The Sound the Universe Makes
By: Lori Heine
While I write, I like to listen to YouTube. My tastes are quite eclectic, including everything from Norwegian folk tunes to the Ragtime of Scott Joplin. One evening, hoping to transition into relax-mode, I tried something new: a nine-minute recording of the Tibetan "Om" chant. It should have been relaxing, right? I hate to confess that I'm so un-enlightened, but to this Christian-from-the-cradle, it was about as relaxing as an air raid siren.
What is wrong with me? Is not "om" generally understood, by those who practice this devotion, to be the very sound the universe makes? I am certainly a part of that universe. Should I not enjoy listening to its voice?
I appreciate the fact that those who adhere to the belief that "om" is, indeed, the universe's most basic utterance are content to let me feel the way I do when I hear this chant. It has one effect on them and quite another on me. I'm fairly sure none of them would react with hostility if I shared my impression with them, and that they are uninterested in passing any laws mandating that I live according to their moral code. Though our ethical principles are very similar, our dietary practices differ greatly. They simply live and let live, and I am happy to do the same.
Human beings have always had difficulty discerning where we leave off and God begins. But the confusion is all on our side. God has no problem understanding when our limitations become too much for us. An atmosphere of religious freedom for all keeps us from overreaching and - however unintentionally - doing others harm.
Right-Wing, theocratic preachers often rant that "liberal" Christians blur the distinction between human beings and God. "They shall be as gods," these postmodern Billy Sundays thunder in their condemnatory fervor. The problem is that those on the religious Right do this more often than anybody else. The difference is that they are far too dishonest to admit it, which makes their tendency to do it far more dangerous.
We are not God. And God is not us. It was precisely this very important insight that led the founders of the United States to insist that Church and State remain separate. One new humanity can never be brought about as the result of force. It can't be made to happen because one arrogant and idolatrous faction is able to seize ahold of enough power to institute it by violence.
We will never be one with our brothers and sisters as long as we use government to mandate our beliefs. Adding an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would violate four existing amendments - as the Federal Marriage Amendment would surely do - would make the supreme law of our land contradict itself, thereby leading to its eventual destruction. I suppose the amendment's supporters assume the majoritarian view that only the most popular beliefs about "homosexuality" matter, but given the embattled history of his faith, this is certainly an odd position for a Mormon presidential candidate to take. And at the rate Evangelical and conservative Catholic Christians are alienating just about everybody else, they may not rest assured that they will long remain the majority, either. It's a dangerous business, passing "Christian" legislation that blatantly disregards Christ's Golden Rule.
It is tempting to believe that some powerful figure with a wand can come along, larger than life, and defeat our enemies. We are treated, by aspirants to such power, as if we are children who will believe any pretty fairy tale they tell us. But their reasoning flies in the face of everything thousands of years have taught us about human nature. All coercion does is turn others into unwilling subjects - and eventually into even worse enemies. Which our super-magicians then tell us they can subdue - if we surrender to them even more of our power.
Unity between people can come about only when they are in agreement. They must exist in harmony, and harmony must be voluntary. We are constantly being told that we can deal with our antagonists the same way they deal with us, but that when we do it, it's different. But they feel about it exactly the same way we do when we're treated like that. And they, too, are told that as long as they're the ones dishing it out instead of taking it, it's "different."
Small wonder we now live in such an angry society. How much better might it be if those of us who believe that Christian morality matters put it into practice? Jesus is not recorded as having said a word about "homosexuality." But He did tell us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. What if more of His followers - regardless of our differences - actually listened?
Persuasion is predicated on mutual respect, coercion on a lack of it. Between the two, there is a world of difference. We understand that difference very well when we're on the receiving end of it. Even God "Himself" has chosen, out of respect for the individual dignity and free will of "His" human creatures, to persuade instead of coerce. Who are mere human beings to place themselves above God - as they surely do when they presume the right to push others around?
Those on the Religious Right seem to think God calls them on the big red phone and dictates every thought to them. It is exactly this sort of arrogance upon which the founders of the United States and framers of its Constitution sought to keep in check. My church blesses same-sex unions, as do a growing number of others. Clearly those who would obliterate the non-establishment clause in the First Amendment think their dwindling-majority opinion must be set in stone before it is too late.
I write on this topic often simply because it is an urgent one. An entire major political party has made a litmus test for loyalty that the Constitution must be altered - essentially made to contradict itself - in a way that nullifies the non-establishment clause and violates three other amendments besides. That would be an historic change, and it is a serious matter. Even those who belong to the Republican Party, yet disagree with what the social Right is trying to do, must stand up and speak out against this folly while there is yet time. If they remain silent and passive, very soon it may be too late.
People have long dreamed the dream of a New Humanity, but they have never yet achieved it. We didn't make ourselves, and we cannot refigure human society because a few bullies who think they're super-smart gain the power to tyrannize the rest of us. I know Christians who would be outraged at the idea that some people know what sound the universe makes. "What arrogance!" they would protest. Yet these same Christians presume they know the Mind of God well enough to impose "God's will" on everyone else.
What too many Christian conservatives still fail to understand is that it is not in their best interest to remove the protection of others' religious freedom. No group can comfortably assume that it will gain a majority of adherents, or that - however large, loud and powerful it may be at the moment - it will remain in the majority forever. What seems like a good idea now may prove to have disastrous consequences farther down the road. Those who are telling anti-gay Christians it's a good idea to change the Constitution, for example, so it no longer protects those of whom they disapprove are not telling them the truth: that they are setting up their own faction for potential future persecution. That so many of them blithely believe the lie - that they can somehow hold onto more power over others than God ever meant any group of humans to wield over another - can only be attributed to unfathomable ignorance.
To quote Yul Brynner as the King of Siam, "It is a puzzlement." The king was pretty sure he knew the sound the universe made. He was a proud man. But he was also a responsible ruler, so he was humble enough, in the end, to accept that he didn't know everything.
We are, each of us, imperfect. None of us is omniscient, which is why it's such a good thing each human being is as far from omnipotent as possible. We do need each other to make humanity whole. Only when each and every part of it is honored can that whole be complete. And only when humanity is complete can we truly honor the God who made us.
Lori Heine serves on Whosoever's board of directors. She maintains a blog called Born on 911 and also contributes to the Whosoever News Blog.
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