Moral Frameworks and Where They Come From
As you and I have discussed previously, I have grave concerns that America is losing the necessary underpinnings for an ethical and moral public life. As a born again Christian, my faith provides base, the needle, even "magnetic north" for my "moral compass." Having said that, I've acknowledged that I believe there are people of deep moral and ethical convictions who are not religious or do not believe in God.
But I am curious. As a man who stands very firm on deeply held moral principles (foremost perhaps as a pacifist), where do your moral landmarks come from? How are your moral judgements grounded?
Before I either add more aspects of that question -- or even let you answer it (only one of us can blog at a time after all) -- a short digression by way of giving you my answer that explains it for me and my faith.
I would say I am blessed with a strict need to rationally think through, process, and integrate everything. (Others would say this is a burden.) I was an atheist up until 1987 or so. When sinking into a deep discontent and despair over an unwanted separation and ultimate divorce, I followed the example of my ex and got involved in 12 step groups. I discovered behaviors and patterns of thinking best explained by being a child of dysfunction. (The specifics are not important.)
I relied on the concept of an unspecified Higher Power to help me heal myself enough to start asking the big questions. That led to an agnosticism, and eventually to deism, and then to the Bible, and then to an acceptance of Jesus as both Son of God and my personal savior.
The real sticking point was achieving deism. As a highly rational and scientific minded person, I wasn't comfortable taking anybody's word for anything to do with God. So I conducted a thought experiment one January day, walking along frozen canals and abandoned settlements along the Mohawk River.
Fast forward, in the end, I concluded that I firmly believed in absolute good and absolute evil, and I could identify behaviors and events that were conclusively in one category or another. I further believed that I knew in my heart and mind that these "truths" would be true whether I accepted them or not, they were not relative or adaptable. To me, that had to argue for a consciousness of some kind, a God who was responsible for establishing a priori, good and evil. That may not mean the same for someone else, but for me, that was pretty convincing.
I know that you are not a moral relativist. I believe you hold a passionate dedication to some pretty basic moral truths, based on some of your previous responses.
But for you, if you've thought about it, where does morality come from? Why do we care to do right? Why should we do right?
How do we know what's right, upon what do we base it on? Are there moral truths that are knowable, and how can we prove them, or what can we use as evidence?
Because it has seemed to me that if you do not accept the possibility of some kind of creative consciousness or God, what one is left with is a strictly utilitarian argument, what is good for self, or family, or tribe, or nation, or survival of the species, and that no appeal outside of utility (usefulness of behavior or sets of behavior) would be logical.
LiberalAvenger's Response #1:
This is an excellent question and I am very glad that you asked it. It will be interesting and informative for me, too, to explore the whys and wherefores of my belief system.
It is also directly related to an issue that has at times infuriated me. There exists in our society at present a significant number of people who believe to their core that absent religion (and in particular, Christianity) in one's life, one is incapable of adhering to a moral code. This is insulting and asinine.
I've spent a great deal of time overseas traveling or living in a dozen different countries. The one strong, persistent impression I've carried with me through these experiences is that there are definitely some constants to human nature. Regardless of our race, creed, color or national origin, for the most part, we humans all love our children, respect our elders, enjoy sex, fall in love, enjoy a good meal, etc.
This leads me to conclude that some universal moral truths do in fact exist in the human race. They are most certainly not strictly adhered to by all people at all times, but they are an intrinsic part of the force that guides humanity as a whole. I don't think one needs a governmental or spiritual law to understand that killing others is "wrong." Additionally, after having been thrust into an environment where the law (both governmental and spiritual) allows or even encourages killing (a religious war might be an example), there are unquestionably people who are conflicted about the act.
Religious doctrine across the board largely reflects these moral truths as well with very few exceptions. A Tibetan Buddhist can relate to the 10 Commandments while a Christian or Jew can relate back to The Eightfold Path.
Our societies and cultures, grown slowly over the course of hundreds or thousands of years, naturally reflect these truths as identified by religion in their laws, customs and social mores which, in turn, reinforce the values within us all.
[End Part #1 of LiberalAvenger's response. More to follow...]