OVER the last twenty years or so, many people in the United States and in other countries have been actively working to achieve equality of opportunity for men and women and for all races. In some places it has been an uphill battle; in many, the struggle goes on. For some of us, this lack of equality isn't just an abstract concept -- something that happens to ``other'' people; it is part of our daily lives. As a woman, I had experienced some discrimination early in my career. But I hadn't thought as much about this problem until recently when new insight into the First Commandment helped me to see its role in eliminating inequality.
Why should obedience to the First Commandment end discrimination? In it, God says, ``Thou shalt have no other gods before me.''1 At first glance, the commandment's purpose seems to be related to the place and uniqueness of God, not the status of man.
But the commandment also has another function: it defines man's relationship to God. In effect it is saying that the main thing we need to do is to keep God central in our lives and not let anything usurp His position. Through successive generations the Israelites learned -- often with great pain -- the unwisdom of trying to put other gods in the place of the one God. Whenever they turned away from this behavior and kept to the one God, they prospered and flourished.
The basis for their prosperity was deeper, however, than mere outward obedience. They learned that they had to love God with their hearts and minds and that they also had to love even those who were strangers among them.
The Bible -- and Christ Jesus' teachings in particular -- makes clear that this love is something more than simply being humanly nice. It is instead based on an understanding of God as Love and of ourselves as His spiritual children. To see ourselves as fully spiritual is to understand that nothing material can possibly represent or take the place of a God who is Love. Yet very often we still tend to worship other things -- power, a certain skin color, a particular religion, or a form of government. To think of these finite things as central is to lose our sense of God's goodness and His presence in our lives.
Thus idolizing one's teacher or boss or friend is really putting that person in the place of God. And idolizing a particular race or gender -- assuming that it for some reason is superior -- is the same thing. If we do this, we are essentially denying the one God the place He should have in our lives and rejecting our own spirituality.
This difference in perspective is important because it shapes our thoughts and the direction our lives will take. If we are thinking of ourselves as here on earth for a limited time and then gone, we are closing our eyes to the great potential for good within each of us.
Throughout his life Christ Jesus endeavored to bring out the importance of taking the spiritual road -- he said that those who did so were the lights of the world. The spiritual road opens us up to our true nature as the sons and daughters of God. This spiritual nature includes only good; through it we express love, intelligence, purity, freedom, integrity, and many other aspects of our spirituality. These spiritual qualities are applicable to every part of our lives, and when we see how much they are needed in our world, we find that we have a valuable contribution to make right where we are.
Jesus' teachings also point out that all of God's children have this potential for good. If we are to love our neighbors as ourselves -- as Jesus counseled us to do -- we need to see this potential in all individuals no matter what their race or gender may be. Why? Because the material characteristics of race and gender have nothing to do with one's ability to express the spiritual qualities that come from God.
While it may appear, for instance, that men are less able to express their feelings, the fact is that as God's spiritual offspring they are fully capable of expressing love because their Father, God, is Love. Similarly, some feel that women have limited power of logic and rational skills. Our willingness to give up these stereotypes for the spiritual fact that God's children cannot help expressing Him will do much to forward humanity's progress. This is also true for racial groups -- whatever material characteristics or limitations may be applied to them can be rejected in our prayers, and we can strive to see the spiritual qualities that are an inherent part of each one's true being.
Such obedience to the First Commandment may at first seem only to affect our individual lives by helping us in praying for ourselves and in dealing with those around us. But our recognition of each one's spirituality does reach out beyond our immediate contacts as these people touch the lives of others they meet and so on. Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, sees unlimited possibilities for good in obedience to the First Commandment. Speaking of this commandment, she says, ``One infinite God, good, unifies men and nations; constitutes the brotherhood of man; ends wars; fulfils the Scripture, `Love thy neighbor as thyself;' annihilates pagan and Christian idolatry, -- whatever is wrong in social, civil, criminal, political, and religious codes; equalizes the sexes; annuls the curse on man, and leaves nothing that can sin, suffer, be punished or destroyed.''2
To see that all this can be accomplished by obeying this one commandment gives us a wonderful starting place for helping ourselves and our world. And as we think ever more deeply about the commandment and its role in our lives, we find that such progress is possible for all.
1Exodus 20:3. 2Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 340.