Blog No. 6
“I love humanity. It’s people I can’t stand. “
Charles Schulz (Peanuts).
In the 1st century c.e. Judea there lived two rabbis who were equally respected: Rabbi Shamai and Rabbi Hillel. The first was very serious and strict and the second was very open and warm. According to a traditional tale, a Gentile from the Galilee approached Rabbi Shamai and asked him: “Can you summarize your religion standing on one foot?” Shamai felt insulted by such a proposition and sent him away. The same man then went to Rabbi Hillel and asked him the same question. Hilel smiled, raised one leg and said: “Do not do to another what you do not want to be done to you. The rest is just commentary. Go and study. ”
In all religious traditions there are phrases like that, that represent the Golden Rule, which is the height of the humanistic teachings of religion. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” “None of you truly believe until you want for others what you want for yourselves.” “Maximum benevolence consists in not doing to others what you don’t want them to do to you.” “One must treat all creatures in the world as one would like to be treated.” This is what Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Confucianism, Jainism and practically all the great religions say. It is interesting that the word religion -from the Latin religio- means “what binds strongly”. Religion is thus a system for intensely linking the person with his neighbor. The relationship with God is established through faith.
For the followers of the Abrahamic religions, it will be interesting to know that, the Ten Commandments begin -in the original Hebrew version- with the word “I” (“I am God, your God who brought you out of Egypt …”) and they end with the word “Neighbor” (“Thou shalt not covet servants, animals, or anything else that belong to your neighbor.”), so the purpose of religion is to lead us from self to neighbor. Its’ goal is to make us understand the oneness of humanity.
One of the great conquests of Liberal Democracy has been Freedom of Religion; better defined as: Freedom of Conscience – since this term includes non-believers and also believers who do not follow a particular religion – this freedom puts all religions on the same footing (with some limitation to local moral customs of the society in which one lives) and helps to understand that equality must be understood not as uniformity, but as the “equal right to be different”. But that right to difference does not give us the right to indifference.
“Am I my brother’s keeper?”
If there is a universal teaching from the pandemic that we are in, it is this: “We are our brothers keepers”, if we do not love our neighbor as ourselves, we do not love ourselves either. We are jointly responsible for the health of each person, because their health is my health. We also understand the damage we have done to our planet with toxic behaviors, because now we see how we have become intoxicated ourselves. We cannot therefore continue as Cainite societies that cause death and then behave with indifference to others and to the world’s fate.
For those who have not understood that their duty is to go from self to neighbor through love, the pandemic will make them understand that their neighbor will go to him or her through contagion.
Except for some existentialist or nihilist philosophical schools, all -believers and scientists- understand Creation, the Universe, Gaia, the Ecosystem -and other denominations for the world we inhabit- as an integral system of which we are part and that is conducted under certain laws or norms (although one of them is that of entropy or the search for balance in a tendency to chaos). In this creation of faith or in this universe of science, we have seen the human being as the main responsible for its conservation; but each time we understand best that, the human being must help to conserve it, not because he can destroy it, but because -if he doesn’t- he can be destroyed by it.
A few days ago, Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany and Chief Scientist of the Western World, called for a “green reconstruction after the Coronavirus crisis”, this implies the conjunction of the economy with ecology and indicates her understanding that we are not only guardians of our brothers, but we are also guardians of creation. We must all echo this call and enter a collaborative era together, where economy and ecology are understood as an ecosystem.
“They learned nothing; nor forgot nothing ”
Talleyrand (On the French Restoration’s nobility)
Unlike a war devastation, where infrastructures are destroyed and then rubble has to be removed to build the new, this pandemic has left physical assets almost unscathed. This can make a green reconstruction more difficult, since the instruments of the old (dis)order are intact and the selfish and cainite temptation will be to return to the Ancien régime.
It is a fact that the events we have experienced in these months only happen every so many generations, and it is also true, that they tend to produce -in not such a long time- profound changes in societies; but not all are necessarily benign. Just as after the Black Death came the Renaissance; after the – wrongly named- Spanish flu the fascist and communist dictatorships gained strength.
For love of neighbor -those who have understood- or for selfishness -those who don’t- we have the duty to learn the lesson that the pandemic has brought us and prepare ourselves to rebuild our lives. But not like the nobles Talleyrand referred to, nor with Cain’s denial or the hypocrisy that Schulz denounced, but with the new clarity which we now see in the waters and the skies, that the resurging world must be more human, more supportive, fairer and more balanced. Wasn’t that the plan in the beginning?
Milton Cohen-Henriquez Sasso