This blog started out as a companion piece to my book, Musings from the Christian Left (excerpts of which can be found in the July 2004 link) and to support a planned radio show. Now, its simply a long term writing project from a Christian Left Libertarian perspective (meaning I often argue for liberty within the (Catholic) Church, rather than liberty because the church takes care of a conservative view of morality.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Liberation Morality (Geocities Rescue)

The result of changing the way we look at the sacrifice of Christ is a new way of looking at morality. Under the old model of morality, life is a moral testing ground, the purpose of which is to determine who is worthy of the kingdom of heaven and who is to be damned for all eternity. Like as not, membership in one particular church or nation is a requirement for the fellowship of God and eternal life, while outsiders are damned for their defiance. Morality is promulgated by the leadership of the church or nation, based on their personal authority as divine spokesman. God, the terrible judge, is to be feared, and in the Christian tradition is so fearsome that the only way to appease him is the free sacrifice of His Divine Son.

To be fair, the picture I have just painted is a bit of a caricature. Especially in the Catholic Church, morality is linked to natural law which is knowable by reasonable beings (as originally expressed in classical philosophy), which is based in the eternal law, as created by the maker of man. The Church considers itself the arbiter of natural law morality. In doing so, the Church misses the point on the nature of natural law. Natural law must be definable solely by reason by any reasonable person. Once it refers to its infallible Magesterium it is relying on authority, rather than reason. Rome cannot have it both ways. Whether the church has honestly discharged its obligation to teaching truthfully is an open question. Gary Wills, in his book Papal Sin rather effectively indicts the stewardship of the Church in this area, especially in his critique of the doctrine of papal infallibility, as promulgated by Pope Pius IX. I am not going to rehash what he said here, but will instead talk about how natural law is known from a Christian Humanist perspective.

The Christian Humanist interpretation of the Crucifixion of Jesus provides a starting point. If, as I have stated above, the purpose of the Crucifixion was not appeasement but instead was a kind of divine vision quest into the soul of man, than the Divine purpose of morality also has more to do with man than God. Instead of morality being the rules to some test of loyalty, perhaps the purpose of morality is the happiness of mankind in this life. The Our Father states, Thy will be done on Earth, as it is in Heaven. Our view is that Jesus is the ultimate humanist, giving even his life so that man may rise again with Him in the resurrection.

God is perfect. Moral law is not for Him, nor can our adherence or violation of them move him at all, except as a parent is moved by a child who suffers. Perfection cannot be changed. God does not require moral behavior on our part to be happy. God is Happiness Itself! We cannot make God sad in His Divinity.

Liberation Morality starts from the premise that living a moral life is easier than living an immoral life. The precepts of liberation morality allow the Christian Humanist to avoid evil in this life, as the afterlife is but an extension of the current life. Jesus told his disciples to Come to me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you. Take my yoke upon your shoulders and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart. Your souls will find rest, for my yoke is easy and my burden light. (Matthew 11:28-30). Living as a Christian Humanist means one is at peace with oneself and ones neighbors (including employees and members of the opposite sex). Practicing liberation morality means to not harm anyone, either through commission or omission. All moral teaching must meet this test, that it makes life less of burden for the individual and all of ones fellows. Liberation morality is not an excuse for license, rather it is a tool for looking at moral precepts in a new way to winnow the wheat from the moralistic chaff.

A Christian Humanist viewpoint often comes to the same moral conclusions as the conservatives, but arrives by a different road. For example, murder is wrong, not because it offends some divine prerogative, but because a culture which condones murder is unsafe. Indeed, the murderer is often later a target of murder, as is often the case where civil law breaks down. Condoning such killing, for example withholding testimony against a murderer, is almost as evil, as it allows the murderer free reign. If the community adopts such an attitude, it increases the possibility that those who step forward against killers are themselves killed, which makes the community responsible for each such killing. This is as true in neighborhoods plagued by guns as it is in villages that support terrorism or states that support oppression. Murder is murder, whether committed by gang members in Simple City, D.C., by suicide bombers in Tel Aviv or Israeli soldiers in Gaza. Accepting a culture of murder and retaliation invites further murder and retaliation. This is why many civilized people oppose the death penalty and some oppose abortion, because they fear that in each instance, a culture of death is arising (I will deal with both punishment and abortion in other essays).

Sexual sins are not sins because of how they offend God, but are offensive to God because of how they affect people. Adultery destroys trust in a marriage and results in actual physical injury to your spouse through the spread of venereal disease. Promiscuity is wrong because it does violence to the natural connection between two people that is inherent in sex, as well as causing pregnancy out wedlock and spreading disease. Masturbation is wrong not because, as Monty Python says, every sperm is sacred, but because it results in isolation and often goes hand in hand with the exploitation of women (and sometimes children). Of course, it is doubtful masturbation is the great evil that some pious theologians have made it out to be, and I am suspect in light of the recent sexual abuse scandal of a church which commands young males to confess the practice to a priest. The question of the morality or immorality of homosexuality is dealt with in an essay of its own. Suffice it to say that the chief tenant of the discussion is what works for all concerned. Clearly, promiscuity does not work. As clearly, condemning someone for expressing their sexuality, which God created within them, is contrary to the assurance of Jesus that his yoke is easy and his burden light.

Respect for property is another area where the benefit of virtue is its own reward. If one do not steal or condone stealing, your property is safer. There is truly no honor among thieves. Liars and perjurers not only lose the trust of others, but also lose the ability to trust. One of the biggest indictments of the modern Catholic Church, as exposed in Gary Wills, is its acceptance of organized lying under the guise of doctrinal consistency. Whether this involves keeping the sexual abuse of children quiet or condemning birth control when many theologians in its own ranks have shown this position is in error, lying breaks down the moral fabric of the Church. (Birth Control is also addressed in another essay).

It is usually at this point that conservatives wag their fingers and say You liberals! You are denying the existence of truth! Don't you know that there are absolutes!

To this I respond that there are indeed absolutes. Let me say it slowly. Truth exists on its own in the mind of God. It is the conservative monopoly on truth that I am questioning. I ask them, who told them that they know the truth? Where is their direct knowledge of the absolute? Let me tell you a secret. They do not have any more access to it than you or I. They learn of it as we do, through language and culture. As I stated above, even the great absolutist, St. Thomas Aquinas, agreed that in this life we could not know absolute truth (which is God). We have Free Will precisely because that which we are attracted to (the absolute Good) is not present here in its pure form. We can have a fleeting experience, but do not have the pure experience of Truth, which is God, without dying. Jesus said that he was the Way, the Truth and the Life. Christians learn about Jesus within the bounds of culture and through language, and possibly with some direct spiritual inspiration. Non-Christians can also experience the presence of God directly, as God speaks to anyone who calls upon His Name.

For some of you, I am sure the question now arises, why am I still a member of the Catholic Church if I so disagree with the way it presents morality? Like many others, I remain in the Church in spite of itself. I was raised Catholic and most of my family is Catholic, so some of it is cultural. I also derive great comfort from the Sacraments, finding Jesus in Holy Communion. Leaving is the cowards way out. Instead, as a member, I adovate rebuilding it.


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