Recently President Obama gave a speech at Hiroshima. The text of which can be found here. There are several salient points he makes that I would like to mention:
How often does material advancement or social innovation blind us to this truth? How easily we learn to justify violence in the name of some higher cause.
Every great religion promises a pathway to love and peace and righteousness, and yet no religion has been spared from believers who have claimed their faith as a license to kill.
Nations arise telling a story that binds people together in sacrifice and cooperation, allowing for remarkable feats. But those same stories have so often been used to oppress and dehumanize those who are different.
Science allows us to communicate across the seas and fly above the clouds, to cure disease and understand the cosmos, but those same discoveries can be turned into ever more efficient killing machines.
While we have often seen religion as a source for violence against outsiders, I don’t want to single that out as the sole cause for violence. Any ideal, whether secular or religious, can be used to justify violence against those who are targeted. No matter what the group is, no matter how big or small, we should call out those who would persecute others in the name of a cause.
How do we define persecution though? Is someone persecuted if they cannot practice their religion? Is that same person persecuted if part of his religion means oppressing others? In my opinion, if someone prevents you from practicing your religion that is persecution as long as what you are practicing brings no harm to others. You are welcome to practice whatever religion or lack thereof that you wish as long as you are not harming or persecuting others.
We see violence perpetrated in the name of many causes. Corrupt governments imprison or kill dissidents to maintain control and religious fanatics murder those who do not conform to their doctrine. Any higher cause can bring individuals who wish harm to those who do not fall in line.
No matter what political affiliation, religion, race, creed, sexual orientation, or identification, we should all recognize those who would defile our cause with violence and hate. Rather than stand by silently, we should stand up to those who we might otherwise agree with, challenging their call to bloodshed.
My own nation’s story began with simple words: All men are created equal and endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Realizing that ideal has never been easy, even within our own borders, even among our own citizens. But staying true to that story is worth the effort. It is an ideal to be strived for, an ideal that extends across continents and across oceans. The irreducible worth of every person, the insistence that every life is precious, the radical and necessary notion that we are part of a single human family — that is the story that we all must tell.
Even within a country where the most basic principle behind building a nation where everyone should be treated equally, we continue to struggle to uniformly apply that rule. With over two hundred years of history, we have only started to apply those freedoms to large swaths of our population within the last one hundred years. Even now, some groups remain intimidated and threatened, forced to hide or face consequences at the hands of those who would keep them marginalized.
As humanists, we should stand up for those who seek the goal of equal treatment under the law. We should protect those who are unable to protect themselves. Many of us have been, or continue to be, in groups that others may want to repress. By standing together we can reduce or eliminate the threats to our fellows.