PERSONAL FREEDOM AND RELIGIOUS MORALITY – REDUX

 

There is one obvious way to balance our ideas of personal freedom and merit with a need to take care of people. That is, define the ability to provide for and answer to others as a major element of one’s own self-worth..  That could have major impacts on our notions of individual autonomy, and therefore individual freedoms and rights as we define them today, and could restructure and depolarize the debate on many contentious issues (like gay marriage and even filial responsibility). A downside of this approach is that a the rights of a person who does not provide for others could be viewed as less legitimate and that the person could be regarded as "unfair competition."   

 

The "painless" way to do implement this notion of self-concept is to tie others-accountability to sex. That is the point of monogamous marriage and abstinence theory.  Sexual activity and energy is legitimate in moral theory when its intention is associated with creating life or somehow with subsequently lifting people up (when otherwise they would flounder on their own)--all of this points to conventional marriage. But some people are constitutionally disinclined to marry. So you give them asymmetric but carefully managed roles. You get the Catholic Church’s moral teachings. You try to take care of everybody by tying self-serving intentions to marriage and procreation and family. The trouble with all of this is it stifles creativity. Man must always deal with uncertainty, risk and entropy. There is no such thing as a perfect theory of everything that always works. Utopianism always fails.

 

We come then to the Myspace-Google problem. People have the opportunity to instantiate themselves as celebrities (become their own “constructors”).  The problem is that when the speak while they are not accountable to others, what they say and do is subject to inference as well as demonstration. Others have a “right” then to misconstrue their motives, and may show "irrational" indignation or even outright hostility to self-publication and self-promotion. Speakers may be motivated by an inability or disinclination to compete with others along established social norms, and therefore be unable to provide for or lift up others.

 

Jesus taught his moral gospel and drew tremendous attention to himself in an era of no electricity, no Internet, no Google, no Myspace.  He preached personal humility and charity, denied the importance of political activism and instead maintained that earthly power has no meaning.  He seemed to accept a degree of tribal solidarity, that to modern individualism seems like an evasion from personal responsibility.  Early Christianity, then, would emphasize a certain conformity and socialization, an ability to help others within certain group  norms before expressing oneself. He may have even partially accepted some contemporary practices that democratic societies consider unacceptable today, like slavery--and this certainly invites man to review moral precepts in view of more modern conditions. His strategy was to suggest that heavenly and spiritual values were more important than any social and political norms developed by man on his own terms, and his listeners could have wondered, who was He to be uttering such disruptive things? Even the Catholic Church, with all its moralizing, later tries to give personal responsibility, achievement and power meaning and incorporates the capacity to take care of people in a charitable way. Yet, His idea of humility has, somehow, done more to promote individual freedom and expression in the long run than any other major religious culture. There is a paradox, and it seems like the only resolution lies in the area of creativity.  It is like the well known idea in algebra that some parabolas do not have real roots and do not cross the x-axis; one resorts then to imaginary numbers. There is nothing in the gospels that would preclude man trying to improve his lot with progressive and fair social reforms. One comes down to look for real-life answers in Faith, given the moral paradoxes than cannot be resolved by intellect and knowledge alone -- and in Grace. Jesus offered the gift of unconditional salvation, an idea that seems to almost recruit the logic of social justice, which would otherwise maintain that people should have what they earn and deserve. It all becomes a matter of perspective. After all, Jesus paid his dues on the Cross.   

 

©Copyright 2006 by Bill Boushka, subject to fair use

 

A reference to the Bible and slavery: http://www.religioustolerance.org/sla_bibl.htm

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