Christian Existentialism

Existentialism generally is a philosophy associated with atheism.  The majority of existentialists are atheists because the basic tenets of their belief do not comport with a God who is omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, and in charge of everything.

How can a stellar existentialist, who is steadfast in his independence, tolerate a controlling God?  How can an existentialist believe that he is making choices if everything is predestined by God?  How can a good existentialist believe that life is absurd and without meaning if there is a God?

Well, these are excellent questions, but there are logical answers for Christian existentialists like Soren Kierkegaard: (1) God gives us free choice and does not interfere with our decisions; (2) God created our universe outside our universe, since matter and energy can neither be created nor destroyed in our closed universe;  in other words, God created, but does not control our universe; (3) nothing is predetermined in our lives since we make choices and suffer the consequences;  (4) and life is absurd without God.

So, it is possible to be a Christian existentialist.  You will not have many friends or associates who agree with you, but you can always unite and communicate with the most important entity, God.  Becoming one with God should be your primary goal in life.

The first step in being a true Christian existentialist is to reject other Christians who are not authentic.  Unfortunately, this is a high percentage of modern Christians.  Most Christians go to church for social approval and cannot discuss theology or even basic concepts supporting what they really believe.  In fact, most of them don’t believe in anything other than making appearances and looking good in the community.  Their beliefs and faith in God are only skin deep.

How do you become an authentic Christian existentialist?  Well, it will be a bit controversial, but you need to reject family, peer, and social pressures to think and act a certain way.  Then you can start meditating or focusing on what you really believe.  Let God into your heart and make Him a part of this process.  Become one with God.  Seek harmony with your freedom to make choices and be prepared to accept the consequences from poor decisions.  If God is within you, you will find peace in this process.

God will remove the anxiety and existential angst in your decision making because He will lead you.  Even though you cannot see God and even though He is not inside our visible universe, He can enter your soul as the Holy Spirit and become unified with you.  Your conscience and awareness is heightened with Him inside you.  Your choices may not be perfect, but your attempts to improve your decisions with humility will be all that matters if you fully accept responsibility as one who is imperfect.

And remember: life truly is absurd and makes no sense without God.

Kierkegaard Got It Right

Soren Kierkegaard, sometimes called “the Father of Existentialism,” was a philosopher who attempted to appeal to both secular and religious readers.  Kierkegaard was the only philosopher who got it right.

Born on May 5, 1813, in Copenhagen, Denmark, Kierkegaard was never politically correct.  He typically was not sensitive to others.  He was not liked by Scandinavians or, for that matter, by anybody else.  He believed in God, but Catholics, Protestants, and other believers turned against him.  He was an existentialist, but other existentialist philosophers spurned his writings.  Yet, Kierkegaard got it right.

It is like the story of a judge who made a ruling that neither the plaintiff nor the defendant liked.  The judge smiled and said, “Well, since nobody likes my ruling, that means I made the right decision.”

Kierkegaard champions our individual freedom in making choices over the religious or secular establishment’s restrictions on your decisions.  Your unification with God will not be assisted by a priest or minister or policeman or government employee.  It will be a one-on-one meeting of the minds.  You will become one with God only within yourself.

Your attendance at church and your giving to the church will carry no value into the afterlife.  You will carry nothing on this journey of death except what is within you.  And according to Kierkegaard, God must be your guide on this road, otherwise you will be lost.

Kierkegaard had two primary steps.  First, know yourself.  If you know yourself, you will be a strong individual who can resist the temptations of life.  Second, know God.  Only God has experienced everything and can assist you through the chaos of the afterlife.

It is important to know yourself inwardly and subjectively.  Know your weaknesses.  Pride must become humility.  Be independent, but humble in your individualism.  The highest goal in subjective ethics is to be humble.

Then let God inside your subjective self, thus allowing an objective spirit to enter your body.  This creates the synergy of subjective and objective reasoning.  The combination of a priori and a posteriori makes for perfection.

