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]

5 Comments:

  • At 7:29 PM, Blogger Will said…

    Great post, Wally. It's fascinating to learn that people have such different perspectives. You might find this interesting http://craponsundays.blogspot.com/2007/07/martians.html
    CRAPonSundays: Martians

    Will

     
  • At 9:36 PM, Blogger Paul said…

    Wow...this is really quite amazing. When you refer to the "Christian Right", you must be referring to the 'moral majority'. My first question is 'Why waste your time and energy on these people?' First of all, they are not 'Christians', because they exclude people. Secondly, they are not 'moral', because morality, whatever it's origin, has to do with ethical decision making. Whether it is 'normative' or 'descriptive', and it does not involve making decisions to harm one another, but rather to look after the well being of one another. You can torture yourself, or others regarding the 'abortion' issue, but the fact of the matter is that a zygote is not a human being by any definition of the word. It is in fact a symbiotic relationship, that involves both potential and actual 'being' (at least in the Aristotelean sense) between a mother and her developing potential child. Whatever happens in that relationship is strictly up to her in a moral, caring and nurturing society. It is her body, her will, and her relationship with any diety that may exist (or not) as to what and how anything happens during this symbiosis. That you point out the contradiction between so-called 'right to life' folks advocating the 'death penalty' for criminals at the same time, is testament to their irrational and inconsistent way of thinking. No belief system should or can ascribe to this logical inconsistency. The Christian morality is based on a very simple set of principles...Love others as you love yourself; do no harm; be charitable and fair; and judge not others.
    I've gone way over my limit as a response here, but the simple answer to your very thoughtful inquiry is that you can do nothing about the collosal ignorance of some people, and the only thing more astonishing than that is their stubborn-ness. There simply cannot be any moral 'absolutes', because even if one believes in a supreme diety, then one has to believe in 'free-will'...and it is this free-will to make choices that negates any kind of 'absolute' morality. It's like arguing that something can be both true and false at the same time. If one does not believe in a supreme diety, then one is absolutely free, and therefore absolutely responsible for the choices one makes. In either case, moral absolutes are impossible. They are not just becoming 'narrower', we are beginning to understand that they never existed.
    Grok66

     
  • At 8:11 AM, Blogger Wally Nut said…

    The point I was trying to make is that when interacting with someone from a totally different world view, arguments that make sense from within your particular view will likely appear as nonsense from theirs. Paul, I see your arguments as primarily arguments in favor of your world view, but the specifics of your arguments will not make any sense to someone from a "moral absolutes" world view. And therein lies, perhaps, the ongoing frustration that occurs on both sides in discussions between people with such diverse ways of viewing the world. My sense now is that such arguments are futile, not because I am right and they are wrong, but because our world views are so different. You ask "Why waste your time with those people?" My answer to that is that my time is not being wasted because I am finding ways to connect with other humans with whom I share this planet. We have so much in common. If you were stuck in an elevator with "one of those people" your world views would matter little. The primary concern would be to find a way out and find a way to get along until you could get out. Paul, we are all stuck on an elevator together. We share this planet and whatever one of us does affects all the rest of us. There is no one who will come and rescue us. The only way out is through death and we will all go through it. While here, we only have each other. We can huddle in one corner with all those who we think share our world view. To me, this is too limiting. I am seeking the possibility of meaningful experiences with any and all.

     
  • At 12:01 AM, Anonymous Alma said…

    Well said Wally.......twice!

    I, personally, thoroughly enjoy the moments spent with those who share my world view and perhaps, thus, help to keep me centered and reinforce my sense of sanity and wholeness. However, I also find a certain sense of fulfillment in being able to "walk with crowds" as well. I acknowledge that I don't truly understand, because I don't see the world the same way as some. I know in my heart, though, that they are still doing the very best they can, and thinking in the only way they can with the view of the world that their present level of awareness provides.

    Fear is the element that forms, and shapes the "absolutest" world view and provides the illusion of form. Without the fear, the absolutes and those lines drawn in the sand to protect them begin to dissolve and become less distinct.

    Isolation from those we perceive as different from us does nothing to increase awareness; .....not theirs, .. nor ours.

    When I was a very little girl, small and somewhat frightened, my father picked me up and held me on his shoulders so that I could see how the world looked from a higher perspective. His action enabled me, for at least a few minutes, to truly see the world from his view.

    It helps, at times, to remember the word FEAR as an acronym for "False Evidence Appearing Real". In Reality, we are all One.
    Alma

     
  • At 9:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I am from the Christian "Right" and my world view comes from the Holy Spirit who is in my heart and guides me in what is good and what is evil. So, yes i am able to judge you! Opposite of the Holy Spirit is the devil, who is deceitful and a liar who wants to destroy YOU. We all make that choice in who we are going to beleive; God or the devil. I prefer to belive God. Remember the snake in the apple tree that said "Oh, Hath God said?" making them doubt God's word and they beleived satan. Adam and Eve were thrown out of the Garden of Eden. Heaven (the garden of eden in our future) will not be available to those who belive the Devil. Yes fear is the motivator .... i want to be with God for eternity, not all alone in the dark hot and thirsty! Yes death is our common denominator. Hope to see all of you by the bubbling brook with a fine summer breeze for all time.
    Me

     

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