ETHICS INSTEAD OF LAWS
For the purpose of this treatise, we are going to define ethics as a moral philosophy; as opposed to, the more common idea of a set of rules or laws that try to govern human behavior. Such a definition allows, not only for the personal adaptation which ethics need if a moral code is to succeed at the individual level, it would also help to empower us to face many of the complicated issues facing humanity in the next century.
Theology needs to recognize that goodness comes from the human heart, not from any law dictated by men. Goodness is not about avoiding infractions of the law, it is about the giving of one's self. Morality is not the absence of evil, it is the essence of goodness in action. It should be the primary objective of religion (if it is to serve God and man) to promote goodness; rather than, advocating the avoidance of evil. Our present religious approach becomes problematic because it tries to dictate human behavior; instead of, encouraging one's personal responsibility and their contribution to the whole. We focus on goodness as being the absence of faults; rather than, the development of virtue.
This section will refrain from any discussion of human sexuality in any depth, for that will be considered in its own right.
And we need to clarify before we go on, that this position is only religious in nature. It is not meant to be a critique of the secular laws of a society. These arguments acknowledge the need for the laws of state if we are to succeed in functioning in an orderly manner, especially, in light of a seemingly lack of a universal ethic. While a society should work, hard to overturn laws, which are unfair, oppressive to some, or in place to advocate one human's right over another; it should never base laws upon religious ideologies based upon the concept that a religion speaks for God. History has demonstrated the dangers of this.
We need to keep in mind that the laws of the state are made by people, presumably for people, and are an intricate part of our daily lives. The church, however, often proclaims its laws in the Name of God, claiming they are transcendent of human authority - and the adherence to those laws effect our eternal being! State laws are subject to question and change, while too often church law disregards any challenge.
Religion needs to recognize that the true Divine law is self-evident, expressing itself in the reality of what "IS". God needs no human to declare or interpret His law, for what God Wills "IS".
Another error is to argue that there is a natural moral law; that is, a set of rights and wrongs for human behavior which nature reveals. Almost every act that is forbidden in our so-called religious codes, seem to take place somewhere in nature. Killing, deception, promiscuity, homosexuality, are all built into the natural order in some way. To say that such things are immoral is to say God is immoral, for these things are part of His Divine system.
Morality isn't really God's dictate; but rather, a necessity if human beings that have free choice are going to survive and harmonize with each other and nature. Based upon empirical evidence and the mythological content, this would seem to be the direction in which God guided us. Morality should lead to harmony among humans and a balance with nature. Morality, than, becomes more about personal responsibility and our contributions to the whole (in accordance with our ability and in proportion to what we take from the whole). Morality becomes a self objectivity that is fueled by love for the creation, a love for each other, and a respect for the majesty of God that is expressed in the creation. The ETHIC upon which we should base our morality is overcoming selfishness by taking responsibility for the consequence of our actions and focusing on the virtues of compassion, fairness, mercy, forgiveness, tolerance, and equality.
Our present theological conceptions often cause us to lose sight of the idea that morality is about harmony. Virtue and ethics are displaced with "dos and doníts" that have little to do with harmony. We see the "action" as sinful; rather than the "consequence" of an action, which is the real evil in our world.
Jesus' teachings shifted spiritual emphasis from the taboos of the Old Testament to a moral ethic based on the principle of love. Jesus reduced the Ten Commandments to two:
Hearing that he had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees met together; and one of their number tested him with this question: "Master, which is the greatest commandment in the law?" Jesus answered, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind. It comes first. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. Everything in the law and the prophets hangs on these two commandments."
By using this criteria of Jesus, we can build an ethic by which we can judge the consequences of our actions. We would begin to ask ourselves: will the consequence of what we do inhibit or contradict our love of God, or our love of our fellow man?