Once you let God enter your soul, your independent spirit will be lifted up to new heights.  This combination completes the person.  God’s objective, empirical knowledge is the final piece that finishes the jig-saw puzzle.  The highest goal in objective ethics is to become one with God.

Subjective consequences for your poor choices in life will be handed out by your conscience, but objective consequences will be administered by your Creator.

 

 

The Passing of the Greatest Generation and its Values

Tom Brokaw wrote a book in 1998 called, “The Greatest Generation,” about the American generation that survived the Depression and went on to fight for freedom in WWII.  Brokaw wrote in his book, “… it is, I believe, the greatest generation any society has ever produced.  He believed that the men and women in this generation fought not for fame or recognition, but because it was the “right thing to do.”

We are losing this WWII generation on a daily basis and as they pass the baton to the younger generations, I wonder if this older generation’s values are being passed along or are they being passed over.

Former president Jimmy Carter wrote about this in “Our Endangered Values: America’s Moral Crisis” in 2005, which was “dedicated to our children and grandchildren, for whom America’s basic moral values must be preserved.”  Carter wrote, “I am convinced that our great nation could realize all reasonable dreams of global influence if we properly utilized the advantageous values of our religious faith and historic ideals of peace, economic and political freedom, democracy, and human rights.”

What is causing this erosion and endangerment of our former values?  I call it a “creeping extremism.”  You see it increase every day as extremists throughout the world are committing egregious acts without significant consequences from moderates who used to be in the majority.  Extremists have begat extremists, so that they are becoming the new majority.  This is polarizing our world, removing the moderates, who in the past made our world a better and safer place to live.

What is happening to the generations that follow the Greatest Generation?  Well, they have not had the same moderating influences.  Going through a depression will significantly influence your value system.  I remember my father and mother both believed in “doing the right thing” no matter what the consequences might be.  They were selfless and made moral decisions based on how their actions would impact others.  Today’s generations, without the moderating influences of major economic and wartime pressures, are selfish and their moral values are based on how their actions will impact them.  It’s all about me and not you.

Now, these are generalizations.  Clearly, there are some members of younger generations who are wholly committed to serving society and not themselves.  But it is a matter of percentages.  A great majority of the younger generations have not gone through economic deprivation and therefore have placed themselves on a high pedestal.  They believe that “greed is good.”  If these individuals were asked to give their lives for their country, I suspect I know what most of them would say.  And their question would be, “What is in it for me?”

The problem with extremism and fundamentalism taking over the world is that it will lead to worldwide totalitarianism.  There are those in powerful positions today who believe that they should control the world for themselves, not for the benefit of others.  There is a big difference between philosophical Marxism, which is designed to benefit the working class, and the real-world communism, which controls and subjugates the working class.  The new world leaders will want the rest of us to be completely under their control.  When “freedom” is no longer important to the masses, it will be replaced by “free” government entitlements.  The masses will become addicted to the government and just like drug addicts will give up their freedom for a fix.

So as we lose the Greatest Generation, I pray that moderates within the following generations can maintain some modicum of control to protect our children and grandchildren for a few more years.  However, I think the most we can hope for is to preserve democracy for the remainder of this decade.

Was I Predestined to Write This Article on Predestination?

When I positioned the seat of my pants against the seat of a chair and started typing, was this predestined to happen?  If I had writer’s block or simply decided that I wanted to work outside, would that have changed this moment in time?  Or was my writing already cast in stone and I had no option other than to sit down and wrestle with this article?

Predestination is a thread that runs through theology, philosophy, and science.  Religions have struggled with the question of whether everything has already been predetermined by God.  Some religions answer that God knows everything that will happen in our lives, but God permits us to make our mistakes.  Some say that believers and sinners are all predestined for those roles, while others say that only believers are predestined, leaving the others to choose during their lives.

