To paraphrase Christian author G. K. Chesterton, although it is common for modern intellectuals to insist morality is different in every era of history and to every individual, such a phrase is completely meaningless. But the antithesis of such a statement would be the politically incorrect belief that morality is the same to every individual regardless of culture, era or circumstance.
Of course, the antithesis of THAT would be that there are no antitheses.
Obviously, there is no way to tell which morality is correct. Absolute or relative, it’s up to you to decide. So when I decide that the best thing I can do is stare at a wall all day contemplating the meaning of the word “enlightenment” (or perhaps, on a rainy day, the word “bagel”), that is completely my business and completely right for me. You come up with your own morality of worshipping objects over twenty-three feet tall, our friend Johnny decides morality is using his fists to eliminate contrary opinions at work, and his sister Suzy can find a personal summum bonnum in experimentation with drugs – it doen't matter what you choose, dude, just strawberry fields forever.
However, this conclusion will only make sense from a relative morality position. You have to believe that there’s no one to decide morality in order to argue it. If there is absolute morality, on the other hand, there is someone (or – some might argue – something) that sets those rules. In such a case, who (what) is it?
The fact is, history has shown that people love power. Put them into a scenario where everyone determines their own ideas, and things will slip out of hand. Someone has to step up, after all, to ensure you keep your own morals to yourself, and before you know it, he’s forcing his morals on you (the belief that I ought to keep my opinions to myself, after all, is his opinion, so he should really just keep that to himself). Think of Communist leaders Joseph Stalin and Mao, rulers who were nothing but dictators to ensure the total equality of all citizens by keeping all money and property for themselves. Today, in United States, it is illegal for a student to pray in public schools (such would not necessarily be imposing religion, but would probably make children of other faiths uncomfortable, which we ought – by their standards – to avoid). Obviously, people are pretty wishy-washy when it comes to setting the rules, and when relative morality must be enforced, the strongest person – or loudest, or whiniest, or most Machiavellian person – wins.
Then there is the notion that morality is absolute, but it comes from something: maybe our animalian ancestry, or the forces of nature, or even Mother Nature, or “the beyond that is within” – the Hindu’s Atman , the infinite Being we are all a part of and must, for our moral benefit, become one with (by the Hindu’s standard, at least).
If connecting with this “thing” – a divine, moral It, so to speak – must be found in deep meditation through yoga in natural environments or through the intake of edibles that induce spiritual visions of women in the sky with diamonds in their hair, we’re back to the every-man-for-himself morality again. If it means studying animal behavior and evolutionary history to determine the common threads that have morphed through the living kingdom for millions of years until they reached us in our own highly civilized, moralized state, then we’re also in trouble, because science itself is done with a bias and can never determine absolutes, only possibilities. It’s built into the practice’s very nature.
So then, this absolute morality must come from a Some One – but who? There are so many to choose from! Buddha, Krishna, Allah, Zarathustra, Lao Tzu, Confucius, Joseph Smith, Jesus. We have returned to square one: who decides which morality to choose?
Well, perhaps we can start with weeding out teachers or potential “Ones” that teach something we’ve already seen to be unreasonable. That means no personal soul-seeking, no reliance on science or the human intellect, and no leaning on Mankind in general, either. Morality is something different – and totally independent of – each one of these. After checking off the list, only one is left. That One is Jesus.
Every other religious teacher has taught a works-based, do-it-yourself, find-your-own way morality, spirituality and salvation, to one degree or another; not Christianity. In fact, Jesus said “No one can come to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6) Not you. Not tradition. Not cultural socioreligious heritage, but Jesus. The catch? You have to realize that “there is none righteous; no, not one” (Rom. 3:10) and that everyone’s hearts – your heart – my heart – “is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” (Jer. 17:9) Jesus Himself came into this world so He could die – for the atonement of our sins. He not only sets the standard of love, through which all the commandments are fulfilled, but He is the means by which we can become loving, moral beings, for His glory alone. It’s either His way, His standard, His love and truth and freedom and glory, or a horrifying imaginary world without religion or heaven – a world in which we are slaves to our own whims as absolutes, and to the standards, benign or sadistic, of everyone else.
In case nobody else pays attention to random 60's music, the Beatles songs I refer to are Strawberry Fields and Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, and the last sentence refers to Imagine by John Lennon.
Extremely good writing style.
Extremely good writing style. From the first sentence to the last it flowed. I don't really understand everything, but I do understand your main point. I love how the whole essay you talk about setting our own standards, our own kind of morality, but in the end you say Jesus is the one who really sets the standard. I don't know the songs of the Beatles, but third paragraph was really, really good. This is a very good essay, Hannah!
"It is not the length of life, but the depth of life." Ralph Waldo Emerson
Thank you both for reading,
Thank you both for reading, and for your very kind comments!
I enjoyed reading this, Hannah! It's such an easy flowing essay, not so dense and short and simply you get your point across so well. Great informal tone as well. I think this is one of my favourites of your essays. :) Awesome job. And nice touch with references to the Beatles, even though I had no idea that you did until the notes section...haha :)
Goodbye? Oh no, please. Can’t we just go back to page one and start all over again?” – Winnie The Pooh