Prejudice and Fear

I’ve been thinking a lot about forgiveness recently. Partly, I know, it is the effect of reading or listening to the news in the light of our readings from scripture and the Rule of St Benedict; partly it is the effect of knowing my disease is progressing and my not wanting to die burdened with a refusal to forgive others; mainly, however, it is the experience of myself being forgiven that weighs with me. I can look back on my life and see how often people have given me the benefit of the doubt, granted me a second chance, just put up with me — especially those who have treated me the best when I’ve behaved the worst, i.e. the community I live with.

This morning, however, I admit to feeling discouraged. Recently I was sent a letter by someone I don’t know. It was a courteous and kindly letter, urging me to reflect on what the writer perceived to be the errors of Christianity and embrace Islam. My first thought was, if only some Christians were as courteous how much better would be the impression we give of our faith. I said as much on some Social Media accounts. Most people got my point (though not, I suspect, those with a tendency to rant and rave!). Others either didn’t, or decided to use the opportunity to voice their own views of Christianity and Islam. Unfortunately, that’s where prejudice and fear began to raise their heads. It hasn’t got too bad, but I may have to step in and delete my original post because, as I often have to say, I don’t want that kind of negativity on any of my Social Media accounts. Informed debate (even, let’s be honest, on some matters, ignorant debate) is fine; attacks on others aren’t; and the historian in me bristles when old chestnuts are brought out with little regard for their validity.

Prejudice is, quite literally, a judgement made in advance of the facts. It means a preconceived idea based neither on reason nor experience. It is usually, but not always, hostile and often proceeds from fear. Frequently, there is a small smattering of truth contained within it: not enough to justify it, but enough to give it a slight appearance of reasonableness. So, for example, we can say that politicians are self-serving. Some are; most aren’t; but the idea is current because of recent high-profile cases of corruption in high places both in this country and elsewhere. Our prejudice against the political class can be said to proceed from fear of its power over our lives. (Please note, I’m saying this by way of example because I don’t want to be drawn into specifics by those who take everything literally.)

So, how do prejudice and fear link with forgiveness? That is where I’d say we have to do some hard thinking. Many people assume that forgiveness has to do with concrete acts: saying or doing what is wrong. But words and deeds proceed from thoughts and attitudes, which is why monastic tradition has always paid close attention to setting a guard on the thoughts that run through our minds incessantly. We don’t stop thinking, but we do have to check any tendency to let our thoughts run away with us into negative channels. Sometimes it seems to me that we carry a pent-up sea within ourselves, its waves crashing and breaking on many a different shore. It is a far-fetched analogy, perhaps, but just as the health of all life on the planet is intimately linked with the health of the oceans, so our willingness to ‘take every thought captive for Christ’ plays an essential part in our spiritual health. We let go of our prejudice and fear by inserting ourselves into his forgiveness, letting him forgive in and through us. And, as always, we find that if we do that, we ourselves are forgiven. Something to ponder, I suggest, when we read the headlines today.


18 thoughts on “Prejudice and Fear”

  1. I have commented twice on your post about the letter you received because it struck me how suspicious we can become of faith shared with courtesy and kindness .

    The above post was timely . The analogy of crashing waves a perfect description of thoughts out of control spiralling into negativity .
    How I pray to be able to take every thought captive to Christ , it is a discipline that continues to elude me . Forgiveness is harder when rumination takes hold.Thankfully it does come for others and myself but not without some toll on my spiritual well-being I will continue to pray for help in setting a guard over my thoughts and tongue ! Thank You

    • You will know this isn’t a factious response to your comment when I say ‘Consider the Peeb and his/her ways’. They are such friendly creatures, never (in my experience) holding grudges. The answer to so many problems is, I think, ‘Be more dog.’ We will now await with baited breath those who think I’ve gone completely bonkers. 😉

  2. Very moved by your first paragraph Dame Catherine. I assume that we all have things we could do better right through our lives and up to the moment of death. I hope that you will not feel burdened, but rather lightened by the grace of all that you are.

      • We believe in one only catholic and apostolic Church.
        We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
        We look for the resurrection of the dead,
        and the life of the world to come. Amen.

          • Yes Sister it is Holy. Thank you, I need to take more time with my spelling, reading and writing! Especially as a come from a family of writers!! I didn’t follow in their foot steps, I loved sports and talking, No writing or reading interested me till a few years ago. That’s when I read my first book from cover to cover, so I’m catching up fast hopefully, the internet makes it easier to be this!

