We live in a great big world, filled with billions of people. There are so many languages and cultures and beliefs out there that it really boggles the mind when you try and comprehend just how much there is in the world. Since time immemorial there have been conflicting values and systems of ideals. In the ancient world it was really easier for people to coexist because in many cases they simply didn't come into contact with one another. When they did there was likely to be trouble.
Take ancient Israel for example. Living alongside their Egyptian neighbors, the ancient Hebrews had a hard time accepting the pantheon of gods which the Egyptians worshipped. For a people who worshipped only one god, who had toiled in servitude to the Egyptians for many generations, the Hebrews must have felt at times like trying to crush those who had enslaved them. Yet they didn't. They chose to live in relatively close confines to the Egyptians and to tolerate the beliefs of them. Maybe it was because they knew the might of the Egyptian forces could crush them. Maybe they simply just didn't see the benefit of waging war on a nation that they couldn't beat. Or maybe they chose to believe as their faith dictated and let the Egyptians do the same.
Fast forward a millenium. Israel is now occupied by Rome and its vast armies. Roman gods invaded the lives of the Jews and they had to tolerate their conquerors building temples to gods like Pan and Zeus in their midst. Their own temple dominated ancient Jerusalem, thanks to King Herrod, who was perhaps the greatest hypocrit in history. Or was he? Perhaps Herrod knew that in order to preserve two such differing religious beliefs in one land that there must be a tolerance of sorts between them. The Romans weren't out to force their ideals on the Jews. They had become the power in Israel thanks to their superior military presence, but they allowed the Jews to continue worshipping as they saw fit for two reasons. One was that they were not threatened by the Jewish god and another was that they knew it would be far easier to keep peace with those they had subdued if they didn't try to suppress the religious beliefs the Jews possessed.
The Jews have been persecuted throughout history. As late as the 20th Century they were marked for extinction by a Hitler led Germany. Anti semitic attitudes didn't end with the deposition and subsequent death of Adolph Hitler either. In some places there are still movements at work with the aim of driving out any religion opposite of Christianity or Islam. It is an age old quest that fails every time because you simply cannot extinguish a people or their religion in one fell swoop.
Today there is still a massive push against tolerance. People don't like what they don't understand and what they find different from their own beliefs. Mankind as a whole has a hard time coexisting with differing values. We have always been this way as well. Since history first began to be recorded, and before too, people have fought what they perceived to be against their civilization.
Why do we find it so difficult to live at peace with one another? Why do we wage war against those who live differently from us?
I hear a lot about faith from people in today's world. Everyone either has it or wants it. They claim to be convicted in their beliefs and they are willing to go to war to preserve their way of life. Yet this is really so unnecessary. Why do those who proclaim to have such faith find it so hard to rely on their faith to keep them steadfast in their beliefs without declaring war on those who don't share their views? What is it about accepting that people can and will believe any way they choose that most people cannot stomach? Why are the faithful so eager to act out against anything or anyone that doesn't share the same system of ideals?
I think that is a lack of faith that fuels these wars. People simply don't have enough of it to fall back on to carry them through a world where different strokes really are for different folks. In most cases the aggression is one sided as well. You have fanatics in every walk of life. People tend to warp the tenents of their own beliefs to justify violence and intolerance against others. It is really sad that in a world as enlightened as the one we live in today people haven't yet learned that a little tolerance goes a long way.
Last week I conducted an experiment. I posted on Facebook that no one should ever presume to tell another person that his beliefs or his way of life is wrong. You wouldn't believe the responses I got from people who were more than ready to defend and justify doing just that. In the United States, which is supposed to be a great melting pot - the land of E Pluribus Unum - people are just waiting for any reason to attack what they don't share, don't agree with, or don't undestand. It is both amusing and alarming at the same time.
Hinduism is currently the oldest religion that is still practiced in today's world. In Hinduism, those who practice this faith worship many gods. They are primarily located in the far east but they also reside in the west as well. The worshippers of the Hindi gods are perfectly willing to tolerate the beliefs of a primarily Christian and Judaic world. It is true that they are outnumbered outside their native lands but they have something that their neighbors lack. They have tolerance because it doesn't matter to them what anyone else believes. They hold their own religion close to their hearts as they live in a world that for the most part doesn't share their values, but still they don't let this threaten them. They don't need to. They are devout in what they believe; their faith carries them through without demanding that they wage war on anyone different from themselves.
Buddhists are faced with the same task. They live in a world where their beliefs are not shared by all but still they persevere because their faith in what they choose to venerate gives them the strength to do so. They aren't threatened by other religious groups. They tolerate the differences represented by the many inhabitants of the world and they continue their practice without having to defend it because their faith gives them what they need.
Muslims and Christians seem to be the most common troublemakers in today's world. Radical Islamists find justification for killing those who don't share their beliefs by twisting the words of the Quran into what they want it to say. Many Christian denominations preach intolerance, and often sheer hatred, by doing the very same thing; although they are much less likely to blow up their opponents than are the fanatical Muslims. Neither group does a very good job praciticing tolerance, and yet the founders of their religions taught tolerance above everything else. Both Jesus and Muhammed strived to impart to their followers that it was okay for them to live in a world with people who don't share their convictions. Though you'd have a hard time finding much evidence of this based on the behavior of their followers.
Tolerance is such a simple concept to understand that I find it puzzling that most people don't get it. In a world where we are linked by such miraculous tools as the internet, one finds a greater degree of bigotry and hatred than ever before. It should be easier than ever to understand people. Ignorance used to be at the root of most intolerance but alarmingly unnerving to me is that in today's world ignorance is not even an excuse anymore. I don't use the word evil lightly but I think that it is in fact a certain degree of evil in some people that fuels the hatred we see so easily exhibited today.
I talk a lot about tolerance because I see it as something absolutely necessary to continuing a human existence on the planet. We've got to learn that nobody has to share our beliefs and that it's okay for them not to as well. We need to learn to lean on the faith we find in our ideals to lead us toward the practice of tolerating one another. That doesn't mean you to like what's different from you. It doesn't mean you have to embrace it either. It just means you have to accept the difference and respect others for having faith of their own.
I don't get all the hatred I see in today's world. I don't understand the need for it either. Just because there are people who choose to live by their own ideals doesn't mean that anyone is less or greater than anybody else. We are all equal in our humanity. It should be very easy to relate on a human scale. Yet this seems to be where most people find their hatred for anything or anyone else.
I do believe that we can make the world a more peaceful place, but it is going to have to come from a mutual tolerance for each other if we are ever going to master this most simple of human traits. It is up to us to set a good example for the generations that are to follow. I don't want to think that us or our descendants might blow up the world until it is inhospitable for life because we don't agree with one another. I believe that we must come to an understanding of one another and learn to live and let live. If we don't, the future for mankind is bleak.
Peace should be what we strive for. Tolerance is something that everyone craves. It's not that hard to achieve and it should be what we're teaching our children to attain. If we don't learn from the mistakes of those who came before us, we are destined to keep repeating their patterns. To what end?
Take a good look at the genocide in Rwanda less than two decades ago. Take a good look at what Nazi Germany did to the Jews. Give thought to what the KKK and the Skinheads stand for. Ask yourself if a world of hatred, prejudice, and intolerance is what we want to leave for our descendants. The answer should be simple.
There is really no choice.