Saturday, January 21, 2017

Moral Courage

- in my meditation garden- 

On this “Inauguration” weekend in the United States we are confronted with abundant evidence about just how much this country is divided. As a new president takes office hordes of people gather to offer their unqualified support while just as many if not more assemble in public places throughout the nation to march and protest the new administration - no doubt each “camp” believing that they are right and the other side is wrong.

I’ve been thinking about the divisions in our culture and have come to the conclusion that, apart from of any political affiliation or religious belief, there are some universal moral standards that define what is right and wrong good and bad,  and that we are all called to courageously uphold and promote those standards because we are “human beings.”

People often tend to avoid talking about morality because they associate moral conversation with religion. “Morals” are rules handed down by religious institutions who claim that these are the laws of God.  So of course, if you aren’t religious, you probably want nothing to do with conversations about morality.

Even apart from all the religious baggage associated with “morality,” the idea of publicly applied universal moral standards is also somewhat anathema to the sensibilities of contemporary people in this “postmodern era” in which many believe that we all have our own personal truth and we all set our own personal standards about what is right and what is wrong.

But as I see it, in an era of growing racism, bigotry and intolerance, in an era where “me-first” has become the motto of the day, we all need to re-engage one another in a vigorous moral dialogue, expanding our definition of “morality” beyond religious teachings as we explore those universal principles of “right and wrong” that apply to all of us.  

I very much agree with what the Dalai Lama had to say a few years back in his very insightful book Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World.  He makes a compelling argument for removing moral conversations beyond “religious institutions” and suggests that there are some pretty clear principles of universal “human” morality - upholding these standards has more to do with our survival as a species than with following religious dictates:

Fortunately there is now a reasonably substantial body of evidence
in evolutionary biology, neuroscience and other fields suggesting that,
even from the most rigorous scientific perspective,
unselfishness and concern for others are innate to our biological nature.
Interdependence is a key feature of human reality.

As human beings we can survive and thrive only in an environment of
concern, affection and warm-heartedness – or in a single word, compassion. 

Without compassion for one another we cannot and will not survive - compassion is the glue that holds us together and allows us to thrive. The practice of compassion is the universal moral compass that must serve to guide Christians and Jews, Muslims and Buddhists, Atheists and Agnostics, Democrats and Republicans, Liberals and Conservatives. Without a sense of our interdependence and respect for one another’s dignity we are all on a slippery slope that ultimately leads us to the dead end of extinction. Now more than ever each of us, no matter who we are, must muster up every ounce of moral courage we have to fight for and uphold these standards before it’s too late.

The poet and environmentalist, Wendell Berry, once put it this way:

‘Every man for himself’ is a doctrine for a feeding frenzy
or for a panic in a burning nightclub,
appropriate for sharks or hogs pot perhaps a cascade of lemmings.
A society wishing to endure must speak the language of
care-taking, faith-keeping,
kindness and compassion,
neighborliness and peace. 

On this “Inauguration” weekend, many people all over this land (and all over the globe) will be fighting with one another, each sure that they have found “the” truth; but the only truth is love and the only moral standard that apples to us all is compassion and kindness. Indeed, any society wishing to endure must speak this language.


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