Saturday, March 12, 2016


I am an animal. Yes, I am a human being, but humans are animals. I have physical needs. Some of those needs can and should be fulfilled publicly, socially. Others of them cannot or should not. They are needs in some manner private. Needs are not, however, wants. Wants can be fulfilled or denied, but needs cannot be denied. Physical needs are of the body. Most of them last as long as I am a body, but not all. Physical health depends on the fulfillment of physical needs and is broken when they are denied.

I am a mind. I am an animal that has a mind that has needs. I could say that I am a soul, or that I am a spirit, but then, I would be making declarations of a religious nature. Not everyone could agree with me. But if I say I am a mind, then others can dialog with me, because that is what minds do. That is one of the mental needs. The mind that I am depends on the fact that I am an animal, and so needs in reference to the mind follow physical needs. They cannot be denied without affecting mental health.

We live in society, even when we live alone. It’s impossible for all but a very few human beings to even imagine what living in absolute solitude means. We depend on human society more than on any other single thing to keep us alive. We are social animals. We can no more live solitary than a honeybee can, but every one of us needs to know ourselves and live as beings of greater meaning than that of a honeybee, as useful as it can be. We need to be more than useful to ourselves and to society.

It is being an animal, it is being a mind, it is being more than useful that is addressed in the idea of our right to ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ That right is an expression of our undeniable animal and mental needs. In fact to call something a right is no more than to declare it a need, and it must follow, that rights are inalienable, just as needs are undeniable. One cannot be deprived of one’s rights any more than one can deny one’s needs. Do one, you do both, and health and sanity are abandoned.

Human society, when given room by the absence of conflict and the fight for survival, pushes itself in the direction of the fulfillment of human needs and the establishment of human rights, universally. When not given room, fulfillment of needs and exercise of rights become the privilege of the humanly powerful, who distribute them to or withhold them from society at large. This is anti-progressive. Both progressive and repressive societies coexist in the human world, even in the same country or locale.

All that I am describing is the basis of the struggle for civil rights, that is, for human rights as expressed within society. My experience living in America on the cusp of two millennia is that the society I am a member of is progressive. It is a two hundred forty year old social experiment being conducted on an (almost) ‘tabula rasa’ continent. By ‘tabula rasa’ I mean that it has been built in an environment that began relatively free of the remains and effects of two thousand years of social conflict in the old world.

The expansion of civil rights has as its enemy not only the humanly powerful already mentioned but, in this place and time especially, a populace trained by its captors in the ways of ignorance, indolence, and self-indulgence, what in Roman times was called ‘bread and circuses.’ Nevertheless, in the past century and a half, civil rights have been advanced for non-whites, for women, and for homosexual people. It is unfortunate that the religious establishment opposed this advancement every step of the way.

I am an animal. I am a mind. I have needs that cannot be denied. I am also a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ, a member of the Church He founded without binding myself unequivocally to her precepts. ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever’ (Hebrews 13:8), but the Church is human, she is animal, she too has needs. Like me, she must be progressive if she is to live, her changelessness is in her ability, her authority, to change, to keep moving, to keep running after Christ who always ‘goes before.’

Freedom is the goal of every struggle for civil rights. It is the state in which I as an animal can fulfill my needs, and in which every other ‘I’ can be fulfilled. It is, in fact, the end of the Holy Gospel, what salvation looks like in the human world, something not only to be anticipated in ‘the life of the age to come’ or in heaven. It is salvation now, even if it must be stripped of its religious meaning. ‘Therefore, if the Son sets you free, you really will be free’ (John 8:36). His words put our expectations to shame.

‘One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.’ Where do words like these come from? Surely from humanity, from people who know they are animals with minds, that is, with rational souls, who know that they and everyone have needs that cannot be denied, rights that cannot be withheld, personal worth that is more than useful, more than can be measured, weighed, and counted. Surely from animals that know they are creatures, that they are made by Someone, that they are loved.

Your eyes are going to look on a King in His beauty,
they will see an immense country;
your heart will look back on its fears:
where is he who counted,
where is he who weighed out,
where is he who counted the precious stones?
You will no longer see the overweening people,
the people of obscure, unintelligible speech,
of barbarous, senseless tongue.
Look on Zion, City of our feasts…
Isaiah 33:17-20a Jerusalem Bible

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