My understanding of human experience from a Judeo-Christian world view.
Author: Timothy K. Lent
I am an undergraduate Lecturer in the greater Philadelphia area on ethics, religious studies, medical ethics and theology and the life and writings of Viktor Frankl. I am also looking for full-time employment at a university or college, teaching in a religious studies or theology department.
There are all kinds of courageous men and women who risk their lives on the battlefield or in other kinds of service to the community, such as police officers, firefighters; and those who work for the FBI and CIA. Those who sacrifice their lives for their country or another human being display the utmost form of courage. I would like to discuss other kinds of courage, which, perhaps, are not as obvious as the ones I have mentioned.
I propose that if a person cannot overcome a problem by changing it, then enduring it should be seen as an act of courage. Enduring chronic conditions or diseases, such as asthma, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis, are acts of courage. A person who has lost the use of his or her arms and legs, and has to endure those conditions for the remainder of his or her life, is living courageously.
There are many other examples of courageous living, even though they may go unnoticed. Sometimes, just getting out of bed in the morning, especially if a person is prone to depression or hopelessness, is an act of courage. If someone is an alcoholic or a drug addict, neither taking a sip of alcohol nor using heroin, each day is an act of courage. If a person has social anxiety disorder, learning to be around other people is being courageous.
There are courageous men and women, both young and old, throughout society – indeed, throughout the world – who go on living, despite their bodily and emotional kinds of sufferings. For such people, facing each new day is a challenge and completing it is an act of courage. Thus, to choose to live, despite all of life’s hardships and sufferings, is an act of courage. Dying may be easy; but living can be hard, to paraphrase Soren Kierkegaard. I congratulate the brave souls who choose to go on living, despite all the adversity they endure every day. They have, to borrow a phrase from Paul Tillich, “the courage to be.”
Introduction: Unequal Treatment of Women under the Law
In the 18th and 19th centuries in America, women were excluded, for all practical purposes, from the meaning of the phrase “all men are created equal.” For instance, only men could vote. Only men owned property. Men, not women, had control of the money they earned. Men, not women, could be educated in college. Women were treated as the property of men. For such reasons, the Women’s Suffrage Movement began in the 1850’s, with Susan B. Anthony (1820 – 1906) as one of its most prominent leaders. She argued that women are not inferior to men and should be included in the meaning of the phrase “all men are created equal.”
On November 5, 1872, Anthony’s belief in equality was tested in Rochester, New York, when she voted in the presidential election. A couple of weeks later, on November 18, she was arrested for voting illegally. At her trial on June 19, 1873 (the third day of her trial), she was found guilty of breaking the law. Before her trial, she would travel, speaking to audiences in Monroe and Ontario counties, arguing for women’s rights, particularly, their right to vote, quoting the Declaration of Independence,
“‘All men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. Among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.’”
Anthony’s Explanation of the Meaning of “All Men are Created Equal”
Anthony explains the meaning of “all men are created equal,” saying,
“Here is no shadow of government authority over rights, nor exclusion of any from their full and equal enjoyment. Here is pronounced the right of all men, and ‘consequently,’ as the Quaker preacher said, ‘of all women,’ to a voice in the government. And here, in this very first paragraph of the declaration, is the assertion of the natural right of all to the ballot; for, how can ‘the consent of the governed’ be given, if the right to vote be denied.”
By the words of the Declaration of Independence, says Anthony, “kings, priests, popes, aristocrats, were all alike dethroned, and placed on a common level politically, with the lowliest born subject or serf.” Thus, the Declaration affirms the equal rights of all human beings. Women, argues Anthony, are human beings and should be placed with men on “the proud platform of equality.”
Arguing from the equality of all human beings in the Declaration, she confirms its truth by quoting the Preamble to the Constitution of the United State, which, in part, says,
“’We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and established this constitution for the United States.’”
In other words, Anthony maintains that the same theme of human equality in the Declaration is affirmed in the Constitution. However, instead of phrase “all men are created equal,” the wording of the Constitution is “We the people of the United States.” As Anthony writes,
“It was we, the people, not we, the white male citizens, nor yet we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed this Union.”
According to Anthony, for the United States of America, a democratic-republic, to deny women the right to vote is to change the very nature of the government itself, making it “an oligarchy of sex, which makes father, brothers, husband, sons, the oligarchs over the mother and sisters, the wife and daughters of every household.” Such a government, Anthony asserts, makes “all men sovereigns, [and] all women subjects.”
