As you can read, I think the DOJ has, through its delay and inaction, allowed human rights violations to proceed unchecked. The people who are supposed to defend our liberty have become a party to racial profiling and brutality.
Today, though, I want to reflect on the source of the kind of racism we see in Arizona and throughout our land. We must not fall prey to scapegoating Arizona. And, of course, oppression and violence are a constant part of human history. What is it about human beings that we so quickly turn on one another? How is it that people, normal people, can so easily be motivated to torture and kill one another?
I have long felt that we religious liberals fail to appreciate humanity’s capacity for evil. We also fail to appreciate our own capacity to lash out. We like to see the good in ourselves and in others. None of us wants to believe that we are capable of acts of hatred and violence. All evidence tells us that we are capable of doing terrible things, just as we are capable of acts of compassion, kindness and courage.
What is it that channels us into acts of compassion and understanding versus acts of anger and violence?
Over the years I have come to believe that aggression and anger arise out of fear and ignorance. (For the moment I won’t talk about sociopaths who are utterly incapable of empathy. That is a reflection for another time.) At first it is hard to think that a Bull Conner or Joe Arpaio or the bully in fourth grade is acting out of fear. Fear is dangerous. We are likely to lash out when we feel threatened, when deep down we are afraid.
The people lashing out against immigrants (or against gays or Arabs or Jews or African-Americans) are deeply afraid. And I believe their fears are almost entirely founded on ignorance. We fear what we do not understand. We have all seen how understanding dispels fear. People who have gone to school and worked alongside people of a different race, a different culture, a different gender identity are not afraid of them. Knowledge and understanding dispel fear.
Our task as religious people committed to compassion and to human dignity, is to stand on the side of love. We are called to speak out against injustice. But this isn’t enough. We have to build the world we dream about. And building that world must involve dispelling fear by growing understanding.
We all need to open our hearts. We must remember that our hearts can only open when we are not afraid. And we must realize that knowledge, understanding and shared experience are what dispels fear.