08 December 2006

Regarding Them: Moral Values for a Pluralistic Society

Prelude to My Story

Once upon a time we were “better than” them.
Twice upon a time they were “better than” us.
Thrice upon a time we are them and they are us, and we put “better than” away on the highest shelf in the back of our closet, practically lost but not entirely forgotten.


My Story

My story begins long, long ago in a faraway place
I think it was just yesterday when we were visiting next door.
Our people thought we were better than them, those Other people.
You know the people I am talking about, those people who are different from us.
The ones who are not as pretty as us, not as handsome as we are, not as strong, not as upstanding, not as smart, and their things are not nearly as good as ours.
And we thought God wanted it that way.

But it is really hard to tell what God wants because
God’s voice is louder than all noises and quieter than silence,
God’s body is bigger than the whole world and smaller than the mote of dust you can only see when the sun shines on it just so,
God points the way faster than light and moves slower than a mountain,
God completely embraces us in the warmest love and gives us the ultimate freedom to be ourselves.
And sometimes we think that our own thoughts and ideas about what is right and good must be God’s ideas, too.
And if everyone agrees then it must be true.

So we looked at the world, and we saw that we were pretty and handsome.
We saw that we are strong and upstanding.
We saw that we had the right answers.
And we got together and talked about how good we are, and how different we are from those people.

But they were still over there and did not seem to be aware that they were at such a disadvantage.
So we went to them and tried to teach them about how to be as pretty and handsome as us, as strong and upstanding as we are, and how to get the right answers.

But they would not change and some of them even disagreed with us.
Most of them saw how good we are, and some were even grateful that we were willing to share but then they mostly went back to their old ways again.

So it was clear to us that they must have misunderstood.
Perhaps, we thought, they are just so very different that we couldn’t really communicate.
We decided that we had to be a little more clever and creative to help them see how to get our advantages.

So we made up a game.
Not just a little game, but a big game.
A game that everyone has to play.
And we got them to play, not because it was our game, but because we showed them how when we all play this game then we might have a lot of fun together.

But since the game was one that everyone had to play all the time, most of us forgot that it was a game.
Of course, the whole point of the game is to teach those people how to be like us and have all the right advantages.
So in order to really teach them, the game had to show them how
our way is God’s way to be strong, upstanding, pretty and handsome.
And whenever part of the game was not quite right, we changed the rules, just a little bit to better teach the lesson that God wants everyone to play the game our way because it is exactly how God made us.

But it is really hard to tell what God wants because
God’s voice is louder than all noises and quieter than silence,
God’s body is bigger than the whole world and smaller than the mote of dust you can only see when the sun shines on it just so,
God points the way faster than light and moves slower than a mountain,
God completely embraces us in the warmest love and gives us the ultimate freedom to be ourselves.
And sometimes we think that our own thoughts and ideas about what is right and good must be God’s ideas, too.
And if everyone agrees then it must be true.

And since we are not God, and do not always know what God really wants we made a game that was not really fair.
The game was made by us to help teach people about how it is to be us.
And we are the best players of our game because we have the most practice at being like us, and know the game better than anybody else.
But if we set up the game to make us win all the time, then those people lose all the time.
And in case you haven’t noticed yet, it is not fun to lose all the time.
Part of the fun of games is the possibility that you could win, sometimes, even if it’s really hard.

Now, God did make a game for us to play, but it’s not the game we made up.
The game God made up is one in which God is the only judge, God is the only one who enforces the rules of God’s game.
For instance, one of the most basic rules of God’s game here on earth is that up is up and down is down and if something doesn’t have support it falls down, not up.

But not all of God’s rules are so easy to figure out,
in fact, we really don’t know what all of God’s rules are,
we don’t even know how many there are.
That’s why we have invented really big games like religion and science.
Both science and religion are games that we play to discover God’s rules for the universe, but science only looks for some of the rules while religion looks for the others.

Religion is a game we play to discover the other rules that science can’t figure out.
In my religious community, Unitarian Universalism,
we say that everyone gets to decide for themselves which game of religion to play and therefore which rules for being religious to obey.
And after they have decided what religion they will practice they are expected to be
respectful of Others,
responsible for their own choices and
resourceful at getting what they need to be a good person.
We believe that each person has to figure out their own way of deciding what God wants.

But it is really hard to tell what God wants because
God’s voice is louder than all noises and quieter than silence,
God’s body is bigger than the whole world and smaller than the mote of dust you can only see when the sun shines on it just so,
God points the way faster than light and moves slower than a mountain,
God completely embraces us in the warmest love and gives us the ultimate freedom to be ourselves.
And sometimes we think that our own thoughts and ideas about what is right and good must be God’s ideas, too.
And if everyone agrees then it must be true.

Did you know that all people everywhere on earth play ball games?
But, the kinds of games they play with balls are all different.
All people play with balls but they all have different rules for making their ball games fun.
Thus, balls are a universal tool for making fun games.
Those three things I mentioned a moment ago;
respect, responsibility, and resourcefulness,
are just three of the hundreds of tools that all religions agree are necessary for making good people.
All those tools are called virtues.