Some pre-Kantian philosophers saw the past, present, and future as being rolled up into one huge eternal “present” from God’s perspective.  If God is orchestrating life from moment to moment, then everything is predestined to happen just as ordered by God.  Many of the pre-Kantian philosophers were more like scientists who examined predestination based on their experiences and what they understood a posteriori.  Kant’s theory was based on the innate, a priori, knowledge.  In effect, our behavior has a predisposition, but is not predestined.  We have a propensity to do the right thing, but we still have the freedom to make decisions.  God has given us both a conscience and the freedom to choose our paths in life.

Scientists have examined the control within our universe, which arguably is a form of predestination, but again I refer to it a predisposition.  For example, gravity and orbits may cause planets to circle our sun, but there are many variables that come into play as to how the solar system is positioned today.  And millions of years from now, it will look different.  The propensity for planets to orbit the sun does not preordain their future positions in the solar system.  The delicate balance of order and chaos within our universe can be upset to create an entirely different future.  Scientists can guess what the future might be, but they can never be assured that they are correct because the future is not predestined.  Quantum mechanics, by itself, assures us that there are many possibilities of what the future will hold for us.

Science helps us understand one aspect of predestination within our universe.  The theory of conservation of mass and energy which states that the sum total of mass and energy within our universe will always be the same is another way of saying that our universe is predestined to having a finite amount of mass and energy.  And it might even be argued that our universe is predestined to respond infinitely, perhaps alternating between the Big Bang and the Big Crunch forever.  Even though mass and energy may transform back and forth, the total will always remain the same.

This might be interpreted to mean that our universe has an edge that retains all the mass and energy within it.  In other words, we live in a closed universe.  If this were true, then the creator would have had to create outside that boundary.  The creation would have inserted mass and energy inside that closed system, so that it would only have had a predisposition and not a predestined universe.  The proclivity to do certain things in our universe does not eliminate chance, choices, and selection.

So, when I asked if I was predestined to write this article, the answer is a resounding “no.”  I may have had an inclination and a propensity to write it, but I made a decision to do so and took the action, independently of any outside forces.

 

Faith Comes Within

Let’s first discuss several things that we know, and then we will attempt to pursue some matters that we do not know.  We are aware of our surroundings through our five senses and thus, we believe that we are alive.  Further, we examine ourselves in mirrors and watch other people’s reaction to us, so we are fairly confident that we are alive.  We also know that we will die and that our bodies will decay because we see our comrades do that quite frequently.

We do not know if we will still be thinking after death.  If we are not thinking after death, then we can assume that there is nothing for us to be concerned about after we die.  If we can accept the fact that our transitory life was all that we had, then there is no need for religion or philosophy, except for the purpose of assisting us in finding a purpose in our short journey through life.

But what if we are still thinking after death?  That can be very problematic.  What will you think about?  Will you have your senses to entertain you or will you be encased in the darkness without any distractions, leaving you to face perhaps your greatest enemy – yourself.  For clearly, your thoughts may remain calm for the first hour or so, but when will the nightmares start?  And you can be sure that they will start.  Without anything to hold onto, you will eventually start to hallucinate.  We know this from monitoring subjects who were tortured with sensory deprivation techniques.

If you are still thinking at death, then your faith becomes paramount to keep from losing your mind.  It is critical that you believe in something very, very strongly.  Only a powerful belief can overcome the trauma and chaos in this hellish environment.

The Bible, I think, is the greatest book ever written, but most readers, including many ministers, do not attempt to understand it.  Most religious followers are more interested in a social gathering than actually addressing difficult and controversial subjects in the Bible.

For example in John 17:21, the King James Version of the Bible states:  “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, are in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.”  This comment made by Jesus was a direction for us to follow if we were still thinking after death.  He appeared to be saying that we should have both Jesus and God within us to assist us in this process.

Most ministers preach that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one, but few instruct that we must also be one with God and Jesus.  The Holy Trinity becomes the Holy Quadrinity.  Being one with God is a concept more like what the Gnostics and eastern religions taught.  Yet, the reason behind it would be very clear if you were still thinking at death.  Rather than imagining you saw Jesus, He would actually be inside you, directing you through the hellish chaos.

