Posts Tagged ‘morality’

Pilgrimage Statistics 

Consecutive Days Riding: 153                                         Days Blogged: 137 

New Mileage: 4                                                          Total Trip Mileage: 1053

A Protective Platinum Rule

As I ride the bike this afternoon I would like to respond to several comments on yesterday “Platinum Rule” topic.  I agree with one viewer who pointed out that the rule, which takes into account what the receiver actually desires, leaves out the important fact that what people want is not always good for them.  In some cases people will do downright destructive things if we give them what they want.  I have many times sat with depressed individuals who wanted nothing more than to kill themselves.  Sorry I wasn’t letting it happen on my watch! 

Clearly some judgment needs to be made about the appropriateness of the “assistance” before it is given!  However, I think the critical point is that in many cases when the Golden Rule is used,  little or no effort is made to first ascertain what the receiver wants and desires.  More often it seems to me that the giver takes the easier route of assuming they “know best” and act accordingly.  This concern was part of what fueled an earlier blog where I was critical of a Christian group who wanted to send solar powered audio bibles to Haiti following the disastrous earth quake.  Did they first ask the Haitian people to choose between audio bibles or tents, audio bibles or water?  In general, could a lack of a consideration of the receiver’s needs, help to explain why we sometimes find our “gracious offers” accepted in a seemingly ungrateful manner?  

Testing the Waters!

While it is my experience that listening and considering others needs takes more time and effort,  I believe it is worth the expense!   Taking the easier “we just assume we know what they want or need” approach has not lead to a decrease in violence and suffering on our planet.  We have got to do something different.  Why not trade up to a higher grade rule?

What does this have to do with the title of today’s blog?  Nothing, because the title speaks to a newspaper article and an internet story I wanted to briefly share.  Earlier this month Nicholas Kristof, a writer for the New York Times wrote an opinion piece in the Times entitled: World Aid: Evangelicals Blaze the Path.  He argues that evangelicals have cast off many of the old negative stereotypes and become “the new internationalists, pushing successfully for new American programs against AIDS and malaria and doing superb work on issues from human trafficking in India to mass rape in the Congo.” 

Showing our Support!

He notes that the organization “World Vision” has 40,000 staff members in over 100 different countries and that it has banned the use of aid to lure anyone into a religious conversion.  I was relieved and impressed to read this as I have often feared that such aid can and is used to coerce needy people to “find the Lord” in order to receive aid.  It sounds like the Platinum Rule may already be in place within some organizations.  Let me quote Mr. Kristof’s final paragraph as I believe it contains an important message for all of us. “If secular liberals can give up some of their snootiness, and if evangelicals can retire some of their sanctimony, then we all might succeed together in making greater progress against common enemies of humanity such as illiteracy, human trafficking and maternal mortality.”

Support the message!

The second item I want to briefly comment on is a series of recent announcements where top Muslim clerics have denounced the terror attacks directed against the United States and its allies.  I feel that it is important to highlight these developments as I still find far too many people believing that “all Muslims” want to kill us and that Islam is a dangerous faith.  One story was entitled: “Top Muslim Clerics Issue a Fatwa Denouncing Terror Attacks.”  A Fatwa is an important religious edict which states an authoritative opinion on a religious matter.   This edict called those terrorists who attacked the U.S. and Canada “evil” and was signed by some twenty Muslim Imams in Canada.  I’ve read of similar Fatwas issued by important Imams in Europe and the Middle East.  I applaud these efforts and believe that we non-Muslims should do everything in our power to support and strengthen the positions of these moderate Islamic religious leaders.  Ultimately terrorism will be defeated, or at least beaten back and minimized, only if the larger silent moderate masses of Muslim stand up and reclaim the mantle of their faith from the radical CULT which spreads hatred and destruction in their name. 

