by Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove
The reality of our differences as individuals and the difficulty required to truly accept and appreciate them – that’s what’s been on my mind this week.
The New Athiest
On Sunday, CBC’s Tapestry, hosted by Mary Hynes, featured the founder of the New Atheist movement, Sam Harris (author: The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values). Among the question posed to him, central and recurring was the concern about what would be the source of a society’s moral values if religion were removed from its traditional core. Mr. Harris referred a lot to neural or brain science and its growing body of discoveries and new theories. Included is the evidence that for most people, the pleasures and rewards of behaviour that supports the well-being of others (including animals, interestingly enough) can be observed and measured in the brain’s neural activities. Kindness releases endorphins. Science thus points the way toward moral behaviour without the need for codes claiming divine authority and censure if violated. (To hear the broadcast, go to the CBC webpage, Tapestry, July 3, 2011).
It was all very interesting, but I found that he was peculiarly obtuse (just my observation) about why people wouldn’t respond confidently to this news and give up the clinging to religions that might not be the only source of morality, but even contribute to what is immoral – that is, to what is NOT positive to human well-being. He seemed oblivious to the fact that for deeply religious people the aim of living and the point of how we live isn’t human well-being. Let alone animal. It’s about serving God, loving God, doing God’s will, with humankind’s individual and societal needs as secondary. God will care for those who do his will. As determined by the religious teachings of one’s chosen faith.
Steps toward a More Moral Universe
This man seems profoundly committed to helping improve the world, through scientific understanding of that behaviour which works best to further our common and personal well-being. If he doesn’t have any feel for how very differently millions of others experience things, are we all up the creek?
No! Because, as difficult as it is, many many others are committed to getting a few things right before they pronounce upon what is necessary for others.
One is the matter of achieving a peaceful soul, appreciative of life and of self and others.
Another is gaining an ongoing understanding others’ experiences when they are different from what one knows, and respecting the right to that different experience. And even the possible validity of it. A capacity for Buber’s I-Thou stance would help this one along.
Then, I think, comes the judgement of where a person and/or a society is getting it really right or really wrong – where well-being is stultified, not encouraged. The moral sense. Where we learn that judgement of right and wrong is a complex question, as religious teachers, ethicists, scientists, psychologists demonstrate. Not as simple as Just Trust Science.
But we do have the responsibility to speak up when we see something we feel in the gut or the heart to be wrong, especially if no one else seems to be seeing or saying. Just how far we go in accepting the primacy of individual experience and the person’s right to live according to their dictates may depend on who we see being hurt by those dictates. But speaking out? It’s the high ground.
A Really Different but Comprehensible Life
I’m getting to the end of Keith Richard’s autobiography: surprised by the first few hundred pages. There’s a kindness and generousity of spirit in the book as he leads you into his passion for music – that of the old southern American blues players. He attempts to explain the important things he’s learned and why certain paths were taken. Parts are very familiar, in human and spiritual terms. Others aren’t, but you emerge with the sense you’ve learned something fresh about another kind of life – a privilege to be let in. And the world seems, to me, a little more comfortable for his effort.
Oh, But Teenagers?!
Teenagers have a terrible time letting us in. Trust fails on both the parental and the kids’ sides. So big gaps open up because neither side can really grasp what the other is about. Inner peace isn’t highest in the teenage years orin middle-aged adults, so we’re approaching the divide handicapped. And questions of right and wrong are very confused. Only advice that ever worked at all for me was to trust the child: and trust that what we’d done, in loving and letting our child be herself when they were little, would play out allright. But really understanding and getting where she was coming from? So hard.
We’re All In The Same Boat
No lessons to impart. But I have a sense that anybody who reads a blog like this is trying to get to a better understanding of how the world works, of what our Creator would love to see in our actions, and/or what fulfills our human condition best, or how our religious and worldly heroes would live out their love in our circumstances. Can we support each other in developing more truly inclusive lives and communities where we get to share what we figure out?