I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the moral ideas that motivated the political and ideological direction our country has shifted into, and which have plunged our culture and our politics into a moral and ethical setback. While some people see recent events as some sort of triumph for so-called Christian values, I can’t help but think that Jesus Christ himself would be just as disheartened as the rest of us if He was here among us watching and reacting to the news as an ordinary person would.
The main question that comes to my mind right now is, why does our sense of morality have to be based on excluding people? By any traditional American definition of “morality,” it seems that the more “moral” a person is, the more individuals--or entire types of people--that person must exclude and marginalize.
In a previous post, I described the distinctions between commandment-based morality and ahimsa morality, the latter being the moral code more typical of “Eastern” religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism. The most basic understanding of ahimsa includes the motivation to “do no harm,” or to let compassion and love of humanity be our moral motivation, instead of fear of punishment from an authoritarian father-deity.
Authoritarians have an easy time bending commandment-morality to suit their purposes. They promote an image of an authoritarian, wrathful God, with characteristics that sound conveniently just like theirs, ironically in the name of Jesus Christ who preached about God’s mercy and forgiveness, and whose death was supposed to assure salvation for his devotees from all the horrors that today’s authoritarians threaten us with if we allow gays, Muslims, women who would consider abortion, "liberals, " etc. to have a respectable place and equal rights in our society.
Since authoritarians can’t bend moral ideas based on ahimsa to their will, they preach against such morality as being too “soft” on people, and that the idea of accepting homosexuality, or practicing religions that don’t 100% agree with their religion, or enjoying anything classifiable as “decadent” that doesn’t fit in their narrow catalogue of acceptable behaviors and lifestyles is overly “permissive,” and sure to lead us on a path of moral decline and self-destruction.
Thus, it seems that the uncompromising, loveless version of commandment-morality that is being preached in many churches and by many politicians today only serves a small percentage of the population. It simply doesn’t allow for much human variety, defining morality in such narrow terms that it leaves more people out than it accepts.
When the moral code so heavily emphasizes excluding certain types of people, it’s a short and easy step to cross over into using it to justify discrimination against and deprivation of basic human rights to anyone who is considered by that system as morally objectionable. A “moral” person then has no choice but to reject and marginalize such people, because their moral system does not teach them any flexibility or adaptive skills for relating with people who express any part of the range of human experience that they are unfamiliar with.
That moral code seems to assume that we need to keep such a tight, mistrusting hold on ourselves to avoid totally dissolving into hedonism, as though we human beings aren’t capable of managing ourselves with our own skillsets and human nature to love, without having to be controlled by an authoritarian moral system.
If we really look at the results of this moral system, however, we’ll see that it hasn’t prevented the moral chaos it so fears—It actually created it.
I’ll elaborate on this in my next post.
Heart illustration by Karla Joy Huber, 2013; Prismacolor and Sharpie marker