16913 Germantown Road
Germantown, Maryland 20875-0320
Sacredness of Life
Presenter:Rev. Amy Russell
Sermon Date:Sun, 10/08/2006
Our first Unitarian Universalist principle, the inherent worth and dignity of every human being, is founded on centuries old theologies of Universalism- that God loves us all equally and creates a loving universe for us all, and in Unitarianism- that humans are inherently good, not inherently sinful. These principles create a tradition grounded in the sacredness of all life. The Transcendentalists carried this theme further by noticing the sacredness of the natural elements of the earth, the animals, the plants, and all living things. Our tradition comes from a Judaic Christian principle of the spirit of a loving God giving us all equal love and equal access to creation.
An example of a man who embraced these principles and lived them was Dr. Norbert Capek, a Unitarian minister in Czechoslovakia in the 192o’s and 30’s where he preached the oneness of God and the equality of human kind. He said, “Let us renew our resolution sincerely to be real brothers and sisters, regardless of any kind of bar which estranges… In this holy resolution may we be strengthened knowing that we are God’s family; that one spirit, the spirit of love, unites us…”
Dr. Capek was a resistance leaders against the Nazis and was eventually imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp and died during Nazi medical experiments. He lived and acted out of his belief that all human life is sacred and all are meant to be free. He died for these beliefs.
Another of our principles that helps enlighten us about the worth of life is our seventh principle, the interdependent web of existence. It reminds us that not only is human life sacred, but all life is sacred. It reminds us that the beauty of nature around us is a part of our existence, that we are One with all of the universe.
These two principles of Unitarian Universalism may lead us easily to some conclusions about certain ethical situations, but there are many situations when the answers are not so clear. In many ethical situations, we find ourselves needing to choose between one form of life and another. It’s not easy to apply these principles when sometimes they may seem at odds with one another.
For instance, many UU’s are vegetarian or even vegan and believe that our principle that all life is sacred leads them to believe that we should not consume animals or animal products. This is an ethical and spiritual practice for many within our community.
Others say that the food chain is a natural part of the world, that we were meant to eat other beings, as much as we were meant to eat plants. The Native Americans after hunting and killing an animal say a special prayer thanking the animal for giving its life to them and welcoming the animal’s spirit to become one with them since they will now be united in body.
Another difficult ethical question is around abortion. If all of life is sacred, then how can many of us UU’s advocate abortion rights for women? In fact, in 1963, the UUA passed a general resolution declaring “Wheras the laws which narrowly circumscribe or completely prohibit termination of pregnancy by qualified medication practitioners are an affront to human life and dignity.” The resolution goes on to support the enactment of a uniform statute making abortion legal.
Many right to lifers question us about many in our movement who believe in the right of the woman to choose. Why do we feel that the woman’s right to choose is more important than the right to end a growing fetus?
This is a difficult question that I know many of you have struggled with over the years. I know I have. We take the right of life very seriously and we don’t support careless abortion done like a method of birth control. But most of us support a woman’s right to control her own life as being more important than a fetus. This issue pits the rights of one human life against the rights of one not yet born. Whose rights should carry more weight?
Another difficult issue is the death penalty. At the General Assembly of 2000, the UUA passed an Action of Immediate Witness “holding capital punishment as inconsistent with human life on account of its retributive, discriminatory, and non-deterrent character”.
Many advocates of the death penalty say that the rights of humans to be safe in their homes and on their streets outweigh the right of a murderer to continue living. Again, we have the rights of some human beings pitted against the rights of others.
What do you think? If all life is sacred- whose life is more important the person who has taken the life of another or the potential victim who might be killed by this killer?
Stem cell research has become another issue that pits the human rights of people who are sick and need more research done to potentially find a cure for their disease against the rights of what some see as potential humans- the unfertilized eggs.
The UUA General Assembly of 2006 passed an Action of Immediate Witness supporting immediate action in Congress to pass the Stem Cell Enhancement Act allowing further federally funded research in stem cell research.
