am, in the limitations of my own time and place, a part of that revolution. Will this emerging Christianity achieve perfect justice, full inclusion. Probably not. But let us not lose sight of the goal. And in our journey, perhaps other Christians and members of other religion can get a clearer vision of the goal, and join us in our journey.

  3. In my life, I have found that most people are generally good and not looking for trouble, although everyone crosses the line and does something wrong almost daily. And generally we are forgiving. There are some exceptions to that. 1) Some people are just mean. (uncommon) 2) Some people have a good vision, but gather mean followers who want to cause trouble. (common) Some laws are bad, but the fixes may be just as bad if the polarities were permitted to make the change. (US immigration is a good example) 4) Some things are just plain divergent white vs white. (cultures)
    What gives me hope is going camping to look up at the Milky Way and listen to the critters; and the affirmation of Neil Diamond's song "Done Too Soon" https://search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?p=neil+diamond+done+too+soon&ei=UTF-8&hspart=mozilla&hsimp=yhs-001. (the 4th YouTUBE down with historic pictures)

    The Golden Rule is a good ruler for behaviour. (I also like the Rotary 4 Way Test.) Jesus Christ affirmed the Shema (שְׁמַע) - to Love the LORD G_D, but then added three of His own - Love your neighbor, Love your enemy, Love one another (fellow believers/disciples). The last has been one of the most difficult. From the beginning (while Jesus was still on earth) there have been divisions, even among his apostles, and the holy catholic Church has been anything but loving with their excommunications of one another (this seems to be common to all religions). Jesus' big focus, "that they be one, even as We are one" has not worked. Within Christendom, most agree on the tenets of the major creeds, but communion cannot be found. Some think they have it, but then publicly damn those who are in some variance of belief or practice - I have heard this across the spectrum, and it is a primary reason for my cynicism of Christian religion (but again this is common across religions). As the Kings David and Solomon, the prophet Isaiah, and the apostle Paul put it - There is none righteous, each has turned to his own way.

    Most High God, by your Spirit, help us to find our unity in You, and love one another, and become the holy catholic Church. Then, maybe we can teach ourselves and the world to love our neighbors and our enemies.

    Until then, I hope we can learn to be friendly, at least to our neighbors.
    I guess that is what I am after - not inclusion.

  4. Still on our Ministry Midwest tour and loved your personal response.

    We will Not achieve the Love we all talk about until Jesus takes over, but we can strive toward that aim as Christians.

    Love without a choice is Not true Love and GOD gave us a Free will to chose, although he created us to Love Him.

    Blessings to All,
    Donna Sue&jc

  5. Thinking Friend Greg Brown shares these pertinent comments:

    "A provocative blog. And I love Niebuhr's 'impossible possibility.' That's impeccable theology! Which often leads us down dead ends. But we can agree that it is a worthy goal.

    "I believe the human brain is well tuned to perceive difference. And it seems to be hard-wired to effortlessly attach value to any difference it perceives--good/bad, better/worse, safe/dangerous. According to current neuroscience this judgmental process apparently proceeds prior to conscious awareness.

    "I also believe that progress in civilization involves expanding the circle of those we can love, or at least have meaningful empathy for. Until we humans evolve more fully, and I hope we do, the 'law of love' will remain an impossible ideal. But that's the nature of ideals, isn't it?"

  6. Michael Gerson sometimes substitutes for David Brooks on the PBS Newshour Friday night discussion with Democrat Mark Shields. While I am often with the more liberal side of the discussion, an article he posted yesterday with the Washington Post stuck me as a very good look at religious relations. The article, "Christians can't ignore the suffering of Muslims" is at this link: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/christians-shouldnt-ignore-the-suffering-of-muslims/2015/10/19/d9f5f40a-7697-11e5-b9c1-f03c48c96ac2_story.html?wpmm=1&wpisrc=nl_headlines

    1. Thanks, Craig for calling attention to Gerson's article. I had seen the headline but hadn't read the article until after you mentioned it. I liked this paragraph:

      "The response of religious people [about the charge that religion causes violence] — the argument that I have often made and that I heard during my visit with pious Lebanese Muslims — is that really people are not religious enough. If they understood the central teachings of their own traditions — on human dignity and divine compassion — rather than quoting a few problematic verses from ancient texts, they would resist the use of religion for violent and political purposes. The best response to corrupted belief, in this view, is true belief."

      There can be "we-ness" between Christians and Muslims, I think--especially if, of since, there is emphasis on "human dignity and divine compassion" in both traditions.

  7. The raising of our conscience is the work of lifting up those who are treated (by us who think ourselves human) as less than human to fully human and truly connected. Drawing the circle of inclusion wider and wider and wider still involves us in the hard work of self-criticism which true openness to the other evokes. Reinhold Niebuhr properly recognized that ideals worth our hope require dedicated effort over extended periods of time. Seemingly impossible ideals help us to fashion an “As If” world of possible trajectories toward realized approximations while not forgetting (as frequently, I hope) our all-too-human limitations.

    When we treat persons as they are, we make them worse than they are; when we treat persons as if they already were what they potentially could be, we make them what they should be. – Goethe

    And though we have not always responded well to the call of our conscience; “may those who come behind us find us faithful.”

    . . . Ah, we
    We, who intended to prepare the soil for friendliness,
    Could not ourselves become friendly.

    But you, when at last it comes to be
    That humans are a help to each other,
    Remember us
    With kindness. – Bertolt Brecht [RGW tr. 2013]

    1. Thanks for once again posting erudite comments, Dick.

      I have long liked the quote by Goethe -- although I have usually used a shorter version: "Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them to become what they are capable of being.”

  8. Names and places and moments of kindness is what it is all about. The long winded philosophical discussion is not what it is about.

    1. Thanks for reading and responding, Preacher Crow. But moments of kindness and philosophical discussion aren't necessarily mutually exclusive. Most of the time we need both/and rather than either/or.

  9. Thinking Friend Eric Dollard in Chicago has once again sent thoughtful comments:

    "Thanks, Leroy, for your comments with which I agree.

    "Sometimes I despair as to whether or not human beings can ever get past their ingrained tribalism, racism, and genderism. It seems that the most effective approach is exposure to those who are different; it allows us to see that those who are different are really not so different. We all share the same concerns, fears, and desires, so we should be working together for our common goals.

    "While it is difficult to get adults to step outside of their comfort zones to meet others, we can use the natural curiosity of our children to teach them to be open to others. This would need to happen through the schools, but with the movement toward more private schools and home-schooling, I am not particularly optimistic about this.

    "Another avenue for overcoming ethnocentrism is food. Those who refuse to try the wonderful foods from other cultures are truly missing out on some "good eatin'" but also miss out on the opportunity to meet and appreciate the people behind those cuisines.

    "The New Testament, and the Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels, basically teaches openness to all cultural traditions. (There are, admittedly, some problem verses.) I would like to see the members of our churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples reach out to each other in order to foster a greater understanding among people of different cultures--and, of course, to share some 'good eatin.'"