Monday, December 5, 2011

Morality Is As Morality Does

There are many who would claim a superior morality, owing to personal earnestness, religious certitude, and societal position. They feel it incumbent to tell the rest of us about our moral failings, to attempt to impress upon us their way of thought, as they see us incapable of making the "correct" choices for ourselves. They would, at every turn, attempt to harness us to the yolk of their faith, even though the bedrock principle of individual liberty upon which this nation is built and which is codified within our most sacrosanct document -- The Constitution of the United States -- says they cannot.

Morality is an artifice built of human mien; not a solid, load-bearing construction, but a more amorphous form, cobbled together from the vast swathes of human experience. A time comes at various intervals where the morality of society is tested, found wanting, and modified to excise those bits that no longer have relevance or were, in a new light, found to be barbaric, and to add new parts that modify or strengthen the remains, that we might all be brought closer together as a community without stripping away individuality.

Where morality fails us is when some choose to substitute their own judgement for that of society, attempting to bend the general welfare to their own ends.

Nowhere is that clearer in the arena of human relationships, physical, psychological, and religious. As human knowledge has expanded, as the breadth of human experience has increased, and as human society has unfolded into an even larger and more complex milieu, those belief systems that have thoroughly ritualized themselves and worked to maintain conformity in the face of change, continue to rail against that change, attempting to drag society backward into the folds of darker times.

We are no longer the primitive society composed of scattered tribes that wandered in search of food and shelter. We are no longer the collectives hiding from the lightning and thunder for fear it is the retribution of the gods. We are no longer the hungry masses, supplicating prostrate before idols, begging for rain. We are no longer the people who throw stones upon our fellows for their "transgressions." We are no longer the people who take the different and strange for signs of witchcraft and sorcery.

At least, we shouldn't be.

There is nothing wrong in seeking guidance, strength, and comfort in the assumption of religious belief and the pursuit of its teachings. But such pursuit of a bulwark against the vicissitudes of life must work within the strictures of a world that has passed by a great many of the premises upon which religions were formed. The world was in a far from known state until several ancient cultures began to posit more reasonable explanations for events in their environment. For the longest time, belief held sway over logic and reason. Slowly, inexorably, reason and logic began to move to the fore, leaving religious faith to continue its attempts to dominate human society in the face of the slow erosion of its power. The eternal verities, the unknown questions, the mysteries of life are falling before the lens of logical and reproducible investigation, and the ancient, sacred explanations for the workings of the cosmos no longer retain  the aura they once did, being superseded as they are, by rational, secular explanations.

Rationality and the attendant shift to a more secular and free society chafes against the authority long assumed by many a church or religious organization. They see constant motion of humanity toward a more enlightened and less spiritually-laden future as a threat to their "moral" authority. They feel the need to take matters into their own hands, fighting against the secular wave and imploring their followers to resist the tide of change. In the end, their efforts will be for naught, but while the balance of humanity is still chained to the resistance of hypocritical moralists painting themselves as ultimate authority, we will continue to see a struggle for control of our nation and our world, and in this struggle, there will be far too many needless casualties.

Proof of exceptional morals is not simply a function of being part of a belief system; it is, in fact, a function of showing that you have applied critical reasoning to your beliefs and have gleaned from the body of a religious tradition those core tenets that allow you to have your faith and appreciate that not all other human beings will share that faith. To simply impose your view of the world based on your faith on all others, is tyranny, plain and simple, and anathema to those who walk in the bright light of freedom and liberty.

No one should denigrate those who hold contrary positions grounded in their faith, but nor should we back down in pushing the inconsistencies and hypocrisies inherent in their views back at them, not with malice, but with solid, unshakable reasoning. If people refuse to critically examine their faith, if they feel that no rational explanation supersedes its pronouncements, it they are recalcitrant when challenged, then it is clear they may be considered hopeless cases. That does not mean that everyone who falls under the same belief system is also to be written off. We must show the inherent superiority of reasonable discourse by not making assumptions, and by engaging each and every person in the same way. Along the way, despite stubborn resistance, we may yet free more minds from the chains of Medievalism. Eventually, when enough minds have been so freed, the scales will tip in favor of a human future based on thoughtful guidance and human duty, not blind obedience and false piety.

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