I would like to again applaud both the evangelical World Vision organization and these courageous Imams.  In both cases we are seeing a movement from the moderate center of Christianity and Islam to reclaim the mantle of their respective faith from radical Cults and/or fundamentalists.  All of us who claim other faiths or no faith at all should do everything we can to support these movements as the safety and peace of the world likely depends upon their success!


When will it end?

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding:  123                                              Days Blogged: 105

New Mileage: 5                                                                 Total Trip Mileage: 880

As I rode the bike this morning I thought about a question raised by one of my blog’s followers a devout Christian from West Africa who now lives in Canada.  She frequently comments on my posts and asks clarifying questions.  On several occasions her questions have led to blog topics.

Finding your inner guide!

I enjoy her visits and comments.  She represents one of those people who holds strongly to their spiritual and religious beliefs and asked questions to clarify and better understand where others are coming from.  I never tire of such genuine questions as they often help me to delve deeper into and explore my own beliefs.  I’ve learned that in order to explain something adequately you’ve got to have a clear idea of how you feel.   Vague and unclear answers are often indicative of shallow beliefs, uncertain foundations or a general level of defensiveness.

I strive to explore my beliefs, to clarify them, to deepen their roots and broadened their branches, so that I might multiply their fruit.  I mention her now because she is scheduled to travel out of country for a time.   I wish her a safe journey; I will hold her in my thoughts and prayers and look forward to her return.

Calling for external guidance!

I want to take time today to answer one of her questions.  In the posting entitled “Ain’t No Catholics in Blunt County” I noted the importance of my two week stay in a monastery of Benedictine Monks. I noted:” I would come to recognize the deep well of creativity and wisdom residing at the core of my being.  Only now do I realize that this chance meeting with a monastery full of monks presented me with a glimpse of tranquil solitary path to a deeper level of understanding.  It would be in the Hindu and Buddhist temples of the East that this seed would take root and I would find my spiritual teachers and ultimately my inner guide.”

My friend expressed an interest in how I conceptualize my inner guide.  She asked: does this guide represent a moral plumb line or a set of standards?  Does this guide possess an ability to communicate with me?  Is this inner guide personalized or is it general availability to everyone?  These are all good questions.   My guide represents more of a plumb line than a set of standards.  My guide is not a deity or spirit so you cannot converse with it; however, it is available to everyone who is open and receptive to it.

The spirit within!

 I know some people’s guide is a sacred text, like the Bible, for others it may be an experience of the divine.   When I analyze and judge my behavior or the behavior of others (questions of morality) I take a functional approach.  I have a set of basic beliefs: such as the dignity and worth of all people; the interconnectedness of all facets of our environment; the goal of finding balance within ourselves, our relationships and community.  These basic beliefs form the background, the canvas for my decisional process.  With these beliefs in place I then look at the specific facts of each situation. I ask whether the behavior is warranted for this situation, will it help the individual and/or the community advance in a positive way.  I do not carry a “one size fits all” approach to the situations in my life. My “guide” is in fact a dynamic process, a way of approaching problems and situations, a process of discovery and adjustment.

I do not believe the ends justify the means, for we might arrive at a desirable outcome but leave a trail of destruction in our path (the destruction of native cultures and tribes to get their resources and land).  I do not believe that one size fits all. I do not believe in moralistic approaches that uses dichotomous black-and-white thinking.  I may consult sacred scriptures for ideas and insights, but there is no one book that is my specific guide.  Some would say I follow the dreaded situational approach.   I heard talk show hosts saying that you are immoral if you don’t follow a specific sacred scripture.  I see my functional process as a more realistic and humanistic undertaking that is tolerant of differing beliefs and experiences.

Sacred Scripture Guidance

I don’t deny the validity and the value of any sacred scripture, sacred story or sacred ritual, they work for some people, just as my approach works for me!  I hope this answers my friend’s questions!  I suspect it will raise more questions and that’s okay.  I hope she’ll share them with me for her questions are gifts, for that I am thankful and I will pray for her safe and speedy return.

