Faith:  The Fifth Most Important Virtue for a Good Life

Faith-of-a-childFaith is number five of my seven essential virtues for leading a happy and successful life.  Every Friday I start my day with the following prayer:

  • “Help me to be as well as to do and to have Faith in the future by living today the best that I can.”

 Please listen to Pete Seeger’s rendition of:  “You Gotta Walk That Lonesome Valley” for a musical version of what Faith is really about.  Read the comments about Pete Seeger.  He was a prime example of a man that had Faith. 

Faith is the first of the three major theological virtues.  As I thought about preparing this blog, I asked myself the question, “What is the difference between Faith and Trust?”  Or perhaps there is no difference?  I wondered if one has to be religious or have a religious affiliation to have Faith.  Most people think of Faith in terms of a belief in God or some other deity.

faithI decided that I must first understand what Faith really means.  To do this, it is helpful to deconstruct how we think about Faith and how we use the word.   I thought about how we use both Trust and Faith in common language.  For instance we use trust in English as follows:

  • Trust me!
  • Do you trust yourself?
  • Have a little trust in me.

Now if you try substituting the word Faith for Trust, it is obvious that in the first two instances, it just does not fit:

  • Faith me!
  • Do you Faith yourself?
  • Have a little Faith in me.

You will notice that in the third instance, you can substitute the word Faith for the word trust.  A grammarian would quickly note that the word Trust can be used either as a noun or a verb whereas the word Faith is primarily a noun and cannot usually be used as a verb.

It might be interesting to compare dictionary definitions of Faith and trust.

Faith: http://www.merriam-webster.com

  • Strong belief or trust in someone or something
  • Belief in the existence of God : strong religious feelings or beliefs
  • A system of religious beliefs

Trust:  http://www.merriam-webster.com

  • Assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something
  • Dependence on something future or contingent :  hope
  • Reliance on future payment for property (as merchandise) delivered : credit <bought furniture on trust

mountain climbingI think you can readily see that there is a certain degree of overlap between the two concepts. However, Faith generally seems to convey a more sectarian or theological concept of belief whereas Trust is generally used in more secular terms.  Thus, we don’t “trust” God but we have Faith in her.  Faith seems to be a term that is not contingent upon any kind of physical or logical proof.  We might not trust a person with our money without proof that they are “bonded” or trustworthy, but we would not expect such displays of material evidence when it comes to having Faith in God.  So what is the relevance to this in our lives?  What good is Faith if we can substitute trust for faith and have more security in the long run?

He replied, “Because you have so little Faith. Truly I tell you, if you have Faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” — Matthew 17:20

childThe answer seems to be (IMHO) that sometimes we can trust without evidence but generally we are better off trusting with some element of surety that can mitigate the risk of our trust being unfounded or mistaken.  Whereas, there is little or no evidence that can prove your need or desire to have Faith.  You must have Faith like a parent has love for a child.  It is unconditional.  You have Faith simply because you want to believe.  You have Faith because you accept something without conditions.  You need no proof or evidence to support your Faith.  Is this a good thing or a bad thing?   Should you have Faith without proof?  What would a life without Faith be like?  Would we be safer or happier with less Faith?

“On a long journey of human life, Faith is the best of companions; it is the best refreshment on the journey; and it is the greatest property.”  — Buddha

Buddha thought that Faith is a companion that we cannot ignore on our journey through life.   There is a story about Mother Teresa that when she was visiting Iowa many years ago and was being interviewed by a somewhat cynical journalist; she was asked if she really thought she was making a difference to the poor in India.  Her reported reply was “I am not called upon to make a difference.  I am called upon to have Faith.”  If that sounds somewhat evasive, consider the following professionals who toil diligently and with great dedication:

  • Teachersblack couple
  • Doctors
  • Psychologists
  • Writers
  • Philanthropists
  • Artists

There are no doubt dozens of other professionals who toil in areas that are not readily amenable to evidence that they are “making a difference.”  As an educator and consultant, I can readily attest to the fact that seldom if ever is there “evidence” or concrete proof that my actions and thoughts have made a difference on my students or clients.  Most of us work on day after day, motivated by one force and one force only.  That force is the power of Faith.

