A Familiar Dance – Morality and Emotion

by Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove

Readers and Writers – Our Relationship

I learned from last week’s blog that however well or poorly I put down what I want to say, each reader brings to it who he/she is at that moment, with an immediate environment and individual histories.  That makes for as many responses as there are readers.  Throw into a blog an interpretation of another person’s theories, the pot is stirred further and the encounter between writer and reader may get more and more interesting.

The Comments, altogether, contained interesting perspectives on the sources of moral codes. 

The temptation to do evil is not a rational temptation.

Are YOU afraid that You might be wrong?

The hard wiring of all living things appears to mandate survival, procreation, nurture and community service

I really do believe that we are basically good and that even without a religion per se we would live and do good.

…do we recognise our common humanity and somehow make it work?

The variation in responses to something one writes can’t be brushed off by saying, “people will see what they want to see, hear what they want to hear”.  The writer has to work at being as clear as possible and bears some responsibility for a reader’s interpretation.  But even with reasonable clarity, the reader is the more important person in the encounter with my words and will always ‘get it’ along a continuum of ‘nearly what I meant’ to ‘seems to have read something entirely different from what I wrote’.  All goes with the territory.

What I Thought I was Saying

Because of the variety of responses, I’d like to try summarizing what I wanted to say.  And I do wonder if this is what you thought I actually communicated and would love to hear. 

There were two main points:  the first was how difficult it seems to be to really grasp and see through the thoughts and experiences of another person (let alone other whole peoples).  Sam Harris’s  argument about science as a source of morality was intended as an example of someone committed to a scientific perspective.  Yet even he seemed unable to understand why many people would have trouble moving into his camp (being committed to God as a first principle, not scientific ‘proof’ of what is good).  The objective scientist was, I thought, demonstrating a very subjective understanding of people.

My second point was quite a different one: that even with a sufficient care for self (written about the week before), and a capacity to really grasp other person’s point of view (as difficult as that is), that it’s still really tough to move forward on the high moral ground of telling the truth as you see it, with enough humility (a) to not assume that you have the answer for others’ lives, and (b) to realize that if others don’t get what you’re telling them, you may be the one who is not getting it. But emotions may be stirred, on all sides.

The Passion in the Comments About Last Week’s Blog

What seems common in the responses last week was a passionate concern that we not abandon hope that there is, or can be, a significant common ground of moral understanding among us as humans, regardless of the source of that moral code. (If I’ve got this wrong, please let me know).

Whether one’s moral understanding comes from what we’ve been taught as derived from centuries of religious catechism, or is a necessary rejection of previously bad teaching, or is being created and shaped as we’re going along – drawing from the best that we see – or is based on acknowledging our common desire for good, or emerges from the quest for sheer survival, or from a mixture of the above, working from a code seems critical.  The sources of the code are undoubtedly intertwined and very complex, as is the brain and the physical impulses where it’s getting put together. This insight was provided by the writers of the Comments.

A Guess At Why We’re So Concerned

We may have the hope that, as humans, we are arriving at more common moral ground as human knowledge spreads.  However, I think we’re concerned that a sense of common purpose (humane survival) may not develop soon enough to prevent more and more human misery?  In fact it may be that the sense of common purpose is eroding. Do we feel too much slippage?

[Is this the way that Church fathers in Europe felt when they dreamed up the tests for heresy because they thought that their system of beliefs was in danger of slipping?]

The values considered as moral by some cultures include actions we consider highly immoral.  Without thinking hard, the mind turns to the honour killing of women who disobey male family members; female circumcision, child sex trade as an income-producer for families in poverty.  We could make a terrible list.

But the point would be that IN SPITE OF THE LIST of things we find utterly immoral, by almost any moral code to which we subscribe, the people performing those awful acts believe themselves to be maintaining  their moral code.  And how to do we deal with that?

We’ve Discarded the Seventies’ Approach 

Some would say “Live and let live.”  To each his own.  Different strokes for different folks.  But if you’re reading a blog like this, it’s likely you’re not among that those.  Tolerance has its limits.  I think we came out of the 70’s with that learning. 

Is it patience that we have to cultivate, and trust that if we speak out, sign the petitions, start the petitions, things will change in time?  Or is waiting not enough??

Karen asked, in a Comment a few weeks ago, “How do we advocate for social justice” so we’re back to seeking a calm and reasoned path.

And I’m hoping for more responses – the life blood of a blog!


1 Comment

Filed under A Bigger Circle, Rosemary's entries

One response to “A Familiar Dance – Morality and Emotion

  1. Clearly that was meant for me. Clearly my response was highly emotional and indicative of my own position, that of the failures of all religions and not their success’. Clearly feelings were chafed. Clearly you were right to have done so.
    So, I will try again. I believe that we humans would naturally chose the loving path if lead by people who made that choice first for themselves. Our world is lead by greed and divided by; race, colour, country and creed. I wonder if this division is genetically based ‘us against you’ for survival, a genetic imperative and separate religions encourage it, or fear based? I wonder if the way the brain is hard-wired is the cause of frequently violent altercations amongst we humans. But, animals do it every year during their mating seasons. So, I am left with the idea that, that which we call God is the brains highest frequency. I think it it is THAT frequency, which I will call the God vibe, (Just to be annoying) that we seek in meditation and prayer.
    My issue is that those transcendent moments of which I have had MANY (although not recently) ( and not through any medication of any type) are the GOD I SEEK. And when I am tuned to that frequency……………miracles happen. And frankly miracle are fun. My God does not require me to be a Christian ……………….etc. So I think I need to go and seek like minded people. I am not suited to this forum. Maybe if I were in the position I expected to be in at my age, instead of the one I am in I would find it easier to accept what I see as patronage to the poverty in which I find myself. I believe that is what makes me as raw as I am. Though I still would be much less of a christian than probably any of you dear readers.
    Dearest Rosemary, once again I let my past rule my present and left you hanging out to dry, twisting in the wind as it were. My sincere apology’s.
    And to your bloggers both at the Mission and elsewhere if you shared her views and disagreed with mine…. where were you? You all read this blog every week with I assume, delight and pleasure……as well as agreement.
    So, respond. Tell her that you agree. I personally know at least 30 of you. And your silence is deafening. I would become disheartened were I she.
    Tell Rosemary that her efforts are appreciated. She works hard. You just sit there. You are the sound of one hand clapping…..or is it shoe dropping in the forest?
    I know some off you totally disagree with me. We have discussed it personally. Go on, take the plunge. Make a commitment to the blog, or do what I am going to do. (You’ve been waiting for this) I will sign off.
    Bye Rosie
    ‘I’m goin on back to the farm’…………as the song says.
    Enjoy everyone.
    My considered response to you all is talk is cheap. I worked 5 years 5 days a week and 3 years 2 days a week for free. I didn’t have to but I did. I am not sorry. I learned so much but now I am ready for something beautiful. And it ain’t taking positions on God.
    So once again my apology’s to Rosemary and a re-iteration to the rest of you to respond and let her know you agree you lazy bones.
    Rosie take me off your list. If you don’t I will read it and I will respond.
    So, in your own best interest, delete my email address.
    Wishing you all of the blessings of a non-gender-non-racial-non physical being that loves us much more than we love her OOOPS!
    I sign off.
    Sorry kiddo
    Diana Buck

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