To keep the first of these commandments, we need to understand that the love of God can only be expressed in our reality by our actions toward the things that are of God; that is, the entire creation. And religion needs to keep in mind that one cannot keep the first Great Commandment without adhering to the second. Our greatest prayers to God are the actions in our treatment of the gifts God shares with us. We also need to understand that to truly love one's neighbor, requires, not only that we refrain from hurting them, but also that we respond to their needs according to our ability to do so. Love is a much more powerful motivator than the dictate of law, this something Jesus truly realized.
It can only be in arrogance that men dare proclaim God's Law. To state that "this, or that," is an infraction of the Law of God is to say that human beings can speak for God - something not humanly possible; and, something God has no need of!
In fact, our theology is flawed when it operates on the premise that any act, of itself, can be evil. All actions occur because something exists, therefore, it is being that allows action to take place - and, all being comes from God. Thus, all actions are from the power of God. God is transcendent of good and evil, and what operates according to Her purpose and plan would not be considered evil, but part of the Divine plan. It's what sets itself up against God's plan that would be considered evil, and, it would seem that only man has the free choice to set themselves against God's plan.
It is difficult for humans to know God's plan, and this is why dogmatic assertions about Divine Edicts are impossible. We can make a few assumptions from the natural order; such as, God intended balance and harmony within the creation. And the myths imply that harmony with our fellowman and the environment are keys to a fulfilling human existence.
Human beings are capable of choosing their paths which can be harmonious with others and nature; or, they can be self-serving and harmful to others and nature. This free choice makes us as individuals responsible for our actions, which can be contrary to God's plan of harmony. The reason that religion should prioritize the "ethic" and the "consequence of actions" has to do with this individual responsibility. In fact, the ethics of any religion should transcend the belief of a particular faith, trying to serve unity and love rather than division and judgement.
Now, we stated it is not the action that becomes immoral, but the consequences of the action. But sometimes, it is actually the motivation that really determines the morality of the consequence. For example: one man gives money to a charity to impress his peers and gain respect, while another gives to the same charity because of the need of others. While the consequence might be the same, in a moral ethic such as we are describing the first man would be immoral because his intent is selfish and his act is actually hypocrisy.
The main cause of evil in humanity is when an individual separates one's self from the whole in selfishness. When the individual places his or her needs above those of others, or achieves them at the expense of others. Every act of evil is based upon a reasoning that "our individual act" is more important than its effect upon someone or something else. We disconnect from the whole in favor of placating the self. We separate ourselves, placing the selfish desire above the rights of other things. This is what causes evil!
Our moral ethics need to address this cause in a constructive way. Yet, it would seem that religious ideology has shifted our emphasis so much toward "individuality" that we rationalize our selfish acts with an "ends justify the means'' mentality. We justify our indifference by a preoccupation with self. We loose our self-objectivity because we see ourselves as the centerpiece of God's creation. Our responsibilities toward one another and creation are lost in a sea of projection, which becomes justified in; words of prayer, songs of praise declarations of faith and elaborate rituals. Rules supplant human compassion; judgement replaces tolerance; and "The Word" is more sacred than the message of love it proclaims.
But if we stop and think about it! If love becomes the ethic that motivates, we need not worry so much about individual liberty because there would be far fewer who might take advantage of it.
Now, this is not to say that we necessarily consider the whole at the expense of the self; but rather, approach behavior with a view of ourselves as part of the whole. Religion is correct when it supports the concepts of freedom, individual liberty and equality. But religion must also educate the faithful about the connectedness of all things because of the Divine. This connectedness is what makes individual liberty responsible.
Reason really dictates - that when the earth benefits - or a community benefits from responsible acts - that when human beings reach out to one another, all the aspects of such a system will reap the reward; including the self. When we promote community in love, the liberty of all individuals flourishes.
To make this ideal happen we must take into consideration the fact, that what we proclaim or believe to be right, is not necessarily so. The consequence, or sometimes the motivation, becomes the determining factor, whatever the act. For example, we might tell a lie to make someone feel good about themselves when the truth might really hurt them. On the other hand, we may tell a lie for personal gain, or for personal pleasure, and someone could really get hurt because of it. It is the motivation and consequence that determines if the lie is a good thing or bad.
This idea of motivation, or an ethic, is what Jesus addressed in the Two Great Commandments. In essence, what he told us is, we can't go wrong if our action is motivated by the love that he constantly demonstrated.
And while many claim the moral law of God to be inflexible and dogmatic; when it suits their needs, even here there becomes exceptions. People justify killing in war, or in capital punishment. We kill all kinds of other species to eat as well as for the sake of progress. But it is not really the killing, which is the sin, but whether that killing violates the law of love. Self-defense might be a just cause to kill another. Certainly, survival allows us to feed upon other species seeing how nature is built upon that concept.
The problem lies in needs verses desire, and
when the desire becomes to great, too self-focused, the result is a lack of
responsibility to the whole which violates the law of love because God is reflected
in the whole as well as the self. When the Native Peoples of
In the story of Adam and Eve, the sin really becomes their selfish drive to become "Godlike". They are no longer satisfied with participating in the whole, they seek to control it and reign over it. It is not enough for them to be part of God, they are striving to become Her. It was not immoral for man to choose consciousness. What becomes the immorality in this act was the motivation behind doing so. In selfish pursuit, they violated the love, which God manifested toward them. In defiance of God, they sought to put themselves above the whole; instead of, recognizing themselves as a part of it.
And with all our years of religious theology, isn't mankind still striving to be godlike? Human progress is obviously often a good thing, but we are reaching the point where human progress is becoming dangerously destructive toward the whole. What good is all our human potential if our planet ceases to be able to support human life?
Men proclaim God's law, judgement, and wrath. Men tell us what God thinks and does. Yet, we must question these assumptions because in the reality of our world the most basic of human problems has yet to be solved. Hunger, exploitation of other men as well as nature, oppression, hatred, indifference and irresponsibility are all alive and well in today's world.
This is why religion needs to support a moral ethic that is based upon love and balance that can be individualized. What we do to the world is what we do to each other and God. While every purpose is different and unique, each should be balanced so that what we take is replaced with what we give. We are not talking about money here, we are talking about living life.
Jesus stated that he did not come to abolish
the law, but to fulfill it. What he was saying could be interpreted: that as
long as we need laws to interact with God we will be lost. The
It would seem, in light of his teaching that Jesus would have realized that a specific action unto itself could not be immoral; but rather, it becomes the motivation and/or consequence of an act that truly makes it immoral. While certain acts might appear to be immoral because by their very nature they usually produce harmful affects upon someone or something, we have no right to declare such in the Name of God. Our culture and beliefs always influence our opinions, but God has no such influence for She is the Source of the all. The very difference of opinions flow from the Diversity of God.
These same ideas apply to what we might consider to be good. For example; love can be every bit as much of a destructive force as a positive one. Love based upon selfish gratification is just one example. We can love one so much that they become completely dependent upon us, not being able to function if they had to. Or, let's take the example we just stated where Jesus heals on the Sabbath in direct violation of law. If we look at the law in light of the ethic of love: what would be gained in withholding the wholeness of another when it is within our power to save them? It would be like a doctor refusing to treat an emergency patient on Sunday.
Jesus even demonstrated that anger had its place, but we must always remember that he took that anger out on things (the tables and coins of the moneychangers, not on the moneychangers themselves.
Another problem with most of our approach to morality in theology is the idea that we can judge others. In fact, in the Christian religion this is a contradiction to the direct teachings of the founder who preached forgiveness and nonjudgment. Every time we accuse someone of being a sinner, we pass judgement upon that person.
Even Paul, who often defends law, admits in Romans 2:12-16
When the gentiles who do not possess the law carry out its precepts by the light of nature, then, although they have no law, they are their own law, for they display the effect of the law inscribed on their hearts. Their conscience is called as witness and THEIR OWN THOUGHTS ARGUE THE CASE ON EITHER SIDE. AGAINST THEM, OR EVEN FOR THEM, on the day when God judges the secrets of human hearts.
