Rights and Responsibilities
by: Gordon Wayne
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We have the fundamental spiritual liberty to choose our beliefs, rituals, texts, icons, and leaders yet many religions assert that their system is the only true system. They argue that we cannot join a competing religion because those traditions are illegitimate traditions and failure to accept their religious dogma without question or exception will have dire consequences. However, biology and reality do not necessarily support their contention that failure to conform to their ideology and practices results in eternal damnation.
To begin, we are ultimately responsible for our existence, which is a simple declaration with which most government and religious institution will concur. If we are ultimately responsible for our existence, including our spirituality, then governments and religions are not responsible for our existence. Assuming we are ultimately responsible for our existence and our spirituality, then no government or religion can force, compel, or coerce us into choosing a specific religious tradition. Any government or religious organization that imposes a specific religious tradition on people is depriving people of their responsibility.
Second, we are unique creations, autonomous, independent individuals unlike any human before us and any human to come. Each of us has unique facial features, unique fingerprints, and unique footprints, the consequences of genetic engineering. Every human has a unique personality, the product of genetics, development, and experiences. Everybody also has unique intellects, the consequence of academic development, character, personality, and genetics. Even if geneticists manage to create clones of us, those clones will still be autonomous, independent creations because their development will be different from ours. Since we are physical unique, psychologically unique, and intellectually unique, we are probably unique spirits, who may have unique spiritual requirements and expectations.
Third, every human has a large, sophisticated brain with genetically guaranteed faculties beginning with the ability to learn everything society teaches its citizens. During the process of learning, the brain instinctively gathers information that it uses to assemble a personal database of knowledge. Armed with knowledge, the brain naturally decides what it is willing to believe and what it is not willing to believe. In other words, every human has a large, sophisticated brain with genetically guaranteed faculties that can decide what beliefs and practices are suitable for their spirituality.
We require the elementary liberty to choose our spiritual beliefs and rituals simply because we are ultimately responsible for our existence and our spirituality; we require the liberty to choose the best spiritual program for our spirituality simply because we are unique creations, autonomous, independent individuals; we require the liberty to choose the best ideology and practices for our spirituality simply because we are sentient beings with large, sophisticated brain and genetically guaranteed faculties.
Historically, most people choose the default value, which is none other than our parents and grandparents’ spiritual tradition. However, some people may wish to choose an alternative spiritual tradition because their spiritual requirements and expectations differ from their parents spiritual needs. If society gives us a complete list of every tradition, including a thorough accounting of the advantages and disadvantages of each, then we can choose an alternative system. The more we know about human spirituality, beliefs, rituals, and practices, the better our chances of choosing something that fits our spiritual requirements and expectations.
While we have the right to decide what is appropriate for our own spirituality, we also have a corresponding spiritual responsibility. We have a spiritual obligation to respect everybody’s right to choose a spiritual tradition that is appropriate for their spiritual requirements and expectations. Although some religious organizations will argue otherwise, we cannot assume that our spiritual preferences will satisfy everybody’s spirituality. Truthfully, assuming that our spiritual customs are suitable for everybody’s spirituality is arrogant, and arrogance is not a noble spiritual achievement.
If we want the liberty to decide what is best for our spirituality, then we must respect the rights of others to decide what is best for their spirituality. Assuming we honestly believe that we have the biological qualifications to govern our own spirituality, then we must acknowledge that everybody has the same qualifications. Although each of us is a unique creation, we still have comparable qualifications because we all have comparable cognitive faculties and the comparable capacity for self-management. Therefore, we must honor the liberty of all humans to decide what beliefs, rituals, texts, icons, conventions, creeds, doctrines, and leaders are appropriate for their own spirituality.