You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do – Anne Lamott
ABOUT the time Jesus was born, the head rabbi of Jerusalem was a wise man named Hillel.
According to one story, a Greek philosopher, who considered Hillel to be a religious enemy, made a bet that he could make the great rabbi lose his temper.
He found out what time Hillel had his bath, and then stormed into his house at that time every week demanding to see the rabbi because of a great emergency.
When Hillel emerged, cold and wet, he would ask him a foolish question, such as, “Why do so many Babylonians have bald heads?” or “Why do Africans have such wide feet?”.
Hillel refused to get angry. He simply said, “You ask an important question”, thought for a moment or two and then answered.
Finally the Greek philosopher lost his cool and cursed Hillel, saying, “You made me lose my bet that I could make you lose your temper”.
Hillel replied: “Better that you should lose your bet than that I should lose my temper.”
Then and there the Greek offered to convert to Judaism — but only if Hillel taught him the whole law while standing on one foot.
Hillel lifted one foot and said: “Do not do to others what is hateful to you. That is the whole of the law — the rest is just commentary”.
The Greek, expecting something more philosophical, went away in disgust. He missed the point. The golden rule proclaimed by Hillel and, a little later, by Jesus — to treat others as you would want to be treated — is essential wisdom.
Jesus knew how the spiritual principle worked. He knew that whatever we put out — love, tolerance or hatred — we get back.
But tolerance for others, especially for those with different opinions, is a rare beast. Religious persecution against men and women of all manner of religions is increasing throughout the world.
In India, Hindu extremists are attacking Muslims and Christians. In Sri Lanka, radical armed Buddhists have stopped prayer meetings of Christians and Muslims.
Both Christians and Muslims are under violent attack by militant Buddhists.in Myanmar.
China’s government has been more evenhanded. It discriminates against most religious communities.
Often, the worst persecutors are religious fundamentalists.
Salman Rushdie once observed that fundamentalism was not about religion. It was about power.
Jesus’s challenge to love our neighbours is only fully understood when we realise our neighbours are probably the people we like least in all the world, the ones whose religious opinions offend us, and whose political opinions make us angry.
It follows that we must give our neighbours and enemies the same honour and respect we give to those we hold most dear.
German pastor Martin Niemoller, who fought against the Nazi regime, warned against being indifferent to persecution in a poem: “First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.
“Then they came for the communists and I did not speak out because I was not a communist.
“Then they came for the Catholics and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant.
“Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.”