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Pilgrimage Statistics 

Consecutive Days Riding:  110                                                 Days Blogged: 98

New Mileage: 10                                                               Total Trip Mileage: 817

Two Certainties!

As I ride the bike this morning I am reminded about two of the “certainties” of life.  I recognize the wonderful uplifting and unexpected gifts that life, the universe, the divine places on our paths. Last night I sat in the audience as a local theater group presented a musical called Lying to the Sea Gypsy. The cast was comprised entirely of young actors. They sang and danced with an infectious joy and youthful energy. 

This morning I woke to find the landscape blanketed in a beautiful, pristine covering of snow, highlighting the greens of the holly bushes and evergreen trees.  You can be certain these gifts are always there, even if they are not always recognized or appreciated! 

The second certainty is that life will always deal you “humbling” experiences!  In the last several days I have experienced two such situations.  Perhaps it’s just part of the aging process. You know you‘re getting old when you wake up with an ache or pain and you cannot remember what you did the day before to account for it! Last Thursday I spent some time clearing out brush from the woods near the house.  I don’t remember any problems with my ankle, but Friday morning I could barely walk.  My students got an unexpected day off from my classes as I worked with heating pad and ankle wraps to nurse it back to health.  The best laid plans are just that: Plans. Sometime life intercedes and you can do little more than follow its lead. 

Us versus Them Again!

My ankle pain was not the only humbling experience I was in for on Thursday.  I posted my blog expressing my opinion about solar powered bibles being sent to Haiti.  I received a number of comments, several voiced opinions supporting my position.  However, several of my Christian friends pointed out  that the group Faith Comes by Hearing, is also providing the solar powered bibles and  in fact has  teamed up with a long standing Christian relief organization called Convoy of Hope who is providing much needed medicine, food and shelter to the people of Haiti.  In addition, they noted that the bibles had been requested by Convoy of Hope and other Christian relief organizations.  So my visualization of pallets  of unwanted electronic solar powered bibles sitting on some loading dock, taking up valuable space and “getting in the way” does not appear to fit with the reality of the situation. With a deep sense of humbleness, I noted to one of the commentators:  “Anytime you open your mouth there is a good chance you will show your ignorance!”

What is the lesson here?  Perhaps we should not speak before we have all the facts?  Is it that we should in fact not speak at all and just keep our opinions to ourselves?  Is it that we should speak softly and humbly, don’t shout or scream from our soap boxes, realizing that we may discover later that our interpretation was lacking and needs tweaking?

I went to the site posted by one of the Christian commentators and found an article entitled: Audio Bibles, Haiti and atheist hypocrisy.  It presented the information about Convoy for Hope that I referenced earlier, but went on to make this statement: “Certainly, atheists, being absolute materialists, do not see human beings are anything but bio-organisms and require nothing but bio-organic fuel. Yet the Christian view is holistic and thus…. Provide food for both the body and food for the soul.”  I cringed at this statement!  I’m often called an atheist, because I do not experience the divine as a personal deity.  I know God and have a relationship with God, but in a manner more commonly found in Eastern faiths. I and the other atheists I know have a “holistic” view of not just man, but of the whole world and its many ecosystems.

The effect you were looking for?

 And what about this “atheistic hypocrisy” he mentioned?  He notes: “The fact that for at least the last couple of years atheists worldwide have been literally wasting… donated money not in order to help anyone… but in order to purchase anti-theistic and pro-atheist bus ads and billboards in order to demonstrate just how clever they consider themselves to be.”  I hesitate to respond to this statement with the criticism that it begs to elicit from atheists and all other non-believers: What about donated Christian money? How is it being used?  For ads on billboards that say: “Don’t make me come down there! (from)God.”   Or perhaps it’s used to build higher, larger, shinier monster churches?