Anthony’s Reply to the Male Pronouns Argument
Next, Anthony replies to the argument that because of the wording of the Constitution and State constitutions in America, only male citizens can vote. She introduces and answers the argument as follows:
“But [if it] is urged, the use of the masculine pronouns he, his and him, in all the constitutions and laws, is proof that only men were meant to be included in their provisions. If you insist on this version of the letter of the law, we shall insist that you be consistent, and accept the other horn of the dilemma, which would compel you to exempt women from taxation for the support of the government, and from penalties for the violation of laws.”
Her reply is a reductio ad absurdum argument, making it evident that the government would certainly not allow women to be exempt from paying taxes and breaking its laws. For Anthony, “he” includes “she” and “his” includes “hers.” Her point, then, is that constitutional documents apply to men and women. Thus, women are persons, citizens of the United States, equal to men under the law and, therefore, have a right to vote.
Justice Hunt’s Verdict at Anthony’s Trial
At Anthony’s trial, Justice Hunt, without a word from the all-male jury, pronounced her guilty of breaking the law. He then gave her an opportunity to speak before the court. She replied, in defiance of the verdict,
“Yes, your honor, … you have trampled under foot every vital principle of our government. My natural rights, my civil rights, my political rights, my judicial rights, are all alike ignored. Robbed of the fundamental privilege of citizenship, I am degraded from the status of a citizen to that of a subject; and not only myself individually, but all of my sex, are, by your honor’s verdict, doomed to political subjection under this, so-called, form of government.
“Your denial of my citizen’s right to vote, is the denial of my right of consent as one of the governed, the denial of my right of representation as one of the taxed, the denial of my right to a trial by a jury of my peers as an offender against law, therefore, the denial of my sacred rights….”
After repeatedly attempting to silence Anthony, Justice hunt imposed on her a fine of $100.00, plus “the costs of the prosecution.” But she refused to pay it, calling it “unjust.” She condemned the government’s “man-made, unjust, unconstitutional forms of law, that tax, fine, imprison, and hang women, while they deny them the right of representation in the government.” Then, in defiance of Hunt’s ruling, she said,
“I shall earnestly and persistently continue to urge all women to the practical recognition of the old revolutionary maxim, that ‘Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.’”
The “Fight” for Women’s Rights to Equal Treatment under the Law
For Anthony, it is one thing for a government to make splendidly abstract statements, such as “We the people of the United States” and “all men are created equal,” but it is quite another for that same government to recognize and apply the inclusive and universal meanings of such statements to all its citizens, including black and white men and women. Women’s rights, of course, are human rights. However, the advancement of human rights often involves much struggle. By her own experience, Anthony recognized that and, therefore, concluded her speech to the citizens of Monroe and Ontario counties, saying,
“[W]e propose to fight our battle for the ballot — all peaceably, but nevertheless persistently through to complete triumph, when all United States citizens shall be recognized as equals before the law.”
Roughly 47 years later, and several years after her death in 1906, Susan Anthony and Women’s Suffrage Movement finally prevailed on August 18, 1920, with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which reads, in part,
“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”
In honor of Anthony’s long, arduous efforts to advance the right of women to vote, the United States Senate calls the Nineteenth Amendment “the Susan B. Anthony Amendment.” Unfortunately, the ratification of the Nineteenth and Fifteenth Amendments did not, once-for-all, settle the issue of all American citizens being able to vote, because in some States, many African-American women and men were still denied the right to vote. That leads me to stress still another point, which is that the advancement of human rights is an ever-evolving struggle to be recognized and treated as human beings. Hence, on August 4, 1965, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act and on August 6, 1965, President Johnson signed it into law, so that citizens of any color, in any State, have the right to vote.
Indeed, all men and women are “created equal,” but they certainly are not treated equally. That is why the struggle for human rights, which is the struggle to be treated as human beings, will continue as long as humankind inhabits the earth.
On 26 June 1857, in Springfield, IL., Abraham Lincoln explained the meaning of the phrase “all men are created equal,” after listening to a speech by Senator Stephen Douglas in which he excluded Blacks from its meaning. But according to Lincoln, “the authors of that notable instrument intended to include all men.” For Lincoln, then, all humans, regardless of their color or gender, have equally the same nature, namely, a human nature. In other words, they are equal in being humans. In short, Lincoln’s interpretation of the phrase is inclusive, while Douglas’ is exclusive.
Then Lincoln goes on to say, according to a reading of the context of the Declaration of Independence itself, that it
“defined with tolerable distinctness, in what respects they did consider all men created equal — equal in ‘certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ This they said, and this meant.”
In fact, a little over a year later, in his Seventh Debate with Stephen Douglas on 15 October 1858, Lincoln reaffirmed that the phrase “all men are created equal” refers to all human beings, not just Whites.
