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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Syndicated columns

Faith and Values: Being human is a pre-existing condition

By Paul Graves For The Spokesman-Review

I write these thoughts on the day after a suicide bomber devastated many lives in Manchester, England. His horrific worldview and action betray the very religious tradition his ideology pretends to follow.

I also hear and read news reports about how the residents of Airway Heights and the Spokane area are working hard. They decided to make sure everyone has fresh water in light of the extensive water contamination problem in Airway Heights.

These are only two reminders of what human beings are capable of – totally opposite in intent and result. One fears the world; one chooses to help neighbors as a way of embracing life in positive ways.

Given the current political sloganeering atmosphere, perhaps it’s time for us to affirm that being human is a pre-existing condition! This reflection isn’t about the important congressional fight about health care. It’s something far more important.

“Being human” pre-dates health care regulations and will live on long after health care on all levels is settled. Whether we believe we are divinely created or are simply a biological entity, we’re all human beings. But we differ greatly about what “being human” is about. So I invite you to consider this: What kind of human do you think you are? Is it the kind of human you want to be? For myself, I struggle to consistently be the kind of human I really want to be.

I say this not to morally shame myself. I say it because I am aware enough of who I am, to know I was created to be so much more any moral shaming can force me to be. I say this because of my always-searching spirituality. You may say this for totally different reasons. Good on you.

Being human precedes any ancient or contemporary world religious traditions. In our zeal to either defend our own religious beliefs or to dismiss religious beliefs from our lives entirely, we forget that we are human beings well before we have any kind of relationship to religion.

I am convinced that a healthy understanding of “God” has a tremendous impact on whether we see being human as a gift or a burden. It is a great gift to me. I could even “prove” it with selected Scripture (as too many things are “proven”).

But I don’t need to. I have experienced being human mostly as a gift. I hope you have also. But I know you may not have. I know being human is a pre-existing condition that brings with it great contradictions and great frailties of all kinds.

What you choose to do with those contradictions and personal frailties is more in your control than you may want. Denial is a powerful way to escape personal, religious and social responsibility, isn’t it? And that too is part of our pre-existing condition. Oh, the challenges we face.

My faith/trust convinces me we won’t be condemned by God – only ourselves – if we choose to be less human than we can be. Don’t use God as an excuse.

William Sloane Coffin, in his wisdom book “Credo,” makes this uncomfortable observation for us to consider:

“As Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor properly discerned, freedom is a burden, is scary. But freedom is the absolutely necessary pre-condition of love. We are not slaves but children of our Father, free to do good, free to sin. So when in anguish over any human violence done to innocent victims, we ask of God, ‘how could you let that happen?,’ it’s well to remember that God at that very moment is asking the exact same question of us.”

The Rev. Paul Graves, a Sandpoint resident and retired United Methodist minister, can be contacted at

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