This I Believe: Dr. Emily Taylor

This I Believe: Dr. Emily Taylor

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The Office of Religious Life and Service is holding weekly gatherings called “This I Believe,” during which faculty and staff share a part of their worldview and how it shapes their life.

Dr. Emily Taylor, PC Professor of English, spoke at the second gathering on Monday, October 27.  Following is a copy of her speech:

Heaven Tonight by The Coup (2001)
And if we win in the ages to come
We’ll have a chapter where the history pages are from
They won’t never know our name or face
But feel our soul in free food they taste

Feel our passion when they heat they house
When they got power on the streets
And the police don’t beat ’em about
Let’s make health care centers on every block
Let’s give everybody homes and a garden plot
Let’s give all the schools books
Ten kids a class
And give ’em truth for their pencils and pads
Retail clerk – love ballads where you place this song
Let’s make heaven right here
Just in case they wrong

I start with this song because it captures, especially in the last two lines, my position in
relation to religion and life here on Earth. While I don’t identify with any religious
institution, I also don’t consider myself an atheist. I don’t fully believe in empiricism, and so
I’m open to the idea that there is much wonder in heaven and on earth that I don’t see. I
don’t feel qualified to make the call that this life is our only one, or that we aren’t part of
some cosmic whole I can’t even imagine from this place. I also might still believe in ghosts,
so if there are ghosts, then there is some kind of spirit realm, right?

While I doubt I’ll ever know enough to answer those questions, I do feel I can weigh in on
what we do if this life is our only one. I remember writing a poem about death in high
school, and just barely grasping that my own mortality meant that one day I would cease to
exist in this state. Truly grasping one’s own death might be impossible, but if we use our
own mortality to treasure the time we do have on earth, then maybe the consciousness of
our own death is worth it. In other words, I was really bummed out about dying, but then
thought, what’s useful about it? For one thing, it puts small problems into perspective. If
you’re having a bad day, or if something is bothering you, plug it into this question: “Is
______worse than death?” When I do that, it reminds me that 1) what I’m worrying about
really doesn’t matter in the (very) long run and 2) that I should be grateful for the chance to
experience even this bad day, because it is a gift to be alive.

So I think, wow, we only have a few years to spin together on this globe. I think, I’m one
person out of 7 billion, and all of these other humans have good days, and bad days, and for
no reason whatsoever, most of the people in the world are born into poverty. I knew that I
lived a life of privilege and comfort, but that really hit home this summer when I traveled to
India with a group of PC students. I’ve been joking I’d like to start a “Take a Libertarian to
India” program so folks that don’t believe in government at all can see what no government
services looks like. Most of our group got sick from e. coli, from being exposed to water that
was untreated. While we had the luxury to afford bottled water, and managed to recover
from the infections fairly quickly, most people in India do not have that luxury, drinking
from the same water they do their washing in, and the same water systems that carry
waste, human and otherwise, away from people’s homes.

This leads me to what I believe, which is that in order to make heaven right here on Earth,
for everyone, we need to start with the basics. I believe everyone, regardless of birthplace,
deserves access to clean water, basic health care, free education, sufficient nutritious food,
and safe shelters. Everyone should also be protected from violence and harm to their
person. I’m describing some of the tenets of universal human rights, a code that, although
adopted by the United Nations, has never fully been practiced anywhere on our globe. Yet.
But if we believe in justice, it has to be justice for all.

In addition to safety, health, and nutrition, we all deserve freedom—freedom to marry
anyone we please, to not get married, to have sex or not have sex, to have children or to not
have children, to stay at home or to go to work, to express our unique and individual
identities with no fear of punishment.

I believe the rules that have been created to discriminate against people, whether it be in
how they speak, how they look, how they act, are rules that ultimately attempt to protect
resources from being shared equally. If you blame poor people for being poor, for example,
instead of blaming companies or business owners for not paying them enough, then it’s
easy to say, you are not worthy of equal human rights because the very conditions (that
you did not create) are evidence that you are less than human. If we believe, for real, that
everyone is fully human, it makes it difficult to continue these systems of oppression.

This might be hard to do, because once we accept privilege based on inequality, we don’t
always want to give it up because it benefits us. I don’t want to eliminate capitalism,
because it benefits me and I like my Honda Fit and my iPhone. But who made these
commodities I enjoy? Do these luxuries depend on human suffering? Is it worth it, in the
long run, to save $20 on a shirt when the woman making it has no labor rights? I think we
can follow similar lines of reasoning for racism, religious fundamentalism, misogyny, etc. If
any belief system relies on the fundamental premise that its believers are superior to the
non-believers, I reject it. We are not superior to any other human because we are consumer
capitalists. Our cars, clothes, random electronics… these are not what it means to be
human.

This I Believe, then… we have to think first about taking care of our neighbors before we
think about luxuries. Most of our lives here, at this college, are luxuries… we turn on the
tap, and have clean water. We walk to GDH, and someone else has made our food. We go
home for the summer, and when we return, our buildings are fixed and the grounds
maintained. I’d ask: what can we do to deserve this special treatment? How can education,
at this institution, serve as a call to justice? This is what I believe: that education is
necessary for us to truly adopt a universal code of human rights. Humans matter more than
ideologies… so let’s test ideas against this basic premise: does this ideology violate basic
human rights? If so, it doesn’t work. I say, let’s make heaven right here on Earth.

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