emPATHy … June 1, 2012

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Slavery.

For two hundred and fifty years in the United States of America, owning another person for your own profit and gain was considered acceptable. It may be difficult for some people to believe that such a mindset existed in our country–but trying to project shame on the event will not help us to understand what caused the phenomenon, and why even a hundred and fifty years later, this country wrestles with the issue of racial equality.

You see, a funny thing happened to Christianity after the resurrection of Jesus. After several different jaunts and jiggles, it ended up in the hands of the Roman Empire, which was completely conquered by individuals collectively known as Barbarians. Perhaps we should take offense–because they are our ancestors. They are the Visigoths, Huns, Angles, Vikings and Saxons.

The belief in Jesus survived this barbarian takeover, but they were not comfortable with the message of the Messiah. They saw no future in “loving your enemies” or “doing unto others as you would have them do unto you,” so they transformed the lifestyle of Christianity into a religious practice which mainly focused on the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. Even when they became Protestants, they still maintained many of the relics, rituals and superstitions of the Mother Church. Basically they came up with a theology that was very Old Testament, in the sense that it was believed to be quite proper to club someone over the head to get his leg of lamb. But instead of using Moses as the deliverer of the people to the Promised Land, Jesus the Christ was inserted as the new law-giver and the King of Kings. They managed to extract his message from this religious transformation and leave behind the suffering savior who will one day become the conquering king. Yes, Jesus became the ultimate Viking. Although he was defeated at Calvary, he resurrected to one day return in vengeance, to judge the quick and the dead.

These barbarians–our ancestors–made the journey across the Atlantic and settled in the New World. They immediately had a problem. The terrain, the weather, the lack of funds and the nature of this new kingdom gave them a swift kick in the pants. So rather than referring back to the message of Jesus–to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”–they sought for more practical solutions. You might ask yourself how good Christian people ever resorted to slavery? We always make poor choices when we allow the bankers to control our conscience. It became a really easy three-step process once money became the issue.

1. “We need cheap labor or free workers so we can make money.”

2. “Those people down in Africa don’t look like us so they must not be as good as we are.”

3. “Therefore, we will go down, get them, and use them to create profit for ourselves.”

Gone was any thought of empathy. The definition of empathy is very simple. It literally means the action of understanding. Do you really think our ancestors sat down for even five minutes to try to understand what it was like for a black man or woman to be snatched from their homes, thrown on a ship for a long journey and then to arrive in a new country without freedom? Do you think they spent any time at all wondering if there was a way to improve the financial situation in their lives without destroying the lives of others? You see, long before a decision was made by the Dutch trade ships to bring black human cargo to this country as slaves, our ancestors had abandoned the true message of Jesus, true spirituality and therefore, any sense of a world view. They had turned Christianity into a religion of conquering and therefore, made it convenient to use it for their own campaign.

So since we haven’t had a major spiritual renewal in our world for a long time, and the blood and thoughts of our ancestors vibrate in our beings one hundred and fifty years later, we are therefore still under the curse of believing that there are some people who are not as good as we are. It makes us self-righteous, and after all, all decisions to be “holier than thou” end up with the participants looking ignorant.

This leads us to the second step oo the path of true spirituality and a world view–empathy. The action of understanding–which was exemplified in the philosophy of Jesus by the statement, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Was there any plantation owner in Georgia who would have allowed his son or daughter to be treated the way the slaves were in his county? Of course not. But once you believe that somebody is less than you, it is very easy to explain your abuse of him or her.

Somewhere along the line, as Rome was being pillaged by our ancestors, the message of true empathy and hope was abandoned in favor of force.  Because of that, we still are not sure what to do with the tainted history of our country’s involvement in slavery. There were people like Thomas Jefferson who knew it was wrong, and even wrote about it being a terrible necessity, but continued to own slaves, piously trying to overcome that shortcoming by freeing them at his death. Let’s be honest–if they needed to be freed at his death, they probably deserved to be free while he was alive.

I do not think we will ever get our footing in this country on the issue of racial equality until we abandon the Viking interpretation of Christianity and instead, adopt the universal message of Jesus, which is empathy: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I’ve even simplified it down this year to a broader spectrum of application: “No one is better than anyone else.”

Whether people act deprived or depraved in our presence does not change the fact that God is no respecter of persons. But it is not very difficult to make the journey into bigotry when you are financially strapped and your religion has been stripped of all of its empathy. Even today we continue to withhold civil rights from some of our citizens because we don’t think they’re as good as we are.  It is our generation’s offshoot of slavery.

So we now have two parts of the path–and you can immediately see how they move in synchronicity.

  • Apathy: “I don’t care what you do and what you are. I will not judge you. It’s not my business. “
  • Empathy: “I have made a decision to do unto others as I would have them do unto me.  In other words, ‘no one is better than anyone else.'”

We cannot shame our nation into regretting slavery, but what we can do is realize that slavery was caused by greed overtaking our sense of understanding the true heart of Jesus–and whenever greed is at work, we are willing to do anything to anybody to get what we want.

 

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