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

Each time I write a blog, I write with the hope that something I say will help someone have a better day or lead a better life.  I have now written over 800 blogs and I have received about two dozen or so letters or emails telling me how much they appreciate my writing or how much it has helped them.  The percentage of letters received is about 3.4 percent of the blogs I have written and whose readers have been moved to write to me or drop me a comment.  And that is fine.  People are busy and many times the thought of writing to a writer is something that readers never think of.

big-challengesFortunately, the 3.4 percent of respondents have been more than enough to help me keep my Faith.  (Should I really need such sustenance if I have Faith?) Yes, I have Faith that my writing is making a difference to the world but alas, I have no proof for the empiricists, the materialists or the skeptics.  I have to ask you as well as myself to believe that I am.  It is Faith that keeps me motivated.  Without Faith, life would appear to be a futile waste of time.  Faith helps us to carry on when everything and everyone is saying to quit.  The woman in the life raft, the athlete with a severe injury, the parents with a disabled child, the poor fighting hunger, the righteous fighting injustice are all sustained by the power of Faith.

19176-Have-FaithFaith can believe everything
That we say.
Belief can increase the strength
Of Faith.
Belief is pure,
Faith is sure.
Belief looks around
To see the truth.
Faith looks within
Not only to feel the truth
But also to become the truth
.  —- Sri Chinmoy

Time for Questions:

What do you have Faith in?  What helps you to maintain your Faith?  Where would you like to have more Faith?  Do you think we have too much or too little Faith in the world?

Life is just beginning.

“Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.” —- Saint Augustine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What the Hell Do We Need Morality For?

morals and ethics

This blog is about the subject of morality.  Once upon a time, they taught morality in school and in church.   The first system of morality that many older Americans were exposed to was probably the “Ten Commandments.”   This was a code of rules given to the Israelites by Moses on Mount Sinai.  I have always thought it ironic that a set of morals from the “Old Testament” was supposed to be the foundation for a Christian America.  Even today, advocates of this code of morality want to hang it in town halls, schools, courts and government centers.  This is a part of the Bible that promoted an “eye for an eye” and stoning adulterers.

Jesus did say “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17).  Jesus added at least one commandment to all others that was even more valuable than the ten TenCommandmentsMoses gave.   Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John: 13:34).  I would be much more in favor of seeing this posted in my neighborhood than the Ten Commandments.

Perhaps even more importantly in terms of a system of morality, Jesus gave a sermon where he proposed what has been called:  The Eight Beatitudes:   (Click here to hear the The Beatitudes Song

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  —- Gospel of St. Matthew 5:3-10

It is my opinion that the Eight Beatitudes constitute one of the greatest systems of morality to come out of the Bible.  I would rather see these taught (if we are going to teach a system of morality) than the Ten Commandments.  I would also not mind these being posted in schools and other public places whereas I am sick and tired of those who want to post the Ten Commandments.

I noted that once upon a time, we taught morality in schools and churches.   Actually, we not only taught morality but morality was also imbued in our social fabric by many traditional stories and the media.  Children from an early age were exposed to Fairy tales, Uncle Remus stories, Aesop Fables, and Tales of the Arabian Nights.  These stories were full of morals on how to live and behave properly.  Early TV was also full of morality tales.  Shows like Father Knows Best, Leave It to Beaver and Andy Griffith each week clearly conveyed stories of morality and what was right and what was not right in terms of behavior.

sin-guilt-causes-body-pain-sicknessSomeplace along the way, we started losing our sense of morality.  Some have blamed it on becoming a multi-cultural environment.  Some have blamed it on the decline of religion and church going.  Some have blamed education while still others have blamed progress and a business culture that has no room for strict morality.  I am not sure what the actual cause was.  I am more concerned that it did happen.  Studies have shown that our culture has become more amoral than moral and that narcissism now plays an increasing role in our society.  People are less moral and more self-centered than ever before in the history of this country.  A book by Joel Marks (Ethics without Morals: In Defense of Amorality -Routledge Studies in Ethics and Moral Theory, 2012) is one of several that makes an argument for amorality:

“In clear, plainspoken, engaging prose, Joel Marks presents the case for abandoning belief in morality. Anyone who wants to defend the practice of making moral judgments will have to confront the issues Marks raises, and the alternative to morality he proposes.” – Mitchell Silver, University of Massachusetts, Boston, USA 

In the book “The Moral Fool: A Case for Amorality (2009)” the author Hans-George Moeller advances the following case for amorality:

“Justice, equality, and righteousness—these are some of our greatest moral convictions. Yet in times of social conflict, morals can become rigid, making religious war, ethnic cleansing, and political purges possible.  Morality, therefore, can be viewed as a pathology—a rhetorical, psychological, and social tool that is used and abused like a weapon.”

