Less Than Human

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That lovable curmudgeon, W.C. Fields, is quoted as saying, “Hell, I never vote for anybody, I always vote against.”

That’s what many political analysts say happened in the presidential election last week. But with each side regarding the other as something a little less than human, Fields doesn’t seem so funny.

Should we be so surprised by our sharply and angrily divided electorate?

Unity is an age-old issue that cuts across our lives: political, religious, personal—you name it.

Take these “United” States as an example. We remained united for a mere 73 years between the signing of the Constitution in 1788 and the start of the Civil War in 1861.

There are reams written about the value of unity, from fictional Harry Potter . . . 

“We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.”

. . . to fabled Winston Churchill, who quoted the African proverb:

“When there is no enemy within, the enemies outside cannot hurt you.”

When it comes to divisiveness in religion, we recall Christ’s last prayer before he was handed over to be executed: “ . . . that they may all be one.” (John 17:21)

We did not heed his words. The 2010 Religious Congregations Membership Study, for example, counted more than 35,000 independent or nondenominational Christian churches in this country alone.

How about divisiveness in personal relationships? In 2014 The Centers for Disease Control/NCHS National Vital Statistics System reported almost seven in 1,000 people were marrying while more than three in 1,000 were divorcing.

However, it’s when we start judging one another as lacking in some aspect of humanity—as so many did during the 2016 election—that we invite real danger.

As far back as the writings of Aristotle, four centuries before Christ, ancient Greeks recognized that there are differences of opinion about what is best for human beings.

Aristotle suggested that eudaimonia, expressed as “living well” or “flourishing,” is our overriding goal as men and women. All the other things we pursue—health, wealth, power, talent, etc.—are sought because they promote our well-being.

But Aristotle goes on to say that living well consists in doing, not just being. And that's where simple Saint Francis comes in to put his finger on what it means to be human.

Francis believed that we give praise to God when we act as reconcilers, peacemakers and lovers who endure with patience the difficulties and disappointments of life.

To do less makes us less than human.


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