The Old Testament: Ezra I – Religious Tolerance

When I was in elementary school, a new family moved to my street.  They were from India.  Because kids don’t always react to differences well, the daughter—who was in my kindergarten class—was not welcomed by my peers easily.  Because I was—among other things—an impressionable kid, I wasn’t sure how to react to her.  It didn’t help that she dressed in colorful saris and wore the red dot on her forehead. I was confused, although my parents were unfazed.

She joined my carpool, although some of the other kids were uneasy about this, which rubbed off on me.  I don’t remember the circumstances, but some question arose as to whether she needed a ride on a particular day (there was a delayed start or a field trip of some kind).  In any event, because there was a question about whether she needed a ride, I said she didn’t. She did.  That day at school, she never showed.  I shrugged, although I was nervous: I realized that it was my fault she wasn’t there.  When I got home, my parents asked why I’d said that she didn’t needed a ride when she did.  She’d felt being an outcast and her exclusion from the carpool confirmed that she’d been unwanted.  I apologized, and as I did (in probably that half-hearted way that kids do when they don’t really understand what they’ve done), I saw her as a person for the first time, someone who had feelings just like me.

One would think, especially today, that we’d be more aware of how people who are different than us actually feel similar, that we’d be tolerant. We’re not.  Often, we don’t realize how closed minded we’re being.  In general, this is a problem.  When the people who are being closed minded are in positions of power, this is a real problem, for lives are affected, beyond merely hurt feelings.

Take our politicians, and in particular someone like House Majority leader Eric Cantor. This conservative senator was on a CNBC program recently (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/05/joe-kernen-cnbc-eric-cantor-gay-marriage_n_3022801.html) and was discussing, among other things, the issue of gay marriage/marriage equality and DOMA being heard by the Supreme Court.  Cantor suggests that part of the problem with this debate is tolerance for different opinions.  He’s against gay marriage, and his answer, as stated in this interview, is due in part to his religious beliefs, which he feels are not be respected.  To this, the male host responds that no one is asking him to marry another guy.  The conversation then quickly turns to the economy.

For people who are against gay marriage specifically and homosexuality in general because they feel, on religious grounds, they are merely following the Bible, they must have skipped The Book of Ezra.  In particular, they must have missed the extraordinary example of religious tolerance set by Cyrus who, although his heart is helped by God, decides that it’s time for the Israelites to be allowed to have their home again, where they can pray to their own God (1:3)—which is different than Cyrus’.  Seems Cyrus has traveled and encountered many different gods and respects what people believe, without foisting HIS beliefs on them.  He even provides the departing Israelites with the means to start over.

Sure, one could say: well, God made him do it, so it’s not much of an example.  But as we’ve seen in the Old Testament, time and time again, what God wants and what people actually do tend to differ.  No, Cyrus made the decision because he respected people for their differences.  He understood that people can do what they want, as long as they don’t cause trouble.

Not everyone is born tolerant.  Some people don’t even realize that their thoughts and actions actually demonstrate intolerance.  This doesn’t make them bad people; rather, people should be judged not for what they know but rather what they are unwilling to learn.

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About virgowriter

Brad Windhauser has a Master's in English from Rutgers University (Camden campus) and an MFA in creative writing from Queens University of Charlotte. He is an Associate Professor (Teaching/Instruction) in the English Department at Temple University. His short stories have appeared in The Baltimore Review, The Santa Fe Writer's Project Journal, Ray's Road Review, Philadelphia Review of Books, Northern Liberty Review, and Jonathan. His first novel, Regret (a gay-themed thriller set in Philadelphia) was published in 2007. You can read more about (and buy) it here: http://goo.gl/yvT24K His second novel, The Intersection, is being published by Black Rose Writing September 2016. He is one of five regular contributors to 5Writer.com. On his solo blog, he is chronicling his experience as a gay writer reading the Bible for the first time: www.BibleProjectBlog.com Follow his work at: www.BradWindhauser.com VirgoWriter@gmail.com
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