Sunday, July 25, 2010

Moral Naturalists

When I saw this article by David Brooks -- [Moral Naturalists], I thought it would fit perfectly with writing on religion and politics. Some seem to follow a belief set that man only gets his moral guidelines through religion. There are other opinions.

It reminded me of Ralph Waldo Emerson who also took a lot of flak for his viewpoints about who Jesus was and when he helped found the Transcendental Club. It is not new that those in America who go against traditional religious (most especially Christian) teachings are regarded very suspiciously.

In 1991, I had reason (Farm Boss had work in Massachusetts that required a month there) to spend a week in Concord. I explored all around the town, walked around Sleepy Hollow Cemetery (New York isn't the only place with a Sleepy Hollow) where so many famous writers and intellectuals are buried, out to Walden Pond, the Alcott's home, and right in the center of town, Emerson's home where the Transcendentalists met.

Concord was a fascinating place to be able to spend time because for a time it was one of those centers for intellectual thought that seem to occur at various points in history and at different places. It was no more popular then to be an intellectual with the culture at large than it is today.  People ridicule such and see them sometimes as even threats. Intellectuals are the first ones dictators and fundamentalist target if they gain sufficient power. You see this in any culture not that anybody targeted the Transcendentalists. They might not have pleased everyone, but it was a safe time to differ from authority.

I have not thought of myself as a Transcendentalist, nor have I read more than a smattering of Emerson; but this little quote from Wikipedia on what the movement taught is something I do believe-- "... the basis of Transcendentalism, suggested that God does not have to reveal the truth but that the truth could be intuitively experienced directly from nature." Despite how some accused him, Emerson did not consider himself to be an atheist and neither do I consider myself to be one. He simply was not a believer in religion as necessary to reveal god. I also believe that is true.

Today there are those who talk of our country being founded upon god given rights. They remind us the concept is in our Declaration of Independence.
 When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
But when you look at it more carefully you see it is about nature's laws and nature's god, not that of religion. This is what the group that David Brooks was writing about also was discussing. And frankly Jesus spoke of it when he said that if men didn't say who he was, the rocks would declare it.

Religion doesn't always go with nature in fact it can be very much against it. Religion too often follows political winds hence you have Manifest Destiny where it basically declares it is god's will that Americans subdue the wilderness and take its riches. You might ask what god but nobody did ask that. They just liked how it sounded. A lot still gets by today because it sounds good.

At any rate, I think Brooks article is worth reading especially people who believe we can only learn morality through religions. For those who think intellectuals are the evils and must be stamped out, well nothing I can say will change that. It's not an uncommon mantra today as it has been many times before-- usually by those who favor dictatorships, at least, as G. W. Bush said, IF they are the ones in power.


wally said...

I guess a case could be made for the idea that this naturally occurring moral sense was built into our DNA by a God that created us.

Rain said...

Yes, it could and that even nature could have these rules which a divine creator imparted to it. But the issue to me would be does the 'religion' deny what nature would illustrate, does it work to subdue it ignoring natural rules, or does it work in harmony with it?

cj said...

Once again you either purposely mistate or don't know the real facts.

President Bush was never going to give a person's social security money to private corperations. He was going to give it back to the people to invest as they saw fit.

Wow. I know that's a radical idea. Let me be in charge of my money and plan for my own retirement.

Now they're talking about raising retirement age to 70. How wonderful.


Rain said...

cj, I don't know where your comment is coming from but maybe an earlier post? At any rate, what Bush wanted to do was take money out of the social security system and let people invest it themselves with probably the help of an 'investment' person (who charges, of course). Are you aware of what happened to those who chose their own investments (like say Lehman Brothers)? Some lost it all and there goes retirement. Plus the whole idea of SS is you invest in it when you are younger and then when you get old, someone else's dollars pay your SS.

Social Security operates with very little overhead but private investment firms do not; plus it would leave it vulnerable to being lost unless the government guaranteed it which would mean somebody else would make the profits and the government would take the risk.

This was far more popular before the recent crash. Some have predicted that the market will go down much farther, one investor thought totally crash leaving people who were dependent on it with a big problem. This is where some state pensions are at right now (Oregon for instance) where the government was making big bucks for awhile but suddenly was losing the same big bucks but still has a requirement to pay the promised pensions (which may yet be reneged on).

Raising the retirement age already happened before. It was 66 1/2 when my husband and I started applying for Social Security.When the original age of 65 was begun, people did not live so long. The idea was you would get it when you couldn't really work well at a job. It was not about retiring to go play golf in Florida. That was supposed to be done with savings. Many people barely lived long enough to claim their SS but more today are living into their 90s. My father-in-law actually had as many years on SS as he had had working. Was that the idea? I don't think so but then there are those who die before they get it at all. The whole idea of raising the retirement age is related to life expectancy. People can retire earlier, like 62 but just not on full income. Most count on a government pension anyway or savings because SS is not much money in case you didn't already know that.

Finally, please don't call anybody here a liar. That won't work and will leave your comment deleted if you did it to someone else. It works better if you stick to 'you are wrong in what you think' and that doesn't imply either stupidity or dishonesty but leaves it open to simply being wrong which is what I think you are about investing in the stock market for securing future retirement. It is possible to see the same issues and disagree with what they mean AND still be honest people and not be ignorant! Insults though will end any effectiveness in having comments from anybody but one side or the other. Maybe you have noticed but mot sites end up with all those who agree because nobody likes having someone else imply they are an idiot or dishonest. I had hoped this place would stay open to both viewpoints. We'll see if that is possible.

Rain said...

Even though this doesn't relate to the topic, in view of the previous two comments, I thought I'd add it here-- Reflections on Social Security from Time Goes By

wally said...

Well, getting back to the subject. There is a bible verse that says "For when the Gentiles, who have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves." Romans 2:14 KVJ I think that is saying that even non religious people instinctively know the difference between right and wrong. The problem with depending on religion for moral guidelines is that religious dogma evolves over time. There was a time when slavery was defended by Christian leaders as something natural and condoned in the bible. Just 90 years ago evangelical preachers were warning us of the dangers of allowing women to vote. I don't think you will find many Christians who would defend those practices today. The evangelical leaders of today with their lust for politcal power and money would not be good guides for natural morality. Or biblical morality for that matter.

Rain said...

The argument is made that even the animals have a sense of right and wrong. Herds certainly do and they enforce it, teaching the young early how to behave to get along.

I don't have an issue with belief in a god/God, spirituality or morality but just religion which has so often abused both. Most religions have been quick to abandon the principles upon which they were founded.