Spirituality for Today – August 2011 – Volume 16, Issue 1

Hot August Night

By Rev. Raymond Petrucci

As a recent college graduate, Neil Diamond thought he knew it all. This is not an unusual attitude among those with a fair amount of knowledge and woefully little experience of the complexities of life. Even at his young age, the singer/composer had an impressive portfolio of hit songs to his credit. On a visit to the South, he made a discovery that revealed how much more he had to learn. The arena of this growth in wisdom was a large tent in which a throng gathered to hear a popular preacher. He thought this spiritual revival preacher might provide him with some entertainment, but he found that he was lacking in what this experience could give to the human soul. On that hot August night, he became aware that he could never give to those people the power and the solace that was the gift of this preacher. This encounter inspired his song Brother Love's Travelling Salvation Show. A forceful message is proclaimed in his lyrics:

A photo of a Neil DiamondNeil Diamond

Now you got yourself two good hands.
And when your brother is troubled,
You got to reach out your one hand for him
'Cause that's what it's there for;
And when your heart is troubled,
You got to reach out your other hand,
Reach it out to the man up there,
'Cause that's what he's there for.

The men and women in that tent came for a source of love and hope that no person and no object in the world could give them. The potential and capacity of the mind of mankind – a gift of God – is able to create great good. Yet, it cannot reach the greatest depth of humankind's longing and desire for value, purpose, and love.

In the decades ahead, the debate in society, in my opinion, will focus on God and faith-based moral principles versus atheistic secularism. In kind, the mechanisms of coping with the challenges and stresses of daily life will rest upon a relationship with God or dependent solely on human reason or drugs. Studies have shown that depression and anxiety influence a marked increase in smoking and other drug use. If the remedy for addressing the needs of living successfully in the face of trials and disappointments is left to pure human invention, the conclusion that life is pointless and human dignity is a myth is unavoidable. Another unhappy circumstance of the argument posited by unbelievers in denying God's existence is that God refuses to play by their rules. It seems that the Almighty must operate within human definitions and constructs of reality. God must bend the knee to man. Human understanding settles the issue and not faith. Thus, the mystery and awe of God is removed and faith is superfluous. The wonder of God is reduced to human reference points. God becomes simply "one of the boys." Any "religious" dogma must be fully explainable within the powers of human reason. No wonder Oscar Wilde remarked, "Religions fail when they are proved to be true."

The crisis ahead places at issue the value of the human being. Centuries ago, Sir Francis Bacon described the cost to humanity in his essay On Atheism: "They that deny a God destroy man's nobility; for certainly man is of a kin to the beasts by his body; and, if he not be of kin to God by his spirit, he is a base and ignoble creature." Reflecting on the Marxist (atheistic) philosopher and his comments on man, the critic and teacher Lionel Trilling wrote: "He speaks often of human dignity, but just what human dignity is he does not tell us, nor has any adequate Marxist philosopher or poet told us; it is not a subject that comes within the scope of their science." If a person is reduced to a mere "part" of a machine called human existence, the worth of the individual no longer matters.

Within that tent that night and within countless places of worship throughout the world, the answer to the question of what is the value and the destiny of human life is proclaimed in the Truth of God's love, mercy, and presence with his people. Once again, one may follow the lyrics of Neil Diamond's song: "Take my hand in yours, walk with me this day/In my heart I know, I will never stray." The evidence of the existence of the Almighty is revealed most often in the movement of the Holy Spirit in the minds and hearts of men and women who perform the acts of God's love in their daily lives. The unassailable worth of human life does not and cannot initiate from any human source but only from divine authorship.