Noble ideas are only as good as the people who uphold them.
It is all well and good to write laws devoted to equality and fairness. It is beautiful to put into words lessons of morality and goodness. Documents that share such words are truly venerable, and should be respected. That said, they lose their value when people choose to interpret them in ways that only benefit themselves. Freedom of speech does not mean invasion of privacy is acceptable. The right to defend ourselves does not mean the right to invent enemies to defend against. Guilty until proven innocent is worthless if not practiced in everyday life. And using a higher power as an excuse for hatred and atrocious actions defeats the whole idea of moral guidance.
Yet selfish interpretation is what humanity seems to keep doing.
We put wise words on paper … words meant to guide us in right action, right words, and right thinking, and they work well at first. But as the world changes, much of the cultural basis that made understanding some of these words innate, also change. Then the words need to be interpreted. Translated in language, or in thought because certain ideas no longer make for easy understanding. And once individuals get involved with interpreting such documents, then the resulting interpretation is always marred by the individual’s prejudices and point of view. Over time a few things can happen. First, the true meaning of the words gets lost as more and more individuals interpret in their own way. This becomes dangerous as people start to do it intentionally, and use their own interpretations to justify fulfilling their own needs. The trouble becomes more pronounced as people not only choose HOW to interpret, but WHAT to interpret. They selectively choose what parts they will listen to, and conveniently forget the rest.
At this point the documents become of limited use.
What is the point of this discussion? A document of law designed to guide a low technology predominantly rural population of a couple of million is not adequate to govern a high technology, industrial complex of over three hundred million. It needs to be adjusted for the changes in the people it governs. The originators could not even conceive of many things that this modern society takes for granted. Documents written hundreds, if not thousands of years ago, again in rural, low technology societies with relatively small populations, are certainly of limited value in a high technology world of over seven billion … at least if they are not allowed to be adapted to the times. Even if one believes they were written with divine guidance, they still passed through the minds of men. Men guided by their own views of the world; a world that has drastically changed since the words were inscribed. So isn’t it safe to assume that those words, to be properly honored, should also be flexible enough to adapt to the times? We have well learned in modern times that a stable structure both needs a solid and firm base, and a flexible framework. The solidity of the base ensures the strength of the structure. But the flexibility allows the building to survive when the nature of its environment shifts drastically: earthquakes, violent storms, etc.
What don’t we apply the same principle to the structures of our society?
It is time to rewrite the American constitution (something that the people can actually make happen if they were just willing to). It is time to adapt the Bible and Quran to a modern world. The foundation of all of these is still sound and strong. The problem is that we don’t allow them the flexibility to survive the drastic changes that mankind has gone through since their conception. They are still ripe with wisdom and justice. It is how we interpret them that has gone astray. So how do we go about doing this?
That is the question that we really need to ask ourselves.