In other words, we are in fact judged by the hearts intent and by our judgement upon others. Immorality and sin are products of hypocrisy born out of selfishness. Too often, those who hold others to a high standard of law are so blinded by their own projection that they fail to see their own shortcomings. Objective self-judgement should be the foundation of any responsible theology, for the standard we hold others to; is the standard by which we are judged. If our standard is based on love, we can reap nothing but God's love! This is the simple salvation that Jesus offered to humanity.
We have tried to convey some of the reasons why we need ethics more than law in religion. Why a responsible theology needs to encourage virtue instead of declaring values. It is hypocrisy to declare something as the Law of God and then make exceptions, as is often done. It's better to focus upon virtue, for that is where the true spirit of goodness comes from.
But where do we go, and how do we build those ethics?
William James said:
There can be no final truth in ethics any more than in physics, until the last man has had his experience and said his say.
("The Moral Philosopher and Moral Life," The Will to Believe 1896)
Laws break down because they are most often dictated from outside ourselves; whereas, ethics are usually developed by the experiences of an individual. Ethics based on love and virtue can be the force, which drives the personal choices and personal ideology that make up the diversity of our society. Ethics built on love and compassion , as a moral philosophy, would guide us in the way we live; not merely serving as a tool of avoidance, projection or judgement. They would not tell us what we could and could not do, which would actually help us think about the consequence of actions, helping to deter us from judging another's act.
There can be no religious universal law because the circumstances of human experience are diverse and unique. The so-called "Law of God" postulated by many religions, when examined for content, origin, and motivation: can be suspect at best. The history of religion teaches us that yesterday's law was often flawed at best and, persecuting at worst. And those who claim the Bible contains the written law of God seem to forget that not one word of the Bible was written by the hand of God.
Even the Ten Commandments are vague, subject to interpretation and often serve special interest. While the concepts underlying these laws seems helpful, if one studies the period when these laws came about, it becomes very clear that the authors intended to address some of the problems of his or her time in accordance with the culture of the period.
... there are three separate and distinct versions of the Ten Commandments in the Torah that cannot be reconciled (Exodus 20, and 34' Deuteronomy 5). God was portrayed, if one seeks to maintain a literalism about Holy Scripture, as terribly inept. He (and it was HE) could not even get the essence of the Divine law clear.
(Bishop John Shelby Spong, RESCUING THE BIBLE FROM FUNDAMENTALISM, Harper, C1991, P23)
It needs to be noted that in the Yahwist version of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 34), there is no reference to God having rested on the seventh-day as the justification for the observance of Sabbath. The reason for this omission is obvious to biblical scholars because the seven-day creation story of Genesis 1:1-24 had not yet been written. It was a much later work of art.
††††† (ibid. p46)
This is not to say that the Ten Commandments do not offer some good ethical advise, or that they were not inspired in some way; but, they are only a crude beginning toward a purer ethic which Jesus, as well as others, delivered to us later on. And Bishop Spong reminds us:
Sometimes even the most straightforward moral directions are, on further study, not so simple after all. For example, most people believe that the Bible states without equivocation, particularly in the Ten Commandments, that murder is wrong, bearing false witness is wrong, stealing is wrong, adultery is wrong. There is no question here about the meaning of these Bible imperatives - Right? Wrong!
What the Bible really says is THAT THESE THINGS ARE WRONG FOR A
JEW TO DO TO A JEW, but a close reading of these texts will reveal that when a Jew dealt with their enemies, then, lying, killing, stealing and raping were all acceptable forms of behavior.
(John Shelby Spong, LIVING IN SIN, 1988, p114)
The Old Testament is full of examples that support Spong's observation. In Numbers, Chapter 31, God allows the Jews to: steal the Midianites cattle, flocks and goods (verse 9), burn their cities (verse 10), allowed men to keep virgins for themselves (verse 18). So this idea of exception to Divine Law is built into the sacred works which convey it. It actually makes the so-called Law of God, subject to the interpretation of men - which begs the question: How could it be Divine Law?