In an article “Why Is Narcissism Increasing Among Young Americans?”  by Peter Gray in Freedom to Learn (2014), Gray notes the following:

“For the past three decades or a little more, researchers have been assessing both narcissism and empathy using questionnaires developed in the late 1970s.  Many research studies have shown that scores on these questionnaires correlate reliably with real-world behavior and with other people’s ratings of the individuals.  For example, those who score high in narcissism have been found to overrate their own abilities, to lash out angrily in response to criticism, and to commit white-collar crimes at higher rates than the general population.[1]  Those who score low in empathy are more likely than the average person to engage in bullying and less likely to volunteer to help people in need.[2.]

Over the years, these questionnaires have been administered to many samples of college students, and analyses that bring all of the data together reveal that the average narcissism score has been steadily increasing and the average empathy score has been steadily decreasing ever since the questionnaires were developed [3.]  The changes are highly significant statistically and sufficiently large that approximately 70 percent of students today score higher on narcissism and lower on empathy than did the average student thirty years ago.

What accounts for this historical rise in narcissism and decline in empathy?  There is no way to know for sure, based on the data, but there are lots of grounds for speculation.”

I think we have thrown the proverbial baby out with the bath water.  I agree we need to keep the State separate from the Church.  I also agree that we don’t need the Ten Commandments as the foundation for moral thought in America.  Nevertheless, I do believe that we all need a code of morality to live by.  Whether it be Christian, Buddhist, Confucian, Agnostic, Atheist, Islamic, Jewish, Hindu, Baha’i, or other, we need a set of morals as a template and foundation for our behavior.  We need a baseline that each of us can start from so that we can assess what is good and what is right.  We need to have some system of ideas about what is correct behavior and how we should live in a socially interconnected world.

When I was a kid, (somewhere along the way) I was taught the Seven Deadly Sins.  Sometimes they were called the Seven Deadly Vices or the Seven Cardinal Sins.  I assume that since I attended a Catholic school, it went along with the teaching.  The Seven Deadly Sins included the following:

  • Lust
  • Gluttony
  • Greed
  • Sloth
  • Wrath
  • Envy
  • Pride

7 deadly sins

Some of you might think that this list is old fashioned or out of date.  How could this set of implicit moral values make a difference in our society?  They are so old; do they really have any relevance anymore?

Take a close look around you at the world.  You have only to look for a few minutes to persuade yourself that these “sins” are at the top of the list of major problems.  Greed, envy, gluttony and lust appear pervasive in our culture.  (See my series on Gandhi’s Seven Social Sins) TV shows, movies, magazines, radio, supermarkets, superstars, sports, credit services, escort services, pornography, Las Vegas all portray an American brand of materialism that is nothing short of sick.  Get it now, get it fast, and get more and moreMore is better!  Bigger is better!  Shop till you drop!  He who has the most toys wins!

“If necessity is the mother of invention, then surely greed must be the father. Children of this odd couple are named: Laziness, Envy, Greed, Jr., Gluttony, Lust, Anger and Pride.”  ― John R Dallas  Jr.

Black Friday ( The day after Thanksgiving in the USA) is only a small manifestation of the greed, lust and sloth that has infected our society.  How many Americans have a regular exercise schedule?  How many obese citizens can you count on the street each day?  How many Americans spend more each week then they earn?  How many Americans will go in debt this Holiday Season to spend money that they don’t have on gifts and toys?  Where is the self-restraint that is necessary to push oneself away from the table or shut the TV off and say “Enough.”  It barely seems to exist.  Is it any wonder that so many countries have a very negative stereotype of the “average” American?  We appear to be a group of people who have lost our moral compass.

ARTICLE 29 —  The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

  • You have a responsibility to the place you live and the people around you-we all do. Only by watching out for each other can we each become our individual best.

At this point, you well may be asking “What right does he have to be so damn moralistic?”  Didn’t Jesus say “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone?”  “Are you so perfect that you have a right to look down on other people?”  “Who does he think he is, Jonathan Edwards?”  “I don’t need anyone telling me my faults.”  “I get enough negativity from work without having to get it from you.”

Please allow me to clarify a few misconceptions.  In some religious circles we are all sinners.  Since I am agnostic, I don’t subscribe to a religious view of sin.  My use of the terminology is borrowed from the religious sphere since I think that the concept of sin has a very useful connotation if we can free it from some of the pejorative and negative associations with which it is fettered.  First of all, I do not believe that you will go to hell for committing these Seven Sins.  Second, you will not be a bad or evil person because of them.  Third and accentuating the positive, you may be happier and healthier if you are more aware of these “sins” and can do a better job of examining the role that they play in your life.  My bringing these “sins” out is to help us all become more aware of the morality that we have allowed to become obscured in our daily lives.

