Humanity: an Affirmation

Today’s post is part of the third monthly synchroblog, “Spirit of the Poor”


You will find other posts here.  Look around and comment.  All are welcome .

There are two main ways that we use the word “humanity.”

–        The human species – all people

–        the quality or state of being kind to other people or to animals.

It’s is interesting to me that these two meanings are linked to the same word.  Language comes from pretty deep places. This idea that at our core we are altruistic rose from deep within our race to be expressed in the merging of these two meanings – to arrive at the level of tautology: humanity equals humanity – to be human is to be humane.

Why, then, do we live in a world where there is so much suffering – suffering caused by fellow human beings?


It was a little over two years ago that I was working with a friend, Anthony, on a presentation to be given at a gathering of Christian leaders in Boston, a gathering to see if we could speak with one voice on behalf of immigrants. The presentation Anthony and I were working on was to set the context for understanding the current plight of immigrants. 

As we prepared this presentation I named two basic concepts which shaped our world – concepts which were in some ways contradictory, and which contradictions were paid for by immigrants. These concepts and contradictions are:

–        Global Capitalism, which forces the mass migration of peoples, and

–        Nationalism, which erects punitive barriers to the migration of peoples.

Anthony responded:

The systems which are causing mass migration are an expression of our values – materialism, self interest. We must find a way to phenomenalize our Christian values, to create systems which do not destroy the earth and our communities and families.

 I believe Anthony was right; we must create systems that phenomenalize our Christian values; the values of humanity.

 As a first step I think we need to challenge, from a religious and moral perspective, the systems that dominate our world and which don’t express our values.

 I happen to believe that the current division of our world into sovereign nation states is a bad thing. I think it is an immoral system. I think that there is absolutely no moral or religious reason to grant sovereignty to such entities that are simply geographical boundaries set by victors of wars, more often than not set by victors who live on different continents.

 Benedict Anderson’s book, Imagined Communities, is an excellent discussion of how we came to accept a world divided into nation sates as normative and good. There were some moral and religious reasons behind the historical process that led to the present system, but they have long lost their original meaning. The Treaty of Westphalia established the concept of sovereignty by a ruler of a people. The moral impetus was to grant the right of “a people” to not be dominated by a foreign emperor. The concept of “a people” was roughly based on ethnic/religious/linguistic groupings. Our current boundary specific nation states have very little to do with “a people.” The other historical transition by which the modern nation states were granted “sovereignty” came from the concept of the divine rights of kings – the religious belief that kings ruled by the directive of God and were the political representatives of God. When a nation changed from a monarchy to a democracy, the “sovereignty” of the king got transferred to the representatives of the people. There are very few people now who believe that kings really had divine guidance, yet the transference of “sovereignty” goes unchallenged. I don’t believe there is any moral or religious reason to grant “sovereignty” to the concept of “Nation State.”

 The other generally accepted “value” that I want to question, one that has risen to the level of “sacred” in our world, is the current interpretation of “human rights.” The particular “human right” that I would contest is one that came into existence through British Common Law, theoretically justified by John Locke, accepted in most constitutions in our world, and stated as article 17 of the universal declaration of human rights – it is the right of private property. The Judeo Christian tradition has always affirmed that the earth belongs to God: “the land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants.” “Lev. 25: 23.

 This right of private property is the foundation of capitalism. As stated above in the quote from Anthony, capitalism is the phenomenalization of self interest – material self-interest. This idea that everyone looking out for their own self interest will produce an efficient economic system from which all will benefit has proven conclusively false. It is leading to the environmental destruction of our world, it has led to an increasing division between rich and poor in our world, and it has destroyed community life throughout the world – the place where values and traditions are formed and passed on. It is time we reject it. It is time we create systems that allow us to express our humanity.

