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Friday, September 10, 2010

“Does truth in morality exist? If so, does it matter?”

It’s rather strange that as humanity progresses, it seems to become more ignorant. There was a time when people would argue over whether or not a recorded event was true, or whether or not a particular belief was true, or whether or not the local news report was true. Only recently did we start asking questions that really bring to light how delusional we have become. I recall hearing of a seminar in which one of the audience members told the speaker that he was not sure that he existed. The speaker was flabbergasted. “What has happened to this generation that it has become so disorientated and confused as to question its own existence?” the speaker wondered. He then asked the audience member a simple question that brought that poor soul back to a state of certainty: “And who, might I say, is asking?”


Would it be inaccurate to say that “we can’t handle the truth”? I think not. In fact, we demand truth in almost every major facet of our lives. We demand truth from our loved ones (who wants to be lied to by a family member?). We demand truth from our doctors (I hope people are making sure that they’re getting the right diagnoses for their medical needs). We demand truth from courtrooms (we should be making sure that only people who are truly guilty are being convicted). We expect to be told the truth every time we read a reference book, or a news article, or a weather report. We demand to be told the truth from lawyers, teachers, and government officials. We assume that things like road signs, food labels, and medicine bottles tell us the truth. For some reason, though, when it comes to morality most say that they are not interested in truth. Why is this?

I find that it is mostly for selfish reasons. People simply do not want to be held accountable to any standard of morality. They think that life would be more enjoyable without being obligated to behave in any certain way. Perhaps it is as St. Augustine said:

“We love the truth when it enlightens us, but we hate it when it convicts us.”

Also, what I’ve found is that people who claim to believe that there is no absolute standard of right and wrong are really only deluding themselves. They do not really believe that. The most effective way to discover this is simply to treat them in a way that they find morally offensive. Consider the following.

There was once a professor at a major university in Indiana who was teaching a class on ethics. He gave the students a term paper assignment in which they were allowed to write on any ethical subject of their choosing. The only restriction was that they had to support their thesis statements with reasons and documentation. One of the students in question was an atheist. Of course, part of the atheistic mindset is that since there is no god, then there is no absolute higher authority to establish a moral law to which all are subject. Thus, he decided to write on the subject of moral relativism.

His thesis consisted of statements like, “There is no right and wrong”, “There is no absolute standard of fairness or justice”, “It’s all a matter of personal taste and opinion”, “You like chocolate; I like vanilla”, and so forth and so on. He gave his reasons and his documentation. The paper was the right length, it was on time, and the student even put it in a stylishly blue folder. The professor read through the entire paper; and after finishing, he gave the student an “F”. The reason behind this was not the quality of the paper, but the color of the folder. It turns out that he didn’t like the color blue.

Needless to say, the student was furious. He came through the professor’s door shouting all kinds of accusations, such as, “’F! I don’t like blue folders’?! That’s not fair! That’s not right! That’s not just! You didn’t grade the paper by its merits!” The professor put up a hand to silence the young man and calmly replied, “Whoa, hold on a minute. I read a lot of papers, so let me look. Ah, yes. Yours was the paper that argued that there is no right and wrong? No absolute standard of fairness or justice?”

“Right…” the student replied.

“Then what’s with your storming into my office telling me that I’m not being right or fair or just?” the professor remarked. “Didn’t you argue that it’s all a matter of personal taste and opinion? ‘You like chocolate; I like vanilla’?”

“Yes, that’s what I really believe,” the student admitted.

“Well, I don’t like blue. You get an ‘F’.”

Let us examine what happened here. The student brought a moral accusation against the professor. What was that accusation based on? Was it based on the idea that the professor’s action didn’t happened to tickle the student’s personal fancy? Hardly. Was it based on the idea that the professor just hurt the student’s feelings? Not so. As I recall from the student’s words, his accusation was based on the idea that what the professor did was absolutely, universally, and without question or doubt wrong. But he could not make such an accusation if there is no such thing as right and wrong. He might as well have stormed into that office saying that the professor’s preference for strawberries over bananas wasn’t right or fair or just.