This leads us to one of the problems we have with present theology. That is, Jesus' advocacy of better ethics was interpreted by many to mean more laws. But, these laws often take a negative approach to morality, being based upon what we shouldn't do; rather than, what we should be doing. This can lead to a psychological suggestion, which implies that when we avoid the infractions of this code, it somehow makes us good. And when we see true goodness, it becomes relegated to special individuals such as saints or prophets. But what does that say about our personal potential to be the best we can be.
The gospels seem to actually rebuke the idea of a religion of "Thou shall not," replacing such with a suggested ethic based upon love, personal responsibility and action. The same is true of the sacred writings and myths of many other religious ideals.
If the modern Christian Church was doing its job correctly, according to the example of its founder: there should be no hungry. It surely seems we have built and maintain enough ornate houses of worship, resources that could feed many people. If religions were doing their jobs, sick people would have access to medicine no matter what their economic state. Children would be born to warm loving homes. Our resources would be better used in an effort to preserve the quality of life for future generations. We would have a sense of community where self-gratification was less important than community accomplishment.
Our negative emphasis has us worrying so much about going to hell that we do not see the hell on earth that plagues hundreds of millions of people. From starvation to war, the present theology isn't working. Even our doctrines of salvation feed our selfishness, for it is more about the eternal reward of heaven, than, loving for the sake of love. In a sense, so many of the present teachings imply that God needs to bribe us in order for us to obey Her so-called law.
Too often, telling people what they shouldn't do only serves to make them less responsible for what they do do.
If one were to reflect for a moment, if we are doing the right thing, we need have no fear of the doing the wrong thing. Simple avoidance of the wrong thing makes no assurance that what we are doing is good. The scriptures and myths say this over and over, giving us insight into the ethical behavior connected with goodness and spirituality. The gospels deliver to us a wonderful formula for an ethic based upon love expressed in the way we live our lives.
Religion needs to shift its approach toward morality by turning the emphasis from avoidance, to responsibility. This is not to say we should tell people what to do, any more than telling them what not to do. But a responsible Christian theology needs to encourage us to follow, according to our culture and times, the path Jesus demonstrated by example. Our religions emphasize Jesus as God, seemingly forgetting he was man. Religion often gives the impression that the emulation of Jesus is more of a blasphemy; than using such an ideal as an example from which we could build our ethics.
Theology needs to encourage virtue instead of rules, facing the reality of the "complete human being," which is a combination of animal, ego-consciousness, and spirit. True morality is more about what is going on in the reality of the world; not, our spoken words and platitudes. When laws are passed which are not felt in the human heart, people will circumvent them. Prohibition is just one example, divorce another, and there are hundreds of others.
Theology needs to approach morality from a completely different perspective if it is to aid in the spiritual development of mankind. Our present systems are often not adequate to aid in a spiritual evolution that is keeping up with our intellectual evolution. Our relationship with God is still based upon the fear and superstition of our ancestors of many years ago:
Ancient man knew, as even some animals do, that you can sometimes pacify a threatening enemy by leaving him some of your food. Fearing these threatening powers of fire, water and air, ancient man would leave some food for the god-enemy. Thus did man make his first sacrifice to the god-enemy in an effort to pacify him as he would other enemies, man or beast...
Prayers and tributary worship began in man's fear of the god-enemy; they were born of animal instinctive offerings to an unknown and seemingly powerful creature...
Men still want to appease God by swaying their beards and praising His Grace. Incense and smoke still rise from the altars' and candles are set where they imagine the god-enemy to be dwelling, and where with a little offering (Now of coin instead of grain and meat) they hope to appease him as of old.
(Dagobert Runes, ON THE NATURE OF MAN, Philosophical Library, 1956, pp36-38)
We need to break this theological trend of God being the wrathful god-enemy who waits for us to break some aspect of Her Divine Law. We need to evolve, seeing God as the loving Father which Jesus portrayed. Our morals should evolve to a point where we need no laws to be religious because our messiahship is so important that we wouldn't think of intentionally offending God, another human being or creation.
Morality isn't about laws; it's about how we affect others, how we interact with the creation. Morality is about our personal participation in the ethic of Love so profoundly demonstrated in the life of Jesus.
