Sunday, June 10, 2012

From Tolerance to Hospitality

Tolerance, particularly religious tolerance, is often touted as one of the achievements of modern secular societies, such as in the U.S.  It, however, also involves an assumption of power:  who gets to tolerate whom?  The one who tolerates is in a different position than the one tolerated.  Perhaps we can think of something as mutual toleration as something equivalent to peaceful coexistence.  This alignment is, perhaps, the best one may get in some times and places.  But, if one seeks mutual respect, then something more active than toleration and coexistence is necessary.  To prevent stereotyping and caricatures of people who worship differently than you do, then something more active is necessary.  In a Huffington Post article, Rev. Lyndon Shakespeare of the National Cathedral, suggests that what can unite us is the ancient activity, persistent social custom of hospitality:
Unlike some political options taken to address the poor treatment of minority groups, hospitality refuses the fantasy of neutral ground and instead emphasizes how friend, stranger and even enemy can hold things in common even in contested spaces and places. To host a meal or discussion with a stranger situates action and discourse in a common location with joint recognition. Hospitality is neither a construction of friendliness nor is it an appeal to holier-than-thou toleration. In the Hebrew Bible, for example, the notion of the stranger was not only a designation for outsiders, but also part of a communal identity for a people who were strangers themselves in Egypt and Babylon. "You shall love the stranger as yourself," God says in Leviticus.

Among Christians, hospitality has an equally firm divine mandate. Jesus' words in the Gospel of Matthew, "I was a stranger, and you welcomed me," along with the central symbolic action of sharing a meal, equates making room for the vulnerable with welcoming the presence of God. The recourse in Islam to the virtues of ʾIbrāhīm (Abraham) as the exemplar of hospitality, a friend of God and a host of many guests, only elevates the importance of mutual encounter between host and guest.
In many places throughout the world, toleration would, indeed, be an improvement.  But with the instability of governments where, oftentimes, minority communities are made into scapegoats for a nation's woes, earlier tolerance itself becomes precarious.  Is the ancient tradition of hospitality--even towards one's enemies--the solution?  I'm not sure, but it is definitely worth considering.  Indeed, as a similar article a few years ago suggested, one can remain true to one's own tradition while learning from others'.

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