We Unitarian Universalists pride ourselves on our commitment to social justice. We hold in deep reverence past acts of abolitionists, suffragettes, civil rights activists, and others promoting equality, freedom and democracy.
A new movement has emerged that does not ask, “Can you imagine yourself a slave?” “Can you feel how it feels to be a woman?” “Can you understand the experience of being African American; Indigenous; Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Intersex?” This new movement has turned the question around and asks, “Do you recognize that we are the 99%…that you are the 99%?”
Perhaps you are reading this on your home computer, or your smart phone, thinking that things are not that bad. Maybe you are very happy with your life and you cannot understand why these protesters just don’t work harder to find a job, or suck it up and pay their student loans like everyone else. You see media reports of dirty-looking 60’s leftovers whining about everything without any suggestions for real change. You ask yourself, “Why don’t they run for office if they are so dissatisfied?” Or, “If they hate America so much, why don’t they go somewhere else?”
All legitimate questions. Consider one answer.
Slavery was morally wrong. It took a century and a horrible civil war, but we eventually abolished slavery. Denying women the right to participate in the democratic process was morally wrong. It took a century of activism and protest, but suffrage eventually prevailed. The exclusion of Blacks from the rights due all American citizens was morally wrong. It took a century of lynching and violent sacrifice, but the Civil Rights Act was eventually passed.
Are these problems now magically solved? Of course not. Millions of undocumented immigrants, who have come to America just like our ancestors did, suffer in indentured bondage under crushing bureaucracy, hunted by an indifferent and overzealous paramilitary army with little or no oversight. Women remain objectified in virtually every medium as objects for the sexual pleasure of men, their paths to leadership stifled by images created by corporations whose only bottom line is profit. And GLBTQI people still suffer thousands of discriminating laws, the rejection of the most basic human right of marriage, not to mention all too frequent violence and even murder simply because of their identities.
And now we have Occupy Wall Street – a bunch of poor, dirty hippies grousing about rich people, if you believe the mainstream media. But, is that the reality?
The reality is that the United States in the past 50 years has made conscious decisions – moral decisions – to place profit over people. Industry regulations have been eviscerated in the name of promoting economic development. At the same time, we have carved away iindividual liberties in the name of security. With the stroke of a pen, the highest court in the land has declared that a corporation is a person. Racial minorities, women, gays and lesbians, and immigrants have been fighting for that recognition for 200 years and have yet to achieve their goal.
And what is our reward? The free press, with the possible exception of a few small outlets, is essentially dead – held in a corporate vice grip by a literal handful of wealthy individuals intent on maintaining their Divine Right. Ten of millions of Americans still suffer from untreated illness and disease because we have invested in bailouts instead of universal healtcare. Washington continues to insist on fighting unjust and illegal wars across the globe, and looks to our social safety nets of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and others to foot the bill. Our corporations rape our environment unabated, shelter billions in earnings from fair taxation, gamble with the economic life of our nation through unscrupulous speculation, and then are handed over the keys to the treasury to cover their losses – money that should be educating our children, creating jobs, caring for our elders, and giving young people reasons to hope that their belief in hard work and the American Dream is not just playing them for suckers so CEO’s can get another million dollar bonus.
Religious people of every faith should be outraged, because every text we hold sacred preaches against these moral choices. Here are just a small portion of the wisdom taught in every religion
- The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. (Christianity, NRSV Bible, 1 Timothy 6:10)
- A lover of money never has his fill of money, nor a lover of wealth his fill of income…A worker’s sleep is sweet, whether he has much or little to eat; but the rich man’s abundance doesn’t let him sleep. (Judaism. Jewish Study Bible, Ecclesiastes 5:9 and 11)
- Woe to every slanderous reviler, habitual defamer, who hoards wealth and incessantly counts it! He thinks his wealth will immortalize him. Most surely, no, indeed! He will be hurled in the Crusher. (Islam. Qur’an Surah 104:1-4)
- The gateway of this [self-deluded] hell leading to the ruin of this soul is threefold: lust, anger, and greed. (Hinduism. Bhagavad Gita 16.21)
- This foolish mind is greedy; through greed, it becomes even more attached to greed. (Sikhism. Guru Nank Dev, Siri Raag, p. 21)
- There is no calamity like now knowing what is enough. There is no evil like covetousness. Only he who knows what is enough will always have enough. (Taoism. Tao Te Ching 46)
- Fetters of wood, rope, or even iron, say the wise, are not as strong as selfish attachment to wealth and family. Such fetters drag us down and are hard to break. Break them by overcoming selfish desires, and turn from the world of sensory pleasure without a backward glance. (Buddhism. Dhammapada 345-6)
- As long as a person does not know the richness of joy and peace that comes from within, he tries to fill his empty and insecure existence with the clutter of material acquisitions…One must impose a limit on one’s needs, acquisitions, and possessions such as land, real estate, goods, other valuables, animals, money, etc. The surplus should be used for the common good…This Jain principle of limited possession for householders helps in equitable distribution of wealth…economic stability, and welfare in the world. Non-possession, like non-violence, affirms the oneness of all life and is beneficial to an individual in his spiritual growth and to the society for the redistribution of wealth. (Jainism, Twelve Vows of a Layperson, Aparigraha (Non-Possession)
The Occupy Wall Street movement has, at its core, a moral imperative. As a society, we make choices about resource allocations, about what matters to us as people. In recent years, we have chosen to support corporate idols over the needs of people. But, corporations do not have souls, the moral capacity to act ethically, to sacrifice, to love. OWS reminds all religious people, it reminds all of us, that the decisions are ours to make.
I don’t know the direction OWS will take. But, as Theodore Parker said in “Of Justice and the Conscience” (1853): “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.”