On September 10th, 2014, one day before the 13th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, Ted Cruz, a Republican Senator from Texas and presidential hopeful, stood before a crowd of Middle Eastern Christians to offer some remarks on the persecution of Christians at the hands of the terrorist group ISIS.
Apparently, he was unprepared for a strong backlash when he called for the unilateral support of the Israeli government and its policies. The crowd erupted into two factions, with a chorus of boos attempting to drown out the smattered applause at his statement: “Those who hate Israel hate America.”
News outlets and blogs have already roundly criticized Cruz for his alleged insensitivity and inflammatory remarks, so I don’t want to heap more vitriol upon the guy. However, I do want to call attention to what I see as a missed opportunity for religious empathy.
As I said in my last post, our culture, peer group, and privilege shapes our religious experience. This means that two Christians, despite holding to ostensibly similar doctrine and practice, can have vastly different opinions on key issues that we take for granted.
Ted Cruz assumed his Christian worldview as normative. As a white American Evangelical, he is accustomed to fellow white American Evangelicals agreeing with him on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Afterall, most Americans in this particular demographic strongly support the Israeli government.
However, he made a fundamental attribution error when he equated his own worldview with all Christians and assumed he was speaking to a sympathetic audience simply because they were all Christians.
This exemplifies the vital importance of literacy in your own religion. Simple knowledge about your own religion will go far in fostering dialogue and empathy.
Indeed, the most difficult type of religious dialogue is between closely related traditions. As the “proximate Other,” our narcissism leads us to flog the Other over small differences rather than enjoy the similarity. This is why you see such vitriolic arguments between the Evangelical Left and Right in the blogosphere rather than Evangelicals debating Hindus.
On the spectrum of religious traditions, Cruz’s tradition did not differ drastically from his audience’s in terms of doctrine; yet, he allowed a political difference to destabilize an opportunity for dialogue. Perhaps if he reflected on the life experience of a Middle Eastern Christian, even just for a moment, something edifying would have come from his speech rather than a flurry of gleeful rebuttals from the pundits.