Friday, August 15, 2014

Morally Responsible

"Belonging Together"
-At the Desert Retreat House-

Yesterday I listened to a very heartwarming and encouraging interview with an American physician who is donating his time treating ebola patients in West Africa. When asked why he was putting himself into "harm's way" by exposing himself to this incurable disease, the doctor replied that it was his "privilege" to be able to help those people. He went on to say "That's what doctors are supposed to do, we are supposed to heal the sick, that's our job." The doctor concluded the interview by asking, " Aren't we all responsible for taking care of one another?"

When  I heard this response I started talking to the radio in my car, "Yes, indeed" I said, "That's it exactly; we are all responsible for taking care of one another." I also know many people who would totally disagree with me on this.

I remember a recent "online" conversation I had with someone who took great exception to a phrase I used in a blog response when I made the claim that we are all "morally responsible" for one another. That phrase, "morally responsible" really pushed this guy's buttons, "The only one I am responsible for is myself," he argued. Then he went on to say that I was just propagandizing, pushing my own "religious" point of view on him. My guess is that many people today might hold a similar position to that of my online friend. 

Western culture had been infected with a spirit of "rugged individualism," - many people believe that their only responsibility is to themselves or to a small circle of friends. When that word "morality" pops up, it creates an atmosphere of defensiveness, especially in a time when more and more people have disassociated themselves from religious systems, and even some "religious" folks get uncomfortable with talk about "morality," feeling guilty because they believe that can never live up to the strict moral precepts of their religion.

The Dalai Lama teaches:

What we need today is an approach to morality and ethics which makes 
no recourse to religion and can be equally acceptable to those with faith and to those without.

I very much agree with this wisdom.  

Conversations about our responsibilities to one another will need to move "beyond religion" if we are ever to have any fruitful dialogue with one another in this secular age. Every human being has a "moral responsibility" to care for one another, not because of the demand of any given "religion" but because of the nature of our shared human condition.

You certainly don't have to be a theologian or a religious "believer"  to believe and to understand that we are all a "cosmic web of dynamic interrelationship." The scientists of our own day, biologists, neuroscientists, quantum physicists are all uncovering a "brave new world of cosmic interconnectivity" in which every atom and ever quark in the entire universe is somehow intertwined, fueled by a cosmic energy.

We are responsible for one another because we "are" one another, we belong to one another- and not just to other human beings, we belong to the universe.  

We all have an ethical duty to be concerned for the well being of other human beings, a responsibility to do whatever we can to help those who suffer or are in need wherever they may be.  As human beings we have a moral responsibly to care for all creatures great and small, the birds of the air and the fish in the sea. We are all morally responsible for caring for this planet on which we live, to keep the air clean and prevent the oceans from being polluted.  

Everything and everyone belong together- we are all responsible for it all.  



  1. I think that to understand we are morally responsible for our 'neighbor' requires a specific understanding about the nature of humanity itself. Your remarks about individualism are right on the mark as far as I can tell.

    If we view ourselves primarily as an 'individual' our ability to think of ourselves as part of something, in this case the human race, is impaired. We will have a difficult time being our brothers keeper because we have no 'reason' to think we are. We will find it very easy to think 'It's not my problem'.

    It seems to me the goal of religion in introducing the mystical oneness of all things may be to make it possible for humans to simply have a good reason to be kind to one another and to care for the well-being of one another. If the mystical unity of all is the case and religion turns out to be right then the unity of the human race is a reality not simply a notion designed to promote doing good by religion. And to take it further, individualism would actually be an act of denying reality.


  2. Interesting post. Thank you for sharing. It was not meant for us to live individually.
    In loving light