(c) Rev. Doug Slagle, Minister to the Gathering at Northern Hills, All Rights Reserved
I think most of us wrestle with the idea of who or what is god. I have pondered that and I still do. Nevertheless, I believe god is a concept, or a force that is the ultimate answer to everything. That said, I don’t see god as some anthropomorphic being floating on some cloud who is miraculously able to know about, care about, and control everything. Such a god would be like superwoman – and we all understand she’s a fictional character dreamed up to represent perfection.
Instead, for me, god is us. You’re a god. I’m a god. The guy holding a “I’m homeless, please help” sign on the street corner is a god. We are all figurative gods because collectively we are the single most powerful force to create good or bad in the world. Following up on that, our mutual well-being is what should be our greatest concern.
As gods, we alone have the ability to provably make the world better. And if you are a god, then I should be very concerned for your welfare simply because you are a force for good. I should, in essence, worship you.
That last idea helps keep us, as figurative gods, from being arrogant. Yes, I’m a god but that means I wasn’t born to think how great I am, but to instead think about how great you are – by doing things to serve, respect, and love you.
Basically, this belief of mine is nothing new. It broadly describes Humanism as a philosophy and approach to life. Humanists focus their thoughts, their speaking, and their actions outward, and for other people – to show kindness, empathy and honor to everyone. We use the amazing gift of our minds to realize that the real power in the universe is not some dreamed up superhero god.
The great force for good in the world is what we witness every day: people who tend the sick, serve the marginalized, advocate for equal rights, speak kindly to one another, work for a better existence, and who mostly think of others more than themselves. Humanists are other-people lovers, other-people caregivers, and other-people servants.
And the two most influential institutions humans have organized are 1) religion and 2) government. People initiated both of these institutions to be Humanist forces for good.
If we look at all of the world religions, we see Humanist values expressed in their Scriptures. The Christian New Testament explicitly says that the greatest power in the universe – what Christians call God – is in truth the power of love. And the same New Testament says that if anyone is not loving, kind, respectful and caring toward all others…….well…he or she simply has no understanding of what god or a great power is.
The great figure of Christianity, Jesus, spent his entire life teaching and modeling Humanist values. If you feed the hungry, clothe the naked, host the homeless, befriend the immigrant, visit the imprisoned, and care for the sick, he famously taught, it will be as if you fed, clothed, hosted, visited and cared for god herself. In other words, Jesus said people – particularly those who suffer in life – are a god.
The Jewish people believe the same things. One the three greatest virtues for Jews is to be compassionate. And Rabbi Hillel the Elder, considered Judaism’s greatest teacher ever, defined for Jews their so-called Golden Rule. He taught, “What is hateful to yourself, do not do to your fellow man.” And he emphasized that all of Jewish teachings and beliefs are summarized in that one sentence. In other words, Jews – like Christians – are Humanists.
So are Buddhists. For them, our mission in life is to grow our hearts to such an extent that an outpouring of concern and love for others becomes instinct. The Buddha used a visual analogy to teach this idea. If we pour a handful of salt into a bowl of water, we can no longer drink from it. But if we pour a handful of salt into a large lake, we can still drink from it. The moral of his analogy is to enlarge our small bowls of water hearts into large lake hearts – ones that are capable of loving and serving all humanity without discrimination.
Virtually every single chapter in Islam’s Scripture, the Quran, begins by saying the great power in the universe – Allah – is compassionate and merciful. It also says that Islam’s concept of Allah, or the great force for good, is all-forgiving and all-loving. And the Quran’s emphasis is on the word “all.” I’m not an expert on the Quran, but it seems very clear that Muslims are Humanists too. Every person has value. Every person is to be loved and forgiven their flaws and misdeeds.
I’ve covered what most religions say about loving humanity. The second powerful institution created by people – government – exists to likewise serve humanity. It’s a basic precept believed by the founders of this nation: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, all men are created equal. They are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights. Among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. To secure these rights, governments are instituted among men…”
Plain and simple, governments exist to insure the common well-being of people. Such an idea comes from great 18th century Enlightenment philosophers like John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Their basic premise was also believed by the likes of Karl Marx and is today the basic premise even of our President – whether or not we agree with his methods.