Faith must come from within and be our compass of control through chaos.  We must be constantly vigilant against our own thoughts that can trip us up and betray us.

Morality vs. Societal Values in the 21st Century

Introduction

Morality is no different in the 21st century than it was in any of the centuries past.  Morality has always been based on the right thing to do.  The right thing to do has remained the same over the millennia.  It is embedded in our conscience.

However, societal values and laws relating to ethics interpreting the right thing to do are different today than they were centuries ago because these moral guidelines fluctuate with the government, ruling class, free time, and the education of the citizenry.

Let’s start with determining what “the right thing to do” is.  Whenever you feel that hiccup before you take an action or whenever you feel a tinge of guilt while taking an action, you know this is not the right thing to do.  Remember Jiminy Cricket in the Walt Disney movie, Pinocchio, and how he and Pinocchio were instructed to always let their conscience be their guide?  Even when we know the right thing to do, we can rationalize or talk ourselves out of doing the right thing with little difficulty.

But society interprets “the right thing to do” through laws and ethical codes.  So how does society determine what the right thing is?  I believe that a fair and just society can use either one or both basic methods for making this decision.  The first is what individuals think, and the second is what others think.  Ideally, the law should coincide with one or both of these ethical perspectives, but that is not always the case.[1]  Many governments, including totalitarianism, impose arbitrary and capricious laws and codes on citizens.

Subjective ethics are relative to the individual.  This theory is common in America, a country of immigrants from a variety of cultures with differing ethical values; however this subjective theory has inherent weaknesses because of our humanness.[2]  Objective ethics, also called rational ethics or moral absolutism, deems actions right or wrong based on a consistent objective test.  It imposes a duty on all citizens to refrain from violating the rights of others.[3]  Sometimes, it is the better approach.

The closest objective test in law I could find was included within the elements of negligence.  A legal duty must first exist between the parties to establish liability through negligence.  As mentioned above, the duty in objective ethics is to refrain from violating the rights of others.  The next element is a breach of that duty.  This requires the actor to meet the standard of care, which in many cases is what a reasonable person would or would not have done under the same or similar circumstances.[4]  In other words, would a reasonable person believe this was the right thing to do?

For example, you are shopping at Kroger’s and you haven’t eaten for five hours, so you are tempted to take a grape and pop it in your mouth.  Nobody would miss one grape.  What is the right thing to do according to 21st century society?  Well, let’s apply the subjective test.  The majority of people in today’s society would not have a problem with this.  Most would rationalize that nobody would really be hurt by the loss of a one grape.  The store would still sell the bunch of grapes, and the purchaser would never know the difference because each bunch of grapes had a different amount of grapes anyway.

In earlier centuries, stealing a grape would have been different from stealing a horse only by the value of the item taken.  But clearly, the moral and right thing to do would be to not take the grape no matter what century you lived in at the time of the decision.

What happens when we utilize the objective test in the 21st century?  Let’s employ the quantum of proof required for negligence just like we learned in law school.  In a civil case, the burden of proof is by a preponderance of the evidence also known as “more likely than not” and “greater weight of evidence.”[5]  A case under the Civil False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. 2729, somewhat analogous to our determination whether an act is the wrong thing to do, also uses this burden of persuasion.[6]

Let’s first examine the preponderance of the evidence test.  If the scales are just a little lower with the weight of evidence on the side of this being the right thing to do, then it is the right thing to do.  We would have to examine all the evidence and place it on the scales of justice to see where the scales tip.

In this case, we have evidence indicating that taking the grape would be good for the decision-maker because it would stem the hunger until the groceries paid for get home.  We also have evidence that there will be little to no harm to Kroger’s or the ultimate purchaser of the grapes.  The theft of a grape would not be worth prosecuting since the value is so low.  Where do the scales tip in this instance?  A reasonable person would not consider the taking of a grape as the wrong thing to do or, in other words, the decision to take the grape was the right thing to do after examining all the circumstances.

