Sunday, 12 September 2010

Good & Evil

"I am the Lord and there is no other, who forms light and creates darkness; who makes peace and creates evil; I am the Lord, Maker of all these" Isaiah 45:6-6

I was very pleased to receive a profound comment to my previous post from Yewtree. And I am only sad that I have neither the time and certainly not the wisdom to address the points raised in an adequate fashion. I hope that my limited best helps, if nothing else, to illuminate my opinions regarding this matter.

In response to my stating that God is the originator of good and evil, and that it is He who sets the moral boundary over which we should not cross, Yewtree responded:

"That may be the case (though I don't believe in a creator deity, nor that "his" will alone is the originator of good and evil), but how do you know which moral limits are set by the creator, and which are merely attributed to "him" by fallible humans?

I recommend Godless Morality by Richard Holloway, which explains how, even if you believe in God, it is dangerous to claim that human moral codes are divinely inspired or dictated."

I shall firstly try and explain why I feel that the very existence of the concepts of good and evil, find their foundation in the existence and the will of our Father in Heaven.

One could, and many do, view the Universe as a product of natural forces and laws. The laws of nature, and why they are the way that they are, are very seldom delved into fundamentally. They are often stated as axiomatic truths. The foundation of an argument that is not to be questioned. But even still I am sure either now or in the future someone will offer a plausible explanation for the existence of ordered and ordering rules of existence. Such a universe has no Creator and as such no meta-purpose for its existence. It just is! There is no aim, design or purpose behind its myriad phenomena. In such a world right and wrong have no inherent reality and no fundamental purpose. So if one holds to such a view of the Universe, and some disciples of that view include Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins and Michael Portillo(!) then one, if being honest with oneself, and the above mentioned gentlemen are, is forced to conclude that right and wrong; good and evil are simply human constructs. Created by people to order society, or perhaps originating as an evolutionary mechanism for self preservation. So murder is equivalent to a shark killing a seal. Adultery is equivalent to the behaviour of the local neighbourhood tom cat. Theft is equivalent to a hermit crab taking over the shell of another animal. In all these cases the act is wrong only because we humans and our society define it as so. And as we change in our views, so our ideas of right and wrong change. Hence there is no absolute moral law, and in a very short space of time what might have been regarded as a hideous crime might come to be viewed as a virtue.

I do not subscribe to such a philosophy.

I look at the world around me, the cosmos above me and I see the work of a Mind. A singular mind with a purpose that unites all in its compass. Reason leads me to accept that this mind is the mind of God. The cause without a cause. In addition reason leads me to accept that the tradition faithfully passed down, recording God's revelation to mankind is true. This corroborates the knowledge of God I have already derived from creation and from experience.

As a result I view the world as having a purpose. That there is a Judge and as such justice. That there is a Lawgiver and as such there is moral law. That there is a Father, therefore the Universe is filled with love. Following from this I conclude that murder is not equivalent to a shark killing a seal, but is instead an absolute and eternal evil. Adultery is not equivalent to the local tom cat, but is a fundamental and eternal evil. That theft is not equivalent to a hermit crab taking the shell of another, but is a basic and real evil. Not because man has deemed them so, but because it is written into the very scrip of existence. And as such it does not matter what rationalisations we make for transgressing these moral absolutes, it makes no difference how much society changes, these things and others, remain forever wrong, and lead us away from our destiny and our God. And God has given us the ability to choose which path to walk on. This can be regarded as a proclamation of freedom, and was viewed as such by many a dictatorial state who as a result attempted to destroy religion. No dictator has the power to define right and wrong for me. I stand alone before God.

But truly there is a danger. How do I know what is God's immutable law, and what is the invention of man attributed to the celestial Judge? And if I think something to be God's will then what is to stop me from forcing it onto others, after all surely by doing so I would be fulfilling His will? And what of all those who witness beliefs or morals that conflict with mine and yet hold them to also be from the Eternal?

Clearly it is right for people to shine a powerful beam of observation, on the damage that has been caused and goes on being caused by people of all faiths and none, believing that they have a right or a sacred duty to crush others beneath the tablets of their own divine law. But it does not follow that all who accept a God-given moral code necessarily act in oppressive ways.

I can only give you my approach to this question.

Each and every day of my life I try (and so often fail) to strive for truth. As I have said, I believe as reliable and rational the truth of that tradition which is found in the Holy Bible, the commandments of God as can be found in the Bible and as taught by the sages of Israel, which are so beautifully elucidated by Jesus of Nazareth. To this I add my conscience and reason. I try and examine every law every teaching, to understand it in the light of experience. I work to avoid the trap of personal bias which can often lead us to pick and choose that which suits our desires, and can reduce religion to self worship. This is the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven that I take upon myself. And the key word there is "myself". I know that I could be wrong. I know that I, like all people, am limited in what I can know.I know I don't have all the answers, far from it. As a result I would never seek to impose what I regard as the truth on anyone else. The only one I impose it on, is me. And as such I attempt to keep an open mind, to learn from all those around me.

