Grandfather Tree

Now having come to understand that we are all spiritual beings who have chosen to temporarily live a physical existence on this planet, certain musings are inevitable, and shared here.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Moral Absolutes

Day 53, Year 0000 NE 0410
I had a conversation recently with a few Christian ministers and learned something new. I do not know if my understanding is correct, but I think I have a new insight that I want to put out here and ask for feedback, because it seems to be important.

The problem that I have struggled with for a long time is to understand why folks on the "Christian right" have so adamantly and consistently fought against abortion, gay rights, and stem cell research, but are mostly silent on capital punishment, atrocities of war, and various governmental injustices. I just didn't make sense to me. After all, if they are against abortion because it is the killing of another human being, why aren't they equally against the invasion of Iraq or capital punishment, as both involve the intentional killing of human beings?

My error here was in thinking that those in the "Christian right" have a similar world view as mine. My arguments seem clear and reasonable from my world view. However, my world view is a particular view and is based primarily on some version or other of postmodern thinking. I do not claim to offer absolute truth or absolute values. I believe that we stand within cultural, familial and personal stories that shape our understandings of the world, and that the world itself cannot be known absent those stories. There are times that I have my doubts about this understanding as I delve more into spiritual realms. I am starting to believe that it may be possible to have a knowing about "what is" from outside of those stories or overlays, and that such a knowing may be a spiritual experience. However, even in such an instance, I do not believe that it is possible to take such insights and turn them into absolute truths for others, and somehow insist that they would apply to other humans.

My new insight is that those on the "Christian right" do not share a postmodern world view. This of course should have been obvious to be all along. It is not as if they have hidden this fact. However, one's world view tends to be invisible to oneself, and I am no exception. Even while knowing that another has different world view, I tended to present my arguments as if they shared some of my word view.

Now here is where I am on shaky ground because I an really only guessing, and I would very much love some feedback as to whether I am getting this right. Here goes: From the "Christian right" point of view, there are absolute truths and there is "right and wrong" that applies to all circumstances regardless of cultural or situational differences. This is true because these absolutes come from God, not human beings, and they cannot be changed.

This tenant is not simply one of many beliefs; it is the ground of their world view. It permeates all perceptions and understandings. What this means is that all experience must somehow or other adhere to this world view. Human experience that does not seem to fit this world view becomes basically invisible.

Once I understand this underlying story, then the answer to my earlier question becomes obvious. It is possible to say that abortion is always morally wrong. It is possible to say that stem cell research is always morally wrong. It is possible to say that sex outside of marriage is always wrong so of course homosexuality is aways wrong. Homosexual marriage must be opposed because it would challenge that in a fundamental way.

The commandment "Thou shall not kill" notwithstanding, it is much more difficult to say that it is always morally wrong to kill another human being. What about self defense? What about war? What about the state needing to punish wrongdoers? These involve adults dealing with other adults and one must get into some account of innocence and guilt, some assessment and judgment of the particularities of the situation. This is uncomfortable ground for those with a world view that attests to absolute moral values. One must search for the absolutes in the world. One finds abortion. It is easier to say that abortion is always wrong because one cannot argue that the being inside the mother has done anything wrong. Everyone must admit that this being is innocent. And of course most of those making this argument are men who will never have the experience of being pregnant.

Sexuality will of course be an uncomfortable issue to deal with from within the "moral absolutes" world view. Where can one find absolutes in this arena where there is so much variety of expression, so many cultural differences and understandings, so many powerful energies and emotions? One way is to confine it to the sacred bond of marriage and try to hold on to this as an absolute. Any sexual expression outside of this sacred bond becomes immoral. Let's not talk too much about what may be allowed within that sacred bond as that too is uncomfortable. Let's stick with what can be declared absolute. None outside of marriage. None. Declared by God. This is one absolute we can declare and hold onto.

Homosexuality by its very nature challenges this absolute in a fundamental way. If we consult with Christians who are gay, they tell us that their same sex attractions are natural and fundamental to who they are. So what does one do? In order to hold onto the absolutes, one must either call them liars, or that they have been brainwashed, or one must create some very convoluted arguments such as God is testing them to see if they can remain celibate all their lives.

From my world view this exercise seems odd and cruel. However, from the "absolutes" world view, to accept these contradictions is impossible without challenging the very fabric of their understanding of the world.

What I think is happening in this ever complex world, is that those areas where absolutes can be proclaimed are becoming narrower and narrower. In fact, they seem to be confined to areas of personal sexuality. In those areas where absolutes can still be proclaimed, one must focus ever more strongly. One must take a stand somewhere. The sacredness of the marriage bond is under attack. When I argue for the importance of a woman being abused to be able to end the marriage, the "Christian right" may admit to this but must see it as a bit rare and not to be focused on too much as it threatens the last vestige of a dying world view. To protect the world view is paramount and supersedes all else.

Rather than seeing the world as ever more complex, those from an "absolute" world view can argue that the problem is postmodern philosophy itself. Our children are not told what is right and what is wrong. There is too much focus on diversity and gray areas. We should get back to the basics. If they are allowed to think for themselves they will have no morality. If I argue the possibility of morality from a post modern perspective, this argument makes no sense. I must be fooling myself. Morality itself is defined from an absolute word view, and is claimed as belonging to that word view. My statement becomes a contradiction, a trick, a foolishness.

Now that I think that I understand these differences better, what to do with it? I do not know for sure. I suspect that this will help me to catch myself when I am making an argument that I think is so clever and obvious, but will not be, cannot be, seen as useful by someone who is coming from an "absolute morality" world view. So perhaps I will refrain from making such an argument, and instead find some common ground. We both applaud those who hold onto to their moral compass in the face of adversity. We both delight in the baby's cooing. We both enjoy the changing of the seasons and the beauty of this amazing world we share. We both stand in awe at an elderly couple who have held onto their love of each other through thick and thin. We both cry when we hear of those who have died in war. We both know something of the suffering of human beings. We both can learn to not take ourselves so seriously. We both can learn to laugh at ourselves.We both can learn to love when it is difficult to love. Perhaps we can even learn to love each other. [4564]