Monday, February 18, 2008

Doing It, Religiously

More On How I Do Religion

Let's talk about morality and religion!

When I was a kid the assumed connection between morality and religion among Christians was often expressed through the use of the term "Good Christian." "So-and-so is a Good Christian" meant he was moral. If you were mean you were not a Good Christian. No one checked whether So-and-so was even Christian, or not, to begin with. There was no comparable term for non-Christians of any type that paid respect to the religion. If a good person was Buddhist, Jewish, Islamic, or Atheist, you would not say they were a Good Buddhist, or Good Jew, or Good Muslim, or Good Atheist, respectively. The only way to acknowledge that they were not Christian and nevertheless good people was to say they were LIKE a Good Christian. "If So-and-so found Jesus he would be a Good Christian."

In respect to Christianity, it was deemed essential to at least appear good in public to give credit to Christianity. "Ye shall know them by their fruits." But if a non-Christian behaved morally, no one would admit that they gave credit to their non-Christian religion.

When we went to Taiwan my Mother warned me to watch out for myself because so few of the people would be Christians. But I found good kind generous people wherever I went, in a country that at that time was more than 95% non-Christian.

So I got thinking about that. What I concluded, over time, was that "Ye shall know them by their fruits" is right, and that the rampant bigotry and defiance of that valid precept of Jesus and other good teachers, in denying its application to non-Christians, regularly gives discredit to Christianity.

A good religion makes a person who does it good. If your version of Christianity leads you to deny the goodness of others, then it has led you to meanness. Therefore that version of yours is not a good religion (for you! It might not have such a poor effect on someone else.)

There are of course, truly Good Christians. But there are also Good Buddhists, Good Jews, Good Muslims, Good Atheists, Good Hindus, Good Wiccans, etc.

The issue for me became this: what ways of doing religion lead to a morally good life?

And when you put it that way you can see that to some extent it may be a matter of fit. A way of doing religion that leads one man to become moral may have the opposite effect on another.

The way that I use is a way of becoming aware of rights and wrongs through observation and consciously evoked empathy and imagination. I want to do right by knowing right. I can't be the best judge of how it works, but I'm quite sure the other ways that people have hashed out and promoted won't work for me.

In the course of studying and perceiving rights and wrongs, I came to a realization that there is very little absolute wrong in the world. What we have, mostly, are competing rights.

Therefore discernment of goods is essential. And therefore it is presumptive, and premature, in my view, to speak of an existing highest good that integrates all good. It presupposes that the work of integrating is a fait accompli.

This observation lies at the core of my polytheism, which is not a belief, but an attitude that guides and informs the imagination in the work of discernment of values and enables me to visualize the active balancing and negotiating of values that can bring a higher good out of them.

No comments: