Thursday, March 10, 2011

stop behaving, start living

I think I may have lost my faith in morality last night.

I was talking to an old friend about it, and I started to realize that for me, this faith is little more than a risk-management strategy.

Don't get me wrong: I want to be healthy, and systems of morality are intended, I believe, to help me live a healthy, whole life. Take, for example, the sexual mores of the Christian religion in which I, myself, have been raised and continue to live. A great many of these mores, if fully embraced and perfectly lived out, can protect from disease and heartache and will help to create healthy, loving, stable family environments in which to raise children. That, to me, seems a no-brainer. Do not go bed-hopping, and you will be far less likely to end up with strange, itchy spots in embarrassing places. Do not treat people like things, and your kids won't have to grow up bouncing between homes.

There are some problems, however, with moral systems.  The first is that people actually put their faith in them.

Moral systems are useful, but they are not worthy of our faith... especially not when faith in these systems leads us to assume that life can be mathematized: that if we can follow a moral system perfectly (and we can't), we are guaranteed that everything will work out well for us. This makes morality little more than a system for pain-avoidance. The simple problem with this is that it does not work.

On the contrary, pain is an inevitable result of being alive and, in a supremely ironic twist, the potential for pain actually increases in proportion to how well a person actually lives. Let me explain.

I believe that the best and perhaps only useful criteria for determining how well someone is living is by looking at how well they are loving the people, creatures and objects in the world around them. In an often cruel world full of insecurity, deprivation, and loss, to love greatly is always to risk great pain. People die. They leave. They make horrendously selfish, arrogant, fear-driven decisions that damage the people closest to them. And the more you open yourself to loving the people, creatures and objects in the world around you, the more you open yourself to being hurt by them. If you love them, you will suffer as they suffer and die. And everything suffers and dies. Everything. The consolation? Love.

To live well is to love deeply.
To love deeply is always to open yourself to suffering and pain.
Pain sucks.

But what is the alternative? To put your faith in a set of moral directives that you will not only fail to perfectly fulfill (you will), but that are also most likely incapable of handling the boundless complexity of what living entails?

I don't think so. I think the alternative is grace. I think we need to humbly accept that we cannot achieve the moral perfection required by moral systems. I think we need something bigger, and I think that something is Grace - amazing, divine Grace.

"Yeah, but, uh..." you may ask, "how is anybody supposed to know what it actually means to love without a moral system to guide them?"

A fair question, to be sure. I believe that the moral teaching found in religious systems like Christianity is extremely useful in growing the ability to discern which behaviors are more likely to lead to a diminishment of love. But the system itself is not the answer. A system is an inert tool, and there is not a moral system in existence that cannot be warped to justify greed, warmongering, destruction and hate. Observe, again, "Christianity."

We cannot put our faith in systems, because this sort of faith is a sure path to an increase in fear of pain. Since pain is Love's handmaiden, we cannot avoid it without also avoiding love. This is safer, perhaps, but it it is not really living.

I want to live.

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