And that’s what it means to be human. There are Christian-sounding things I could say about mystery and transcendence versus imminence, etc. But you don’t have to believe in God to track with this mystery business. Listen, friends, we do not see things as they are on the most basic of levels: visual perception. We see our three-dimensional world in two dimensions. When something is moving closer to or farther from us, what we see is that object getting bigger or smaller respectively. We learn to interpret size change as movement, but we still see an object moving away as getting smaller even though there is no actual shrinking of the physical object.
In other words, we do not perceive something as basic as movement or size accurately; we have to learn how to interpret what we see. At the same time, a foundational principle of quantum mechanics is that the very act of observing something changes it. As the adage goes, “We do not see the world as it is, we see the world as we are.” But we only experience the world through our senses -five, six, 21, however many the experts decide there are, they are all we got. If we get the simple act of movement wrong, how much else that we are so sure of could we not yet have found the interpretive “key” for? The point that emerges from all of this is that the opportunity for humility is built into the human condition.
Now, I’m not a moral relativist. I absolutely believe in absolutes there. For example, it is morally wrong to commit genocide. So, then, it is morally wrong to engage in speech or actions that lay the groundwork for genocide. Donald Trump and his ideology and his followers are morally wrong. So I’m not saying that humility should be paralyzing to the point of disabling our pursuit of justice and mercy. I’m saying that the way our world is (fundamentally mysterious) does not allow for equations like Barring Muslims from Entry Into the Country = National Security. If anything, we can be more certain that such xenophobic policies will have the opposite result.
But this is exactly what I mean. If you’re afraid of Muslims, you might think keeping all Muslims away from you would alleviate your fears. But another fundamental principle of this world we live in is that resistance makes things stronger – everything from our own bones to tempering concrete follows this rule. So your Islamophobic reaction to “protect” yourself is analogous to an object appearing to get smaller when it is in fact only getting farther away. The object of your fears generally does not get smaller as it moves away from you, either. Islamophobia is in direct proportion to extremist terror cells like ISIS (#NotAllMuslims).
In this generation, we have the opportunity to stop a genocide. My grandparents lived to regret missing the same opportunity in their day. The work won’t be done even if Donald Trump is not our president. It will not be comfortable. It will not even be safe. But it is already phenomenally dangerous for millions, largely because of our comfortableness. I would like to submit that human beings’ purpose is far greater and more important than either comfortableness or even safety and it’s time to let our ravenous appetite for a security we can’t ever have, through exclusion, discrimination and division or otherwise, shrink into oblivion as we move away from it.