Guest columnist Rev. Julie G. Olmsted: ‘A global disease of hatred’

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By The REV. JULIE G. OLMSTED

Published: 12-30-2023 5:56 PM

In the Sermon on the Mount in the Bible, Jesus tells his audience: “Take out the log in your own eye before you can expect to remove the speck in your neighbor’s.”

It is a friendly (and somewhat comical) admonition to discipline oneself not to judge others. He recognizes that it is easy for us to see the faults of our neighbor, much less so to see our own. It’s somewhat like a dog chasing its own tail or trying to see the back of our own eyeballs. It takes humility and a steely focus to recognize the ways in which we fall short of our own self-professed ideals and standards. Instead of dealing with the difficulty of acknowledging and correcting those ways, we seek to “cast out” our shortcomings, in order to feel more comfortable with ourselves.

In modern psychology, for the individual, this is called projection. It causes us to see others’ ways as wrong, wrong, wrong. The tendency grows until it becomes infected with disdain and contempt. It takes form in prejudice, hatred and blaming in ways that are illogical and dangerous, based on slight evidence, if any. We call out the failings of others while we ourselves remain right, right, right.

This is true not only of individuals. It is true of groups of people, sometimes of whole cultures. The more we do it, the more we want to do it and continue to do it. It helps us never have to look at ourselves. It makes us feel better, superior even.

Many layers accumulate over the years, so that we become habituated to this way of seeing other people, of seeing the world writ large. It is deeply ingrained, like layers of rock and sludge. We seem not to be able to help it, it has become “natural” to us, and therefore singularly correct in our minds. It is this perilous, rather hopeless condition I observe in the wave of antisemitism that has gripped our country in recent months.

Any kind of prejudice about whole groups/tribes/religions of people can be characterized by the ancient parable of the Indian blind men who try to describe what an elephant is like. In Buddhism, Jainism, Islam, and Hinduism the parable can be found. Ramakrishna Paramahamsa summarizes it like this: When the men try to tell what the elephant is like, one says when touching its legs, “It is like a pillar.” Another says when touching its ears, “It’s like a husking basket.”

“Similarly, he who touches its trunk, belly or tail, describes it differently. In the same way, he who has seen the Lord in a particular way limits the Lord to that alone and thinks that he is nothing else.” (Stories from the Ramakrishna Kathramrita, 19th-century saint.)

We “see,” make assumptions, and judge others, based on our limited perceptions, what we have been told, what has been passed down to us. Layer upon layer.

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To hate, intimidate or cause suffering for Jews in our country based on our limited perceptions of what is happening halfway across the globe is a form of insanity. It is a major log in the eye of those who would do the harm, coming from a prejudice that has been passed down for centuries, if not for millennia.

Antisemitism is an inherited addiction, a disease, much like alcoholism or cancer. We can’t help that we have this condition, but we can tell the truth about it and see it for what it is. In the realm of human failings, awareness is the open door to healing.

Many Christians have inherited the disease from the New Testament and the toxic interpretations of those blaming Jews for the death of Jesus (even though it was all “foretold” in Scripture). The stories of his crucifixion can give fodder to anyone who would like to blame them for cowardice and betrayal, especially as found in the story of Barabbas in the gospels. But the Jews were persecuted long before Jesus (who was himself a Jew), as told by the ancients in the story of Exodus, throughout the Bible, and of course, in our own recent history of the Holocaust.

Hate speech, bomb threats, college campus harassment, internet hate-mongering and screeds, attacks on children and elders, not to mention the horrendous massacre of innocents on Oct. 7, speak of the terrible global disease of hatred and projection that causes people to literally forget that Jews are flesh and blood human beings, just like the rest of us.

Many Jews here in our own country condemn the unrelenting response toward Hamas, and by extension, the Palestinian people. They long for peace, as so many of us do. Yet the antisemitism continues, overlooking the fact that these Jews have nothing to do with what the Israeli government/military is doing.

An unprecedented number of attacks on synagogues occurred recently. It’s insane. It needs to stop. We all need to take a collective breath and understand. We don’t know what an elephant is. We can’t see because of the log in our eye. We need help. We have the disease. An intervention is called for. And we need to pray, pray, pray. Pray for the log to be removed. Pray for the fever of hate to be broken.

Our Jewish brothers and sisters need all of us to stand for the possibility of peace and goodwill that define the Christmas season. Generations have inherited this distorting and destructive hate, this horrible disease. It is way past time to see it, name it, and dare to let it go.

The Rev. Julie G. Olmsted lives in Northampton.