Writing in 1962, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel used the phrase “coalition of callousness” when describing a major societal impediment to social consciousness. He reiterated this concept in his efforts to encourage others to protest both racial inequality and the Viet Nam War, challenging people to be wary of “the evil of indifference”.
I wonder what Rabbi Heschel would say about these times. I believe he would see that societal callousness has acquired several more layers of thickness since he first wrote those words. I believe he would be alarmed by the wide-spread evil of indifference. I believe he would see the Wall as a literal layer of callousness. He would challenge the encouragement of inequality that underlies that wall. He viewed us as called to embracing equality and noted that it is more that a virtue. Says Heschel “Equality as a religious commandment means personal involvement (emphasis his) fellowship, mutual reverence, and concern.”
Rabbi Heschel would challenge us first to look within to confront our own callousness and indifference, perhaps even our own latent or blatant racism. He would challenge us to confront our own fears. He would challenge religious professionals to not take the easy way and dish out comfort and rationalization. As he said “Religion may comfort the afflicted but it must also afflict the comfortable.”
I don’t believe there are easy answers to the current migrant issue, for example. What I do know is that Christianity as I understand it would stand in opposition to “the coalition of callousness” and would challenge politicians or even religious professionals who tolerate if not foster that coalition.
Ultimately if I am to call myself Christian, I am called to ask myself “Have you become callous? Indifferent? Have you excused yourself because the problems seem too big?” This applies not only to my response to the major social issues of the day but to the manner in which I respond to those around me, even to my loved ones. If I am callous with or indifferent toward those I care about, then how much more so will I be in response to others outside my circle?
Heschel would say that, if these questions make me uncomfortable, I am on the right track.
Reflection: 1. In what ways am I callous? Indifferent?