Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Too Good to be True

--Is there good without God? Can people be good without God? How can people be good, in the moral and ethical sense, without being grounded in some sort of belief in a being which is greater than they are? Where do concepts such as good and evil, right and wrong, come from if not from religion? From where do you get your sense of good and evil, right and wrong?

Any person can aspire to Goodness. Any Christian, Any Buddhist. Any Atheist. God, or a belief in God, is not necessary. What is necessary to aspire to Goodness is religion. What is necessary to define Goodness, is love.

The desire to be good or to do good: that is morality. The intentional and dedicated pursuit of Goodness as a guiding principle in our lives: that is religion. It is important to note in that definition that the principle “guides” us, it does not determine for us what is Good. How we define what is Good is cultural, it is elusive and changeable, and ultimately it is emotional.

Take the example of an Eco-Friendly acquaintance of mine. Environmentalism informs every aspect of her life: how she dresses, what she eats, how she votes, who she marries, etc. That sounds like a religion. She avidly pursues the Good without ever considering God.

But what if her “religion” excludes on moral grounds testing that might save human lives? What of my religion, which permits medical testing but pollutes the planet irrevocably? If either of us gets our way, the other is trampled, surely such a thing cannot be Good.

Surely the Good is a compromise between what I believe and what she believes, what I am willing to surrender to her and what she is willing to surrender to me. Goodness exists in a space between us, we define it communally and since we are both avidly pursuing it, we can hope to achieve it together. We do this with humility, with compassion, with a desire to please and to be pleased. We do this with love.

And when we reach a loving compromise in this way, it means that we have experienced Goodness without either of us achieving that elusive Good we desired.

When we speak of Christianity as a religion, we acknowledge that the ideal of Christ, his life and works, infuses what we do. Christ does not TELL us what to do, but an intentional determination to lead a Christ-like life guides us. But in every action we take toward that goal of Christ-like living, we must know that He would never want us to trample those in our path. That would not be Christ-like, it would not be Good. We believe we are created in the image of God and that our moral fiber s a reflection of that “drop of perfection” in our souls. I believe that. I just don’t think it’s necessary to believe it to aspire to Goodness.

Nothing I have said here is new. Plato, Kant, Keats, Eckhart all have explored it more thoroughly and intelligently. None, perhaps, so well as Iris Murdoch, the British philosopher and author of many brilliant novels and essays including “The Sovereignty of Good” in which she argues every nuance with elegant simplicity. That books ends with the conclusion that we should not try to define Goodness, or Love, for that matter, but be aware that humility is the road to both.

Monday, October 26, 2009

If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck..

If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck….

The Vatican has offered to create a loophole in Catholicism through which Anglicans and conservative Anglo-Episcopalians can slip into their pews with little or no adjustment of principle. That simply cannot be true. The Conservative Anglicans may wish to distinguish themselves from Catholics, and those who care enough to ask may see the distinction, but out in the real world of generalizations and rounded off numbers, they will be counted as Catholics.

While that isn’t a bad thing, per se, be careful, I say to my Anglican brethren, that you are joining a Church not only that will accept you, but that will represent your values to the world.

If disenchanted Anglicans add their numbers to the Catholic Church’s count, they throw their weight behind the Catholic Church’s agenda. With their inclusion, statistically more people will, for example, believe in the supremacy of the Pope. No, they may say, we are Anglicans, but on a grand scheme, in the real world, who is going to know or even care about that distinction. The next time there is a poll of religious affiliation and political activism will there be an asterisk by Catholic? Or a box between Episcopalian and Catholic marked “Walks like a Duck but not a Duck.”

As an Episcopalian, I am not a duck. I believe in ordaining women and homosexuals. When the Pope pardons clergy who deny the Shoah, I don’t have to own it. When he states that the distribution of condoms in Africa contributes to the spread of AIDS there, I get to be outraged.

Now, in my experience, most Catholics read the Papal declarations, but then they do what they want. From the perspective of personal piety, I am hard pressed to discern between my conservative Anglican friends and my Catholic friends. As far as I can see, Catholicism is not addressing the current realties of the lives of Catholics. Nor is the Anglican Community satisfying the needs of its conservative congregants. If my Anglican brethren join the Catholic Communion, I pray that their critical mass will be felt and not subsumed by the church, that both communities will converge to form a new species that is clearly being called for.

In a previous blog, I argued that worshipers should feel free to change churches to fit their needs. I want to rephrase that now to say that worshipers, when they feel their churches do not meet their needs, should change the church. As was saliently said by Diana Butler Bass last week, people of faith have been voting with their feet since the dawn of time. You might call it Religious Darwinism: churches adapt or they disappear. I love and admire the Catholic Church. I just think it could use a wee smidgeon of evolution.