Perfecting the Conscience of Man

Abrams, Charles 1954-01-15

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Interview Participants
And now, This I Believe, a series of living philosophies presented in the hope they may help to strengthen and enrich your life. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. Charles Abrams is a lawyer, author and lecturer who has particularly distinguished himself as an authority on city planning. He has served as consultant and counsel to housing bodies of New York City, the United States and the United Nations, and he has taught on the faculties of a number of colleges and universities. Examining some of the reasons for his concern with how people live, Charles Abrams states his personal creed.
As a lawyer, I have an eye trained to facts and a mind taught to draw inferences only when based on some tangible evidence. Therefore, to say what I believe in the realm of intangibles, such as God, faith, or the hereafter, would imply a great deal of arrogance on my part. I haven’t lived long enough nor been treated to such special confidences as to enable me to judge on such matters with precision. And while I respect religion, I’m not pretentious enough to believe that of the many hundreds of religions now functioning in the world, mine is the only true and authentic one.
Yet I believe in what all religions should aim for: the perfection of the conscience of man.
For I have faith in man. He is the only creature that can record history, the only animal aware of both the brevity of life and infinity, the only living thing that through time has demonstrated its ability to make the difficult ascent to morality.
I have faith in man functioning under institutions in which he can enjoy the right of choice within the reasonable limits of law, in which he may cry out against tyranny without fear, and in which he has the right to be wrong; in which the humblest individual may assert his grievance and be given a hearing and a remedy; in which hearsay can find no ear; in which justice is indivisible.
I have faith in man groping to achieve understanding in logic and literature, in ethical science, in religion, and in justice. I have faith in man when he not only has faith in himself but the courage to assert his faith and the humility to respect another’s.
But there’s a time when I lack faith in man: man in war, man in the Mob, man with power riding herd over his fellow man, man in hate, man in ignorance, man the witless tool of propaganda, man without scruple, man in madness, man in slavery. Without institutions, man becomes only an anarchic unit in the universe, wavering between appetite and scruple to rationalize his primitive urges. Disorganized and afraid, a master soon arises to assert power over his mind and consign him to servitude and darkness.
But when man learns to respect the institutions which respect men, when he strives to make life nobler as well as longer; to measure his life by milestones, not years; when he stops fearing life and has no time for death; then my faith in man is supreme. For I believe that the great un-probed frontier of the universe is conscience, that God is the perfection of man’s conscience, and that man will fulfill his trusteeship over the earth when he has taken what is in this world and, with heart and hands, wrought it into what ought to be.
There the beliefs of New York attorney Charles Abrams. He is the author of numerous books and articles on housing and social trends.
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