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Religious Tolerance logo

An essay by Contributing Editor Susan Humphreys

"All Means ALL, Not Some:"
Helping people thrive, not just survive.

All means all 1

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I read with interest Daniel Schultz’s article on the Religion Dispatches website "The New Religious Left: A Marketing Dream Or Political Reality?" on 2017-JUN-16. 2

He referred to a article in the New York Times by Laurie Goodstein on 2017-JUN-10 titled: "Religious Liberals Sat Out of Politics for 40 Years. Now They Want in the Game." 3 So I read that full piece as well.

It seems to me the problem that the Religious Left is having is they haven’t really decided what it is they stand for. They just seem to know what they are standing against. They are trying to build a coalition in the center, by being all things to, and trying to please, all people. This presents problems for them because sooner or later the rights of some will conflict with the rights of others and they have to have some principles to guide them in dealing with that situation. I think the Left has realized that their silence was complicity and it is time to stand up for something. However, they just haven’t yet figured out what that something is, and where to draw the line!

I think this was part of Hillary Clinton’s message problem as well. She never outlined her vision for this country, something that could inspire people, something they could buy into. Her argument was that she was the best choice. Others felt they were being forced to choose between the least worst candidates. That was not a very inspirational message.

In his article, Schultz says:

"... there doesn’t seem to be a holistic understanding in the religious left movement overall that women’s concerns are queer concerns are African-American and Hispanic concerns are economic concerns are environmental concerns."

This is a problem that the Black Lives Matter movement has, and actually brought on a backlash of "All lives matter" ... and this brought on a stalemate.

Bernie Sanders is traveling around the country trying to rally Democrats. He also hasn’t outlined inspirational principles that his supporters can grasp onto and rally around. So this is a problem with the Secular Left as well as with the Religious Left.

Schultz also says a bit later in his piece that the Religious Left:

"... doesn’t take the concerns of secular citizens seriously enough, and is at times openly contemptuous of them."

As an Atheist, it raises my hackles when I hear someone talk about concern for justice, for those in need, as being "Christian values". That implies to me that they believe they are values held ONLY by Christians, or that were somehow created by Christians, or that only by becoming a Christian can a person hold those same values. Many religious folk don’t realize their language drives Atheists, Agnostics, and others away from coalitions with Christians.

Concerns for equal rights and justice for ALL people, and concerns for helping those who are less fortunate are UNIVERSAL values, held by religious folk from ALL faith traditions and non-religious folks since the dawn of human history. They are values hard wired into our genetic code, as part of our human DNA!

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As long as each group concentrates on their personal problems and sees them as being more important than all other group’s problems, viable coalitions will never be built. In this very diverse United States, the ONLY way to solve our problems is to develop a coalition that reaches across religious lines AND across secular lines. It is only with the recognition that we are ALL in this together, and that a "house divided against its self cannot stand" that we can find the ways to make this world a better place for ALL of us .

To do this, our society needs a basic set of principles that  can inspire us to reach for new heights and  guide the decisions we make when conflicts between competing self-interests arise.

The U.S. founding fathers tried to give the country that basic set of inspirational principles:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, they are endowed with certain inalienable rights, among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

Does "all men" really mean all human beings or just some human beings? To me "all men" means ALL human beings without regard to race, ethnicity, country of origin, immigration status, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, wealth, social status, age, and level of educational attainment.

To be blunt: as a nation we have frequently failed to live up to this basic principle. We must accept that there will always be some in our society that will never accept the principle that "all means ALL, not some." We can’t force them to become more tolerant, respectful, and inclusive. We can however speak up, say NO to hate speech and bullying, and demonstrate to them with our own speech and behavior the principles that we live by.

If Universal Health Care is something that we feel is desirable for the health of our nation, then the law setting up that system must be applied evenly to religious and non-religious people, groups, and businesses. If we have separate laws for one person or group than we are not abiding by the principle that all are created equal with the same inalienable rights.

The same goes with gay marriage. IF marriage is an institution we wish to promote in our society than it must be applied equally to all couples -- same sex, bisexual, heterosexual, interracial, and interfaith.

"All means ALL not some." This is the first principle that the Religious Left needs to affirm IF they want to build a coalition to solve our nation’s problems.

What does the phrase "inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" mean? As a nation we have been arguing about the meaning of these words since they were written.

Inalienable means they are part of the package, they can’t be separated from the human. They are not a gift that can be taken away at the whim of the next administration.

These rights include the right to make one’s own health and reproductive choices, the right to have access to the basic necessities of our modern lives (food, shelter, clothing, health care, education, job opportunities, transportation, communications, clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, a safe food and drug supply, safe products for our use, a healthy planet to live on), and the right to follow the religion of one’s choice or to not follow any organized religion.

