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The intersection of religious morality and secular law

By       Message Mark Heinz     Permalink
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Is morality absolute and objective, or relative and subjective?

As untenable as it might seem, I would offer that morality is both.

In the esoteric sense, and applying primarily to the individual, it is the former. Whereas in the pragmatic sense, applied primarily to the collective, it should be the latter.

From the standpoint of religious faith, religions carry at their core definitive moral absolutes for the individual. However, it is imperative to note, and too often forgotten, that these moral absolutes come with a clear caveat regarding how they are to be applied socially by the individual.

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By way of example, Old Testament Biblical 10 Commandments lay out a clear code of personal conduct. And though they were originally part of Moses' dispensation, most Christians also embrace them. 

Likewise, the Baha'i Faith carries in its tenants some clear rules of personal conduct -- such as prohibitions against the consumption of alcohol or fornication.

Still, when we take a wider look at religion's teachings, we also find admonitions to, in the simplest terms, suspend personal judgment and mind one's own business.

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Christ Jesus told His followers to not worry about the speck in another person's eye until attending to the plank in one's own. He also said to judge not, lest you be judged and to let "he who is without sin cast the first stone."

Passages in the Hidden Words, which Baha'is regard as core spiritual teachings, offer similar guidance.

"Breathe not the sins of others so long as thou art thyself a sinner. Shouldst thou transgress this command, accursed wouldst thou be, and to this I bear witness."

In each case, one seemingly does have Divine permission to pass judgment upon others. But on one binding condition: One must first be free from sin, or in essence, perfect. Since we cannot rationally deny that such purity and perfection are utterly impossible for any mortal human being, we are therefore pointed to the conclusion that personal judgment is, for us, strictly forbidden.

To take this concept further, I would submit that it goes beyond simply what one says about others. It extends even to what one thinks or feels.

For, if we are even to think of another as being lesser than us, of having less value as a human being, because of some sin or imperfection we might see -- even if we remain silent on the matter -- are will still not mired in hypocrisy and dire folly? 

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Taking this principle further, we can also include that it is wrong to try to force the behavior of others, to try bending them to our will.

On the pragmatic side, speaking as a citizen of a nation under the rule of law and a secular government, I think I can see how this would carry over into legal policy.

The confluence of morality and secular law has often been murky and troublesome.

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Mark Heinz is a native of the Rocky Mountain West who has spent nearly two decades working as a newspaper reporter in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. He currently lives in Powell, Wyoming. His interests include wildlife and natural resources, as well (more...)

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The intersection of religious morality and secular law

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