Sunday, February 26, 2006

Gandhi's List

I am an avid reader of Sojourner's magazine, a liberal Christian publication edited by Jim Wallis. Sojourner's takes seriously Mahatma Gandhi's list of the seven things that can destroy civilization. It is a powerful and sussinct statement and one we should all consider. Here is the list:

Knowledge without Character; Science without Humanity; Wealth without Work; Commerce without Conscience; Politics without Principles; Pleasure without Conscience; Worship with Self–Sacrifice.

Here is my take on each.

Knowledge without Character. Knowledge is power and the currency of power, but knowledge itself is value neutral. Unless we value and teach our children to value such core decencies as honesty, compassion, justice, and self reliance all the knowledge in the world won’t save us from ourselves.

Science without Humanity. Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we ought to do it. Science need not be in the service of humanity— there is an important place for pure research— but science ought not to be at the expense of humanity. We need an on–going dialogue between ordinary people and scientists. We need to understand what they are working on and what the implications of that work might be for humankind. We need to understand where science may be taking us and decide if, in fact, we want to go there.

Wealth without Work. Wealth has replaced work as the foundational value in our country. We want to be wealthy rather than get wealthy. There is nothing wrong with wealth, but there is something absolutely crucial about work. Work is central to human nature. Work builds character. We need to work, to be productive, to be useful, to add value to life through our lives. Wealth should not be the goal of work, but a by–product of working well. We need to teach our children the value of work; we tend to teach them only the value of wealth.

Commerce without Conscience. There should be no human endeavor free of conscience and moral consequence. There are over 100 rules in the Torah dealing with commerce and only 24 dealing with kashrut. We have to reclaim the importance of right livelihood, insisting that earning a living not be at the expense of others or our higher selves. We must reclaim the link between business and holiness.

Politics without Principles. Contemporary politics is about power and privilege, not principle. We need a national discussion of core principles. We need to reclaim what it is America stands for and then measure the effectiveness of our politicians and their policies by how well they further those core principles. Some among us claim America is without such principles. They are terribly wrong. Read the Declaration of Independence, The Bill of Rights, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. Not only are we not without principles, the principles we have are unique in the history of humankind and must not be entrusted to politicians.

Pleasure without Conscience. Too often we justify our actions by the good feelings they bring us rather than by the amount of good they do. Conscience is the gauge that tells us how well our actions approximate our ethical ideals. Conscience rooted in the shared suffering of life, and the interdependence of all things helps us shape our choices and the actions that flow from them in the service of others as well as ourselves.

Worship without Self–Sacrifice. Authentic religion has nothing to do with the feel–good private salvation preached over television and radio. Read the Torah. There is little talk of personal salvation and lots of concern with universal justice and compassion. Authentic religion is not about getting into heaven; it is about helping your neighbor here in hell. God doesn’t want your praise, God wants your deeds: do justly, love mercy, walk humbly. If religion doesn’t help you put others first its isn’t worthy of your time, your money, your respect, or your loyalty.

Gandhi’s list is a valuable guide. Measure your deeds against it. Weigh the policies of our politicians against it. Make your personal and political choices in accordance with it. In this way you can take a few powerful steps toward making the world a worthwhile place to live.

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