And yet, for a huge proportion of the people living on this wonderful planet, this birthright is denied. And it has been for a very long time. Jesus is reported to have said that the poor are always with us and the history of the last few thousand years seems certainly to have fulfilled this prophecy. Some of us, and I include myself in this number, are privileged and wealthy beyond the dreams of our ancestors. Others, and these are perhaps in the majority, are poorer now than they have ever been.
There is a myth, a very powerful myth, of progress. This is a myth that is very useful to those of us who have benefited materially from what can only be called the thefts of our ancestors. They thought that they had a divine mandate to acquire more than their share of the world's resources. Far more, in reality, than they could actually use. I have just poured myself a glass of wine. A small thing and not, in this wine-growing country, very expensive. But, as I drink it, I know that there will be someone dying of thirst or water-borne disease.
What is the appropriate response? This is a serious question and one to which I have given thought for most of my life. I could deny myself this pleasure - wear a hair shirt and live lice-ridden in some penitential purgatory, revelling in my own virtue as I preach sermons on the virtues of poverty. In the meantime, however, people will still starve and kill one another in the name of some transcendental being or other who has ordained that his word is supreme. They will say that they alone have the truth - that if all "men" should follow them then paradise will be the reward. Thus, they decree that the unsaved must repent or perish - or often repent and perish. For the reward is not of this "fallen" world but is of the next - the one we will enter. Paradise.
I was watching a young child the other day. I was waiting in line at a supermarket checkout and she was in front of me. Most times I get deeply impatient and misanthropic in these circumstances - everyone is moving too slowly and there is a part of me that wants to kill. This time, however, I was glad to wait. For this young girl was exploring her foot. She was totally focussed on it. Touching it with her hands then and putting to her mouth. We made eye contact and she invited me to share her joy and delight in her discovery of her body. She communicated her pleasure to me and I responded with my eyes and face. No words. For she was not yet verbal. She did not yet know that such things were to be measured and judged.
But a lesson soon followed. Her mother replaced the shoe the child had been wearing. Shoes she did not need for walking wasn't an option at the time. she was strapped into a buggy. The child protested. Sne cried but was unheard. Her mother was busy, as all adults are, and did not see how important her naked foot was to the child. The door to delight closed as all such doors do as we grow up. Shoes are important, aren't they? As are all clothes. We must hide ourselves behind them and not let the world intrude. Our masks. This we learn from incidents like this. And pass it on to our children.
The child did not know me and we will never meet again. But she reminded me of something I had forgotten. Buried. A time of original innocence before I was taught that I was wrong to be as I was. A child with a whole new world to explore and experience. A miracle.
There is a story in the founding myth of christianity in which in which children flocked to Jesus and his disciples tried to stop and control them. What he is alleged to have said was very curious: "suffer little children to come unto me and forbid them not - for of such is the kingdom of heaven". In the many years in which I tried to be a christian these words haunted me. Because what they say is vrey important - that children are naturally attracted to love and that what is important is that barriers are not put in their way. And yet, the doctrine of original sin was conceived that fundamentally contradicted the words of the putative founder of the religion that came to dominate the old Roman Empire and then much of the world. In the name of Jesus the words he is alleged to have spoken were denied and perverted. Children had to forced to the truth - and schools were created whose sole purpose was to break this natural urge to move to delight and love and force them to bend their knees to will of old and woman-denying men. Sterile and without grace that the man they purported to worship proclaimed to be the natural inheritance of all.
And thus the Roman Empire with its love of death and war - its delight in conquest and the father right - adopted and distorted the vision of its putative founder. With the results we now see all around us. Whether Jesus was a historical figure or not - and I have my doubts on this - what he said in that sentence and others attributed to him are the words of a child of the Goddess - a man who, according to the Gospels was anointed as Priest or King by a woman- some say Magdalen.
They were the words of one who knew that all human life was a miracle - and who spoke ofthose who denied the divinity of human beings and their natural instinct to move towards truth thus:
It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.
Children do not need to be saved. They already partake of divinity. Whether they be born in New York or in Africa, they are equally valuable. And so are we all. We are all children of Goddess, whether we born to Islam, Judaism, Christianity or any other of the institutions of power, hatred and control that have been erected to destroy the divine spark that is born within each of us.
In this there is hope. What human beings have created - this web of deceit and division - can also be overcome by human beings. Within us all, original innocence lies sleeping and can be reawakened. The first thing is to recognise the basic lie - original sin. Then we can begin to leave it behind and recognise the basic human drive for love and delight.