Who has claim to values of justice, mercy, humility and love?

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, December 4, 2014

“Justice, mercy, humility and love are …core values, not just of religion, but of humanity.” – Marlis McDouall

One of our Cochrane coffee companions disagrees with a statement I made two weeks ago in my column on values.

With reference to whether religion has any place in public life, I had said: “The lived-out religious values of justice, mercy, humility and love dare not be kept locked up behind church and synagogue doors.”

Marlis McDouall responded:

JUSTICE, mercy, humility and love are not just religious values, they are not owned by religious institutions, just as the opposite of these values are not. These values are core values, not just of religion, but of humanity, and these will remain intact, just as the opposite of these will remain also.

Human nature can take us to soaring heights or dark and reprehensible lows. As humans we respond to the forces and energies of the universe every day. If one wishes to call what moves us to great emotions “God,” I can accept that.

I do question, however, that God loves or cares. Rather, I believe, Its power is neutral. The immense neutral forces of the universe with its million shades of light and darkness will, I believe, respond to what we, as individuals, invest in it. Here we can certainly find the values of justice, mercy, humility and love, but within the same amazing entity, we can also find the exact opposite. The choice is ours alone. . . .

As humans we have the ability to furnish our earthly home with justice, mercy, humility and love, and even without religion, some of us will choose to live by those values, for ultimately it ensures our survival.

Yet, others will choose to live by greed, hate and prejudice. The majority probably live by a mixture of these values, because many of us are not conscious enough to reflect on our actions.

Nevertheless, in spite of not being religious . . . I will never lose the ability to marvel at the beauty of a sunset or the magnificence of a bird in flight. And I will never love and respect those I care about with anything less than complete passion.

—Marlis McDouall, Cochrane

I REPLIED to Marlis explaining why I see these values of justice, mercy, humility and love as “religious values.” I offered the example of going to a gym.

Perhaps not all people need to work out in a gym to be physically fit, I said, but shall I tell those who do work out in the gym, “Keep your physical fitness in the gym, and don’t bring it into your public life”?

Likewise, if one of the ways a person keeps spiritually/soulishly fit is to attend church, shall I therefore say, “Keep your spiritual fitness in the church”?

No, just as the physically fit person would be out of line to parade barbells, medicine balls, etc., in the world outside the gym, so too it could be argued that a person is out of line to parade their in-church disciplines (prayers, rituals, etc.) out into the everyday world.

The public-life evidence that a person works out in the gym is their physical fitness in their day-to-day activities; so too, the public-life evidence that a person “works out” in a place of worship is their inner spiritual stamina and passion for life in their day-to-day encounters with their family, neighbours, and life’s trials and struggles.

More than that, as a believer in the resurrection of Christ, I understand that the grave is not the end of our life’s story. Indeed, I understand as a Christian that we can dare to practice a lifestyle of justice, mercy, humility and love without fear of the consequences – even if those consequences include being killed for our convictions.

The fact that such a lifestyle is religiously informed should not disqualify it from being lived out in public life. As the second century Christian Saint Irenaeus so well put it: “The glory of God is Man fully alive.”

On this point, Marlis, I think you and I are in agreement: life in this world is about living up to the high calling of our full humanity, a calling that, to be truly fulfilled, must draw from the core values of justice, mercy, humility and love – and, I would add, forgiveness.

From my perspective, living out our full humanity is nothing less than embracing the privilege that is ours to be images – and imagers – of God. And to aid me in achieving that, I need the spiritual workout I get at church to remind me what I am. And I need the support I get from my fellow believers who also work out spiritually within the church.

And yes, I also stay spiritually fit for life’s journey through the mentorship of non-religious folks like you, Marlis. Thanks for being there for me.


© 2014 Warren Harbeck

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