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!