Tuesday, May 04, 2004

The Morality Factor

I put up three posts on The Jesus Factor, and did not manage to incite one inflammatory comment.  The was one person (Warren Kelly) who linked  to one of my posts, saying that the attitude conveyed in the post was "rather amusing," but that is as far as the criticism went.  The criticism was that "it shows a total lack of understanding about spirituality. True spirituality, whether Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Confucian, Hindu, or what, will effect every part of an adherant's life."

It may be that some of the excerpts I posted imply that, or at least reasonably could be taken that way.  In fact, I happen to agree with Mr. Kelly, more or less.  Spirituality can affect pretty much every part of a person's life.  In my mind, the question is not so much whether spirituality should affect every  part of a person's life; rather, whether it should strictly determine any  aspect of a person's life. 

Several years ago, my wife got a cartoon that said "Logical Positivism can be cured!" and put it up on the refrigerator.  The cartoon was wrong, I was not cured, and we have been divorced now for many years.  Admittedly, I still think in terms of testable hypotheses; when/if the rapture comes, my first thought will be: "how can I prove this is not an hallucination?" 

Another pesky trait I have is that of ethical relativism.  All situations are different, and I do not see how a person can take something written thousands of years ago, by authors who no longer are available for examination and cross-examination, and apply what was written, inflexibly, to the new situation.  The major holy books are completely silent, for example, on the question of stem cell research.  Yes, it is possible to infer certain things that are at least somewhat applicable.  But the fact is, the chain of assumptions becomes rather fragile when doing so.  Considering the fact that not all of the original texts are available, the translations are debatable, and there is no way to prove that crucial texts have not been lost, I do not see how anyone can make a firm pronouncement about the ethics of stem cell research, based solely on a holy book. 

Let's get back to the main point, that of the question: should spirituality strictly determine any aspect of a person's life? An important variant of this is the question:  If the fundamental source of knowledge in a spiritual system is incomplete, or at least cannot be proven to be complete; if the translations are debatable; and if the ethical question at hand did not even exist when the source material was written, is it valid for a person to direct or judge the actions of another person, relying only on those ancient writings? 

I would argue that it is not proper to do so.  I would say that people are free to consider those writings, and perhaps even consider them to be the best source of inspiration on the subject at hand.  But part of morality involves a careful consideration of all  sources of information, prior to making an important decision.  Different source of information can be given different relative weights, depending on the authority of the source.  Taking only one source, such as one's spiritual belief, is to discard relevant information.  That is not what morality is about.  No matter what the book says, no matter what your spiritual leader says, if you have an important decision to make, it is up to you to gather the necessary information, process it thoughtfully, consult with others if you can, and make your own decision. 

The concerns raised by the documentary The Jesus Factor, are important.  They are important for many reasons, but the most important reason is that the film indicates that Mr. Bush thinks that the Christian Bible is "the only handbook you need."   Does this mean that he may, in some cases, reject crucial information about, say, whether or not to start a war?

I have no objection to Mr. Bush being influenced  by his spirituality.  My objection is that he seems, at times, to use his own brand of spirituality to make decisions that affect billions of persons who do not share his belief system, without giving any consideration to the opposite voices.  I am not asking him to stop being a Christian.  I am asking him to be a thoughtful, careful, deliberative, and considerate Christian.  (Many Christians are, as are many persons of other faiths, and many atheists and agnostics.)  It may be too much too expect, but it is not too much to ask.