Sermon from a Non-religious Old Guy
Of all the issues and challenges that erupt when you reach your 60s, the
one area of concern that seems to be extraordinarily prominent in my
thoughts is whether my life has achieved any true and authentic
meaning and purpose. And, of course, everyone has their own
interpretation of what is meaningful and purposeful in their lives.
Some find meaning and purpose by accumulating material wealth;
some find meaning and purpose in how much they have sacrificed for
and helped family and friends; and others can’t find any meaning and
purpose in anything. They just exist.
Don’t knock down those who just exist. It ain’t easy finding meaning and
purpose in life.
For one, growing up is frequently an exercise in setting the stage for a
life full of meaninglessness. Once we are of legal age to work, our
inexperience places us in jobs that are mostly lacking in any real
meaning and purpose. We are basically forced into a flipping-burgers
mentality, taking on jobs in which the end results are unjust monetary
rewards. We are taught that life is mostly about toiling for a small buck,
and that you must sacrifice your inner voice by half-heartedly accepting
frequently inept and demeaning-oriented bosses. How uncreative and
lacking in real substance!
What if we were taught at a young age that helping others, or even
watching a sunset, are both more important than flipping burgers — or
that working very hard at something you truly love doing and studying
will increase your odds for a professional job or the creation of your
inner-voice-driven vocation in a field that you are passionate about?
The old adage of “the harder I work (at doing something I enjoy), the
luckier I get” applies. That parenthetic phrase after the word “work” is
what is most important.
Well, isn’t that what our K through 12 years are all about? Maybe. As for
myself, as a youth who attended Catholic elementary and high school
taught by Franciscan priests and nuns, all I mostly remember is being
drilled into thinking that I had original sin and must repent for being
less than a perfect Jesus. “Bless me father for I have sinned. . .”
In between the guilt trips and inner-voice-busting came those
moments, however, when I enjoyed reading a good novel or listening
intently to some wonderful music, or I took a walk on the wild side to
learn about raw human nature, or I experienced a lovely relationship
with nature. The reciting of ancient prayers over and over again could
not match those experiences. Essentially, I’m saying that for me,
meaning and purpose were not found in religion, as many people
profess. They were found in living and following my inner voice, which
at times, was at odds with the dogmas that Franciscans tried to drill
into me. Although I would never intentionally harm anyone.
This still holds true in my early old-age years. But the inner voice has
changed. It has, of course, always been changing with my experiences.
That seems to be the essence of living life as authentically as humanly
possible. And everyone’s striving for authenticity is different. And, very
unfortunately, this is where things tend to get very ugly, because we
In a kind of reverse-intolerance motif that defied logic, Vice President
Mike Pence said in his recent commencement address at Liberty
University that “some of the loudest voices for tolerance today have
little tolerance for traditional Christian beliefs. So, as you go about daily
life, just be ready.” What he neglected to say was that “traditional”
Christian beliefs are really up for grabs and difficult to define.
In other words, don’t believe everything you read in whatever
translation of the Old or New Testament you might be quoting. For
every translation you read, there is an opposing or more complex
translation someplace else that may have been historically suppressed.
I’ll add that those who believe that the Bible was literally written by God
may want to read up on the history of Bible productions over time.
This does not mean that we should be tolerant of those who, for
example, profess that homosexuality is a sin, or that abortion, even in
cases of rape, incest and medical emergency, should be banned (as they
are trying to do in Alabama). They are entitled to believe what they
want. However, and this is a big however, they are not entitled to enact
laws that are written only for marriages between a man and a woman,
or create rules based only on religious beliefs.
We are all equal regardless of our religions. And frankly, in my opinion, I
could care less about anyone’s sexual preference as long as it’s not
pedophilia, rape, incest, or sexual brutality and dominance. And it’s
awfully ironic that pedophilia and many other sexual deviancy have
been commonly found among religious leaders, just as they are found
among the non-religious.
For another train of thought related to intolerance, can it not be said
that what we believed 2,000 years ago has evolved into new twenty-first
century thinking that brings more people together in peace and
tolerance regardless of our religious preferences? Less war, less
intolerance, less pontificating about relatively meaningless things that
do not harm anyone, with more freedom to pursue our inner non-
violent voices, can easily be identified as a noble path — isn’t that
where we find true meaning and purpose?
“You can preach a
with your life than
with your lips.”
- Oliver Goldsmith