There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting.  —-Buddha

We have had a decline in morality that started over one hundred years ago and it still seems to be declining.  More people are worried about their taxes increasing then the poverty facing many people in this country.  More people are worried about their security then the number of people going to jail every day for victimless crimes.  More people are worried about the price of gasoline then the pollution we send into the atmosphere every day.  Self-centeredness has become a dominant fixture of the American landscape.  “Greed is Good” says Ivan Boesky and everyone applauds.

If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.   — C. S. Lewis

Why do I think we should care about morality? 

goodevilWithout morality, we are not even as good as animals.  Animals eat, drink, sleep, procreate and fight when they have to.  They do not do it simply to hurt other animals or to wage war against groups or individuals that they cannot tolerate.  Animals care for their young and exhibit many characteristics of moral behavior.  In captivity, animals may display much more aggressive behavior.  For instance, Orcas in the wild have never been observed to kill other Orcas.  This is not the case for Orcas in captivity.  There is no such thing as civilization without a commitment to moral and ethical behavior.  Even animal societies are proof of this.

“I am Envy, begotten of a chimney-sweeper and an oyster-wife. I cannot read, and therefore wish all books were burnt; I am lean with seeing others eat – O that there would come a famine through all the world, that all might die, and I live alone; then thou should’st see how fat I would be! But must thou sit and I stand? Come down, with a vengeance!”  ― Christopher MarloweDoctor Faustus

Without morality, we have no compass to define what is good behavior and what is bad behavior.  We are reduced to the level of opportunists willing to take advantage of anyone and anything that suits our ends.  Listen to the current debate on the use of torture and the recent CIA report and you will find numerous “experts” advocating that the “ends justify the means.”  One man on NPR noted that he thought we should ask the victims of the Twin Trade Towers what they thought about the use of torture to capture Osama Bin Laden.   John McCain (May he Rest in Peace) once said it best when he opined in Congress (12-9-14) that “”Our enemies act without conscience. We must not.”  Nevertheless, he was opposed by his own party in his opposition to torture and in fact to even releasing the CIA Tortmoralityure Report. 

Many Republicans argued against releasing the report, especially as the threat of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria grew and U.S. intelligence officials had warned that its release could cause backlash from nations and groups hostile towards the nation.   American embassies in the Middle East had been put on heightened security alert for its release.

McCain replied that “This report strengthens self-government and, ultimately, I believe, America’s security and stature in the world.”  (CNN 12-9-14)

Finally, without morality, there is no way to transmit values from one generation to another.  A lack of morality has led to the increase in amorality that is now symptomatic of our society.  Amorality is a set of beliefs which deny the value of morality or at best are indifferent to morality.  A rock is amoral.  It is neither good (moral) or bad (immoral) but may be used for either purpose.  Anything or anyone without a conscience is amoral.  It is a fine line and one that is very easy to trespass between amoral and immoral.  Many people today may think their behaviors are amoral when actually they could better be described as immoral.  Harken back to the Seven Deadly Sins and ask yourself, how many of these vices are amoral?  Are greed, gluttony, lust and wrath amoral?   Can anyone with a good conscience say it is okay to partake in these vices?

“Seven deadly sins,
seven ways to win,
seven holy paths to hell,
and your trip begins

Seven downward slopes
seven bloodied hopes
seven are your burning fires,
seven your desires…”
― Iron Maiden

Time for Questions:

What is your moral code? What are the three most important morals in your life?  Do you think everyone should have an explicit moral code?  Why or why not?  Do you know many amoral people?  What do you think about amorality?  When is it justified?  What do you think the world would be like if everyone was amoral?  Would it be a better world or worse? Why?

Life is just beginning.

“Remember tonight… for it is the beginning of always”  ― Dante Alighieri

The Twelfth Greatest Mystery of all Time:  Can We Solve All the Mysteries of Existence?

