The Greatest Sin is Prejudice

For Christians specifically but referenced similarly in virtually every religion, there are two Great Commandments in the New Testament. One is about loving your God and the other is about loving others. Insofar as they instruct humans, they are wise instructions. Written in Matthew some time before 99AD, the quote is:

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

The mariner has pondered this quote ever since he was a young boy. There was something too neat, too overarching to be applicable to reality. It seemed too much like a plug-in. In recent decades, perhaps as long as a century, reality has pressed us with questions that seem not targeted on the wellbeing of humans but nevertheless incessantly grow more urgent.

The stories that supported the early Western religions, namely, Islam, Judaism, Christianity, and also Buddhism, are not capable of supporting today’s boundaries of knowledge. The stories do not reconcile the reality or the confrontation that 21st century humans face. Today’s Christian advocates, clinging to the old beliefs, look in disdain at the “non-believers.” They call them “secularists.” Indeed the era of change is upon us. So many scientific breakthroughs; so many industries and conveniences. Today, right now, medicine can change our genetic code to cure vulnerabilities. “Who,” the secularists ask, “needs Adam, Eve, Cain, Able, magic swords, brothers surviving in a fiery oven or a flying Son of God?”

No longer do the myths from two thousand years ago hold relevance. There was a time early in the last century when apologists attempted to validate the myths by reinterpreting them as figures of speech or story telling devices not intended to be literal. Still, the theology was laid bare without meaning.

That the church liturgy has lost much of its sacredness is only one cause of dwindling attendance at religious institutions. Perhaps more important is that modern society has not begun to replace the mythic values that underlie faith and commitment. Modern society may not be able to accomplish a new value structure for humanity for some time. The entire planet is at a crossroads. Frontiers of science and technology have ripped through the time lines that would have helped us transition across eras; we are thrust unprepared into an alien society. The tearing of cultural meaning can be seen in politics, where values are jumbled if not missing altogether. In some ways we have met the devil and he is us. We wander in rudderless ignorance as we destroy Earth’s environment and fail to repair the prejudices that lead to war, gluttony, and ecological destruction.

There is no way to escape prejudicial attitudes without a myth greater than ourselves – larger than our alien computer culture. Without a sanctified value that is permanently valued more than any earthly phenomenon, we will drift into extinction leaving behind a planet covered in human trash – unable to present a transcendent achievement for the path of evolution.

Run all religious faiths together through a homogenizing process and two principles are common: love and giving. Each of these principles, in their purity, prevents prejudice; each prevents judgment; each promotes holistic unity on the scale of the universe.

With introspection, one realizes that love and giving are rich in mythic origin. Reorganizing our understanding of evolution, where does love and giving fit in? In evolutionary terms, only recently has empathy emerged in mammals. Empathy for nursing and raising suckled young was a great leap forward in brain awareness. We often think of man’s development of abstract problem solving as the core mark of progress in evolution but the simple ability to empathize permits family awareness, sharing, and cultural understanding. Without communal empathy, humanity’s great achievements could not have been accomplished.

Using empathy as the measure of evolution’s key objective suggests there may be a future in human evolution for something similar to the “single soul” element of pantheism: “God” is the universe. Therefore, each human is a part of God. Perhaps the Islamic definition of soul as an interactive awareness between all living things including plants is the goal. Including similar ideas across philosophy implies indirectly that empathy may be spread across more than the mammalian branch of creation.

Has religion, with its empathetic two great commandments, been struggling to correct the misconception that intellectual problem solving and invention are the primary goal of evolution? Is the new myth for love and giving derived from the universe itself? Is oneness through empathy with all things the path to eventual transformation?

Rome captured the western world and dictated from that time the focus of the church, government, cultural progress and economics. Has the west been too concerned with the physical, combative models learned from the Romans? Is it time to look to another emphasis to guide us?

Let’s practice empathy. It may be more transformative than we think.

Ancient Mariner


3 thoughts on “The Greatest Sin is Prejudice

  1. I was recently reminded that “everyone has a story so consider that before you judge” I’m paraphrasing, but your charge to practice empathy is the same message. Thank you for making the theological secular.

  2. I’ve been lurking in the shadows of your blog since February. I related to this one enough to finally chime in and show my existence…

    I’ve never been able to trace back as to exactly when my skepticism of God began to develop. The world I grew up in taught me of Science, Mathematics, and Provability. I mean no shame to my parents but Religion was an occasional Sunday trip to see my Grandfather, listen to his sermon, and hope we stop somewhere delicious on the way home. My time in church as a youth seemed to serve the exact opposite of its purpose. To this day, I still do not believe in a God. I don’t say or give prayer on any occasion. I don’t talk to a Supreme Being of any kind. Although, I do talk to myself quite often.

    As I have grown older, and I’m still a young man of 34 years, I have developed a much healthier ability to feel empathy for other humans and creatures of our planet. At times it can be very overwhelming; its definitely not an emotional state that I witnessed in my youth and earlier adulthood. Sometimes I wish I could turn it off but I am glad I cannot. As time goes on, I feel that it makes me a better person. I feel better about myself and I feel like I am more in touch with the universe and humanity. I have grown mentally to believe in the possibility of a Greater Force within the universe. Even now, I lack the ability to put it in words. Which is one of many contributing factors as to why I believe Humans began their writings of a “God” in the first place… our inability to understand this Greater Force. However, without witnessing a true miracle, I don’t believe I will ever truly have faith in a Supreme Being or Deity.

    … and the whole point of coming out of the shadows in the first place. Even though Religion has not (yet) found it’s way into my life. I do believe in Love and Giving; that the greatest happiness comes from helping others in need; that our responsibility as Humans is to take care of our planet so that it is available and fruitful for those that come behind us.

    I’m trying like heck not to cross this over into politics so… I’m going to bail out with this quote, admitting defeat on that front:

    “Let your heart feel for the afflictions and distress of everyone, and let your hand give in proportion to your purse.” -George Washington

  3. Greetings Fred – Glad to have you aboard!
    Your plight is a universal one. To keep the mariner’s reply short, he suggests you do some reading about how myths are used to explain things we don’t understand. Every individual has dozens of small beliefs about why reality is the way it is. An obvious myth is believing that God can manipulate our lives; for example, the football player that makes a touchdown believes that God had a direct hand in his achievement. He is free to believe that, and have faith that God will shape his life. This cannot be proved or disproved so who is to say?
    The important thing is to have a core set of beliefs that help explain your reality. A characteristic of myths is that they are beyond human manipulation.
    For some immediate insight, the mariner refers you to works by Joseph Campbell, a premier writer on myth and its relationship to human understanding. See:

    Ancient Mariner

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