For spiritual organizations AND for governments, the foundational belief is that human beings are the gods of this world – both to be cared for and loved, and to be put to work to insure that love and care prevail for all.
As I said, I believe those are bedrock beliefs of spirituality and civic government. The sad thing is, however, these two powerful human institutions have mostly lost their way. They’ve become selfish instead of selfless. No longer is humanity to be loved and cared for, it’s only me – or people like me – who are to be loved.
And many religious people and government politicians have adopted that warped attitude. Humanism has been replaced with “Me-ism”. What’s in it for me? What’s in it for my tribe, my posse, my little group of like-minded folks? I have to admit I sometimes think and act the same way. If you don’t believe like I do – you’re a terrible person. You’re not a figurative god to me. Forget you! I’ll only love, serve, and be concerned about people who look, act, and think like me.
If we’re honest, we all succumb to that thinking from time to time.
Fortunately for us as Unitarian Uonversalists, we’ve abandoned the traditional religions and forms of spirituality that have become far too inward looking and acting – selfishly thinking their beliefs are the only right beliefs and every other belief is to be shunned, hated and considered worthy of destruction.
Unitarian Universalism has thankfully evolved to a point that finds common ground in all religions and all forms of spirituality. As GNH’ers, we intentionally display the artwork over our chalice table that symbolically says this. All of history’s great religious figures dance together to the music of the ages – Humanism.
The intent of my message today using the theme, Spirituality in Politics, is for us to consider how to ethically and reasonably apply our values in how we vote. And I assert Humanism offers us the answer. Just as we model open mindedness and respect for other religions, we must do the same for other political views. But respect for other religions and political opinions does not mean we abandon our beliefs in Humanism. Instead, we must model our spiritual beliefs in how we act and whether or not we approve of how candidates act.
When we vote in nine days, on Tuesday, March 17th, and when we vote on November 3rd, I suggest we vote for candidates who value not only the well-being of all people, but ones who mostly practice ideals of love, respect, open-mindedness, and humility.
I believe we can best create change in our nation by supporting and voting not for a candidate who promises to enact laws and policies consistent with our values, but who speaks and acts with an attitude and heart consistent with Humanism. It’s not enough to agree with what a candidate wants to accomplish. Increasing taxes on the wealthy, supporting tariffs on imports, or reforming the criminal justice system – these are proposals candidates advocate. I believe we ought to instead be more interested in their basic character and.heart. Does she or he have an open mind? Are they willing to consider opposing views, collaborate, and, when necessary, compromise? Do they listen to others, show respect and kindness, act with some humility, and care about other people more than themselves? How they campaign and their past history as a person and as a leader tell us a lot about how a politician will lead – which for me is more important than the promises they make.
It goes without saying that someone needs a certain amount of arrogance to presume that she or he can solve all the nation’s problems if only they are elected. But arrogance can go too far, as we know. It can lead to a “my way or the highway” thinking and a self-focused attitude that assumes they are always right and all others are wrong.
Humanists should never think or act that way. Indeed, my Unitarian Universalist colleague at First Unitarian Church, the Reverend Connie Simon, suggests that even the most passionate advocate for social justice and equality can still be paradoxically intolerant, hateful, and disrespecting to others. In other words, anti-Humanist actions and speech are not unique to either conservatives or liberals. They have nothing to do with one’s politics and more to do with the content of their character.
What we as spiritual people ought to remember are the lessons of great spiritual teachers – the ones I mentioned earlier. Jesus taught we are to love and forgive even our enemies. Muslims say that love defines Allah. Jews teach the primacy of love with their version of the Golden Rule – “What is hateful to yourself, do not do to your fellow man.” And the Buddha taught that our hearts are to be like large and deep lakes capable of holding and pouring forth love, honor and kindness to anyone.
Just imagine if we could find a candidate who embodied the best teachings of these great spiritual prophets? When we decide who to vote for in upcoming elections, I suggest we think of Humanist standards of heart and mind – ones that are foundational to all forms of spirituality and government. “What would Jesus, Muhammad, the Buddha, and Rabbi Hillel say?” As I’ve shown, they would most likely say something very simple, “Love your neighbor.”
“And who is my neighbor?” you ask. She or he is every person on this earth. I propose we vote for candidates who, as much as possible, act and speak according to that Humanist ideal.