Monday, January 26, 2009
I immediately noted the shout-out to the “non-believers” in President Obama’s inauguration address. The label followed a recitation of the worlds major religions, “Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus”. If I had not picked up on it, journalists and pundits were quick to point it out to me. In most of the commentaries I read, the writer was happy that the "non-believers" have finally been recognized.
I realize he used the term to include US citizens who were not members of the world religions cited. That would be me. But this artificial designation used to represent a large portion of the population not only doesn’t accurately reflect the beliefs of the members of the group, (not mine, anyway) it attempts to lump disparate philosophies as well as spiritual, emotional and faithful beliefs into one group that are all collectively addressed as “non-believers”. I am happy that this very substantial block of the US population, normally ignored in discussions of religious affiliations, was included in the address. But, I would prefer a different moniker than “non-believer.”
I dislike the term, and I would venture to guess most people lumped together under this label dislike it as well, because it so inaccurately reflects our human condition. I can’t speak for all of us, but I can say that while I am not a subscriber to organized religious beliefs, I am most definitely not a non-believer. While certain of my beliefs may differ from traditional Judeo-Christian “values”, they are based on a recognition that there is more to this world than what meets the eye or what can be explained away with pure logic. They are beliefs I hold dear and do not want to see dismissed, either intentionally or by poor word choice.
I try and live by my core set of beliefs every day, much like a Christian or a Hindu. These form the foundation of my life and the time I spend on earth. Some of them are universal, found in every major religion. Others are beliefs that aren’t expressed as readily, but I feel sure are not unique to me. The list is far too long to recite in this space, but I can share a few of the most central themes.
1. I believe that I should learn something new every day. Living a day without increasing my knowledge, is a waste of a day.
2. I believe that I should be genuinely kind or genuinely sympathetic to at least one person in need or distress, every day. Unfortunately, I find this far harder to achieve than my first belief. But I try.
3. I believe that I should try and refrain from damaging this planet that has been gracious enough to allow me to use it for a short time.
4. I believe it is not the quantity of friends or loved ones you can claim, it is the quality that counts.
5. I believe that those with fewer resources and abilities to protect themselves deserve my protection. This extends to children, the elderly and the infirm, the mentally or physically disabled, every kind of animal on earth, (except certain insects) and most plant life.
6. I believe you reap what you sow.
7. I believe that secrecy and confidentiality are grossly overrated, unnecessary ninety percent of the time and successfully maintained almost never.
8. I believe that most people are disarmed by, and ill-equipped to deal with, honesty in others. Nothing is more likely to set someone off-balance than sharing an honest thought or an honest emotion, except perhaps a sincere apology.
9. I believe that there is so much actual violence in this world, that creating artificial violence, or worse yet allowing violent activities for voyeuristic enjoyment is an abomination. Graphically violent movies, TV shows and video games demean and lesson the impact of the real violence people all over the world face daily.
10. I believe that sex, in any way, shape or form is one of the most healthy and spiritual activities in which a person can indulge. I believe that no sexual relationship between consenting partners is ugly or undesirable. I believe that the physical and mental release obtained from a sexual act is as close to nirvana as we mere mortals will ever obtain and we should never attempt to avoid it. I believe that sharing this intimacy with another person is always desirable, but the lack of a partner should never be a deterrent.
11. I believe that true, deep and abiding love doesn’t happen all that often. And I believe the world can be a cold and lonely place. So if two people are lucky enough to stumble on that passion they should embrace and commit their lives to it. The act of loving a partner is far more important than that partner’s gender, sexual preference, race, nationality or religion.
12. I believe that human beings have the capacity to save their species, although I see very little evidence that we will do so. But I am always willing to be convinced otherwise.
So, while I applaud President Obama’s attempt at inclusivity, I would be very happy if whomever it is that thinks up catchy jargon and new ways to say old ideas would come up with a more accurate descriptor of my inclusive group. I think we deserve better.