You never know...
John Tesh came on the show today. I didn’t know quite what to expect — the two of us have never talked — but I re-learned one of the most valuable lessons in broadcasting and life: Never prejudge.
Tesh was great. For starters, he was a real trooper to just get on the air. He had to call nine times on his cell phone from Sri Lanka before the signal got through — and then had to wait through a commercial break before getting on the air.
It was well worth the wait. Tesh and his wife, Connie Sellecca, have packed up their family and headed out to tsunami-ravaged locales to help. They’ve gone further than most celebrities. Not content to go on stage and ask for money, they hopped on a plane, jetted halfway across the world, and rolled up their sleeves.
The two have long been involved in a charity called Operation Blessing International, which typically concentrates on inner cities and poor areas, but now is providing direct relief to disaster victims, especially in isolated regions that haven’t received much help so far.
Tesh and Sellecca aren’t coming as tourists, or as big shots who pose for a few pictures and leave, (although they are taking pictures, a few of which you can see on their website). They’re doing more mundane stuff, such as helping people in a small village dig out of the mess.
Tesh says his faith played a major role in propelling him to the scene, but he is also against using the occasion to inflate his ego by acting like a preacher man. He notes that some workers have shown up in Sri Lanka — a place with large Muslim and Buddhist populations, but only a handful of Christians who were only determined to convert the masses by plastering up scriptural references and other stuff. He’s right in decrying such antics as tacky. (The “I am holy” stuff also is grotesquely egomaniacal.)
A couple of Tesh’s anecdotes really stick out. One of them concerned Sellecca’s request for 300 pieces of paper and a huge batch of crayons. She wanted to let kids draw pictures about the 'Big Blue Wave.' Tesh and others in the entourage had misgivings. They worried that it might call forth horrifying images and memories, but instead, the kids laughed and fought over crayons (especially the blue ones), while depicting nightmarish scenes such as standing on rooftops to avoid the waters, or watching bodies float out with the tides.
The second story is a little less morose. While working away with adults on some project, Tesh noted a group of children chasing after his 23-year-old son. They were laughing and playing. Then his daughter, age 10, started teaching the kids some dance or other, which they took up with glee as well.
There’s a great moral in this small tale: We all have some basic needs. We want purpose. We want challenges. We want love. But we also want and need laughter. Often relief workers arrive with grim faces and trucks packed with construction paraphernalia. Just as often it requires the intervention of children to remind everyone that life itself is an occasion for joy, and that the truly blessed among us are the ones who remember to dance.
Here are a couple of e-mails about an important topic today — whether it is possible to have morality without religion. I argued that you can’t, which I will explain in a moment. But first, consider these notes from thoughtful listeners:
Listening to your show today, (1-12-05), I'm a little puzzled by your question. I consider myself an agnostic and have had problems with organized religion all my life. My parents were very religious, and I found their church to be very cliquish, so I quit attending in my teens.
I do, however, consider myself a very moral person. You would need to give a clearer definition of "being moral." I don't break the laws, etc., and I do agree that religion was the basis for law. But don't call me immoral just because I don't buy into religion.
I enjoy your show. Keep up the great work!
Ironically, you are making my point for me. I didn’t argue that those who don’t embrace religion are “immoral,” because I know many nonbelievers who are exemplary human beings, and do far more than I do in helping their fellow human beings. I argued instead that our society owes its greatness to the fact that we believe that moral truth exists, and that this truth doesn’t change with the tides of fad and fashion. It is timeless, and it lies at the core of our national senses of identity and mission.
If we do not believe that moral truth is immutable, we open ourselves to tyranny of the strong over the weak. Once morals become mere whims, all restraint on human nature — including the use of brute force — melts away. More importantly, we lose any basis for trusting each other. If I can’t count on you to believe that it’s wrong to lie, cheat, steal, murder, and so on, then I will spend more time watching my back than looking toward the future, and “the life of man,” in the words of Thomas Hobbes, becomes “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”
Having secured the importance of moral truth, we turn to the next question: Where does it come from? There are but two answers: One is that it simply is. It didn’t come from anywhere, but somehow springs from the human genome. I don’t find this very impressive. The second answer, which you may not find impressive, is that it comes from God. I don’t see any middle way. It is one or the other.
Furthermore, the moral tenets we consider vital, find their clearest expression in religious teachings — hence, my question: Can you have morality without religion? You noted that your parents were religious. That means they taught you a thing or two, and even if you found religious services, rules, prohibitions, restrictions or even hypocrisies off-putting, a part of you did embrace the core messages about the reality of good and evil.
And this brings us to the nub of the point, which you made succinctly and brilliantly, “religion was the basis for law.”
Forgive the long answer, but it was such a good note that I just had to reply.
Regarding your question....can you have morality without religion? In my opinion, yes. I know many good and moral people, who are not religious at all. However, what they do not get is that God invented morality. They have adopted the idea of morality and practice it. However, they do not understand, nor want to understand, its source.
Your remark this morning, that the reason the people of the U.S. do not know the Bible is because it is not allowed to be taught in schools here, is a bad excuse. I know many Christian children who attend public schools but are also very knowledgeable about the Bible. It is the parent’s responsibility to make sure that happens. We have the choice to purchase a Bible, study it, go to Bible studies, and take our children to Sunday School. That is where Christianity, or any other religion, should be taught, not in the public school system.
Thanks for reading.
P.S. Would have called, but know I would never get through.
First, never be shy about calling! That applies to everyone. We love hearing from you.
Second, I agree about the importance of parents tending to their children’s religious instruction. I would feel happier if our courts hadn’t made it a crime against the state to talk sensibly about the nation’s religious underpinnings, but I also don’t want my kids’ teachers trying to moonlight as clerics.
Holiday Dmitri provided writing and research for this blog.
Share your thoughts with Tony. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.