The-Mystery Well, we have come to the end of my Greatest Mysteries of All-Time Series.  So far, I have solved ten of the eleven.  This last one is the easiest of all.  Yes, we will solve all the mysteries of existence except for one.  Why do people do what they do?  I submit we will never satisfactorily solve this question.  Thus, I might as well say that the answer to this last mystery is NO!  We will not solve all the mysteries.  There will always be more mysteries.  As long as people are curious and unpredictable, life will be one long stream of continuous and never-ending mysteries.  Mysteries are like the stars in the universe. They are beyond counting and beyond measure.  They are as infinite as humanity’s quest for answers.  (Click here to listen to the Mystery of Existence Song by Farzin Darabi Far)

Although there are several ‘schools of thought’ relating to why God allows mental, emotional, and physical afflictions, it essentially remains a mystery” — R. Alan Woodslatmosphere_metereologie_populaire_camille_flammarion2

How many times have you picked up the newspaper, read a headline and asked yourself: “Why would anyone do that?”  Why would anyone do that? What were they thinking?  I once listened to a series of interviews with serial killers thinking I might find an answer to this question, instead, all I found were more questions.  The killers themselves did not know why they did what they did.  Yesterday, on one of the CNN vignettes on my IPAD, I found an article that started out as follows:  Inside the mind of a serial killer .  It featured an interview with Forensic psychiatrist Helen Morrison who has interviewed over 135 serial killers.  When asked by interviewer Brooke Burke “Why do serial killers continue to kill over and over?”; Dr. Morrison replied “I wish I knew.  It is still a big mystery of why.”   Here are some recent headlines that were in the news on CNN as I write this blog:

 

If you are like me, you probably look at several of these headlines, shake your head and ask “Why would anyone do that.”  Why?  Why? Why?

As I get older and presumably wiser, I find myself less able to come up with answers to this question:  “Why did he do that?”  “Why did she do that?”  “How could anyone do that?”  “What were they thinking?”  Is it just me?  Karen says she is amazed that I am almost constantly rendered speechless by the things that other people do: “Why would anyone vote Republican?  Why would anyone vote Democrat?

godsshadowHow come people put large ugly tattoos all over their bodies?  Why would anyone pay $300 dollars for faded ripped jeans?  How could anyone marry someone like that? Why would anyone let themselves be treated like that?”

 

“All is mystery; but he is a slave who will not struggle to penetrate the dark veil.” — Benjamin Disraeli

 

Mystery after mystery confronts my daily existence.  My best efforts to solve the mysteries of life are worthless in the face of this continuous barrage of mysteries.  While I may solve one or two great mysteries each day, one hundred others seem to pop up to take their place.  Solving my mysteries, I feel like a rat running on the tread mill and staying in the same place.  I apply genius, innovation, creativity, determination, perseverance, fortitude, patience, discipline and still the mysteries of life continue to multiply and accumulate faster than I can dispose of them.

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.”– –Albert Einstein

Do mysteries have some inestimable place in our daily existence?  Are they like vitamins and minerals a necessary part of our daily diet?  Can we live without all the perplexity and confusion that these numerous mysteries provide us?  Or without them, would we gradually wither away and die of sameness and complacency?

I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me mysteries or give me death! John Persico Jr.

Time for Questions:

What are your greatest mysteries?  What makes a mystery for you?  What do you find most curious or interesting about life?  How do you go about solving your own mysteries?  Do you regard mysteries as fun and entertaining or challenging and provocative?  Do you hate mysteries?  Why?

Life is just beginning.

“Every woman that finally figured out her worth, has picked up her suitcases of pride and boarded a flight to freedom, which landed in the valley of change.”  ― Shannon L. Alder

The Death of a Loved One.

I have been asked to write a blog dealing with the death of a loved one. As I have grown older, I have suffered the loss of many a friend and relative. That is a price that we pay for living too long. There are other prices but perhaps none as steep as this one. A friend of mine has joked about my rather cavalier attitude towards death. She has summed up my comments as “Well, we are all going to die sometime.” I realize that my comment and attitude is not very consoling. However, for me it has been a convenient shortcut to simply acknowledging death and moving on. I have also noted that it seems hardly a week has gone by in my last twenty years that I have not witnessed the death of someone who has been a friend or relative. I doubt whether my life is much different than others unless I am a more astute observer of death or unless I am simply less caring.

I read the book “On Death and Dying” many years ago. The stages of grief that were identified as something we all go through upon the loss of a loved one are perhaps interesting and even useful but in some ways are very similar to my comment in that knowing the stages may not be very consoling. It is one thing to have an intellectual knowledge of death but an altogether different thing to have a personal emotional experience of death. For instance, despite all the deaths I have witnessed including my parents many friends and most of my relatives, I have never experienced the death of a life partner. I have gone through a divorce after 16 years but a divorce is not the same as death. True, it encompasses a degree of pain and loss and suffering but I cannot quite equate that with dealing with the loss of a close personal partner that one has lived with for most of their life. I think this would be a very different experience. Whether or not it was expected or unexpected would have some influence on how one dealt with it but maybe less than one would think. The aspect of “expectedness” is another intellectual concept which does not deal with the emotional relevance of death.