In certain situations, you may find that the scales seem fairly balanced.  That is when we examine the “seven steps.”  These seven steps should be taken to determine if any of them tip the scales.

The magnificent seven are:

  1. Examine your “gut” feeling.  The NCIS “Gibb’s gut” is used.  If your “gut” tells you that the action is not right, then more than likely it is wrong.  This “gut” feeling could tip the scales for you on the side of deciding not to take that action.
  2. Take the “CNN test.”  You can substitute any newspaper or television news report for CNN, but you need to determine if the action could create “bad press.”  If you fear the action could lead to a problem with the media, you should, at least, run it by your public affairs experts.
  3. Examine the pragmatic angles.  If the action is not practical, then why gamble with it?
  4. Res ipsa loquitur – “the thing speaks for itself.”  This is an evidentiary rule that permits some degree of evidence from an inference of a breach by the outcome.
  5. Burden of persuasion is on proving that it is the right thing to do.  A tie goes to proving that it is the wrong thing to do.
  6. Err on the side of avoiding gray areas in the law.
  7. Avoid even the appearance of impropriety.

In this case with the single grape, how would the application of the seven steps work out?  Examine the seven potential tipping points.

  1. Your “gut” may be telling you that there are no real consequences to third parties.
  2. There will be no “bad press” because there is no potential for this being a violation of criminal law.
  3. Practical value of eating this grape to satisfy hunger is greater than problems encountered even if caught.
  4. A single grape makes little noise for itself.  It carries little significance in the scheme of things.
  5. The preponderance of evidence is that a reasonable person would do this and consider this the right thing to do.
  6. There is no legalistic gray area.
  7. If this appears to be a problem, then it is a problem.  This is where the 21st century ethics will not find this as even appearing to be a problem, while earlier centuries would find that the theft of anything would create the appearance of a problem.

And here is the tough part.  Even if the scales are level, the burden of proof has not been met, and you cannot take or recommend taking that action.  In other words, you cannot say that it was a “tie,” allowing you do nothing.  It doesn’t work that way.  Even if the scales are barely tipped to the side of not taking the action based on your “gut” feeling, the decision has been made, and you must argue to not take that action.

Who Makes the Final Ethics Decision?

Is there a judge or jury to decide the case for you?  Or is the decision entirely up to you?  Wouldn’t that be great if you could decide what the wrong thing was?  You could rig it so that you could never do the wrong thing.  All your choices would be spot on, dead center, right on target.  But if you “ain’t the king,” you are going to be second guessed by everybody.  Do I really mean everybody? Yes, I do, including: your supervisor, your co-workers, your secretary, your friends, your parents, your wife, your kids, and even your dog on bad days.

If your supervisor came into your office and asked you to change your opinion because it went against what the company wanted to do, how would you handle it?  Would you comply or would you refuse to change your opinion?  Would you apply the subjective test and rationalize that it wasn’t that big a deal to cave in to the boss?  Live to fight another day.  Or would you examine the situation using the objective test and present a logical argument to take to higher officials within the company, including checking with Public Affairs on their take on the issue?

When I was teaching the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC) as an Air Force JAG to combat pilots, I always asked them to make their decisions after employing the “CNN Test.”  You can insert any news media in place of CNN, but CNN was big back during Desert Storm.

What did I mean by the “CNN Test”?  Any choices by pilots to fire or not to fire would be examined under the scrutiny of world opinion or the “CNN Test.”  What would the world think about this decision?  How would it appear in the newspapers tomorrow?  There was always the thought that in war, “you gotta do what you gotta do.”  We wanted the pilots to return safely from every mission, so if somebody were attempting to obtain a firing solution on them, they needed to fire immediately.  But if they had time to think through situations like in selecting targets, they should think about the consequences of world opinion.

Now, why should we care about what other people thought?  We are number one aren’t we?  We are more important than other people.  Who cares about other people’s opinion?  Well, we should care because society benefits from people doing the right thing.  We should place a high priority on doing the right thing and following laws.