So I ask the public: Is what the student said the truth, or was it nothing more than his own subjective, pragmatic, emotive, and self-absorbed opinion? If it was the former, then he had every right to be furious. If it was the latter, then the professor was under no moral obligation to give any heed or respect to the opinions of others, and thus he had every right to blow off the student’s moral outburst. So which was it?

As Iron sharpens Iron

A man whom I considered very wise once brought to my mind that the meaning to life can be found in our relationships. Whether this is true or not is a question to be left to my betters. Whether or not this idea can be tested is an area in which I have some experience. Is it not strange that the small moments in life are the ones most poignant?


Allow me to draw back about seven years. My family and I are currently living at the Coast Guard Yard. Ours is an abode of a very small area, though the view of the dock can cause one to overlook such an inconvenience. Entertainment is rather sparse in this area. My brother and I spend our hours throwing random objects at each other from behind beds and such. With only one TV and few other possessions, one would not expect much to happen in such an area. I certainly do not.

Now, Truth introduces a new character to this drab scene. One Sunday afternoon, my family and I prepare to retire to our small abode, but we are taken aback by an unexpected guest. A light gray Columba livia domestica (pigeon) has taken shelter under our vehicle. As I make chase for it, the avian fellow begins to pick up step rather than take flight. We show concern, and eventually, we manage to catch the seemingly handicapped flyer. We begin to test its abilities. The pigeon cannot even perch on a branch properly. My father tosses it. It does not fly. It does not even glide. It only falls more slowly.

I decide to observe the creature a bit more closely. Looking closely, I can see that what seems to be a wildlife tag has been pressed into its left leg rather than around it. I never really know, but I assume that this is the cause of its ailment. We care for the bird by allowing it to nestle under a bush outside our front door. We feed it regularly with bread crumbs and water. It hardly ever moves or speaks. I watch it as it goes to sleep around dusk.

Three days later, it no longer cuddles itself in its down as usual. Its head is flopped to the ground, exhausted. I think that it might have gotten sick overnight. Its breathing has even vanished. I try to prod it. It gives no response. This is a small grief at best, but a grief nonetheless. Perhaps the one factor to this tragedy that makes it so memorable was the burial. The honorable procedure would have been an earthly grave. This feathered patron is given a common street trash can as a resting place. An insignificant relationship? Perhaps. Nevertheless, it’s one I’ll never forget.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Remembrance

I’m not gonna remember her

I’m not gonna think about her

I’m not gonna remember how she remembered me before I remembered her

I’m gonna remember how she always called me by name (something I wished I had done more often with her)

I’m not gonna remember how much I enjoyed the fact that she seemed smarter than me

I’m not gonna remember the fact that she used to be smarter than me

I’m not gonna remember that ever so unique bridge in her nose

I’m not gonna remember how one of her ears always seemed slightly larger than the other

I’m not gonna remember her perfectly chiseled mouth

I’m not gonna remember her seemingly flawless enunciation

I’m not gonna remember how her eyes seemed to close almost completely whenever she smiled

I’m not gonna remember how often she smiled, even at the silliest things

I’m not gonna remember how carefully I would listen to her every word

I’m not gonna remember how she seemed to hide a slight accent in her voice

I’m not gonna remember how coyly she would make mistakes

I’m not gonna remember how playfully we would share tales of odd encounters and personal aspirations

I’m not gonna remember how she would always listen to the stories I told to illustrate a point
I’m not gonna remember the coherency of her speech

I’m not gonna remember how much she appreciated my first gift to her

I’m not gonna remember how forgiving she used to be

I’m not gonna remember how wise she used to be

I’m not gonna remember how smart she used to be

I’m not gonna remember how selfless she used to be

I’m not gonna remember how truly beautiful she used to be in all aspects of her personhood

But I AM gonna remember that today is her birthday

Happy 22nd, B________ T_______