The seat of immorality is not our sexual preoccupation; it is in a society that allows children to be malnourished. Immorality is not a breaking of the laws, it's the indifference of human beings to the plights of the poor, elderly and the sick. It is not an external force such as the devil, which makes us evil; it is our own greed and obsession with self-gratification.
The myths, sacred writings and the gospels are the inspired work of the Divine, but we must look at them in a symbolism which applies to us, not view them as our ancestors did. The universal messages they contain are much more profound then the code of "Thou shall nots" we so often emphasize from them. Love, respect, and a sense of personal messiahship need to replace the fear driven codes that are so full of projection, otherness, and indifference to human need.
It is not enough, according to Jesus, to love only those who are like us. We must reach out in sincerity to those who differ, even our enemies:
You have learned that our forefathers were told, "Do not commit murder; anyone who commits murder must be brought to judgment" But what I tell you is that anyone who nurses anger against his brother must be brought to judgment. If he abuses his brother he must answer for it to the court; if he sneers at him he will have to answer for it in the fires of hell.
You have learned that they were told, "eye for Eye, tooth for tooth." But what I tell you is this: Do not set yourself against the man who wrongs you. It someone slaps you on the right cheek, turn and offer him the left. It a man wants to sue you for your shirt, let him have your coat as well. If a man in authority makes you go one mile, go with him two. Give when you are asked to give, and do not turn your back on a man who wants to borrow.
You have learned they you were told, "love your neighbor, hate your enemy." But what I tell you is this: Love your enemies, and pray for your persecutors; only so can you be children of your heavenly Father who makes his sun rise on the good and bad alike, and sends His rain on the honest and dishonest. If you love only those who love you, what reward can you expect? Surely, the tax-gatherers do as much as that. And if you greet only your brother, what is there extraordinary about that? Even the heathen do as much. There must be no limit to your goodness, as your heavenly Father's goodness knows no bounds.
These simple concepts and ideals, the ethics for the basis of morality, are repeated throughout the gospels. The letter of the law is replaced with an ethic of purity of heart that knows no bounds. Morality becomes a way of life that is driven by a pure ethic of love. Such an ethic transcends law, having its origins in the Divine Itself.
I give you a new commandment LOVE ONE ANOTHER; as I have loved you, so you are to love one another.
This is the direction religion needs to head in if it is to become a positive influence in our world. Morals, rituals, words, and faith are all useless if they do not promote spiritual growth. Spiritual growth is felt; not professed. True spirituality is in the way we live our lives; not in what we profess to believe. Our love for God is expressed in the treatment of what is of God, not in our songs, works of art or words of adoration!
Love, as Jesus demonstrated it, is the basic ethic we need to be moral. If we based our decisions in life on love, we would be much less apt to make irresponsible choices.
The parable of "The Good Samaritan" (Luke -37) gives us insight into the kind of love that Jesus demonstrated. It is a love of caring, compassion, mercy, and personal responsibility, which is unrequited; that is, it seeks nothing in return.
When the lawyer asked Jesus: "and who is my neighbor?'' Jesus makes it clear that anyone in need, and whom we can help, is in fact our personal responsibility.
When we talk about love here, we are not talking about the shallow definition that the word has taken upon itself today. The love, as Jesus used it, was the term 'agape', which is an unrequited love that God has demonstrated for mankind.
The ethic of love, first and foremost, involves removing the plank from our own eye; that is, removing the rationalizations, projections and justifications for our own selfish pursuits. We need self-objectivity with a genuine concern for how our actions are affecting others and creation. Egocentricity is a healthy part of the human being and its needs should be addressed by every human. But that egocentric drive needs something to keep it in check; otherwise, it leads to selfish indifference. This is not to say that ego-driven desires are evil or selfish, but, in love, they do not become a priority where the ends justify the means. In fact, in the love of which we speak, there becomes a genuine desire to share our good fortune with the whole - for the happier the whole can be, the better for the individual selves of that whole. But in the end, we need to be objective about ourselves in order to avoid self-deceit from the ego.