 21st Century Decision Making

An eighty-year-old grandfather told his grandson that there was a battle going on between two wolves inside us all.  One was an evil wolf, filled with anger, jealousy, hate, greed, resentment, lies, and a huge ego.  The other was a good wolf with joy, love, peace, kindness, humility, truth, and empathy.

The grandson asked which wolf would finally win.  The old man leaned back and smiled, “The one you feed.”

I present 21 questions for the current century.[1]  I will first give the societal value answers of this century and then I will provide what I believe the moral answers should be.

  1. Why be good?
    21st century: There is no good reason to be the good wolf, so do what you want.
    Morality: Your conscience is a moderate, moral compass, telling you to be good.
  2. Is it ever permissible to lie?
    21st century: Yes, lying is permissible in many cases.
    Morality:  Your conscience permits lying only in moderate amounts, when it is beneficial to the listener.
  3. What’s wrong with gossip?
    21st century: Nothing.
    Morality: Your conscience tells you it is wrong when it is not done in moderation and harms others.
  4. Do you have an obligation to be healthy?
    21st century: No, you can do what you want.
    Morality: Yes, your conscience lets you know that you should live a temperate life and remain healthy so you are not a burden on others.
  5. May I take a grape while shopping?
    21st century:  Yes, because it doesn’t hurt anybody.
    Morality: No since quantity is not the issue in morality; moderation does not permit murdering of an infant because of their size; theft is theft and murder is murder.
  6. Is it wrong to make as much money as I can?
    21st century:  No, although this is changing as capitalism loses out to socialism in this century.
    Morality: you should live modestly and make as much money as you need to survive, avoiding greed.
  7. What are my obligations to the poor?
    21st century: None, although this is changing as capitalism loses out to socialism in this century.
    Morality: You should take care of the poor by teaching them to fish rather than giving them fish.
  8. Can we do better than the Golden Rule?
    21st century: Do unto others before they do unto you.
    Morality: Do more for others than you would do for yourself.
  9. Why can’t I just live for pleasure?
    21st century: You can.
    Morality: Your living for pleasure must be moderated by your conscience.
  10. Why can’t I date a married person?
    21st century: You can as long as the relationship is consensual.
    Morality: Because adultery runs afoul of your conscience and is not temperate sex.
  11. Are jealousy and resentment always wrong?
    21st century: No, these are human emotions that should be accepted.
    Morality: They are wrong when they are not controlled and you keep feeding them.
  12. What are the rules for respecting privacy?
    21st century: You have little privacy under capitalism and no privacy under totalitarian rule (socialism generally degrades into totalitarianism); both extremes in government take away your privacy.
    Morality: The Golden Rule applies to rules of privacy.
  13. What do I owe my aging parents?
    21st century: Nothing.
    Morality:  Your conscience will guide you to providing what your parents reasonably need.
  14. Should I help a suffering loved one die?
    21st century: Yes, if it means one less person on social security and an early inheritance.
    Morality: No, find a way to relieve their suffering other than killing them; murder is murder.
  15. Is “genetic enhancement” playing God.
    21st century: There is no God.
    Morality:  No, it is playing Hitler; genetic enhancement is a dangerous tool that extremists could misuse.
  16. Is conscientious objection a moral right?
    21st century: Yes, anybody can claim this right.
    Morality: It is a reasonable right based on our freedom of religion and convictions, but this right cannot be claimed for spurious and disingenuous reasons; conscientious objection must be done in moderation, following the conscience.
  17. Is it always wrong to fight back?
    21st century: You have the right to fight back as long as you aren’t going against the government.
    Morality: No, you can even go against the existing government if it is a bad government that does not support the citizens of that country; non-violent revolution is permissible.
  18. Should the death penalty be abolished?
    21st century: It should be permitted, especially for revolutionaries and crimes against the state.
    Morality: Yes, it is murder and thus is not permitted by our conscience.
  19. Is torture ever acceptable?
    21st century: Yes, it allows the government to obtain important information.
    Morality: No, it goes against the very fiber of our morality.
  20. Do animals have rights?
    21st century: No, humans are more important than animals.
    Morality: Yes, humans are animals, and your conscience tells you that all animals have rights.
  21. Why should I recycle?
    21st century: Because it is what everybody else is doing.
    Morality: Because it is the right thing to do.