Virtues are taught in every religion on earth.
Virtues are not the rules of the game of religion,
they are the absolutely necessary equipment that you need to play the game.
How each religion practices each virtue may be a little bit different,
but what all the virtues have in common is that they are the ways that we take care of ourselves, our families and friends.

“Better than” is not a virtue, it is not even a vice which is the opposite of a virtue.
But it is a tool that we use to compare things.
“Better than” is an important tool, because without “better than” we would not be able to tell which water is better for drinking and which food is better for eating and which tool is the best for the job at hand.
“Better than” is a tool that is necessary but it is one that we have to be careful about how we use.
It can be hurtful to compare people in some ways, so we need to take another look before we compare people to make sure that the comparison we make is going to be helpful and not hurtful.
“Better than” should be about how to take care of ourselves and Others, about how to have well-being for everyone, without exception.

But, when I looked at just one of those people,
(you know the people I am talking about, those people who are different from us,
the ones who are not as pretty as us, not as handsome as we are, not as tall, not as young, not as nice, and their things are not nearly as good as ours)
I saw a little girl who got a cut on her finger.
And her cut finger hurt her just like mine did when I cut it once.
Her blood was red just like mine was when I bleed,
and when she cried, her tears were wet, just like mine.
In that moment when I looked at her I saw comging out from inside of her the dearest and most personal things in every human life; pain, blood, and tears.

Seeing her in just that moment I saw how all those things that are usually hidden inside her are exactly the same kinds of things that I usually have hidden inside me.
I have pains that help me remember the hard things that I have to face and make me who I am.
I have red blood that helps me to remember the sacredness of life and remember the mixing of blood that all the fathers and mothers, and the grand mothers and grand fathers before them, have passed down to make me who I am.
And I have water in me, like the salty tears in my eyes, that help me remember that the earth is mostly covered in the same kind of salty water.
And how the water flows out of the sky, down the mountains, through the rivers and lakes to us
then through us continuing the journey to oceans and
eventually returning to the sky again to start all over.
And that water inside me also makes me who I am.

When I remember all those special things that are inside her and me both,
I realize that she is not really that different, after all.
She is not really one of Them, she is one of Us.
And when she and her people remember that, too, then we are them.
And that is how God wants it to be.

But it is really hard to tell what God wants because
God’s voice is louder than all noises and quieter than silence,
God’s body is bigger than the whole world and smaller than the mote of dust you can only see when the sun shines on it just so,
God points the way faster than light and moves slower than a mountain,
God completely embraces us in the warmest love and gives us the ultimate freedom to be ourselves.
And sometimes we think that our own thoughts and ideas about what is right and good must be God’s ideas, too.
And when everyone, and I mean all of Us and Them,
When everyone agrees
then
it really is true.

Postlude to My Story

Once upon a time we were “better than” them.
Twice upon a time they were “better than” us.
Thrice upon a time we are them and they are us, and we put “better than” away on the highest shelf in the back of our closet, practically lost but not entirely forgotten.

But now the time has come when we have a project to complete and the tool for the job is to compare our options and decide which is “better than.”
The project is how to unify the voices of all humanity to bring about a global harmony that resonates with all creation.
The challenge is to create opportunities for all beings to have wellness.

We have today an unprecedented ability to recognize and honor the wellness of our global ecology, our society, our organizations, us as individuals, our cells and even the molecules that make us up.
With this powerful opportunity for insight across vast scales of magnitude we also have the powerful responsibility to honor this more-than-human world in which we were given existence.

My call to you today is to join me in reviving “better than” as a tool for the transformation of our society from one in which we compare ourselves with each Other by the outward shells of behavior, custom, and circumstances
into a society in which we know we are united by our pain, by the blood we hold sacred and the water that flows in and through both us and our one and only planet to keep us connected and alive.
I ask for your help in transforming our “better than” habit from a tool of oppression and hurtfulness, into a tool of hope and reconciliation.

Let us use the universal language of virtues as both the starting point and end point for understanding the Other’s actions.
Let’s work together to reserve “better than” for comparing the results of our own actions with the well-being we were planning to promote, while giving the Other guy the benefit of the doubt.

I think that God would want it that way.

But remember that it is hard to tell what God really wants because
God’s voice is louder than all noises and quieter than silence,
God’s body is bigger than the whole world and smaller than the mote of dust you can only see when the sun shines on it just so,
God points the way faster than light and moves slower than a mountain,
God completely embraces us in the warmest love and gives us the ultimate freedom to be ourselves.
And sometimes we think that our own thoughts and ideas about what is right and good must be God’s ideas, too.
And when everyone agrees then it really is true.

Regarding Them Commentaries:

Regarding Them Commentary: What About Objective Reality?

Regarding Them Commentary: What About God?

Regarding Them Commentary: What About Morality?
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