The Right to Speak & Responsibility to Listen
by: Gordon Wayne
Although traditional religious theory does not acknowledge this liberty, every mature human has the right to participate in the theological discussion. Theologians and priests will undoubtedly argue that one must have specialized knowledge before one can participate in theological discussions. Unfortunately for theologians, priests, and religious leaders, biology does not necessarily support their arguments.
Every human has the biological capacity for speech, which includes the anatomical features and cognitive faculties that allow every human to articulate their thoughts and feelings. Each of us has the genetically guaranteed cognitive faculties that enable us formulate our thoughts and feelings, and we have larynx and vocal cords to broadcast those thoughts. Because of these biological endowments, every human has the biological capacity to share their thoughts and feelings about any subject, including religion, theology, and human spirituality.
Speech is a uniquely human ability because no other species possesses the biological endowments necessary for transmitting complex thoughts and feelings. Species such as insects, fish, and reptiles can convey rudimentary feelings through posture and gestures; species like birds and mammals can convey more information because they can make elementary sounds; species such as chimpanzees, elephants, dolphins, and whales may have complex thoughts concerning stars, clouds, and the moon, but they cannot share those cognitive processes. Because of the magic of speech, we humans can share an incredible range of complex thoughts and feelings, and even passing those cognitive processes from generation to generation.
Another reason the liberty to participate in the theological debate is important is because nobody is omniscient. Nobody knows everything about everything, nobody has a monopoly on absolute knowledge, nobody has a monopoly on infinite wisdom, including human spirituality. Truthfully, everybody possesses some knowledge, some understanding, some wisdom, including some appreciation of their own spirituality. We will never understand the full extent and depth of human spirituality until we collect all that knowledge from every human.
The only way to discover what others know about spirituality is by engaging the corresponding spiritual obligation, namely the responsibility to listen. Having the liberty to express our own views is futile if nobody is listening, so we should have the elementary decency to listen while others share their thoughts. Fortunately though, we have the biological attributes necessary for understanding another’s thoughts and feelings, including unconventional or contrary beliefs.
We have ears that are ideal for receiving the auditory transmissions from others and cognitive faculties that ideal for comprehending those transmissions. Our ears are the biological companions to our vocal cords and they are excellent appendages for helping us expand our knowledge about any subject, including human spirituality. Virtually everything we know about life, reality, the world, the universe, and human existence comes from listening to our parents and teachers as they share their knowledge. In other words, listening leads to learning, learning leads to greater knowledge, greater knowledge leads to superior understanding, and superior understanding leads to increased wisdom.
Listening has another important consequence, an important spiritual consequences because whenever we honestly listen to another human, we learn more about that individual. The more we learn about somebody, the greater our understanding and appreciation for that person, which frequently increases our respect and admiration for them. Greater respect and admiration for another human usually deepens our ardor and affection for them, which is the spiritual objective of most religions and spiritual traditions.
Spiritually speaking, we have the liberty to express our beliefs but we also have a responsibility to listen when they express their views on human spirituality. Fortunately, we have the necessary biological endowments, specifically our uniquely human endowments, our vocal cords, larynx, ears, and linguistic faculties.