Mark Twain is quoted as having said, “When you find yourself in the majority, it’s time to rethink your position.” Increasingly, I’m wondering if he wasn’t right on the money. Jesus reportedly alluded to the same thing in a different way. “Wide is the road to destruction,” he said, and “narrow the way to life.” It doesn’t take much to figure out which road will accommodate the majority and which won’t, and sometimes that makes me nervous. Jesus himself was clearly in the minority—I dare say that it was majority opinion that resulted in his death.
Because of that, I’ve always thought the Achilles heel of democracy, and equally so of republics allegedly based on democratic principles, is that there is no guarantee that the “majority” is made up of the wisest or most emotionally mature folks among us, much less the most moral. Just because the group of people yelling about something happens to be larger in number doesn’t automatically make them wrong, but it certainly doesn’t make them right, either. We’ve got plenty of examples of that in history—laws that flew in the face of the words of the Declaration of Independence about our being endowed by the Creator with certain inalienable rights. We all know that even the majority of the founding “fathers” of our country—those property-owning, Anglo-Saxon, XY-chromosome-bearing fellows—weren’t thinking of people like me, a woman, or the ancestors of Martin or Barack, when allusions to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness were made.
I think—I hope—that most of us know they were wrong about that.
But I think they were right about a lot of things, and one of them was the separation of church and state. For the sake of repetition, that was church, not God, a distinction few of those so fired up about the concept seem to make.
Church is a man-made thing, forever limited in its ability to define universal truth and morality because humans are forever limited in our perspectives, our experiences, our conclusions, our opinions. A white woman born in the South in the 1950’s, though I may live to be 100 years old, I will never completely understand what it is like to be black or Asian. I will never completely understand what it is like to be male. I will never know what my experiences might have taught me if I had been born on Long Island, much less in Pakistan, or Indonesia, or South Africa. Nor will you ever completely understand what it is like to look through my eyes, if you aren’t female or Caucasian or Southern, and weren’t an adolescent during the turbulent 1960s. And you won’t, even if you are female and Caucasian and Southern and born in 1957, because you are not and will never be…me.
Accepting that, our only recourse is to hold the uniqueness of every “other” in honor, and listen to each other, seeking those characteristics, those traits, those rights that belong to each of us, all of us. Among those is the freedom to worship as we choose, so long as our own brand of “churchianity” does not impede the rights of others to worship as they choose, no matter how wrong we, in our self-assigned omniscience, think they are.
There’s no doubt—the ideal of American citizenship is just that. An ideal. It requires a certain emotional maturity, a recognition that just as I am unique and special, so are you, and your rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (however you define it) are just as important as mine.
Perhaps I’m crazy, but I would swear that that’s what Jesus was trying to tell us, too.