Sunday, June 4, 2017

Belief in A Shared Humanity, a Parenthetical Response.

Belief in A Shared Humanity, a Parenthetical Response.
Our Sunday Sermon (Apologies for the Preachy), Part I
(Because Part II Remains Unfinished)

With whom do we stand when we stand together? This is far more than a political question. It tests the very meaning of civilization. Global warming, terrorism, the relentless stress on our shared human fabric are all at work, no one can deny. The news from abroad is terrifying and sad, much like it is at home. We must admit that there are those who just want to see the world burn. Whether they are terrorists killing innocents or elected and appointed government happy to isolate us from the facts of climate change. We are victims of others' beliefs and too often of our own. But without belief in a shared humanity can we be human? On this we must disagree too.

At the heart of a shared humanity is something far more deeply interfused: it is how we must each decide to the limits of our abilities, how we to _choose_ to be human. Whatever choices are made for us--- by history, by circumstance of culture and upbringing--- those are also in play. And on all such matters it should be plain that all of us will not agree. We are creatures of difference; that is our shared lot. Without our differences everything is lost. Living with our differences is a challenge we must learn to love.

Choice is a restriction we place on opportunities we consider truly possible. We are only as free as we are willing to acknowledge meaningful boundaries and their changeability. I was recently at a "yoga gathering," a roomful of progressive, thoughtful people where the speaker said, "the objective scientific view is USELESS here." I object to this proposition with every ounce of my being. It is, in a word, nonsense. We cannot, we must not throw away truth to find "truth." I also realized that some in that room needed, really needed to believe. This is the question that then stormed inside me: is their belief a positive detriment to our shared welfare? I found their assent to this proposition of rejection terribly frightening but another important part of our story of belief.

People believe because it's so damn difficult to deal with the more complex tasks of coping with our always unfinished, oh so human knowledge. But however we negotiate truth because it is a construct of minds and interpretations, we must not reject what we can know for mere personal opinion. That is to resort to ideology, dogma, and alternative facts. The elements on our humanly constructed periodic table don't depend on us to be real. Belief will not set us free when it claims truth has no boundaries. Not in the name of mysticism, much less for profit, a global 21st century civilization needs resilient facts engaged in honest discourse. I believe in a "spirituality" that includes all of what we can call "facts" because those are not mere beliefs.

Not every kind of human endeavor of real value is objective enough to be deemed science. My point here is not to be reductive. What we learn from myth and metaphor, poetry, art, and deep contemplations of the heart is of inestimable human value. No one could love exploring those worlds more than I do. I've made it my living to study them. I hope you do as well. Well, at least study them. We can share in these matters too knowing that we need _not agree_ to find something purposeful, meaningful, and helpful to one another. What are we in this life for? Is it just to believe what we want or is there _more_ than that to share?

Our democracy was not created for unity but to secure human rights, and foremost among them our rights to dissent. These are complex and demand our engagement. To take them for granted, to abdicate the discourse is to believe that your belief will suffice. To realize there is more at stake, that learning is unfinished business and human purpose a creative enterprise makes us a messy lot. We don't have to agree with those with whom we disagree, we don't have to unite, and we don't have to ever believe we will. Such disagreement is a shared principle of freedom. It also means we will have irreconcilable differences. The issue at hand is not resolution or unity, both of which will stifle our pursuit of truth, but how we choose to live with our pursuits.

We live together not to unite but to share. Sometimes that means "coming together" and sometimes it's far better to admit that good fences make good neighbors. Fences, not walls. Open hearts and minds, not dogma, censorship, or tyranny. When does your belief help others or, at the very least, not cause a positive disadvantage to others? Frame more worthwhile questions because belief is not the same as the pursuit of truth.