One day I was coming in to see Karen, my spouse who loves to sleep late. She is normally a very late sleeper and I am not usually too concerned when she sleeps in. However, it grew quite a bit later than usual and I decided to “peek” in to see how she was doing. When I looked at her prone body, she did not appear to be breathing. I immediately put my head to hers to see if I could detect any breath. I could not. My immediate reaction was to panic and shake her. I started crying. Suddenly she turned over and asked “What was wrong.” I was beyond relief. In that single moment of thinking she had passed away, I had experienced a degree of pain, sorrow, suffering and loss that I have never emotionally experienced before. Karen and I have been living together since 1989 and going together since 1983. I know that someday we will part and on an intellectual basis, I have accepted the inevitability of it. However, I suddenly found that I have not accepted the inevitability on a personal emotional basis and I wonder now if I ever will be able to.

I have to say I do not cry very much but I did that morning. I seldom cry at funerals but I cried at my Dad’s funeral, Sister Giovanni’s funeral and a few friends whose services touched me quite a bit. I have cried every time I have read or seen a production of the “Little Match Girl.” I have cried over the song “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child.” There is something that evokes sorrow in me that has more to do with loneliness than death. I have never seen any scales of loneliness related to the death of a loved one but I might assume that some correlation did exist. I have a 98 year old Aunt and God-Mother who is one of the most positive older people I know. She has lost two of her three sons and her husband of over 60 years. She continues to love life and other people. I asked her three years ago how she keeps such an attitude when she has seen almost all of her friends and loved ones pass away. Her reply was that she simply makes new friends. I am sure she loved her sons and husband as much as the next wife and mother but she simply chooses to move on. I contrast this with a comment that I heard about Thomas Jefferson who felt that at the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence he was no longer a part of this life. The following is a quote by Jefferson on aging:

1815 February 5. (to John Vaughn). “…nothing is more incumbent on the old, than to know when they should get out of the way, and relinquish to younger successors the honors they can no longer earn, and the duties they can no longer perform.”

I see a vast difference between Jefferson’s attitude on aging and my Aunt’s attitude (at least as reflected in this quote.) My Aunt has not gotten out of the way. She still performs duties and tasks to help others. Indeed, that Christmas when I was talking to her, she was leaving after dinner to serve meals to the elderly at an “Old Folks Home.” I jokingly asked her if she was not “Old” and she pensively replied “Why I guess I am, I just never think about it.” She lives in the present and maybe that is the elusive secret of happiness or satisfaction. Osho says that for too many of us the only thing that exists is the Past or Future. We are either so busy trying to recapture memories of “better” times or else we create possible futures that we hope will bring us “better memories” than we had. I have noticed that all of the great religious leaders have stressed the importance of living in the present. Jesus said:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” Matthew 6:25-34

Buddha noted: “Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” I could give writings upon writings that speak of the need to live in the present but would this help you deal with the loss of a close personal partner? Good advice seldom deals with emotions. What then to say to anyone who suffers a loss of someone they have lived with, loved with and known for most of their lives? Perhaps nothing! Maybe this is just the time to be with this person. I would suspect that the feelings of loneliness would be almost overpowering. Is it any wonder so many people seem to die shortly after the death of a long term partner? What can you really say in the face of what this person is going through? Almost anything will sound cold or trite. Just feel for a second what this person must now be feeling.

Most of what we desire in life can summed up as: Fame, fortune or power. We strive to accomplish as much wealth, attention or power as we can. We think these three goals will bring us the happiness and security that we all seek. Deep down inside we are all insecure insignificant beings who feel that somehow money, fame or power will bring us the significance that assuages our sense of loneliness and inadequacy. But it never does. The nearest anything ever comes to doing this for us, short of an emotional and spiritual awakening is the love of a close personal partner.

I would not trade all the fans, all the Facebook friends, all the media glory, all the TV fame, all the money in the world or the highest office in the world for the love of my partner Karen who intimately knows me and cares about me. Karen brings me coffee, bandages my cuts, asks me how I am doing and what is wrong, cuddles with me for no reason, walks with me, consoles me when I am feeling inadequate, supports my stupidity, tolerates my quirks and even my sometimes meanness and poor dispositions. How many of the Rich and Famous have anyone in their lives like I do? Those of you who have or had had a long time personal partner or loved one know what I am talking about. How to lose such a partner and go on with life? I am sorry if I do not know the answer or the secret. Give up or trudge on? Can you make a difference for others? Can you help share the pain and help others deal with the pain you are now feeling? What can you leave the world after your partner leaves you?

