Why Good Things Happen to... People, of All Things (1.05.11)
But every conscious being knows that the moral order cannot be reduced to neurology, any more than a great work of art can be understood by reducing it to its molecular components. But if you are a materialist, then you must necessarily be a cynic, as you are able to see right through the naive people who believe in a fixed moral order. You know that they are just fooling themselves -- or worse yet, just trying to manipulate and control others -- and that good and evil don't really exist.
Yes, you know that such people are bad, which, of course, negates your frivolous argument, but so what, truth doesn't exist anyway. You know that Bach was just a musical con man, what with his sinister idea that the purpose of his music was to reveal the divine order. You know that Abraham Lincoln (see comments) was just a tyrant and demagogue who used the slavery issue to consolidate presidential power in unprecedented ways. You know that people only pretend a fetus is not a parasite in order to gain control over women's bodies. You employ strict logic to understand reality. How monkey logic can ever arrive at moral or any other kind of truth, you cannot say.
Buddy, you are without a clue. You are a One Cosmos troll, the lice on Bob's transdimensional vapor trail. But enviously suckling on the creativity of another feels good, so it must be right.
Now, as far as I can tell -- and I'm no theologian, so forgive me if I get this wrong -- one of the intrafamilial squabbles between Judaism and Christianity -- but not really, as we shall see -- is over the value of action in isolation from the state of the soul engaging in it. I have heard Dennis Prager (Medved too) speak of this on numerous occasions, that in Jewish thought, the overriding concern is the value of the action, not the motivations of the person engaging in it. Thus, bad people can do a lot of good. "Charity and pride have different aims, yet both feed the poor," say the rabbis.
There is obviously some real truth in this, but I think that overall, taken in isolation, this is a morality intended for an earlier age. Clearly, Judaism was a covenant with a people, a collective. This is perfectly appropriate, being that the individual as we understand it simply did not exist at the time of the Jewish revelation, which may have actually been vitally necessary to create the context for the interior individual to later emerge. Again I refer you to the works of Charles Taylor (who is a practicing Catholic, btw), e.g., Sources of the Self and A Secular Age, which trace the emergence of the modern self in the Christian West some 300 or 400 years ago.
This is not to say that the Jewish approach is negated by Christianity. To the extent that it is "transcended," it is only because it must be included in the Christian approach, just as Jesus said, i.e., that he did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. In my view, truly fulfilling the law would be to merge action and spirit, heart and body, man and God. There remain Christians who emphasize works, others who emphasize faith, but to the extent that the latter becomes "perfect," it should result in good actions.
Nevertheless, man's capacity for autoflimflammery, or pulling the wool over one's own I, is more or less infinite, so it is morally perilous to operate without the sort of external guide rails provided by a revealed moral code filtered through generations of The Wise. Or, to express it in an absolutely sweet Marie, To live outside the law you must be honest. Virtually all people need to be shown the good before they can see the good. A life spent contemplating the Law in the manner of a Jewish sage no doubt has a transformative effect on the soul, for as the Yiddish saying goes, Everyone is kneaded out of the same dough but not baked in the same oven. So, where do you think you're climbing with your crooked feet, mister bigshot?
This has direct relevance to our discussion of free will, for a good action that is forced is just as unfree as a bad action, just as a dog that is trained to assist a blind person isn't really "choosing" the good. Similarly, memorizing truth in a rote fashion can never be the same as possessing wisdom, no matter how true. Interestingly, one of the greatest spiritual accomplishments for a Mohammedan is to memorize the entire Koran, which tells you a great deal about their relationship to wisdom. To quote the rabbi again, "he falsifies who renders a verse just as it looks." Indeed, "for every answer you can find a new question."
So intentions do matter, especially when it comes to the modern self, which is much more "interior." In a way, this is more challenging than merely engaging in outwardly good deeds, for it adds a whole new world in need of "sanctification." For no sooner had this new interior self emerged, than a whole host of new evils flooded into the world, or at least exacerbated the old ones. With the modern self came the appearance of the kind of unlimited evil we witnessed in the 20th century, and which we now see in Islamofascism. Islam itself is just sort of pathetic, but becomes combustible when merged with certain "ideals" imported from the West, among them, fascism, or scientific discoveries that they couldn't have made in a thousand years due to the very nature of Islam.
As Bolton explains, "physically similar actions can differ internally." Perhaps most importantly, "the actions of conscious agents owe so much of their true nature to the beliefs and intentions with which they are performed." And it is on the level of intention that the Law (discussed yesterday) really becomes apparent and that "like attracts like." This is why people are not united by common actions, but by a common spirit that draws them together into the same spiritual attractor. Even the blatantly non-spiritual, such as dailykosbags or atheist wacktivists, are clearly operating out of a debased spiritual attractor that will be well familiar to most Raccoons. We understand them perfectly, but they cannot understand us.
In turn, this is why there is a "culture war" in America, and why those who complain that there is "too much divisiveness" are missing the whole point. John Edwards is correct: there are two Americas -- the material flatland of his liberal fantasies, and the real one. In his world, theft is moral because it is detached from the moral order that he doesn't recognize to begin with.
Bolton says that it is on the interior plane that we will especially see the effect of the Law, as we attract people and things into our life which share a similar "spirit." For example, Raccoons who "stumbled" upon this blog and to its community were actually drawn here, "attractor to attractor," something that becomes increasingly clear as one's internal attractor develops in time. Why the trolls are drawn here is a different matter entirely, although for some, there may actually be a "good spirit" that was attracted here but which is concealed by their envy and intellectual deadness. For them there is hope.
Bolton goes on to emphasize that "interior" does not necessarily mean "private," and that the interior does affect the exterior:
"By virtue of the Law, actions and orientations are never merely private, despite appearances. Consequently, a manner of being which deepens the relation to God and universal values, and so identifies with a more concrete reality, thus interacts with the ambient world simply by being a part of it. This is to be the instrument of an action of presence which necessarily attracts proportionate positive action from the world, and so liberates potentialities within it which increase its order and stability."
Which is why the rabbis teach that a minimum of 36 righteous souls in each generation is required to sustain the world. Yes, that's all it takes to keep all the do-gooders in check.
When the great Tao is forgotten, goodness and piety appear. --Tao Te Ching