What the Phrase Does Not Mean
On 26 June 1857, Lincoln proceeds to explain what “created equal” does not mean, saying,
“they did not intend to declare all men equal in all respects. They did not mean to say all were equal in color, size, intellect, moral developments, or social capacity.”
For example, in a foot-race, the person who is faster than I is superior to me as a runner. However, he or she is not superior to me as a human being. Similarly, a person who is smarter than I is superior to me in intelligence. However, that person is not more human than I.
Also, as Lincoln observes, equality does not mean that human beings must be the same in all respects. Although my neighbor and I are equally human beings, his or her color may not be the same as mine. That, however, does not make him or her inferior to me as a person. Rather, it only means that he or she is different from me.
Lincoln realized that the abstract or general meaning of “all men are created equal” is different from its concrete, particular, historical meaning, which a government often fails to live up to its treatment of its citizens. Thus, Lincoln says that the authors of the Declaration
“did not mean to assert the obvious untruth, that all were then actually enjoying that equality, nor yet, that they were about to confer it immediately upon them. In fact, they had no power to confer such a boon. They meant simply to declare the right, so that the enforcement of it might follow as fast as circumstances should permit. They meant to set up a standard maxim for free society, which should be familiar to all, and revered by all; constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence, and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people of all colors everywhere.”
The phrase “all men are created equal,” then, applies, as Lincoln says, “to people of all colors everywhere.” Unfortunately, not a few Founders of the United States failed to live up to the Declaration’s words. Thomas Jefferson himself, for example, who was primarily responsible for writing the Declaration, owned slaves. But the failure of the Founders does not mean that the words “all men are created equal” are not true. Rather, it means that its words, through a political process, must be enacted and enforced by the government.
In other words, while the meaning of “all men are created equal” does not change, it must be applied, as Lincoln asserts, to new historical circumstances, such as the one in which he found himself in 1857, namely, slavery. Hence, he says,
“The assertion that ‘all men are created equal’ was of no practical use in effecting our separation from Great Britain; and it was placed in the Declaration, not for that, but for future use.”
For example, after the American Civil War, Congress adopted the Thirteenth (1865), Fourteenth (1868) and Fifteenth (1870) Amendments to the Constitution of the United States of America. The Thirteenth, adopted before President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, abolished slavery in the United States; the Fourteenth recognized that Blacks or former slaves, being born or naturalized in the United States are American citizens; and the Fifteenth recognized they have the right to vote. Those three amendments are the political, legal and practical application of the truth that “all men are created equal.”
The title of my minute meditation is taken from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s book Strength to Love. In particular, it is drawn from Dr. King’s analysis of the meaning of the Greek word agape, which, in the New Testament, is translated “love.” I call it “will-love” or “choice-love” to distinguish it from romantic or erotic love and sentimental love.
It is a weakness, requiring no kind of strength, to hate someone. Hate is spontaneous, impulsive. It is, in a word, easy. It is taking the “path of least resistance.” Hate involves no inner struggle, no challenge, to will another person’s good, often despite himself or herself.
But love requires hard work. It is a choice, a difficult, arduous task, to will another human being’s good. That is not always easy. Think about it for a moment: Is it easy to love those who want to hurt you? Is it easy to love those who are “unlovable,” having betrayed your trust and trampled upon your values? Is it easy to love those who malign you? Is it easy to love those who do not love you or, even worse, hate you? Not at all!
Love, then, is not a weakness. It often involves a great deal of inner strength and struggle to choose to love those who hurt you, oppose you and even wish for your destruction. The ethic of love was displayed magnificently by Jesus of Nazareth. It is also called “the way of the cross.” It is the way his followers are supposed to live.
As a theologian, I have been intrigued by the teachings of Jeffrey M. Schwartz, a research psychiatrist at the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA). In particular, I have read his book Brain Lock several times. With each reading, I have perceived a certain spirituality emerging from it, but not in the sense of a spirituality from a traditional or organized religion. Of course, in his book, Schwartz was writing about obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), not spirituality.