If you have had a partner like I have, you have experienced the greatest gift in the world. That this gift will someday be taken away from you is inevitable. That it will cause you great pain and sorrow is perhaps also inevitable. In the end, we come back to the beginning. Life goes on. You were loved and you were needed. There are others who are not loved and who could benefit from your love. There are others who are not needed and who could benefit from being needed by you. The biggest gift we can ever give others is the gift of ourselves. When a gift has been taken away from us perhaps it is time for us to find a way to give a gift of ourselves.

Time for Questions:

What is your experience with death and dying? How have you handled the death of a loved one? How have you helped others who are going through this pain? What will you need when you lose your partner or a close loved one? Can you share any experiences with others who might benefit from your experience?

Life is just beginning.

Gandhi’s Sixth Social Sin: Worship Without Sacrifice

I find it surprising that I am writing about Gandhi and his ideas.  Surprising in that while growing up I was as far from a non-violent philosophy as anyone could be.  Sometimes it seemed like my whole life was violence, anger and fighting.  I joined the military out of high school and hoped to kill as many “commies” as I could.  I continued my violent ways for many years and to be honest I am still no pacifist.  I would not turn the other cheek once if you hit me, never mind 40 times. I am still on the border line about capital punishment.  One day I think Capital Punishment is terribly useless institution made even worse by its ineffectiveness at deterring crime. The next day I read of some horrendous crime that I feel can only be rectified by punishments that go well beyond the heinousness of legal murder.  If Gandhi were my father, he would surely disown me. 

Gandhi is one of those heroic icons who cannot be ignored.  Whether you believe in his ideas or not, you cannot deny that he tried to live according to his beliefs.  More important was that he lived to help others have a better life.  Everything Gandhi did paid evidence to his ideology that humans could be better than they were.  I know many people who think that educators, psychologists, social workers and other “human service” workers are just a waste of taxpayer money.  These same people are continually on the front line for more prisons and more military hardware.  It is evident to such people that humans can not improve and thus the only betterment of humanity lies in more weapons, more police, more military and more guns.  Gandhi would have professed the exact opposite and worked to create a world that was non-violent and where disputes could be resolved by civil discourse.

Years ago, I dropped my belief in God and in religions.  I came to the conclusion that the first did not exist and the second was evil. It seemed to me that much of the misery on the earth came from one or the other of the major religions.  The crusades, the inquisition, the Protestant Catholic wars, the wars against “Pagans” all showed me conclusively that religions did more harm than good. When I joined the military, I would not speak to any clergy and when they came around; I always avoided them.  I was even rude to them at times as I regarded them as hypocrites.  My first wife and I did not practice any religion together but I did bring my daughter around to several different religious venues as I wanted to at least expose her to them.  My second marriage was to a more deeply religious woman who practices her faith regularly by participating in church affairs and helping out at many church functions.  I often kid her about some of these events but I have come to a different point in my life regarding their benefit to the world.  I am somewhat less judgmental about religions and people then I was in my younger days. 

What does this mean for me about religions and how I regard them today?  I can say with sincerity that I still see much evil that comes out of religion, not to mention its ongoing hypocrisy (for instance where were all the churches and ministers when we invaded Iraq both the first and second times?).  However, I also see many good things that they now do, from supporting health care for poor people to championing efforts to feed people both domestically and abroad.  There are many other examples of good things that are done by churches and religious leaders.  So what does Gandhi mean by “Worship without Sacrifice?”  Is Gandhi against organized religion?  Here is the description from the Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence that summarizes Gandhi’s ideas in respect to his Sixth Social Sin: 

“Worship without Sacrifice: One person’s faith is another person’s fantasy because religion has been reduced to meaningless rituals practiced mindlessly. Temples, churches, synagogues, mosques and those entrusted with the duty of interpreting religion to lay people seek to control through fear of hell, damnation, and purgatory. In the name of God they have spawned more hate and violence than any government. True religion is based on spirituality, love, compassion, understanding, and appreciation of each other whatever our beliefs may be — Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Atheists, Agnostics or whatever. Gandhi believed whatever labels we put on our faith; ultimately all of us worship Truth because Truth is God. Superficially we may be very devout believers and make a tremendous public show of our worship, but if that belief, understanding, compassion, love and appreciation is not translated into our lives, prayers will have no meaning. True worship demands sacrifice not just in terms of the number of times a day we say our prayers but in how sincere we are in translating those prayers into life styles. In the 1930’s many Christian and Muslim clergy flocked into India to convert the millions who were oppressed as untouchables. The Christian clergy stood on street corners loudly denouncing Hinduism and proclaiming the virtues of Christianity. Months went by without a single convert accepting the offer. Frustrated, one priest asked Grandfather: After all the oppression and discrimination that the ‘untouchables’ suffer under Hinduism, why is it they do not accept our offer of a better life under Christianity? Grandfather replied: When you stop telling them how good Christianity is and start living it, you will find more converts than you can cope with. These words of wisdom apply to all religions of the world. We want to shout from roof-tops the virtues of our beliefs and not translate them into our lives.”