This author goes on to note: “Now, they (atheists) suddenly anoint themselves the charity police, complain and condemn based, by the way, on relative-subjective-personal preference based “morality.” Ow! A very sweeping statement, lumping a lot of people (different backgrounds and experiences) into a cut and dried category!  Who is sounding “self-anointed” in this presentation of positions?

While I values each person’s comments and opinions and I certainly feel that we all have rights to hold and express them.  I have to again point out the questions I raised in my last posting: What are the consequences of your stated opinions?  Do they take into account not only individual perceived needs, but those of the “others”, whether they are the survivors in Haiti or a bunch of atheists?  This individual received kudos from others who are/were critical of the atheist’s criticism of the audio bible plan.  I suspect some felt he had “scored points” for his side. But has it brought anyone together who was not already talking (i.e. preaching to the choir), has it helped find common ground between peoples of different faiths or no faith? Let me note that my criticism fits for both sides of this debate, for as I was searching for photos to use in today’s post I came across numerous sites, atheist sites I guess, that associated all Christian churches with hypocrisy, and in one case blasted them for: Believing in a paranoid sky fairy!  Such rhetoric can do nothing but inflame negative emotions.  It feeds into an “Us versus Them” stance that benefits no one in the long run.  We, people of all faiths and philosophies, can do better. We must do this if we are to break out of our destructive cycles.  I will start the process by apologizing to the backers of Faith Comes by Hearing for my uninformed criticism! Anyone else? 

I will not accept it as an impossible dream!

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding: 43                              Consecutive Days Blogging: 44

Today’s Mileage:  10                                           Total Trip Mileage: 365


Visitor Center

As I ride the bike I recognize that we are quickly approaching the west coast of Florida.  We will visit Marco Island in coming days and then head towards Naples and our next Pilgrimage Site.  Our travels today take us past the Collier Seminole State Park so I will include photos from the park for your enjoyment.

Red Shouldered Hawk

Yesterday I spoke about the “levels of analysis” we may use when talking about spiritual and religious matters.  In my Psychology of Religion class I steer my students away from the usual “who has the right/proper form” questions towards these questions: how do religions and spiritual systems attempt to meet individual and community needs? How are different religions meeting the same functions with similar processes?”

Canoe trail

Today I’d like to speak briefly on the topic of morality from a functional perspective. Specifically  I would like to address the question:  how do we judge morality? I often hear people speak of other people’s behavior as being moral or not moral.  This is a deceptive simplification of the issue, we call dichotomous thinking.  It’s not that one person has a set of morals and the other is totally without.  The real issue is that the one person’s behavior (the actor) falls outside of what the other (the viewer) sees as moral.  However, in all likelihood, it fits the definition of “moral” held by the actor.  While one person might view going on a gay date as immoral, the person going on the date may judge it as the moral thing to do as they are acting in a congruent way between their feelings and actions.  For that person to deny and not act on their homosexuality, would  be for them, a deceptive and immoral action. I believe if we step back and take a functional approach to analyze conflict laden situations, we will see that both individuals have morals and both use them to judge their actions and choices. It’s in the content of their morals where the differences exist.

Primrose with visitor

In my current academic research I have come across the works of several Social psychologists in working  the field of Moral Foundations Theory. Recently the authors, Jesse Graham, Jonathan Haidt, and Brian Nosek, have reported finding that liberal and conservative individuals base their moral judgment and decisions on different sets of moral foundations. 

Moral Foundations Theory hypothesizes that there are five sets of “moral intuitions” which people use to make their moral judgments.  These include: 1) Does the action harm another and is it caring (Harm/Care),2) Is the action Fair towards the other individual and promote reciprocity (Fairness/Reciprocity), 3) Does the action fit with a loyalty towards one’s group (Ingroup/Loyalty), 4) Does the action show respect for prevailing authority (Authority/Respect), 5) Does the action fall within one’s views of what is a pure or sanctified behavior (Purity/Sanctity). Their research indicates that while individuals tend to use all five of these foundations, clear difference exist between individuals who rate themselves as liberals, who make primary use of Harm/Care and Fairness/Reciprocity, versus conservatives, who make more or less equal us of all five foundations.