The Difference between the Mind and the Brain
Nevertheless, I detect at least three spiritual or, perhaps, philosophical intimations from the book Brain Lock. First, Schwartz presupposes that a person’s mind is not the same as his or her brain. In other words, the mind is more than a person’s brain. For example, Schwartz teaches that an obsession (an unwanted, disturbing thought) comes from a person’s brain. However, his or her mind did not choose to have the obsession.1 For Schwartz, mindful awareness is the “I” or mind within a person that becomes aware of the brain’s unwanted thought.2
The Difference between the Will and the Brain
Second, Schwartz presupposes that the will, a person’s power of choice, is not the same as his or her brain. Schwartz teaches that a person’s will has more power than the unwanted thoughts from his or her brain. As Schwartz says, “Obsessions don’t take over your will,”3 forcing you to act against your choice.4
For Schwartz, then, there is a difference, as he says, “between your will – your wholly internal spirit – and your unwanted, intrusive [thought].”5 The will chooses (a spiritual or immaterial act) not to act on the obsession or unwanted thought, saying, “I will not do this.”6 Therefore, for Schwartz, the obsession “is not your will, not you, … and it won’t take over your spirit.”7
Spirit’s Power to Change Matter or the Brain
Third, Schwartz presupposes that the human will, that is, the spiritual or immaterial faculty of choice, has the power to change the brain itself. How? For Schwartz, when an unwanted message from a person’s brain occurs, he or she should choose not to listen to it. Instead, he or she must refocus, that is, get active, doing something worthwhile, useful or enjoyable. Schwartz calls a person’s choice to refocus “behavior therapy.” According to Schwartz, a person, by changing his or her thinking and choosing to behave contrary to an obsession, will, eventually, change the physical structure of his or her brain.8
Clarification of Possible Misunderstandings
Please note: I am neither trying to make Jeffrey Schwartz into a Christian nor a member of any organized religion. In fact, I don’t even know if he subscribes to any particular religion. I am, however, pointing out that for Schwartz, a person is more than his or her body and brain.9 There is, for Schwartz, a spirit within a person’s body, that is, an immaterial dimension, consisting of the mind and will. Schwartz is, in philosophical terms, a “substance dualist” or “dualist-interactionist.” He even goes so far as to declare his belief in some kind of Spirit, Higher Power or Supreme Being, saying, “God wired the human system.”10 Schwartz, then, wittingly or unwittingly, enters into the age-old debate: Is there a human mind that is separable from the brain?
1. Jeffrey M. Schwartz with Beverly Beyette, Brain Lock: Free Yourself from Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior (New York, N.Y.: First Regan Books/ Harper Perennial, 1996, 1st paperback ed. 1997), p. xxxv.
2. Ibid., p. 11.
3. Ibid., p. 14.
5. Ibid., p. 42.
6. Ibid., p. 43.
7. Ibid., p. 42.
8. Ibid., pp. 70, 71, 74, 75.
9. Cf. Jeffrey M. Schwartz, You are Not Your Brain (New York, N.Y.: The Penguin Group, 2011).
10. Jeffrey M. Schwartz with Beverly Beyette, Brain Lock, p. 76.
At birth, human beings inhabit a “wounded” or damaged world. Humans themselves are also wounded, finite creatures, limited by their natural imperfections. Since imperfect humans live in an imperfect world, it cannot always be changed, despite all the advances of science.
If science had a solution for every human problem, could fix everything that is wrong with the world, heal ever kind of disease and prevent death itself, then science itself would take on a savior-like or divine-like status, virtually making it into God. However, since science can neither cure every disease nor conquer death itself, then science is neither God nor Savior of humankind.
Therefore, in an imperfect world with human imperfections, it is not always possible for every condition to be changed; nor for all diseases to be healed. As Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl writes,
“Caught in a hopeless situation as its helpless victim, facing a fate that cannot be changed, man still may turn his predicament into an achievement and accomplishment at the human level. He thus may bear witness to the human potential at its best, which is to turn tragedy into triumph.”1
Challenged by Life to Change Oneself
Sometimes, perhaps many times, a person “overcomes” a difficulty or problem only by enduring it. In Frankl’s words,
“Facing a fate we cannot change, we are called upon to make the best of it by rising above ourselves and growing beyond ourselves, in a word, by changing ourselves.”2
That is to say, if a person’s problem cannot be changed, after exhausting all possible attempts to change it, then he or she must change his or her attitude toward it and, thereby, become better, that is, a changed person.
Rethinking the Notion of a “Victorious” Life
The “cure,” then, for an incurable disease may be living with it, enduring it. Coping with the problem, having the right kind of attitude toward it, is, in a way, the “victory” over it.
Of course, when life’s problems or difficulties can be changed, they should be. In short, when things change for the worse, a person is challenged to respond to them by making a change for the better in his or her life.
1. Viktor E. Frankl, The Unconscious God (New York, N.Y.: Washington Square Press/ Pocket Books/ Simon and Schuster, Inc., English ed.1975, 1st Washington Square Press printing 1985), pp. 125-126.
2. ———-, Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning (New York, N.Y.: Insight Books/ Plenum Press, 1997), p. 142.