Monday, August 10, 2009

No Man Is An Island

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
-John Donne

I recently read something for school in my International Conflict class and wanted to share it. It was written by Rabbi Marc Gopin, professor of conflict resolution at the Fletcher School of Diplomacy at Tufts University. He spoke about religion being a part of international conflicts, and the concept that religion can be a factor in the resolution of the conflict. We were asked to respond as to whether or not we felt that religion could be helpful in resolving a conflict.

Gopin's article was interesting considering the fact that it was written by a religious man, but I liked the fact that he sounded very open minded and that he seem to advocate open mindedness in mediators trying to help resolve religious conflicts. One of the things he said that really resonated with me was: "Listen to the religious and cultural music on both sides. Try to experience the religious services on all sides, taking in especially the symbols, sermons, and homilies." At this point I've experienced several kinds of Christian services, a Catholic mass, a Shabbat service, a meeting at a Kingdom Hall, a prayer service during Ramadan, and a prayer service at a Buddhist temple. In retrospect I realize the only religious services that I have not attended, although through no lack of desire to on my own, would be those of the Hindu religion.

Although throughout my late teens and twenties I didn't realize I'd become interested in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution, I believe the experiences I had were ones that enriched me. Gopin also writes that the mediator of a conflict's task should be: "Your task is to help elicit the the best possible religious responses to conflict and war. That task requires you to be thoughtful, understanding but not naive, well informed, discerning, compassionate to many on all sides, and humble...The key is not to co-opt local cultures but to help open the door for a maximum diversity of expression of shared values." I think these are tasks that all people should take to heart and work towards, not just mediators and negotiators because one thing that seems to be lacking in this world of conflict we're embroiled in, is empathy and understanding.

I do believe that religion can be a factor in resolution. I recall reading an article written by Bridget Moix regarding religion and conflict. Religion can function as an "inner third side": "The inner third side manifests itself as a kind conscience within the single individual engaged in conflict. It is the voice that urges us to heal old grievances; it is the capacity to listen to the other side and show empathy; it is the impulse to respect the basic human needs of all” This inner third side can help in the process of critical self reflection which is an important skill for people involved in a conflict to maintain.

From my observations, generally that has not been the case, especially with the United States, since although the United States is nominally secular, many of the laws and ethics of the country seem to be based in Christianity. I have nothing against Christians. The problem with Christianity and most organized religions seem to be that religion in many of these cases works as a double edged sword. The double edged sword is described best by these two quotes from Moix and Gopin:

"For example, Christianity's emphasis on Jesus as savior can help lead people to follow the examples of forgiveness, nonviolence, and social justice demonstrated through the biblical stories on Jesus' life. On the other hand, an emphasis that only those who believe in Jesus are saved can lead to rigid in- group/out-group dichotomies and the dehumanization of non-Christians."

I've experienced indirectly a lot of hatred from Christians lately in the form of opposition to gay marriage and civil rights. How does that even work? "Hey, Jesus loves you, you, you, and you...but ONLY if you're straight. Because it's clear that if you're a dirty faggot or a dyke, Jesus doesn't love you." Oh, really? He came down from Heaven and told you so himself, did he? You going to write a book in the New Testament now? 'Cause Jesus spoke directly to you? Or is it that you're simply a dumb parrot, who can only repeat what you've heard instead of reasoning logic out for yourself?

Gopin wrote that: "Ethics and righteous deeds are the most important building blocks of deep peacemaking, and religious traditions are rich in these areas. But they are often poor at the extension of good deeds to the "unfaithful", the "infidel", the "enemies of God" (who always happen to be my enemies), and the "agents of the devil." The list of those excluded from ethical deeds goes on."

This statement lines up with my own observations. We can be righteous and ethical, but ONLY WITH OUR OWN KIND. Because you know, THEY don't matter. Who are THEY? They used to be black slaves. They used to be women. If you used to be part of THEY, what I don't understand is, how can you ever consider yourself a good human being if you don't extend your empathy, ethical and righteous deeds towards ALL of mankind regardless of their ethnicity, color, gender, or sexual preference?

No man is an island. Remember that.


  1. If you used to be part of THEY, what I don't understand is, how can you ever consider yourself a good human being if you don't extend your empathy, ethical and righteous deeds towards ALL of mankind regardless of their ethnicity, color, gender, or sexual preference?
    Damn good question.

    THEY can't answer that one.

    Excellent social commentary, if I do say so myself.

  2. *bows* Why, thank you, kind sir.