I am reading a wonderful new biography about William Wilberforce, the great British anti-slave trade campaigner. As part of the book, the author, William Hague, describes the slave trade, how slaves were kidnapped and transported in the most brutal conditions with no regard to health or humanity.
One of the more disgusting stories describes how disease spread on one ship and many slaves died. The captain realizing that the trip was no longer profitable decided to throw the remaining slaves overboard to drown in order to collect insurance on them.
I thought to myself: how is that possible? How is it possible for one human being to do such a thing to another human being? This is not a new thought for me or other people for that matter. I’ve often wondered it when I read about slavery, the Holocaust, the Inquisition, genocide in Rwanda or events such as the Rape of Nanking. Unfortunately there are many, many examples of human atrocities.
But the thought that always gets me, is that beyond evil, how is it that a mass group of people who often believe in God and are decent people in their home setting to their families and friends can turn around and spear a baby with a bayonet or shoot a helpless old person. For any normal person to do this to another person is not natural. Then why has it happened so often throughout the history of mankind?
I believe that separation is the key. What do I mean by separation?
We feel separate from the other. We don’t look like them, we don’t act like them, and we don’t pray like them. They aren’t us. They are different. We are we and they are they. I believe this is where it starts. This is the very first step in dehumanizing or degrading someone into something. For example, I’m a Protestant and you are a Catholic, I must fight you, you aren’t me and not only are you different, you aren’t anything like me. Do Christians understand how weird and bizarre it is to Jews that Protestants and Catholics kill themselves over what seems like very small differences in beliefs? Do you think Jesus, if you believe he is God or God’s son, thinks it’s bizarre?
Just because something is different doesn’t mean it has to be separate. Your hand is different than your foot, the sky is different from land, or a trumpet is different from drums, yet they go together. There is a connection.
And this is the point I would like to make: we aren’t really separate at all. We may be different, but we are all connected by one big thing. And this thing is bigger than all of our petty differences: God. If God breathes life into us, creates us and endows us with a divine spark, then we are all connected by God. The problem is that if we don’t see that divine spark or recognize it in ourselves, then all we are is an ego mind with no real connection to each other or to God.
Until we can see that connectedness we will remain separate and will remain hostage to an inauthentic life, filled with petty differences and made up separations. We need to see, act and live the connection we have with each other.
If you were truly connected, you wouldn’t steal from yourself or kill yourself, would you? Because that is what the other person is, that person isn’t the other or separate, he is a part of you, he or she is connected to you. And the people that do hurt themselves and commit suicide do so because they feel separated or estranged from God, society, and more importantly their souls or divine sparks.
Imagine we are tiny cells or atoms that make up God’s body. If we don’t communicate to each other and help each other then how can the body function? Further, if we attack other cells, doesn’t that lead to disease? And wouldn’t a group of cells attacking other cells be considered cancer? In this analogy, is it possible that when we fight each other and kill based upon silly differences that we are killing or harming God? This is not to say that self-defense is wrong or that bad cells shouldn’t be fought, quite the contrary a body only works if its immune system is strong and works.
My request to you is to try to imagine every person you encounter as having the spark of God inside of them, even if it is hidden. Make that your very first reaction and go from there. So what if they are different. Don’t immediately make them separate, because separate starts the process of dehumanizing and devaluing that spark of God, something powerful you are connected to. At a minimum, you should start to see people in a different light. This is what has happened for me.
And maybe then you will start to see that people aren’t good or bad, but instead shades of gray and that a lot of “bad” people are instead people that are actually experiencing dysfunction and hurt, and are struggling to find God or their soul in their own life. And when you see someone less fortunate than you, maybe you will realize that it is your responsibility to help that other, connected person. Or simply help that person so you can strengthen your own connection with God, for yourself and for God.
In the Bible, when the Israelites finish building the Mishkan (the Tabernacle), they place the ark inside, in a place call the holy of holies. The ark is built with wood and inlaid with gold and inside holds the Ten Commandments. On the top were built two cherubim, or human/angel creatures facing each other from opposite ends.
In Exodus 25:22, God tells Moses he will be in the space above the ark and the Ten Commandments and between the two cherubim. One of the best commentaries I’ve ever heard taught that what God tells us he will reside in the space between two people as they face each other.
Stop separating yourself from other people. You have a connection to them and you don’t even realize it. Instead, imagine you are searching for or connected to God through other people. If more and more people believed this, then maybe atrocities and crimes against each other would slowdown or stop. Maybe people would realize they are really only hurting themselves and God.