Once we have removed the plank from our own eye, we need to think about the consequences of our actions. Are they responsible; will someone be hurt or cheated or suffer; could someone benefit; what is the effect of a particular act on those around me, on the whole: are all questions that we should contemplate. From our daily business activities, to our sexual affairs, to dealing with the social problems of our societies: our realistic self-examination is important.
In the Catholic Church, they have what they call an examination of conscience before one confesses their sins. It's designed to help the penitent remember his or her sins. Likewise, a responsible theology will encourage a self-examination, but it would be "before" we embark upon an act, weighing an action's affect on things around us. Sorrow for wrongs can be a good thing, for we can learn from it. But a more ideal state is, careful consideration of the consequences of our acts before we need to be sorry for them.
Responsibility and motivation are relevant factors that determine consequences. Self-examination is a key to such responsibility, which will always help to improve motivation. When we are motivated by our effect upon others, or even our world, we are less likely to have an adverse effect than if we operate only in self-interest. Paradoxically, if we act with the whole in mind the self always gains, because the better the whole the better the state for the self, and when we are in the realm of paradox we are in the realm of God.
This is not to say that we as human beings can operate with a constant awareness of the whole picture, or, that we might always be aware of the consequences of our acts. For one thing, our perception is too limited for that. Another is that ego requires attention if it is to be healthy. But what the myths and scriptures of all religions tell us is that we can be motivated by certain virtues, that if cultivated, would allow us to be more responsible to that which is around us, even if it's only at an unconscious level.
Love,†† mercy, compassion, generosity, empathy, and self-objectivity are all virtues that are preached in the gospels, which are, in a sense, the moral ethics by which we can live a moral life. Our religious values actually become immoral when we use them to stand in opposition to these virtues - as in being judgmental, indifferent, projectionary, or use love in a selfish manner.
Again, Jesus gave a very good example of a way we can conduct this self-examination when he said: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you!" This should be our first lesson in self-examination. If each of us asked, 'would we like done to us what we are doing to another'; our social interactions would definitely change. We would not be so apt to hurt or take advantage of those we deal with.
A moral code based purely upon an ethic of love is not easy step for theology. It not only means that religions must admit they cannot speak for God, but as the popular Psychiatrist Scott Peck redefines love as being about sacrifice, responsibility, and hard work:
Everyone in our culture desires to some extent to be loving, yet many are not in fact loving. I therefore conclude that the desire to love is not itself love. LOVE IS AS LOVE DOES. LOVE IS AN ACT OF WILL - namely, both an intention and an action.
(Scott Peck, THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED, Simon &Schuster, 1978, p83)
If an act is not one of work or courage, then it is not an act of love. There are no exceptions.†††
The ethic that we are postulating grounds religion in a much more difficult role then its present system of defining what is moral or immoral. Its role is not one of judgement of what is right or wrong according to the law of God, but rather, encouraging people to pursue their own relationship with God in a moral way that is in accordance with their own unique lifestyle. It allows homosexuals to be homosexuals, the unmarried to be unmarried, the atheist to be atheist, so long as they do not force themselves upon others - treating all of them with the same respect we would wish to be treated with.
Make no mistake about it, there are truly evil people in the world who murder, rape, cheat, and plunder - but these are the business of civil law and the society which controls it. Religion is the foundation upon which a just man builds to become a better man; not a legislative body declaring God's law. It is the job of religion to foster the motifs of the sacred writings that they might be useful at a personal level in order that an individual might spiritually grow.
Moral codes are cultural and social, never being natural or Divine. In fact, the animal law of natural survival would be considered immoral from most human perspectives, and yet, this is the very law, which God chose to dominate creation. And this is as it should be, for God in His wisdom has surely given the best of Herself that He can give.
And as it should be, because of God's great gifts to us, She would be right in expecting more from us. Whereas the cat that is going to eat the bird takes advantage of the opportunity, we can choose and actually make our own opportunities. The responsibility lies in doing such in a responsible manner, which respects all things as being of God.
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