At my age, nothing should surprise me. Yet I am astounded by the so-called religious right’s ability to allow their religion to dampen the effects of the well-functioning conscience most of them were born with? So how can this happen?
That’s easy! We can all find reasons to deny our conscience in the Bible. In fact, we can find any variety of quotes to support the worst of our very human impulses in most of our religious texts.
And when we do, we’re off the hook, so to speak. We have enemies? They’re God’s enemies too. We disapprove of homosexuals? We can find justifications to assess their actions as abominations. The poor remind us of how acquisitive we are? Not to worry, the Bible says they will inherit the earth.
It’s just so much easier to look to something other than our hearts for guidance on moral questions. But what we miss is that the texts we use to justify our biases were written by people in a time of blind ignorance, tribal antagonism, social upheaval and endemic illiteracy.
Of course this is not a black and white issue. Our holy texts contain a history of human failings as well as the best of human wisdom. It’s up to us to sort it out to make it useful for living a virtuous life. But the baseline should be our own natural moral impulses.
And we are all born with moral impulses. Babies as young as 9 months have been shown to have compassion and have an ability to determine right from wrong. So what happens to us as we grow into adulthood? Religion happens to us.
In some instances, that religion reinforces our moral compass. In others, it distorts it. John Caputo writes, “[Religious]Orthodoxy is idolatry if it means holding “correct opinions about God”
To some extent we are all idolaters simply because we are human beings with limited abilities to understand the mysteries that surround us. In our search for answers, we cling to religious orthodoxy because it can be explained, understood and repeated.
But it is at best an imperfect assessment of the unknowable: A finite expression of the infinite. When we step outside the box we realize that religious orthodoxy is the praxis of religious poetics.
The poetics speak to the indefinable. The praxis guides our actions toward compliance to a set of human propositions that contain a history of our errors and limitations.
Yet, as limited as we are, there exists in our hearts a direct route to virtue. As Alain de Botton writes, “today we know that an adequate evolution of morality from superstition to reason should mean recognizing ourselves as the authors of our own moral commandments.”
The religious right can see the poor as perpetrators of their own victimhood and can offer Biblical proofs for their assessments. I cannot see the poor, the disenfranchised, the marginalized, without a pain in my heart, not because the Bible tells me so, but because I have a natural-born empathy that fortunately was nurtured by my native religion.
It remains clear to me that the empathy I feel is as natural as my ability to breathe the air around me. It didn’t need to be taught. It came with my equipment, so to speak.
So the first action toward the creation of a better world is to reclaim our own moral nature and become the change want to see. That is the straight and moral path, not the one determined by an orthodoxy laden with politics, hierarchy, ambition and revision.
If your religion teaches you don’t possess the authority or the responsibility to assess others while on your journey to virtue, you’re on the right track. If not, you may be a closet Tea Party Republican.
Robert De Filippis