Surely, in 2020 and with the turmoil we are witnessing on the streets, in Washington, in the economic sphere, and even among professional athletes, we are living in a time of values confusion. We are challenged, as it were, to evaluate not only our personal and political values, our religious beliefs, but the idea of our common humanity.
Upon examination, I would suggest “humanity” is a moral concept and not only a reference to our physical nature. Thus, “humanity” can be best defined as “humanity as community.” Lying on the blurred edges of this thought and dangling precipitously within our moral consciousness and with personal and collective sensitivity are the often ignored and misrepresented values that bind each of us as a moral community. These values — secular and sacred — represent our moral dispositions or the lack thereof, including our collective and personal ethical ideals and visions.
Yet, as we sit and ponder and as the present fades into the void of the past, many remain insulated within their personal spheres of social media, religious convictions, and political affiliations ambivalent about their nation’s future and reluctant to converse with others about ethical norms and the issues such norms unearth. Not wanting to offend or being questioned, some have kept their opinions quietly within acquiescing to the popular notion that ethics and truth are personally relative and privately their own.
The moral culture of the United States (of the world) is obviously pluralistic and situationally relative, making opening a dialogue about ethics and morals a difficult road to traverse. Yet, yielding to our normative imaginations and moral consciousness, a discussion of moral value is an avenue from which we should not shrink.
Ours is a time of scientific rationalism, of mis-information, fake-news, and of facts being sifted through our religious and political commitments. Our heritage — whatever it is — pulls us apart, not realizing that we are creatures of culture and are creating culture anew every day. We find it difficult to think about our culture objectively for the simple reason that we think with it.
Within each of us are fertile moral possibilities roaming freely within the social connections definitive of our lives and asking that we extend our moral conversations and our civility to a much wider audience than just our immediate social or political group or just to ourselves. This is something local, state, and national politicians need to understand. It would be of benefit if evangelical church leaders could also grasp this knowledge understanding that it lies at the foundation of the Golden Rule.
Understanding “humanity as community” is thinking in terms of relationships. This understanding rests at the core of moral knowledge and moral behavior. We are certainly aware, given the political and social climate of 2020, that human life is itself unpredictable, built on the habits and cultural values representing cultural diversity spread unevenly among us.
Being moral asks that we work to overcome our prejudices and widen our view of others. Social isolation and social fragmentation are destructive. Feelings of national, gender, racial, political, or religious exceptionalism more often than not negate our moral vision. Recognizing “humanity” as a moral community, we should make an effort to communicate widely and across barriers, and then come together in moral unification.
Under this umbrella we often fluctuate, seeking clarity and the courage to stand firmly recognizing the dignity and moral significance of others, all others. When social cohesion and civility are eroded, trust and social isolation are often the results. Extending our moral understanding to others doesn’t mean giving up what we believe is of value, but requires collaboration, seeking a common understanding that unites rather than divides, and viewing others, like ourselves, as humanly significant. In itself, moral awareness is foundational, a subjective gathering of experience and understandings the purpose of which is to lift the horizon of our moral knowledge and behavior.
Joseph P. Hester
(This letter was edited for space)
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