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.
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.