If you have a family like mine, you probably receive emails from parents evangelizing one political/ideological position or another about once or twice a week. I love hearing from my family, what I love less is the tone and tenure of these emails. So polarizing, mired in positionality. Recently though, I behaved less than I would have liked by responding quite sarcastically to one of them. In that email, it was implied that we are moving toward a socialist society given our current President's track record. In an amusing retort, my Uncle called the email 'bunkum, crap, bullshit' and the like. My response, which I thought was funny at the time, did not sit right with me. I applaud my family for continuing to model our freedom in the US to argue our views without fear.
To honor them, I offer my own viewpoint. Read all the way through. If you are not religious, do not stop at the sentence that notices how irreligious we are. There is room in this discussion for all beliefs. If you are religious, do not smugly read on until you get to the part about materialism being the source of our current evil. Read it to the end, reflect on our current level of materialism and our impoverished spiritual state. Until our polarizing discussions come to an end and we look inside ourselves and then “upward” who wins our election is akin to a band-aid on a gunshot wound.
If I offend anyone, I sincerely apologize upfront and immediately. I simply express that this is a viewpoint I embrace. You may find this surprising, it was expressed by someone else in a speech in 1978!
“As long as we wake up every morning under a peaceful sun, we have to lead an everyday life. There is a disaster, however, which has already been under way for quite some time. I am referring to the calamity of a despiritualized and irreligious humanistic consciousness.
To such consciousness, man is the touchstone in judging and evaluating everything on earth. Imperfect man, who is never free of pride, self-interest, envy, vanity, and dozens of other defects. We are now experiencing the consequences of mistakes which had not been noticed at the beginning of the journey. On the way from the Renaissance to our days we have enriched our experience, but we have lost the concept of a Supreme Complete Entity which used to restrain our passions and our irresponsibility. We have placed too much hope in political and social reforms, only to find out that we were being deprived of our most precious possession: our spiritual life. In the East, it is destroyed by the dealings and machinations of the ruling party. In the West, commercial interests tend to suffocate it. This is the real crisis. The split in the world (East vs. West) is less terrible than the similarity of the disease plaguing its main sections.
If humanism were right in declaring that man is born to be happy, he would not be born to die. Since his body is doomed to die, his task on earth evidently must be of a more spiritual nature. It cannot be unrestrained enjoyment of everyday life. It cannot be the search for the best ways to obtain material goods and then cheerfully get the most out of them. It has to be the fulfillment of a permanent, earnest duty so that one's life journey may become an experience of moral growth, so that one may leave life a better human being than one started it. It is imperative to review the table of widespread human values. Its present incorrectness is astounding. It is not possible that assessment of the President's performance be reduced to the question of how much money one makes or of unlimited availability of gasoline. Only voluntary, inspired self-restraint can raise man above the world stream of materialism.
It would be retrogression to attach oneself today to the ossified formulas of the Enlightenment. Social dogmatism leaves us completely helpless in front of the trials of our times.
Even if we are spared destruction by war, our lives will have to change if we want to save life from self-destruction. We cannot avoid revising the fundamental definitions of human life and human society. Is it true that man is above everything? Is there no Superior Spirit above him? Is it right that man's life and society's activities have to be determined by material expansion in the first place? Is it permissible to promote such expansion to the detriment of our spiritual integrity?
If the world has not come to its end, it has approached a major turn in history, equal in importance to the turn from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. It will exact from us a spiritual upsurge, we shall have to rise to a new height of vision, to a new level of life where our physical nature will not be cursed as in the Middle Ages, but, even more importantly, our spiritual being will not be trampled upon as in the Modern era.
This ascension will be similar to climbing onto the next anthropologic stage. No one on earth has any other way left but -- upward.
Harvard commencement speech, Alexander Sozhenitsyn, 1978.