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How Does the Moral Order of the World Work?

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I recently published an article, "This, Pat Robertson, is How a Nation Gets Punished for Its Sins" (here on opednews, and at http://www.nonesoblind.org/blog/?p=606), which declared that we can see how America is being "punished" for its "sin" of entrusting power to the evil forces that have ruled this country for the past six years. It proposed that such sins as these tend to bring unpleasant consequences down on a nation, not through the punitive strikes of a wrathful God but through the natural workings of the order in the human system.

That piece prompted a comment from a reader, Todd Waymon, that read in part: "I think we are not punished FOR our sins, but BY our sins." That in turn stimulated me to write a mini-essay in reply, which I would like to share here --in somewhat polished form-- as an entry on its own.


I can't tell, Todd, whether, when you say "I think we are not punished FOR our sins, but BY our sins," you are using other words to say the same thing as I was --when I described a kind of "natural consequences"-- or if you're asserting something different.

Your way of putting it suggests it was something different. What you seem to be saying is something like this: "It is not that our sins bring down consequences, you may be saying, but that the very state of being sinful is a punishing state."

Sort of the mirror image of the idea that "Virtue is its own reward." Sin is its own punishment, you seem to be saying.

That would indeed be a different way of conceiving how it is that evil-doers do not just get away with their sins, how it is that "Crime does not pay."

Here are some thoughts of mine about such questions regarding moral order of the world.

I think that it is AT LEAST true that the world works in ways that inflict punishments FOR sins-- or at least it OFTEN does. But the world's orderliness in this respect is very far from complete. Frequently, the world does not fall in upon those who do bad things; frequently, people do get to hold onto their ill-gotten gains. Nonetheless sin does very often bring about punishing consequences.

And I think it there is a general truth, too, about the sinfulness not really being such a good trip.

This idea, incidentally, is at the very foundation of Western philosophy. Look at the two major founders of the philosophical tradition in our civilization.

One might say that REPUBLIC --by Plato, of whom it is said that philsophy began with him and everything thereafter is a kind of commentary on him-- is about the notion that the just man is the happy man, even if from the outside it might look different.

And one might say that the NICHOMACHEAN ETHICS by Aristotle --the thinker who became The Philosopher to virtually the whole of Christendom for a couple of centuries-- is about the idea that the source of happiness is virtue.

I myself think that the arguments put forward by both these philosophers to establish these ideas are extremely flawed. (And that's why I felt some discomfort teaching these texts, a few years ago, to smart young 17 year-olds.) But despite the bogus logic and stacked decks and circular thinking I found in those texts, I nonetheless believe that these philosophers were onto something true: I do believe that virtue TENDS TO BE its own reward, and that sin or evil TENDS TO BE its own punishment.

But once again, I believe that the moral order of the universe --while it exists, is important for us to acknowledge and serve-- is very imperfectly developed. (In this context, I recommend Woody Allen's greatest film, CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS, where the question of "getting away" with sin --escaping both being punished FOR and BY one's crimes and misdemeanors-- is at the heart of the drama.)

I think that it's true that our deepest fulfillment lies in aligning ourselves with the good, the true, and the beautiful.

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Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. He is the author of various books including The Parable of the Tribes: The (more...)

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Everything of this world will pass away.  Lov... by carl on Tuesday, May 8, 2007 at 5:07:18 PM
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Dear Mr. Schmookler, Interesting reading from m... by Roage on Tuesday, May 8, 2007 at 6:24:00 PM
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Dr. Andrew:I was debating whether or not to compac... by Professor Emeritus Peter Bagnolo on Tuesday, May 8, 2007 at 8:50:06 PM
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One of my MA's is cultural anthro. Post grad w... by Professor Emeritus Peter Bagnolo on Tuesday, May 8, 2007 at 11:46:11 PM
World does not want to be saved. It wants to be le... by Mark Sashine on Wednesday, May 9, 2007 at 9:12:21 AM