Television coverage of mega-church preachers has brought a renewed twenty-first century message of blessing. They and their followers seem to be blessed, successful, and healthy. We who grew up in religious families place much of our optimism on the Sermon on the Mount, specifically in the first eleven verses which we call the Beatitudes. I am certain that none of my good fortune was derived from contributions to, or having watched televangelists.
Much of my confusion about being blessed is that I don’t know if it is a verb or an adjective, and I don’t know how to pronounce it. Is it blessed or blest; does it have one syllable or two? I don’t know if it is only a religious reference to blessings coming from God, or if it has application in the secular world.
I look for synonyms—fortunate, loved, rewarded, secure, or lucky. It is obvious that I am blessed, be it a verb or adjective. In reading the Beatitudes, I find a paradox. Blessings come to the poor in spirit, the mournful, the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted, the reviled, and those who are subjected to all manner of evil spoken against them falsely. Most of us find merit in mercy and peacemaking, but might question persecution and bad public social media even though they tend to make us stronger.
So often when I try to write the narrative of the events of my life, I debate on writing blessed or fortunate. When I talk to religious people I hear a singular implication of favoritism coming from a personal God, either by reward for good behavior or a divine plan before the Creation. When I talk to non-religious people I hear attribution to hard work and cleverness, with some uncertainty why some people with equal motivation and wisdom seem to fail.
We have watched the violence in Gaza and Israel, and we wonder why God allows genocide and slaughter in the name of religion in a land he gave to his chosen people. We watch the conflict between tyrants and anarchists in the Ukraine, Syria, Egypt, and Libya and we marvel at the restrained civility of an angry and divided American republic. We watch the racial violence in Ferguson, Missouri and we give thanks for our local police, our mayor, our governor, and our president. We are truly blessed to live in the tranquility of where we are among people who love us.
Religious people raise their voices to God as the Creator and a continuing presence in the daily mundane and trivial routine of their lives. Agnostic people seem to share the good and suffer the bad in indiscriminate proportionately. Unbelievers voice no appreciation for blessing nor assign blame to a supernatural influence, though equally blessed or tormented.
What we may have lost in our world of contradiction, is the age of Humanism. This was, “The Renaissance movement that emphasized secular concerns as a result of the rediscovery of classical literature, art, and civilization.” It was, and is, “a system of thought that centers on humans and their values, capacities, and worth.”
Out of this juxtaposition of faith and secular reason, we have contrived a contradiction between what God controls and what has been left to the mischief or genius of his most advanced creature. We should not dismiss the humanist as irreligious. We should not condemn the agnostic for his uncertainty or disbelief. We should not discredit the fundamentalist who assigns to God the human responsibility for mercy, peace, compassion, and the cause or relief of human suffering.