Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Examined Christian Faith 'Benedict Arnold' 1.3

So it would seem to be two really strange things about the human race, 1st that we are haunted by the idea of a behavior that we should practice (you can call it whatever you like, morality, fair play, law of human nature, or just being a decent human being)  and 2nd that we fail miserably at the 1st.  It is strange because what we call the laws of nature are really in fact simply observations of what always happens.  As Isaac Newton observed, if I cut an apple loose from it’s tree, it will fall, it is not because the apple just remembered that it that it should fall, it just happens.  

However, the law of morality is a different matter entirely, it does not mean that this is what humans do; in fact, many humans choose to ignore the law completely, and none of us follows it all of the time.  The law of gravity tells you what an apple will do if you cut it loose from its tree, but the law of human nature tells you what humans should and should not do.  It is the only law that seems to have something outside of it beyond the actual facts and there is no explaining it away.

I was having this very conversation with a friend of mine, and it occurred to me that his example is one we have all shared.  If I am in a parking lot looking for a place to park my car (picture Black Friday at a busy shopping mall) I respond completely different to the person who is parked in a stall because they got there before me, and the person who cuts me off to sneak into the parking spot I had been waiting for.  They are both an inconvenience to me; however, while I am not angry with the first man, I am furious with the second.  

Or perhaps this explains it better, if once I am inside the shopping mall and I accidentally trip over another shopper and hurt my arm, I may be upset for a second, before I realize it was a mistake, however I would be really ticked off at a teenager who stuck out his leg in an attempt to trip me (which I nimbly jumped over).  That’s the strange thing, because the person who actually hurt me, I am not angry with, yet I am boiling at the one who actually did me no harm.

Alternatively, from the American viewpoint, think back to our own Revolutionary War and Benedict Arnold.  He was handsomely rewarded by the British for his betrayal of this fledgling country, yet once he was in England, he was treated like the jackal that he was; because while they paid him for his service, even they were repulsed by his behavior. 

Therefore, it would seem that decent behavior is not behavior that is useful to us or that does not cause us harm, and it is certainly not behavior that pays.  What is it?  It is being content with what you are paid for a job, when you might have made three times the amount, taking a test honestly when you have a chance to cheat, respecting a woman when she says no, when you want to make love to her, keeping promises that you would rather not, and telling the truth even it the truth may hurt you.  The law of morality does not concern itself with what is best for society, because really why should I care what is best for society except when it pays me personally? 

That is what we are left with.  The law of human nature, the law of morality is that ‘you should be unselfish.  Not that you are unselfish, or even that you like being unselfish, just that you should be’.  In fact, it is an idea that we cannot get out of our minds.  It is not a statement about how we want others to behave for our own convenience, for actions that we call  unfair are not the same as that which we find inconvenient, frequently they are the exact opposite.  We are left with no option other then to conclude that in regards to the law of right and wrong, good and evil, that there is something beyond the normal facts of our behavior, none of us made it, but it is definitely a real law that presses on us constantly to obey.

For a really good book that can explain all of this in manner far beyond my humble skills, I again recommend Timothy Keller's  The Reason For God

You will have noticed that I have not yet addressed the issue of ‘God’, especially not in the Christian context (I will get there). What I am concerned with at this point is understanding what we can observe as evidence for what we can not.   Think about the law of human nature and what it tells you about the universe we live in.  

Which is where we will head next.

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