This Message for All Ages requires its leader to feel comfortable soliciting answers from the congregation—both children and adults—and then reframe or summarize each response for all to hear.
Will you play a game of “Let’s Pretend” with me? It goes like this:
You’re on a television game show where you’re offered a choice of two doors to open:
If you open door #1, you will receive a million dollars. That’s right: one million dollars!
If you open door #2, your ten nearest neighbors (but not you and your family) will receive a million dollars. (Just to make sure, your neighbors will be legally prohibited from giving you any of their newfound wealth.) All ten neighbors will become millionaires… except you.
Which door do you open?
Do you open Door #1, which makes you (and only you) an instant millionaire?
Or do you open Door #2, which makes your ten neighbors millionaires?
Before you raise your hand to tell us which door you would open, think about WHY you chose that door. I’m going to ask you to explain your reason for choosing Door #1 or Door #2.
Take about six responses from the congregation, focusing on the “why.” You will almost certainly hear a range of choices and responses. Repeat each one, summarizing if necessary. For example, you might hear:
I’d open door #1 so that I can share the money with a couple of neighbors but keep most of it
I’d open door #2 because it would improve the quality of life in my neighborhood
I would choose Door #1 because I don’t like my neighbors, so I could move somewhere else
I would choose Door #2 because it would result in ten million dollars being shared instead of just one million dollars
I would choose Door #1 because I need the money more than my neighbors do
This game of “Let’s Pretend” is interesting because asking “Why?” helps us hear motivations: what causes us to make certain choices. When we talk about the choices we make to live out our values in community, we’re talking about our ethics.
There are lots of sources of ethical guidance. For example, John Stuart Mill was a 19th-century philosopher who used the term “utilitarianism” to describe choosing actions that will create the greatest happiness or greatest good for the greatest number of people.
Which door would create the greatest impact for the greatest number of people? (Door #2)
Sometimes, religion gives us ethical instructions — like the Golden Rule.
Ask someone to summarize the Golden Rule: treat others the way you want to be treated.
What would the Golden Rule say about which door to open? (Door #2)
But there are other ways to think about this decision, because it’s important to care for ourselves—and sometimes caring for ourselves comes first. Maybe your neighbors would use their ten million dollars in ways that are less responsible. Maybe you and your family really need some money; maybe you have ideas about how to use a million dollars to care for yourselves and your neighbors.
One of the things we do in this congregation is ask questions about why we do the things we do. Our questions, our conversations, and our wondering are usually more important than the answers. We hope that your time in religious exploration is filled with questions today, so that you can be part of our “wondering” community.