 Conclusion

Have you ever looked for a book on moderation?  There aren’t many.  Have you ever wondered why?  My guess is because the extremists are the squeaky wheels who are always getting the grease to get their books published.  Extremists also have better sound bites for television interviews.  Furthermore, extremists make better headlines and will sell more newspapers and books.  Extremists excite you, energize you, and win you over to their powerful magnetic force.

Moderates are boring because all they want to do is stay in the middle of every argument.  They are the weak force.  But have you ever thought about how difficult remaining neutral really is?  When you have two extreme forces tugging at you, it is actually extremely hard not picking a side.  As the magnetic field strengthens, you generally are drawn to either the north or south poles.  No wonder the world is becoming more polarized with moderates becoming an endangered species.

When we make decisions, we are generally influenced by extreme positions.  Our two-party political system is an example of how two opposite sides polarize America.  Moderate parties generally do not win elections.  However, my conclusion is that people should utilize moderation in making choices in life.  The “Golden Mean” of Aristotle, the “Middle Way” of Buddha, and the “Balanced Order” of Confucius are the heart of virtue ethics.

The 21st century societal value answers to the 21 questions were not moderate.  But the morality answers tended to be more balanced.  That is not to say that the morality answers were perfect.  Any human answers are flawed by humanness, which is found in us all.  But moderation is perhaps the best goal that we as humans can utilize to achieve a heightened sens of morality.

Unfortunately, a revolution generally does not lead to the reinstatement of morality.  Typically, it leads to a new government with new laws, which more than likely will be based on something other than morality, subjective ethics, or objective ethics.  The new leadership will have its own self-interests to serve.  Even communistic revolutions, promising power to the people, have ended up with totalitarian governments taking away everything from the people, including their lives.

Perhaps, this is why morality should be the choice of the people rather than societal or governmental values.



[1] Gordon W. Brown, Paul A. Sukys, and Mary Ann Lawlor, Business Law with UCC Applications, 8th Ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1995), 3 and 8-9.

[2] Brown, 4.

[3] Brown, 7.

[4] Richard A. Mann and Barry S. Roberts, Smith and Roberson’s Business Law, 9th Ed. (New York: West Publishing Company, 1994), 175.

[5] Roger C. Park, David P. Leonard, and Steven H. Goldberg, Evidence Law, A Student’s Guide to the Law of Evidence as Applied in American Trials, 2nd Ed. (St. Paul, MN: Thomson West, 2004), 93.

[6] Brian C. Elmer, et al., Fraud in Government Contracts (Washington, D.C.: Federal Publications Inc., 1993), 3-15.

[7] Many of these questions are found in “Moral Decision Making: How to Approach Everyday Ethics” by Clancy Martin, a professor of Philosophy at the University of Missouri – Kansas City.  The answers are my own.

Individual Freedom or Society’s Common Good?

Although we have had third parties in America, we typically have two major political parties, representing opposing sides, usually the conservative and liberal side to issues.  As a general rule, we could say that today’s Republicans champion individual liberty and the Democrats protect society from greedy capitalists whose selfish ambitions take priority over what is best for our country.

Even though this is a contemporary political debate, the origin of this dichotomy dates back to Plato who, hating Athenian democracy, destroyed the individual to create a perfect state.  On the other hand, many early Greek philosophers were Sophists like Gorgias, Hippias, Protagoras, and Prodicus, who looked inward for answers rather than out upon the materialistic world.  Many of these early philosophers believed that individuals were more important than man-made governments and laws.

