Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Transcendent Morality - Part I

A while back, Joe (other one of The Two Men) sent me the video below and asked what I thought. The video argues that morality should not be based on any kind of sacred text or other religious authority; I found it intriguing in couple of ways. One is because of a logic method we use where I work, in which we scrutinize fact vs. opinion, vet-out relevant vs. irrelevant data, track assumptions and clarify over-generalizations. We do this to find the root-cause of a problem, in other words, finding the truth. Besides this, it’s amusing to hear a voice in a British accent using big words, sounding smart, but saying nothing new when viewed from a Catholic perspective.

If God & religion are out, on what should our morality be based? The video answers the question while describing 6 different societies (interesting that it is “6” from a biblical standpoint). The society types outlined serve as examples, but they are also distractions. The video is really about a long litany of opinions, assumed relevancy and over-generalizations. The list below is what they claim morality should be based upon. Some clarifying questions immediately came to mind.

Ø  Improved Education: How do we know it is improved? What one may call good education another may call indoctrination. 

Education makes me SMRT
Ø  Valid Reasons: What is valid or not? Who will decide “validity”? How will it be measured?

Ø  Prohibiting Needless Harm: What is needless? What is harm? Could killing a healthy unborn child possibly qualify as needless harm? What is your opinion?
Healthy baby 8 weeks after conception
Ø  Avoid Pointless Suffering (euthanasia): Don’t some hardships make us stronger or make others around us stronger? Who determines “pointlessness”? How is it defined?

Ø  Recognizing Relevant Differences: Who determines what is relevant and on what is it based?

Ø  Identifiable Harm: How can we identify emotional or psychological harm? Where is the threshold and who will judge it?

Ø  Sufficient Justification: When is it sufficient? Who says so?

Ø  Accurate Information: Is it? Are you sure? How accurate?

Ø  My favorite…..Doing what is right and not what we are told to do: How do we know what it is “right”? The sweeping statements above will tell us?!?

In fairness, I’m sure one could write-up a similar post against some “religious video”. This is easy to do if we over-generalize ALL religions as ONE thing. Over generalization allows us to pick & choose whatever examples support our premises best, and ignore examples that do not. For instance, Catholicism holds that the universe is a created thing that is rational and orderly (like the creator) and should be studied, not worshipped like some past religions have done. This kind of thinking led us to formal scientific disciplines during the middle ages and beyond. In many ways Catholicism was a top contributor to western civilization, but there is no place for these examples in the above video.
What if we were to over-generalize atheistic thinking? Is the thinking of Joseph Stalin the same as Richard Dawkins? Is the morality of Mao Tse-Tung the same as Christopher Hitchens? I guess the point here is to separate & clarify our thinking, ask questions, demand specific answers, and understand the power of our premises. It’s OK to disagree, but not when we are unclear on what we disagree about. Speaking for myself, there are times when I actually prefer clarity over agreement.
Stay tuned for Part II on this in a week or so…

Monday, November 19, 2012

You Are a Thief and a Murderer

WARNING: The following might make you feel bad. For this reason you are not likely to hear it in a typical Sunday homily. It is based on a reflection I happened across from St. Bernard of Clairvaux; a doctor of the Church.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux
As is often the case, we need to start with the basics. Our souls consist of a will and an intellect. To love God is the highest act of the will and to know God is the highest act of the intellect. In this life, we can choose to move our will and intellect either toward God or toward “self”.

Are we really thieves? How can it be so? Since we were made by God and for God, we do not own ourselves. Therefore, when we commit acts of selfishness we are thieves who try to steal ourselves away from God. The only things we can truly claim ownership to are our sins and our vices.

How can we be murderers? Well, think about what murderers do. They kill a person and try to conceal the crime, perhaps by burying the victim in the ground. Likewise we too are murders, since we kill our souls, which is of far more value than our body. What do we do once we kill our souls? We try to hide the crime by burying our souls under mounds of filth. Gluttony, greed, addictions and perversions of every sort hide the fact that we are dead.  Even everyday “innocent” distractions like texting, gaming and Facebook can prevent us from seeing the crime that has happened.

To those “good” Catholics that never go to confession or maybe go once per year because they really don’t do anything “bad”. To those that firmly believe “I’m okay and you’re okay”……

Ø  Have you committed any selfish acts? Yes?
· You are a thief! Go to confession.

Ø  Have you committed the kind of sin that kills the soul? Yes?
· You are a murderer! Go to confession.

Ø Have you injured your soul with any type of sin at all? Yes?
· That is assault; you are an assailant! Go to confession.

Really….just go to confession, because I’m NOT okay and you’re NOT okay. As mentioned, you’re not likely to hear this in a Sunday homily because it is an unpleasant reality. There is a phrase we use at work to remind us of harsh realities and to express the emerging consequences thereof. We often say…. “You’ll have that”.


Friday, November 9, 2012

The Power of a Premise

The video below is a good example of the power of a premise. Whether good or bad, a premise is a powerful thing. The caller into the radio show is complaining about the location of deer crossings. She is asking why the department of transportation would allow deer crossings to be in such high traffic areas. Why would they encourage the deer to cross an interstate highway for example?  Why not have them cross at a lower traffic area like a school crossing? The caller is either a very confused woman (to put it kindly) or an exceptional actress. The premise at work is that the government can control where the deer go. If this were actually true, this would be a very reasonable and important conversation. As it is, the discussion is absurdly hilarious.

Here is one I’ll never forget from G.K Chesterton that I heard on EWTN. Imagine someone suffering from paranoia says to you, “Everyone wants to kill me.” You respond, “I don’t want to kill you."  The person answers, “Of course you would say that to keep your evil plan a secret.” There is logic there, but the premise is…well, insane.

That unmistakable feeling  that everyone is out to get you.
How about this? Suppose I hold that inalienable human rights do not really exist objectively; they are only a concept evolving from subjective human opinion. With this premise it is reasonable to argue many monstrous things.

This won't hurt a bit.

For example, those that are very sick, very old or severely handicapped are a drain on the rest of society and should be terminated. You may use the term “euthanized” if it makes you feel better. Just think how much this could reduce health care costs! It is reasonable based on the premise.  G.K. Chesterton says, “A madman is not someone who has lost his reason, but someone who has lost everything but his reason”.

What does this have to do with faith? Someone once told me that Christianity requires faith because it could not be reasoned by the human mind; it is literally unreasonable. I responded that what is reasonable or unreasonable depends on the premises involved. If we say there actually is an all-powerful God that it is also all-loving, then we can say that this God could become a man if He wanted to, and there would be no limits to His love as God and man, even unto death, even death on a cross.
St. Paul reminds us about the resurrection as a premise for our faith in 1 Corinthians 15:14and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain.” To those who claim the resurrection is fairytale; a premise would be that those who claimed to be eye witnesses not only lied, but were willing to be ostracized from their Jewish community and brutally killed for the lie. Now that’s some stubborn liars. If I were lying, I’d be apt to say, “Never mind, we just made it up” long before the killing were to begin.
For the premise that there was not only no resurrection, but no God at all, we’ll need some other basic premises to explain the world around us. The complexity and order of our bodies, our minds, the earth and the entire universe ultimately come from nothing for the purpose of nothing. More specifically, come from nothing intelligent for no intended purpose.
Ø  From nothing comes something by its own power & direction.
Ø  From disorder comes order by its own power & direction.
Ø  From unconsciousness comes consciousness by its own power & direction.
Ø  From unintelligence comes intelligence by its own power & direction.
Now there’s a fairytale if I ever heard one.