Friday, January 15, 2021

The Great Barrier Reef of Human Moral Realism

At about 7 or 8, I awoke to moral consciousness and responsibility, alive and mentally kicking; then sometimes affirmed, sometimes regretting, sometimes guilty, crying and thinking, atop a huge barrier reef that first began hundreds of thousands of years in humankind’s/our human species’ past history, back to the dawn of consciousness and moral awareness!

In many ways waking to moral consciousness for every human kid is like new coral life at the top of the great physical barrier reef off the coast of Australia. The tiny new coral lives atop all the accomplishments of millions of coral who lived before it.

The Great Barrier Reef is the largest structure made by living organisms. It can even be seen from outer space.

In a similar sense, our present ethics/morality including human rights, fairness, equality, justice, compassion exist atop previous growths in ethics dating back through the many centuries and many millennia, back to the dawn of human time.

To temporarily change analogies, as kids growing up in southeastern Nebraska, we didn’t have to reinvent the wheel in order to play with our movable toys. We came to consciousness of wheels as a given, that ability/method having been discovered/invented over 7,000 years before.

In a similar sense, each generation of young humans don’t have to create basic moral rules such as be fair, don’t harm, don’t lie, don’t steal, and show kindness, tell the truth, be generous...

That doesn’t mean that every child will live by or up to those rules, just like humankind’s universal ability of language doesn’t mean that every child will do exceptionally well at speaking a particular language. Other factors can weigh in—physical problems, abuse, dysfunction, and so forth.

Sometime way back in the past, when human consciousness reached a certain state of being/becoming, such basic moral rules came into conscience, became an ought for everyone. (Exactly how humans came to moral consciousness doesn’t concern us here—that’s a whole other article. Nor do the many aberrations in human history--when immoral individuals, dysfunctional families, and twisted societies distort, even try and reverse the basic moral code).

When we reach an age of moral awareness, the new sense of “ought” comes to us based upon many thousands of years of human history. Most thinkers posit this happens to children about the age of 7, give or take a year or 2.

Very small children, of course, respond to admonishments when it comes to sharing, not harming, etc., but they probably don’t have a strong enough sense of personal “I” within a social group to consciously sense the “ought” as a universal moral code. Instead, they are mainly seeking to please their parents who care for and protect them.

And, at times, they spontaneously share, care, hug, etc., but they can also spontaneously do the opposite, too.

By the time I was 11, my deep sense of the ethical rules, the oughts, not only led me to ask forgiveness and to consciously change wrong behavior, it also led to an acute awareness of how the “moral reef” I found myself on, a part of, was, too, strangely and incoherently, at times inconsistent, and contradictory. Huge gaps existed, dangerous abysses, immoral quagmires put forth as oughts.

For instance, at that young age, I was shocked and morally repulsed when our Sunday School teacher said God had sent bears to attack some kids who had teased the prophet Elisha for having a bald head!

WHAT?! How grievously immoral and unjust! Why would the Bible, the book we were supposed to believe claim that God would do such an unfair, harmful act?

Then 2 or 3 years later I struggled with the Bible's promotion of slavery. How could the Bible—one source from which we got our moral views--condone and insist on slavery as a worthy institution!? How could Scripture in many places, (and Christians later in history and now), justify lying, stealing, killing, and claiming to own humans like tools such as their rake or hammer?

Why did nearly all Christians, Jews, and Muslims agree with this biblical view for hundreds of years?

Later I came across other horrific texts in the Bible. Such as this in the Psalms: "How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones against the rock." (Psalm 137:9).

From then on, my sensitive conscience--sitting atop that great moral reef of millions of humans who came before my brief time--struggled to understand these contradictions I saw in Scripture and in Christians and others.

Aren’t these clear contradictions chasmic ‘defaults’ at least in my particular area of the deep time moral reef?

Not so argue Christian/Islamic/Jewish/Hindu-New Age/Nontheistic thinkers.

Most Atheists claim that all ethics are "subjective," "relative," "personal/cultural preferences" which change from time to time, and culture to culture. They are only a human construct, not real.

So sometimes acts considered immoral, or even evil are necessary to protect the moral code and civilization itself. For example, they agree with the British leader Winston Churchill who stated, "In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies."

While other nations--our enemies--ought to be condemned for acts of torture and the slaughter of civilians, if we choose to torture or kill civilians that isn't wrong but is good. What counts is our survival.

Millions of Christians argue from a nominalist philosophical view--the Divine Command view of ethics and Ultimate Reality. Not lying, not stealing, not harming—such demanding ethical rules aren’t eternally true.

Rather, whatever God wills/decides is what is true for humans. God is free to change the moral code anytime he sees fit to do so. If anyone doubts this, who does the individual think God is?!

In other words, for most creedal Christians (Augustinians, Reformed, etc.), God doesn't have an innate eternal ethical center/essence, but is totally sovereign, totally eternal "will" who only acts when it is for his glory and “good pleasure.”

Many Jews state that G-d created evil in the beginning! They base their view on Bible verses such as "I form the light, and create the darkness. I make peace, and create evil. I the LORD do all these things." (Isaiah 45:7)

Muslims believe Allah wills/ordains every good and every evil action and causes all horrific natural disasters. IF it happens, then Allah wills it.

For Hindus and modern New Age thinkers, Brahma causes both good and evil to exist. "God created both because both are needed. God is in the evil as much as in the good." How to Know God by Deepak Chopra

One instance of this denial of objective, universal ethics came from our Christian youth leader at a Bible study when I was 17 in 1963. He claimed and tried to convince us, based on stories in the Old Testament, that sometimes God will order us to commit immoral acts.

When, shocked and morally horrified, I spoke up and strongly disagreed, he told me personally that God was calling me to do what appears to be immoral!

According to such Christian leaders, God does as he pleases and does what will bring him the most glory. They then proceed to give examples of how God led "his people" to lie, steal, enslave, and kill in Scripture, despite the fact that these were prohibited in the 10 Commandments.

How can we human make sense of this reef madness;-)?

Is the great barrier reef of the moral code unreliable, relative, temporary, changeable?

Do the reverses which occurred during the immoral actions of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st show that ethics are subjective preferences no different than whether or not a person/society likes or dislikes the color red?

Was the Chinese practice of binding little girls' feet for a thousand years only a cultural/social preference? Neither right nor wrong?

Is the ritual of female mutilation of little girls in Islamic countries a valid religious practice? Over 85% of Egyptian parents until recently supported female mutilation as good!

What’s your thoughts on this difficult issue?

Is the moral code reef of homo sapiens a subjective construct or as real as the Great Barrier Reef?

In the Light,

Dan Wilcox

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