Monday, September 07, 2015

Morality Without Religion

There are so many examples in my life lately of the power of simple. The more I witness disagreements on social media, the more I retreat inside to my own quiet authority. Everything from the Kentucky court clerk who refuses to issue same-sex marriage licenses to arguments about immigration reform and how we treat US immigrants; refugees desperately fleeing their homeland only to be shunned in other countries when they reach the shore and the Pope offering absolution for Catholic women who chose abortion tempt me to enter the fray. And when I sit and think about why and how, I realize that countering arguments is batting at paper tigers. 

I am increasingly horrified at the use of religious writing to prop up acts of selfishness (often couched as "good policy") or terror. I am ever more disillusioned with statistics and studies and numbers that justify treating human beings as problems to be solved. 

I continue to know in the deepest core of my own being that there is no external authority - religious text, political or spiritual leader, or otherwise - that will ever lead me to act in the way that expresses my best, highest, most human self. If a leader or book encourages me to get very quiet and still, to look at the photos of the human beings drowning and starving and fleeing their homes to save their children and really see, that is something. If I am prompted to read about people who are suffering and struggling no matter the circumstances or the choices they've made, and to open my heart to them, that is something. Because when I do that, when I acknowledge the humanity of each and every person on this planet without judgment, without moving from my heart to my brain that wants to categorize and problem-solve and blame, I am closer than ever to doing what is right. When I am driven by a shared humanity as opposed to data or someone else's interpretation, I am certain. There are no conflicts, no pros and cons, no licking my fingertip and flipping back and forth between pages that contain charts or someone else's words. The day that I can look upon another being who is suffering and only see "the bigger picture" is the day that I will have lost myself, my own internal sense of what is right. 

This doesn't mean that I don't disagree with others, it only means that I wish others could do the same. If Donald Trump and Jeb Bush and Kim Davis can see before them someone who needs their help and deny it based on some external notion of what is right and just and moral, I can't change that. If soldiers in another part of the world are convinced that raping and torturing women and children is justified by their religious beliefs, I can't change that. I can attempt to speak in the language of scripture, find citations and passages that call for mercy or implore us to act out of love. I could consult data and past precedent to counter a politician's words, but it is easy to twist words and numbers. It quickly becomes a question of whose authority or perception is "more real," and, ultimately, if I am going to act from a place of certainty and clarity, the source isn't a book or a data set. I can only hope that in some quiet moment somewhere, each of us is able to look within and find a connection, any small spark, that reminds us that words and prophets are not our true authorities, that at the end of the day, all we have is our own internal sense of what is real and right and human, and that to not reach out and help goes against everything that we are.


Time and time again, we hear stories of people who have had incredible moments of insight - generally when they thought they were about to die. The majority of them talk about suddenly realizing what is important, eschewing external motivators and measurements of success and happiness. Instead they strive for human connection, more time with family and friends, and a deeper understanding of themselves. We are all born with a need to be connected to others on a very basic level and as we move toward independence, we lose something. I love Dr. Dan Siegel's idea that instead of raising our children to be independent, we raise them to be interdependent, that is, to never forget that we are all connected and rely on each other. That is the world I want to live in. The world where everyone sees the pictures of the small boy drowning as he flees for his life and feels an enormous tug on their heartstrings. A world where that pull of love, of connection, leads us to talk and think about how to reach out, where we lead with our hearts instead of our heads, where instead of distancing ourselves from the pain by closing our eyes or explaining why that could never happen to us, we open further. A world where we are not driven by numbers and statistics and policies, but where those things become merely tools as we work to alleviate suffering and create support instead of walls we build to keep us from listening, from seeing, from feeling. It is in feeling where I find certainty. I don't always know where to go from there, but for me it is always the best place to start.

2 comments:

Elizabeth said...

Another post that deserves wide coverage and readership. If I hadn't sat across from you and talked for hours, I would read this and believe you to be a wise old woman imparting her genius and not a beautiful, young woman imparting her genius! Thank you for articulating your take on "everything," and sharing how to "be."

Carrie Link said...

I want to live in that world, too. Thank you for changing your font size and background color, much easier for the over-50 eyes!

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