Many Unitarian Universalists believe that medical research to discover cures for many diseases is supporting human life much more than destroying some already abandoned unfertilized human eggs as long as the couples donating eggs and embryos rights are protected.
But then we come to an issue where we won’t all agree - the issue of eating animal products and wearing animal products. The rights of humans to consume what they want and the rights of animals to their own lives are at odds here. There are also issues around humane treatment of animals being raised as food and the humane treatment of animals in not being used in product experimentation, or even some say in medical experiments.
What do you think about the rights of animals in these cases?
Another issue around the sacredness of life is the issue of control over one’s end of life. We have heard over the years terrible decisions that families have struggled to make over whether to extend a loved one’s life when the quality of life seemed questionable. The Terri Schaivo case became a political football that political parties used for their own benefit to create seemingly simplistic definitions about the “right to life”. These decisions are individual and private. Individually, I believe the family should have the right to make their own decision. But of course, the definition of “quality of life” becomes a public debate because we can’t ask the person whether they choose to live or die. This is why Living Wills are so important since they attempt to describe the limit for the kind of quality of life that would need to be present for you to continue living so that your loved ones can make a decision for you. But we have seen that medical science knows little about what is going on with the person who is seeming brain dead.
The poems we read today all spoke of the sacredness of life. The Mary Oliver poem that asked that if we have souls, why don’t we consider animals to have souls? Or stone, or trees? When I’m walking in the woods, I feel the wisdom of the trees around me and I have no doubt that they have souls since they offer me some kind of love.
The poem about war described human beings before they go to war. People who would invite us into their homes for tea, now become the faceless dying that has seemingly no value to the daily traffic of the war in Iraq.
And the other Mary Oliver poem about a women who cleans bathrooms in an airport in Singapore. What humanity she has. How sacred is her life?
The Tao speaks of the “essence” of our biochemical existence. The symbol for this word is two characters- the character for rice or seed and the second character meaning purity or powerful center. The Tao speaks of this essence as being a relationship that our bodies have with nature. We eat rice to gain our vitality, our power in the world. We rise up purely with strength through this oneness we have with nature. All of our growing and changing is based on this one act of eating and gaining our strength from nature. Our essence is the very oneness we have with the universe.
Based on this concept, it’s difficult to think our ourselves as separate from nature, from the plants and animals we eat, from the water we drink, the air we breathe. It also means we have oneness with the other human beings with whom we share the air, the water, all of nature. There is no way to separate us from each other, from the planet, from the air. We are all a part of the interdependent web. This doesn’t make these ethical decisions any easier, but it puts them into perspective. We can’t decide that we as individuals are more important than others. But we do have the essence of our own beings to deal with- we have the natural right to want to control our own bodies, our own lives. But when we make the decisions about our own bodies, our own lives, we are also choosing for others.
When we choose to pollute the earth in some way, we are making a choice that will affect all others. When we choose to birth a child or to not birth a child, we are making a decision that will affect not only that child but all other children. It will affect the child who is born if that child is not wanted. It will affect the family if the decision to abort the child is not completely agreed upon.
All choices that humans make, affect all others, just like the butterflies wings that change the storm in a rainforest. Everything we do is like rolling over in a bed filled with our partners in life- they feel the movements we make in the night that might disturb or comfort them.
When the United Nations chooses to send troops to Darfur, or chooses not to - this has an affect on us all. Humans living and dying anywhere affects our very breath.
As Unitarian Universalists, we have a reverence for life. We take life very seriously. Some say too seriously. But that is because we value life, we value community, we value the love between us.
Let me end with this meditation on reverence by Jacob Trapp.
Where there is community, where parents and children respect one another and communicate, where neighbors have concern for each other, there reverence begins. There we grow in awareness of the dignity in each person. We become more sensitive to human suffering, to all injustice and wrong.
Such reverence is the wellspring of transformation, of ourselves and of our world.
- Jacob Trapp