I don’t own many t-shirts so on hot Houston weekends my Oasis shirts bearing our first core value “People are more important than beliefs” get a disproportionate share of sunshine.
“Are you trying to say that there is nothing worth dying for?” It was a warm humid day at the Renaissance Festival and I was almost certain that the heavyset, inebriated knight behind me was talking to someone else. He wasn’t.
“I just think we should remember our commitments to humanity,” I responded.
“Doesn't that mean you could never die for something though?”
“I don’t think so. I need to think about it.”
There isn’t much (including nothing much) that you can wear to the Renaissance Festival and attract this kind of attention.
It is a phrase that carries with it a simple and compelling moral message, one which is perfect for its time and place. Our mantra “People are more important than beliefs,” should not be controversial or provocative in the least and yet time and again I’ve found myself defending it.
More composed critiques of this value tend to circle around the argument that beliefs are powerful things. They have the power to start wars and also stop them; they are behind our greatest achievements as well as our worst blunders. Beliefs can change the world. In fact they are the only thing that ever has. So why give people such privilege over ideas? Aren’t certain beliefs absolutely worth dying for?
Beliefs can have incredible power and that is precisely why they must come second to people. Ideas, even well-intentioned ones, even ideas with seemingly irrefutable promise to do good, should always be ignored when they forget their subordinance to humanity. I challenge you to find an evil in the world that does not purport in some way that beliefs are more important than some people. Every suicide bomber, every bellicose dictator, every murderer and every racist all share one thing in common: they believe ideas (their ideas) are more important than the people they hurt.
It should come as no surprise as to why this is. There is an undeniable moral principle which resonates with all of us and must be suppressed prior to any evil act. Humanity is special and fundamentally connected in an ineffable way that we do not always understand. It is the axiom of every moral system, the basis of philosophy and the kernel of truth at the center of religion. There is nothing more important than our shared humanity. We are human beings together in this world experiencing what we call life.
I have jettisoned many things since leaving religion – maybe you have too – but I will never abandon the sanctity of humanity. Maybe that is why so many who leave religion find themselves in love with our first core value: it evokes a familiar feeling of something important, something which was lost under layers of beliefs. That is why we put it front and center at Oasis, so we’ll never again forget this profound truth. So we’ll never again let policy and politics obscure what really matters, and always remember that people are more important than beliefs.