For certain I would seek to persuade others of what I regard as truth, and dissuade them from what I believe is wrong,just as all others seek to do the same with me. Ultimately in free societies, the best protectors against submission to the beliefs of others, we come to compromise and majority decisions. We work together on our common ground, and we respect, or if this is not possible, we tolerate our respective differences. This is a major feature of Unitarianism now and in the past. And can also be found in the tradition of our Anglican brethren as well as in other denominations.

Ultimately I await the fulfilment of the words of the prayer taught to us by he who's teachings saved many from a life of confusion and darkness;

"Our Father, who art in heaven,
Hallowed be Thy name,
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven" Matthew 6:9

And when that day comes, when the words of the Prophet are fulfilled:

"For the earth will be filled with knowledge of the Lord's glory, as the waters cover the seabed" Habakkuk 2:14

Then will all of us know for certain and without any doubt, that good and evil are not subjective human projections but are in fact a reality rooted in that ultimate of realities, God our Father and our King.


Yewtree said...

Thanks for your response Joseph, and for saying that my comment was profound.

For me, adultery is different from the behaviour of the local tom cat because it's a betrayal of trust. If I promise fidelity to someone, then going behind their back and breaking my promise is a hurtful thing to do. The tom cat is just propagating his genes.

Murder is different from predatory behaviour (shark eats seal) because it is the snuffing out of a sentient being. Humans have a choice whether to kill or not, to be vegetarian or not (unless you live in the Arctic, where eating meat is necessary for survival).

You don't need to posit the existence of a lawgiver to discover basic properties of the universe; they are emergent.

Oh, and please don't use darkness as a metaphor for evil.

Thanks & blessings!

Joseph said...

But why Yewtree is snuffing out a sentient being wrong in a purposeless universe? What underpins good and evil? And as for the basic properties of the Universe why are they the way they are? How come they work together to create more complex phenomena?

Yewtree said...

OK I will try to think through your questions...

why is snuffing out a sentient being wrong in a purposeless universe?

I am not sure that the universe is purposeless, but if we only have one life, then cutting it short for whatever reason is just obviously wrong. Actually I believe in reincarnation, but harming another being is still obviously wrong.

What underpins good and evil?

Here's an article I wrote a while back on good and evil (apologies for the simplistic view of Christian theology) and I don't think I've changed my views that much since then. Basically good and evil are not the fundamental dynamic of the cosmos. A lot of things that (some) Christians refer to as evil ("Natural Evil") are just part of life - earthquakes etc.

And as for the basic properties of the Universe why are they the way they are? How come they work together to create more complex phenomena?

Because that's the way emergent complexity works. You start off with something very simple, and patterns emerge. (Like fractals.)

In my view, mainstream Christian theology has time's arrow pointing the wrong way. The world didn't start out perfect and then decline; it started out the way it is, and greater harmony is emerging.

There was no Fall, because there was never a Golden Age or a Garden of Eden to fall from. But there is an Arising. There was no Creator God or Divine Source, rather the universe and its inhabitants are becoming more conscious, more compassionate, more empathic, with the arising of the universal Mind (which proceeds from the unfolding of the Tao, the mysterious Way or emergent pattern). As we interact socially with the Universe, we increase its consciousness, just as we do for each other. First we awakened spirits of place, then gradually began to perceive the All and wonder at the glories of Nature and the Universe. We are part of the Arising of the universal Mind, as we become more conscious and more empathic. We are all Future Buddhas. As we become more empathically connected to the All, when we die we contribute part of our consciousness to the All (part is probably reincarnated), and it is in this process of connection that universal Mind arises. Those who mystically identify the All as a Thou and not an It contribute to the process of expanding awareness and continuing the process of making everything more conscious. The process of individuation and self-development is part of the process of becoming aware of the uniqueness and preciousness of all life in its glorious diversity. The golden age is in the future, not in the past. The genius of Buddhism and Unitarianism is that they are focussed on a future golden age, not a mythical one in the past from which we supposedly fell (and for which there is no evidence whatever). Bodhisattvas (such as Yeshua and Kwan Yin) so identified with the All that their compassion / karuna / empathy accelerated the arising of the universal Mind, and they are still there in some sense (possibly only in the collective memory), guiding humanity towards awakening. But the awakening will not be from the "illusion" of matter, but rather matter itself is becoming ever more conscious or ensouled - it is awakening. Only when the Mind of the Universe is fully conscious - when the kundalini of the Universe has arisen from the depths - only then will the Divine fully exist.