Violence and How We See Others
PERHAPS you watched in horror--as I did--the recent videotaped beating of a man by a group of police officers. With each blow, my heart cried out, "Stop! In the name of God, please stop!'' After the initial shock subsided, I thought to myself, "How can one human being do that to another?'' But that really was the answer. The men doing this beating didn't look at the man lying on the ground as another human being but as an object of contempt and hate. The man had ceased to be a human in their eyes and was simply something upon which they could vent prejudice, hatred, and frustration.
This reduction of another human being to an abstraction, to a "thing'' or "the enemy,'' is perhaps the most dangerous response to another human being that can be made. It's always been what has allowed people to do terrible things to one another, whether as individuals or as nations. Certainly, public servants who work under some of the most difficult circumstances aren't the only ones to be tempted by such reductionism.
The frightening thing is that even individuals who are otherwise good, decent people can do cruel, even unspeakable acts, if another person can be made into "the enemy.'' Haven't we all done something to another that we are now quite ashamed of? And when we did it, hadn't we lost sight of, or denied, that person's basic dignity and humanity--the fact that he or she is a person with feelings, hopes, and aspirations, despite faults and mistakes?
What makes us lose sight of other people's humanity? Or better yet, what can save us from losing sight of that common humanity? There are so many pressures in the world that would make us estranged from our fellowman, make us become hard, cold, and uncaring. The constant violence we see in movies, on television, and in fiction tends to desensitize us, making us unable or unwilling to empathize with others and their suffering.
Is there a basis for mutual care and compassion that can withstand these desensitizing forces? Is there a basis for brotherly love that ethnic, racial, religious, and class differences can't obscure? Yes, there is. It's the great truth that most religions of the world have articulated in one way or the other, but that is so seldom practiced: in the deepest sense, we really are all children of God and therefore, despite material appearances and differences, actually brothers and sisters.
If a person truly sees this, if this truth abides in his heart and animates his actions, it becomes virtually impossible to commit the kinds of violence and cruelties we see all too often in families and society. Here is where Christian Science has helped many people see how and why they can be kinder, more loving and forgiving.
This Science of spiritual loving and living helps us understand that what the physical senses say about man isn't the rock-bottom truth but is basically a distorted, wholly material view of the man that God knows and loves. The man of God's creating isn't the "trousered ape'' of evolution nor the fallen "clay man'' of the garden of Eden. He's actually God's image, the likeness of unlimited Spirit, reflecting and embodying all of God's beautiful and good qualities.
When I find myself in conflict with someone, when I'm tempted to retaliate or hurt another, I try to bring this truth to bear on the situation. It pulls me up short to realize that "Wait, this person, whom I think I want to hate or harm, is really my brother or sister. No, not physically, but spiritually. The truth of that person, and of me, is that God is our mutual Father-Mother, and He created us to love and live in harmony.''
There's tremendous healing power in this view of ourselves and others. It cuts the fuse of anger, prevents explosions of hatred and revenge. It's the way that the compassionate Christ Jesus saw things. He knew better than anyone else that God is "our Father,'' as his prayer, the Lord's Prayer, says. Jesus' spiritual understanding enabled him to cut through the outward appearance, see through the picture of a sick or sinning mortal to the divine image and likeness that is man's real being. This vision wa s real love, and people felt it. They were literally healed and reformed by such pure, perfect love.
In a message to her Church in which she discusses Jesus' command to "love one another; as I have loved you,'' Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, talks of the power of such love. She writes in her Message to The Mother Church for 1902: "Spiritual love makes man conscious that God is his Father, and the consciousness of God as Love gives man power with untold furtherance. Then God becomes to him the All-presence--quenching sin; the All-power--giving life, health, holiness; t he All-Science--all law and gospel.''
There's not a one of us who can't learn to love in this high, holy way and thereby bring healing to our personal relationships and families, and thus to our communities. Actually, it's natural to love this way, because in our true being--the spiritual sonship that Christ Jesus' example revealed to mankind--we do exist as spiritual brothers and sisters.
Yes, it can be hard at times to see this. It's challenging to love as Jesus loved. But as we look past the outward appearance to the underlying spiritual brotherhood and sisterhood of man, we really are able to be more forgiving, loving, gentle, and kind. And this goes a long way toward ending violence in our society and world.
You can find more articles like this one in the Christian Science Sentinel, a weekly magazine.