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Who's Responsible for Your Morality?

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The theoretical war on Christianity being marketed by the extreme right is a red herring designed to distract the loyal Republican Tea Party base.

And although most elements of our unique brand of American Christian extremism have earned our rebuke, we might dismiss something very important in the process of our rejection. Religion is, in more instances than not, a practical road to individual moral development. The problems show up when people don't complete the journey.

In the fury of the debate, the fertile middle is lost. That's the middle stage in a healthy transition from ignorance to consciousness: From being intellectually and emotionally asleep to an awakened state; a state that sheds light on the path to personal moral discernment.

I began my journey leading to the development of moral self-awareness by coming to religion. Unfortunately, I've seen too many linger in the middle, accepting doctrine and practice without introspection; much like what we see in the Tea Party.

And I would venture that rather than resolve the internal conflicts that might come from unexamined beliefs some, if not most, simply choose to ignore them in order to maintain a socially acceptable public identity. Most of us have a need to belong and as I have written in the past, group membership usually means regressive individual behavior.

This creates a society that allows much damage to be done in the name of religion, while the individuals that proclaim it are unconscious to its damage or simply look the other way.

In the study of normative ethics, the highest level of moral maturity is a state where one's morality is based in one's character, guiding his or her ethical decisions. In other words, the independent ability to discern right from wrong using the content of one's character as the baseline for moral judgments.

Unfortunately while on this journey, too many people stop in the fertile middle stage, never really developing beyond it. This is the stage of allowing religious rules to determine what we consider right and wrong without examination.

Our society abounds in examples: homosexuality is an abomination, birth control is a sin against nature, science conflicts with the word of God, people can only get to heaven through Jesus.

Some do advance to the level of consequentialism, which derives rightness or wrongness from the outcome of the act. For instance, sometimes the greater wrong is a homosexual teenager committing suicide because he can't reconcile his sexual orientation with his religion's teachings or a women resorting to abortion because she didn't have access to birth control.

Fortunately, some of us do arrive at the level of maturity, where we can trust the content of our own character as our moral baseline: A character built on our previous life experiences, innate capacity for empathy and compassion, due consideration of the rules, and examination of the consequences of our beliefs.

I think it counter-productive to be too eager to judge those who enter, but never leave the fertile middle. People on the moral path need encouragement because the moral journey can take a lifetime of experiences to reach the peak.

To their credit, those who try have awakened to the need to be moral people and will hopefully move toward a level of integrity: An integrity that subsumes and then supersedes the external variables that gave it shape.

It is only when enough of us reach that level that we will see the end of human tragedies brought on by immature misinterpretations of religious beliefs.

I am reminded of this from Jiddu Krishnamurti, "The only hope for humankind is the transformation of the individual."

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http://robertdefilippis.com

Author, columnist, and blogger with a long career in business management, management consulting and executive coaching. I've authored and published six books: "You, Your Self and the 21st Century,"The Flowers Are Talking to Me," and "Faith (more...)
 

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