Salt Marsh Mallow

These findings point to and highlight the source of conflict between individuals on the opposite ends of political and religious discussions.  Liberals look first and foremost at the impact a choice or decision has on minority members of the society. Conservatives give significantly more weight to tradition, established authority figures and ideas of “right and wrong” as defined in sacred texts.

These authors note: “Western societies are growing more diverse and with diversity comes differing ideals about how to best regulate selfishness and about how we ought to live together.” Political and religious issues overlap in areas like abortion, separation of church and state, waging “just” wars, and gay rights issues, to name a few.  Whenever I hear a discussion concerning political and religious issues among individuals from opposite ends of the political spectrum, I remind myself that we all have morals and that we strive to live by them.  While this recognition may not help us find a common ground on questions of content and form, it will at least keep us focused on the other issue: the shared need to find a basis for our living together as a community.

What are your moral foundations?  Go to www.yourmorals.org and complete the online questionnaire to find out!

Sunset over the park

Thanks to the Florida State Parks Service for the wonderful photos.  Visit www.floridastateparks.org for more information.

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding: 39                              Consecutive Days Blogging: 40

Today’s Mileage:  6                                           Total Trip Mileage: 335

      One of the issues with riding a stationary bike, especially if you do it daily, is it can be boring.  You can close your eyes and let the rhythmic movement of your legs and the sound of your breath lull you into a peaceful place.  You might  look out the window at nature and create a poem.  But  there is a third option:  reading! 

     Last Sunday on the way to church my youngest son asked me: “Dad, how did you get to know so much?”  Reading and asking questions was my answer. Yesterday on the NPR Radio Reader program, one of the story characters made the statement: “The way to get smart is to be interested in the world.”  How true, I thought to myself. Read, ask questions and then read some more. I read an array of magazines, some spiritual, many scientific and  occasionally an historical publication.  Recently a scientific article brought a smile to my face and a sense of renewed hope.  I strive on this journey to overcome my failings and weakness.  I enjoy the discoveries along the way and I grow in the process. I share the gifts, insights and wisdom I receive on my journey with others through my blog, my teaching and my therapy.

     The article in the September 2009 issue of Discover magazine by Kathleen McGowan was entitled: Seven Deadly Sins.  The subheading noted: “Science is looking inside the brain to untangle the roots of our bad behavior!”  The article begins with the question:  Why does being bad feel so good? The authors reviewed recent findings  connecting different regions of the brain to “human vices.”  These vices included: Lust, Gluttony, Sloth, Pride, Greed, Envy, and Wrath. The article raised a question which psychologists and theologians grapple with on a regular basis.  Do our moral failings represent poor choices on our part or internal biological impulses?  The article points to an answer involving a complex set of interactions between our brains and our past and current environments. It is an important question when we consider that our society creates laws which legislate morality.  And as therapists we often ponder the question of how to change “bad behavior.” 

Wrath by Christopher Buzelli

     The article ended by noting that: “Historically, moralists have not paid much heed to the findings of science. However,  they might want to pay attention to recent findings from modern neuroimaging  It turns out that acting virtuously does not necessarily require a great deal of suffering, sacrifice and pain(i.e. wearing a hairshirt).  In fact research suggests that: “your reward system fires off a lot more when giving than when you’re taking.”  Yes, science is saying that “being good may be more fun than being wicked!”

     But if this is the case, then how do we turn back the urge to follow the vices rather than chose the virtues?  How do we make, “doing the right thing” the norm of our behavior rather than the exception? The answer may lie within the teachings of Reality and Behavior Therapy.  More on that topic tomorrow!

     Have a wonderful day and enjoy the scenery along your journey’s route!

Thanks to Discovery Magizine for the Images from the September Issue.  The article in question is available online at http://www.discoverMagizine.com/2009/sep/

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