Sunday, May 06, 2007

Universal Morality?

I think that, just like "happy", "funny" and "boring", the words "good" and "evil" have no meaning outside the mind of a human subject. -Unterkind

Yet these words do have meaning to my wife and my friends when we use them to each other. We are in agreement to the meaning because the meanings are in community, not just personal.

It seems to me that all concepts of "good" and "evil" have to do with the community that one is a part of -- even religious points of view have this. There is no "good" or "evil" that an individual has not in relation to other beings. Some subjects might have only to do with ourselves-- masturbation, use of drugs, suicide-- but ultimatly the arguments either for or against each issue, no matter how "personal" they are will have to do with our relations to others-- e.g. maturbation in relation to adultery, drug use in relation to careless harm of others, suicide in relation to how we grieve others.

If we did not live in community, there would BE no good or evil. If we didn't have species and a human society and nature then there would be no reason for good or evil. But the fact is, there is, and so every human being has to deal with it.

And good and evil-- whether religious or otherwise-- is never universal, but are basic principles of not doing harm within a context. The concept "do not kill" is an excellent example. For most people, that principle has many exceptions. We kill microscopic organisms every time we breathe, thus we kill and think nothing of it. Most of us eat meat and most of us feel that it is okay to kill another human if they are attacking us. A few of us feel that killing innocent people in war is okay as long as the objective is worth it. On the other hand, there are vegetarians who do not want to kill any animal. There are some who belong to religious communities who are commanded by God not to kill another human being, no matter what the cause. Others, in their communities, hold to opposing any killing of an innocent. Others, such as the jainists, attempt to stop any killing of any life, so much so that they wear masks so as to not accidently swallow an insect. The basic concept of limitation of harming another life is always there, but the application of this principle is based on the community.

We get confused nowadays about morality because we are at a conflux of all societies-- and thus, all moralities-- in a way that humanity has never been before. It seems so individual when every person you approach has a different point of view on morality. But this is just the conflict that comes in any cross-cultural situation. The cross-cultural is becoming a part of our life now as we are no longer one society, but many, all joined together, forced to understand each other and to believe new things in our new context.

Ultimately, the war in Iraq-- and all modern wars-- are culture wars, morality wars. Survival will not be the strongest, but will be the moral point of view that will be most inclusive, the least harming to others. This is why both the American and the jihadist points of view will be torn down, eventually. An old morality will succeed, that will allow both Muslims and Americans to live in peace together, that does not require killing another for disagreeing with them will be more successful than the points of view that causes our current wars.

Now, those of you who are Christians reading this blog might be saying, "Is Steve a situational ethicist? How can that be Christian?" No, I do not believe in situational ethics. I believe that we are all a part of a society, and that our morality should reflect the society we are a part of. If you are a Muslim, then you have a very strict morality to live by: hospitality, care for fellow Muslims, commitment in marriage, no alcohol, etc. If the edges of Muslim morality is wearing down, it is because of the influence of other societies that are trying to join it (For instance, Osama Bin Ladin is actually a mix between Islam and Marxism, in complete defiance to orthodox Islam). If one is a strict "American" then there is a moral point of view one holds, including patriotism and a certain amount of pluralism.

If you are a Christian, then the society you are supposed to belong to is the kingdom of God-- the kingdom of Jesus. This is different than the kingdom of Moses (ruled by the Law) or the kingdom of David or the kingdom of the ancient Hebrew priests. Jesus determines our morality, our "good" and "evil". In that we sin against Him, we are showing that we are still creatures of this world, of our societies that we have not fully renounced.

It is Jesus' morality, however, that is most successful and will ultimately win over the world. "Love your enemies" -- do good to everyone, no matter what they do to you
"Forgive the repentant"-- always welcome to your group those who repent of their sin
"Love God"-- The community of God always does what is right before God, worshipping and honoring Him
"Love your neighbor"-- the community of God always supports those in the community, not allowing them to come to harm

And more. Jesus will win, perhaps only when he returns, but His is the morality that will succeed.

Steve K

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