To me this inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness means the "right to thrive." Thrive means to prosper, to grow strong and healthy. All of those things I mentioned in the above paragraph are necessary for a person to thrive, not just survive.

Could a coalition be built around these principles:

All means ALL not some, and

All are endowed with the inalienable right to thrive, not just survive?

If these are principles chosen for a coalition there will be no "Ifs, Ands or Buts". I wrote an essay for this website with that title a few years ago. If a principle is to be used as our guide post we can’t have double standards, special laws, or exceptions to laws that apply to one group that don’t apply to other groups. The principle must be applied evenly, justly, for everyone, for every situation.

This doesn’t mean that life, our society will become a free for all. There must be the recognition that in a diverse society, the rights of some MUST be restricted to protect the rights of others.

There is a good article on the Alternet website by Jeremy Sherman about the balancing act between constraint and freedom: "The Deep Roots of Left vs. Right." 4 It was first published in Psychology Today.

The Sages of Eastern religious/philosophical traditions have taught us that true power comes from self-control, self-restraint, self-discipline. This is the paradox of Freedom: Freedom without Constraint isn’t really free because we become slaves to our baser instincts, fears and selfish desires.

It is best when people voluntarily restrain themselves. When they won’t and they try to force others to live by their rules as the Little Sisters of the Poor and the Hobby Lobby folks have done with their demands to have the right to restrict health care plans for their employees to plans that don’t offer birth control or abortions, society must step in and restrain them in order to preserve the rights of the many.

Society has always struggled with the dilemma of what to do when the rights and freedoms of one interfere with the rights and freedoms of another or others. There are some that will always demand special rights for themselves that they aren’t willing to grant to others.

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For the Christian, doesn't this concept of thriving include: encouraging people to live up to their "God-given potential;" becoming more like Jesus; finding the essence of "God" and Jesus within them? Isn’t this something that people from all Christian denominations can agree to? Yet, I think this has been lost over the doctrinal disputes over salvation and morality and whose beliefs represent the TRUTH, the TRUE Christianity, and whose Beliefs are lies, the work of the Devil.

I know that there will be some that insist that Christians are justified by Faith alone, NOT by good works. This is a fundamental tenet of Martin Luther's belief system. To see his arguments for yourself, you can read a letter he wrote to Pope Leo X outlining his beliefs. 5

Luther does remind the Pope that "by their fruits you will know them." from Matthew 7: 15. The full passage in the New Revised Standard Version says,

"Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing  but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits ..."

I would add "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing and sometimes in the clothing of the shepherd!"

IF Martin Luther is right in his thinking that having Faith in Jesus and God transforms the man and he can not sin, he can do no wrong, because he will become (almost) as holy as Jesus and God,

and

IF Luther is right that "by their fruits you will know them"

then there are many that claim to be Christians that really aren’t because by their fruits -- their day to day words and actions -- show us they haven’t been transformed.

So, encouraging people to show the world they have been transformed by their day to day words and actions (i.e. how they treat their fellow humans, other living things—plants, animals, our planet, and how they treat themselves) and can no longer sin, can no longer do any wrong is in their best interest!

For people of other faith traditions, isn’t encouraging their followers to become the best that they can be also part of their most fundamental principles?

For the Humanist -- whether secular or religious -- don’t they believe that humans are the measure of all things. So, encouraging people to strive to be their best rather than their worst is in their interest as well.

For the Atheist the only quibble we have with the others is:

  • whether our potential and basic rights come from "God" who we don’t believe exists or about whom we have no knowledge, or

  • whether humans are the ultimate measure of all things. Many Atheists recognize that humans are just one among equals in the species department.

Striving to become the best that we can be -- to thrive -- is what life is all about.

Can these principles "All means All not some" and "All are endowed with the inalienable right to thrive not just survive" be the principles about which a coalition can be built?

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Some related essays on this web site that may interest you:

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Image is by Gerd Altmann and is in the public domain. It was downloaded from Pixabay.
  2. ," Religion Dispatches, 2017-JUN-16, at: http://religiondispatches.org/
  3. Laurie Goodstein, "Religious Liberals Sat Out of Politics for 40 Years. Now They Want in the Game," New York Times, June 10, 2017, at: https://www.nytimes.com/
  4. Jeremy Sherman, "The Deep Roots of Left vs. Right," Alternet, 2017-JUN-09, at: http://www.alternet.org/
  5. Martin Luther, ""On the Freedom of a Christian," Fordham University, posted on 1998-OCT, at: http://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/

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Author: Susan Humphreys
Originally posted on: 2017-OCT-13
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