 Rejecting systems as pervasive as “the nation state” and capitalism is a huge task, but if we want to have a clear head to create new systems that affirm humanity, we must find ways to live outside of those systems. Rejecting the idea of earning interest is a way to start. Accepting immigrants whom the state calls “illegal” is another step. It is amazing how much freer the mind is to think when we take concrete steps that are aligned with our values.

Here’s where I am starting: 

–        I affirm humanity.

–        I believe that humanity has the right to exist and not face extinction because of an immoral economic system that threatens humanity in the name of individual human rights.

–        I believe that we were not created to live as isolated beings protecting and hoarding our material belongings.

–        I believe we were created to live as kind, sharing human beings.

–        I believe that national borders should not be barriers to the movement of peoples.

–        I believe there is a lot of work to do to phenomenalize our Christian values.

–        I believe the place to start is to act on what we do know and believe and see what comes into view from our new vantage point.




About Newell Hendricks

I have lived a good life. Maybe a counterculture life, maybe a normal life. I have written operas, built houses, been involved with cross-cultural education between Latin America and the U.S, and hardly ever had a job I have helped raise two wonderful children with my amazing wife. It's been a good ride. And I go to church. I've just finished a book of stories from my life, I am still connected to an organization in Nicaragua that promotes sister relationships between communities, faith communities, or schoold, and to the extent that my cancer doesn't pull me down, am attempting to share some of what I have learned, or at least tried out. Welcome, and let's share.
This entry was posted in Capitalism, Community, environment, religion, Spirit of the Poor. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Humanity: an Affirmation

  1. Your thoughts challenge me deeply, Newell. It’s so different than what I’ve been taught… and so different than how the world is today. A planet without borders, walls, or private property. I can see that. I relate it to how the Native Americans used to live…. a lifestyle I have long admired and longed for. For the past 4 years I have been wondering if they will become our teachers one day soon. In fact, in 2009 I began doing interviews with the Lakota to write a book for just such a purpose, but then my life took a drastic turn and the project was shelved. But it’s still there… always niggling me to picture the world a different way. Do you think this “Spirit of the Poor” is a way of building a bridge from the current reality to the next?


    • Susan, In a word, yes. It’s not the biggest bridge around, but it is a start. I have articulated, at least to myself, that our job is the transition. Our world is coming to an end. It’s a big story, and it doesn’t have a happy ending. But our task is to envision a different story, a new story, and find a way to live into that story in the transition. At least our task is to be attentive to the most vulnerable when things get really bad. But a bridge is the idea; yes. And the new story may look a lot like some old stories, indigenouse american stories, for example. I hope you continue with your work. A recent book I have read is “God is Red.” It was pretty hard on Christians, but we know all those criticisms. There was real value in much of the book. Thanks for reading and commenting.


  2. Challenging, as always, Newell. But affirming. I would like to live as a kind, sharing human being.


  3. This is a challenging post, Newell, and I’m glad you are pushing us out of our comfort zones. I love your thoughts about redefining borders, peoples, and “aliens” or “illegal” immigrants.


  4. Such a powerful post, Newell, as always. I love what you say: “This idea that everyone looking out for their own self interest will produce an efficient economic system from which all will benefit has proven conclusively false. It is leading to the environmental destruction of our world, it has led to an increasing division between rich and poor in our world, and it has destroyed community life throughout the world.” This is so true, and I agree that this is one of the central problems that leads to economic injustice, capitalism/materialism, nationalism, and exclusivism. It’s incredible to think what our country (and what our world) would look like if we affirmed this Judeo-Christian tenet that the land belongs to God and that we are just here to take care of it and its inhabitants… And to remember that we are called to love and welcome the stranger, for we were once aliens in a foreign land. Thank you for another great post.


  5. Everything you say makes sense to me, and I am variously, a Hindu, an agnostic, an atheist, and someone who went to a convent school in India.
    This is not about religion. This is about humanity.
    I am a humanist.
    That is who you are too, or so it seems to me.
    So, these are human values in the highest sense, not necessarily the values of any particular religion.


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