“If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of everyone, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property.”
— Thomas Jefferson
If Jefferson was alive today, he’d surely chuckle at the common use of the term “intellectual property.” It might even become one of his favorite oxymorons.
Lately, I’ve been witnessing an idea of mine come alive, and I’ve enjoyed the results so much that I am encouraging anyone who reads this blogpost to please steal this idea and run with it. I have nothing to lose if you do. I have no intention to turn it into private property. It belongs to the world.
The idea involves putting on a program known as a God Panel. The panelists are composed of a small group of people each of whom adheres to an altogether different perspective on God. Each of the panelists must be able to behave civilly, and hopefully bring a little humor and no shortage of passion to the table. The panel must include at least one unabashed atheist. It must also include believers in God who come from a traditional religious perspective and a progressive (i.e., heterodox) perspective, respectively.
The questions in the Part 1 of the program are intended to elucidate, among other things: how the panelists view God; in the case of believers, what frustrates them most about non-believers, and vice versa; and what common ground the panelists have found. It is critical that there is at least one atheist on the panel who will say, “I may not believe in God, but at least I care about the topic, and I’d like to see the members of our society engage more about it.” That voice is critical, because it will remind everyone in the audience that just as it would be a shame not to care about art, music, literature or science, it is also a shame to remain on a third-grade level when it comes to the topics of religion and God. You see, one of the goals of the program should be to challenge the audience both intellectually and emotionally about a topic that people are increasingly able to blow off altogether.
During the past 2 ½ months, four of us – Jew, Muslim, Christian and Atheist – have participated in God Panel sessions at numerous Washington D.C. area venues. We have found that the program works wonderfully both at places of worship and at university settings and we even headlined a conference on science and religion. As long as the voices are impassioned and truly diverse, the questions are rich, and the speakers are disciplined enough not to talk too long at any one sitting, the audience cannot help but be stimulated. The best thing about this idea is it may be replicated anywhere you can find a little religious diversity and a host community willing to tolerate multiple perspectives.
So, whether you live in Dallas, Portland, London, or Tel Aviv … give it a try. Get a panel together – hopefully one where the panelists like each other – knock on some doors, and be prepared to open some minds. I’m not sure this idea will work in, say, Mosul, but that’s OK. Because if you want to put on a God Panel program and find that there is neither the tolerance nor the interest in the area for such a program, you will have learned something very important. It’s time to take out your communicator and say “Beam me up, Scotty, there’s no intelligent life down here.”
Oh wait. That phrase was turned into a T-Shirt. Perhaps I’ve wandered into the realm of intellectual property. So maybe you’re wise not to use it. Just stick with the God Panel idea. Mr. Spock would approve … and so would Jefferson.