Gandhi’s words remind me of a comment by Sitting Bull. When asked what he thought of Christianity he replied:   “From what I have read it is an admirable religion, however I do not see any white people practicing it.”  From a Native American perspective, the only thing the conquerors religions offered was a destruction of their habitats and lifestyles.  Witness the coming of the Spanish to the “New World” and the systematic destruction of the culture and religions that already existed by the Spanish military and their allied missionaries.  The genocidal destruction of indigenous peoples throughout the world is full of pompous and pretentious efforts to “convert” and save them from their evil ways.  In reality, religion only provided an expedient excuse to separate them from their lands and gold.  We have in much of the history of organized religion a clear example of what Gandhi meant by Worship without Sacrifice.

Perhaps surprising to some though, true Christianity is firm that Worship without Sacrifice is worthless: 

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and be well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

 

But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.  

 

You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

 

You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?  Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?  You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.  And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness, and he was called God’s friend.  You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.”

                    James 2:14-26- New International Version

Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son for his religious beliefs. This is Worship with Sacrifice.  Going to church on Sunday or simply reading the Bible is Worship without Sacrifice.  When Jesus said that the two most important Commandments were Love God and Love Everyone, he meant you had to practice your faith by helping others who were less fortunate.  This has made it very difficult for most of humankind to be his followers in deed as well as in professed belief.  It is far easier to say “I am a Christian, then to “Sell your belongings and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”  It is much easier to pray, worship, and read the Bible than to actually practice what Jesus was saying.  Think for a minute what it would mean if all would be Christians really practiced the “Love Everyone Commandment?  A short list of the consequences of this would mean:

  • No religious wars
  • No Jihads
  • No terrorism
  • No murders
  • No rapes
  • No assaults
  • NO WARS PERIOD

Can you imagine a world without these problems?  This is the world we would have if everyone practiced their religions by deeds and not just words.  However, this would require sacrifice and too many people are not really willing to sacrifice for their religion, for Jesus or for God.  Sacrifice means giving up something to help others, not giving up something to gain something for you.  Those who blow up their bodies to attain paradise with 40 vestal virgins are not sacrificing for others; they are simply trying to take a shortcut to attain what other greedy people already have.  Any religion that terrorizes others in the name of “whoever” or “whatever” is evil regardless of what it calls itself.  This raises the question that might be phased as “What is the purpose of religion.”  Searching the web it is easy to find that many have condemned organized religion because of the atrocities associated with it. Great thinkers from Plato to Thomas Jefferson to Bertrand Russell have had little good to say about religions.  However, I like the following comment from WaheguruNet regarding what positive role religion could and indeed should play in society:

“Religion has and continues to impact almost every aspect of human civilization in both positive and negative ways. The great spiritual masters from all traditions have taught that we need to adopt and develop higher qualities of love, mercy, generosity, kindness and so on. These higher qualities are a natural byproduct of developing a deeper connection with our spiritual nature and so in this respect religion can be thought of as a vehicle to support our spiritual development and our re-connection with divinity.  In this way, human beings will be better at working together to create a better and more harmonious world.”

You will notice that in this purpose there is nothing mentioned about doom and destruction  or about going to hell and suffering for the rest of your life or about your neighbor who is a hypocrite and unlike you is destined for fire and brimstone.  The purpose of religion is to help us become better people. To help us find our connection to our inner spirit and to help guide us in living a more just and moral life.  This purpose must be followed by actions and deeds as well as pious readings and professed beliefs. There is no room Gandhi’s religion or Jesus’s religion for bigotry, discrimination, prejudice, hatred, intolerance and destruction of others or their belief systems.   

Time for Questions:

What can we do to practice good deeds as well as good thoughts? What sacrifices are you willing to make to help others?  Are we making a true sacrifice by telling others how hard we worked and that they can be what we are if they only try?  Should we simply tell others to pull themselves up by their boot straps?  Are all people really created equal in the sense that everyone has an equal chance at health and happiness?  Can we help make it so by sharing what we have with others?  

Life is just beginning.

 

 

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