Only Human


“You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is like an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

I often read comments from various political conservatives about the need to mandate prayer in schools. Conservatives are also concerned that having Muslim immigrants in their communities will create Sharia law. Frankly, I’m uncomfortable with anyone’s religion defining the law of the land or children’s behavior in public school. (Public schools are, of course, a socialistic endeavor. Church and private schools are, apparently in the US, capitalistic.)

The evangelical church I grew up in was pretty conservative in doctrine, but pretty lax in practice. We weren’t supposed to drink alcohol, smoke, cuss, lie, commit adultery or wear shorts. While each of these proscriptions was violated routinely by many church members, I was particularly egregious about violating the last one during the Texas summers.

Hypocrisy is innate in humans — we err. We are rife with ‘cognitive dissonance’ — the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as related to behavioral decisions and attitudes. We routinely hold others to standards that we dismiss for ourselves; however, that behavior is most obvious to me in those with restrictive beliefs that they try to impose on others.

Our founding fathers owned slaves, but decreed that ‘all men are created equal’ with the right to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’. They believed in ‘the separation of church and state’ and prohibited laws establishing a national religion or impeding the free exercise of religion for its citizens.

Evangelical conservatives continue to try to impose their ‘Christian’ beliefs on the rest of us while at the same time that they profess the need to follow the Constitution. Unfortunately, often their Christianity doesn’t seem to align with their humanity (thus proving their humanity).

Among the ‘pick and choose what you consider sinful’ religious, an individual’s flaws can be either prominent or ignored. They might support a man for being anti-abortion, but fail to see the hypocrisy of his multiple divorces or war hawk practices. “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones,” while often quoted as from the Bible, is actually attributed to Chaucer. Our current political situation abounds with hypocrisy – lots of glass houses and lots of stones.

I’m no religious scholar, but it seems to me that most religions have the same basic principles: love one another; be kind; share with those in need; honor your parents and family; don’t lie, cheat, steal, or murder; do unto others … There’s usually something about worshipping that god and obeying him.  We seem to get a bit lost when we expand religion from personal to family to community to government and even national identity.

But basically, we humans inherently know right from wrong (ask Jiminy Cricket) even without religious doctrine to guide us. A key component of free will is that we aren’t always willing to do the ‘right’ thing. As intellectual creatures, we can often find justification for doing what we want, but we are also impacted by what others see or think. Peer pressure comes in many shapes and sizes (parental, familial, communal, legal, etc.), but it gives us an external reflection on our behaviors.

Unfortunately, that pressure can lead to us to justify our own criticism of the behaviors of others. We all do it, and we each have to choose how we apply that criticism. Do we just observe and keep our opinion to ourselves? Do we share with other like-minded people? Do we feel that we have the right to intrude into the behavior of others?

That’s where it gets gray, and frankly, where we seem to get into the most trouble.

I concur that it is helpful if everyone is playing by the same, shared rules. But as a former athlete, I know that the presence of referees and umpires is required to level the playing field. (Just ask Pete Rose, Bill Romanowski, Lance Armstrong, Tom Brady or the Astros.) I have also worked as an environmental regulator, and can confirm that good regulation and strict enforcement is needed to make society work, even with the most enlightened industries and people.

So, it comes down to who makes the rules and who enforces them. Some countries have chosen to be religious states with religious laws. Our country, the United States of America, chose not to rely on a religion to define right from wrong. We chose humanity — “A government of the people, by the people, for the people. ”

We are the people. But we are each only human.

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