  3. I went to a lecture, given by one of the Christchurch Muslim mosque attack victims on the Muslim Religion. It was held in Christchurch, at Christ College.
    I was fearful to attend, because this religion is soo foreign to my religion upbringing and my country’s.
    He didn’t point out the differences between christianity and Islam, he spoke about the similarities. Eg. Fasting, love your neighbor and there is nothing in the Koran , that saids suicide is acceptable! I came away with no fear, plus some new muslims Friends!
    A lot of bad things by people are done in the name of religion and it is mainly this we here about. But a lot of good people do good things in the name of the religion they choose to follow. Blessings. I find your blogs wonderful. Thank you for the courage to share your thoughts.

  4. Your blog today reminded me of the story of Corrie Ten Boom who had been in a concentration camp. She was giving a tall on Christianity and one of the guards from the concentration camp asked her for forgiveness. She said she could not shake the man’s hand. She then prayed for God’s help and as she physically took the man’s hand she literally felt the power to forgive almost like a heat through her. She could not forgive without God’s intervention.
    It was very moving.
    As for prejudice. I always thought I was a fair and pretty logical person re politics etc. Until there was a parade of Orange men in Northern Ireland. I noticed that the hairs on the back of my neck literally rose up and I recognised a feeling of hate. Yet I have never been brought up with any strong political views. I do believe that my Catholic Irish history has in many ways subtly indoctrinated me. It certainly showed me that it is easy to be prejudiced and not be aware that that is actually driving our thoughts and opinions. We do need to pray especially before expressing an opinion. Maybe in that way we will be sure it is a balanced one and delivered kindly.

  5. Thank you, as ever. Setting a guard on one’s thoughts must be particularly relevant at the moment for many of us who are not used to living quietly or in isolation.
    I shall endeavour to be more dog, which I think is deep wisdom.

  6. I’m been wrestling with my conscience a bit over your last few posts on the topic of forgiveness, since I’m currently carrying around a fair bit of frustration and bitterness that is probably a big ole waste of energy and leads to me behaving badly in turn.

    I often find that reflecting on how much we mess up and need forgiveness ourselves does help with forgiving others, but sometimes it isn’t individuals that create the frustration and bitterness but systems, processes, hierarchies and so forth. I guess that is where management of our own thoughts is so important – to keep focus on the current situation, the current purpose, and refrain from lumping it altogether with everything else we carry with us, that makes us less Christian…

    Does catching oneself and ones train of thought get easier with practise? 🙂

    • I wish it did! There are so many factors affecting us at any one moment. What I cling to is the importance of wanting, not necessarily achieving. Every night at Compline I examine my conscience by asking myself what I have wanted during the day, where has my desire been, and I find that often helps with forgiving others (and systems and processes) because it shows me how shallow have been my own preoccupations most of the time, no matter how fine a gloss I try to give them; but it doesn’t leave me focusing on myself, which is where I think much of the trouble starts.

      • “What I cling to is the importance of wanting, not necessarily achieving. Every night at Compline I examine my conscience by asking myself what I have wanted during the day, where has my desire been…”

        Now THAT is an extraordinarily helpful idea! I have a son, autistic and suffering from OCD, who beats up on himself all the time, but if I can present this to him – and believe me, I need think this way myself – I think it would ease his mind. He is most judgemental with himself, and because of his limitations, he finds forgiving himself an extraordinarily difficult task.

        What a lovely, thoughtful way of examining our conscience. Thank you!

  7. Hello from Canada! I have only just discovered your blog today, but was impressed with something you said and which I have found true in my own experience lately. You said,

    ” But words and deeds proceed from thoughts and attitudes, which is why monastic tradition has always paid close attention to setting a guard on the thoughts that run through our minds incessantly. We don’t stop thinking, but we do have to check any tendency to let our thoughts run away with us into negative channels.”

    I had a Facebook account for 12 years which I very much enjoyed, but as of late, with what has been going on in the USA compounded now with the COVID pandemic, it had been causing much consternation, fretting, and racing thoughts (most uncharitable) in my life. For the past four years I have seen the negative effect on me. I unfollowed, blocked, de-activated and threatened to leave, but my thought life continued in turmoil when anything would happen south of our border and Facebook would “blow up” once more. Finally, the time was right a few weeks ago and I quietly reached out to a few of my Facebook friends for other means of contacting them, I gathered my photos especially of my children and grandchildren, and I deleted my account.

    The affect on my peace of mind was immediately dramatic. The ability to forgive is so much easier when the sins of others are not unnecessarily and constantly tossed into your face and when the pots are not constantly being stirred. In the end, when my Facebook was causing me to sin, I cut it off. I am in closer contact now with those who matter most to me, close family and friends. I have far more time to pray and read, to accomplish things in my own life, and to mind MY own business rather than sticking my nose into everyone else’s. Sometimes we just give ourselves so very many reasons and opportunities to get angry. :/

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