I read an op-ed this week by one of my favorite opinion writers, David Brooks of the New York Times. He was talking about how many people thought that becoming unmoored from religion would lead to a less judgmental society. Yet the opposite seems to be true — people are getting more concerned about morality rather than less — just that there is no longer a standard, agreed-upon code that the Judeo-Christian ethic once provided. And so the conflict level has risen as people seem to be debating from a multitude of standards, unable to find resolution since the standards differ.
David goes off in a direction with his article that I don’t want to focus on here, but his identification of the problem I thought was very insightful and spurred a thought or two of my own.
Why didn’t society settle out at a “you do you and I’ll do me” framework? I suppose that at some level of interaction, we did. But the problem is that this only can work in the personal sphere (if it can work at all), and even in that sphere seems to result in distant relationships because people relating on this basis have trouble doing anything together except when it is in each person’s self-interest. Fundamentally, intimacy is about doing things for the sake of the other person, out of love.
However, in the public and political sphere, to accomplish anything at all there has to be a way to make joint decisions since there are limited resources and since the biggest issues require some kind of agreement as to how we are going to do things.
Much of the strife found in social media and in the political process comes from people judging one another from their own moral perspective. This is an important observation: even if the Bible is no longer providing the moral framework for many societies, people nonetheless in public discourse mainly argue from a moral perspective — and this is probably due to an inherent need of each person to see themselves as good or moral. While their argument might sometimes reflect also their own self-interest, it is couched in moral terms that they believe in. It is not uncommon for people to argue against their self-interest because their moral perspective leads them in that direction.
Here is the problem, however: when one argues from a moral perspective, it is easy to then judge as wrong all other perspectives, whether based on a different moral structure or the same. Then it is only a small step to go from judging a perspective as wrong to judging the person who holds that perspective as inherently evil, defective, or inferior.
Fundamentally, judging from a moral framework is the fruit of sin entering into the world. Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, the one tree that God told them they must not eat from (see Genesis, chapter 3). Their eyes were opened when they ate from it, and having their eyes opened caused them to hide from God. Being able to judge was too great a burden for them. They judged themselves, and found themselves unworthy.
It seems to me that these moral wars that we have entered into are just the fruit of eating from the tree, which is inherently sinful. We want to justify ourselves, and we do that by trying to show that we have the most righteous position — that others are morally inferior.
Jesus restored relationship with God to its original order. Through faith in him, we are no longer estranged from God. Complete reconciliation has occurred. That means that instead of living by being able to judge good and evil, we can now live in relationship and dependence on God. This can fundamentally change the way we interact with people. We can value them as God’s creations, exploring their opinions and how and why they arrived at them. We can also be more pragmatic and less doctrinal in finding solutions to problems.
For the last few months, I have take a rest on social media from entering into political controversies (I still post scientific articles). It has been refreshing not having to judge or defend. So many conflicts are overblown. I like the new perspective, and I like not having to judge all the time. It is very freeing.
It takes a concerted effort to disengage from eating from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. One of the foundations of faith that many churches declare is turning from sin. I do believe in turning from sin, but it is fruitless if people don’t turn to God and learn to walk by the Spirit in grace and not from the flesh under the Law. AND, it is only half accomplished by ceasing immorality. It also requires us to stop trying to justify ourselves through proving our own moral superiority. That essentially is a salvation by works.
This could be revolutionary. What if people of faith found a way to disengage themselves from a constant need to be proved morally superior? How would that revolutionize a person of faith? How would that revolutionize the Church?
For more on some of these thoughts, consider reading an earlier post on judging others and please take a look at an excellent book by John Burke on how Christians can live more like Jesus and less like Pharisees.