So since these issues have been around for about two-and-a-half thousand years, surely one side has proven itself through experience and usage.  But that is not the case.  And you might think that Americans clearly land on the side of individual freedom over social restraints, but that is not true either.  In fact, Americans talk out of both sides of their mouths.  They indicate that they believe in a free market and the importance of individual rights, but they also want to promote the welfare of society as a whole.

It seems this dichotomy is more complex when you actually attempt to apply it to a society.  For example when Hurricane Katrina battered New Orleans in 2005, there were some businessmen who overcharged for products and services since the residents had nowhere else to go.  Was this a case of a willing buyer paying a fair price based on the market or was it a buyer under duress who was being fleeced by a greedy seller?  In other words, should the seller be able to charge whatever the market bears or should there be a law that prevents a seller from taking advantage of somebody in distress?

Quite frankly, it would be a mistake to argue that the rights of an individual are more important than the rights of society or vice versa.  A more pragmatic approach utilizes both doctrines as needed based on the circumstances at hand.  Such a blended government will permit the flexibility to adapt to the needs of society.  For example after Katrina, the government was needed to respond quickly and efficiently to the needs of the people in New Orleans.  Allowing businesses to take advantage of people in dire conditions would have gone against the grain of our notions of right and wrong.  But after getting past the emergency conditions, then the free market would return.

So which is better:  individual freedom or society’s common good?  My answer is:  it depends.  But don’t eliminate either one of them from your box of political tools.  

Reasoning with SO-SO Loops

Is it better to reason with subjective (a priori) logic or objective (a posteriori) logic?  Many philosophers have picked either the Descartes subjective side or the Bacon objective position.  Why not use both?

SO-SO is the acronym for Subjective Objective – Subjective Objective.  Please examine the SO-SO Loops included below.  You start with the “Instinct” or Deductive Reasoning on the right-hand side of the circle with the top-right Subjective “I Feel” and work clockwise around the circle.

This cyclical movement ensures that many inputs and sources are considered before making a decision.  And it is important to run through this reasoning process at least twice, thus earning the name SO-SO Loops.  If you just utilize this cycle once, your decision would be just “SO-SO.”  This thought process is designed to lead you to making enlightened and more moderate decisions.

 As I said, the Loops are “SO-SO” if just utilized once, but your decisions will improve exponentially if you repeat the process at least twice.  After you have worked through the loop once, do a “gut” check and run it through the cycle again.  This is the circular path that can assist you in making moderate choices.

Have you ever looked for a book on moderation?  There aren’t many.  Have you ever wondered why?  My guess is because the extremists are the squeaky wheels who are always getting the grease.  Extremists have better sound bites for television interviews.  Extremists make for better headlines and will sell more newspapers.  Extremists excite you, energize you, and win you over to their powerful magnetic force. 

Moderates are boring because all they want to do is stay in the middle of every argument.  They are the weak force.  But have you ever thought about how difficult remaining neutral really is?  When you have two extreme forces tugging at you, it is actually extremely hard not picking a side.  As the magnetic field strengthens, you generally are drawn to either the north or south poles.  No wonder the world is becoming more polarized with moderates becoming an endangered species.

When we make decisions, we are generally influenced by extreme positions.  Our two-party political system is an example of how two opposite sides polarize America.  Moderate parties generally do not win elections.  However, I am suggesting that you utilize moderation in making choices in life.  The “Golden Mean” of Aristotle, the “Middle Way” of Buddha, and the “Balanced Order” of Confucius are the “ABCs” of virtue ethics.

We all make difficult decisions every day.  That is our job at work and at home.  Don’t shy away from it.  Embrace it.  Come to work excited to be challenged by these choices. 

And when you run into a really tough decision when it looks like the scales are balanced equally… when it looks like you can argue the case either way, then go to your gut and ask yourself, “What is the right thing to do?” Not what is the easiest thing to do… not what is best thing for my career, but what is the right thing to do?  The right thing is usually the hardest thing to do and not for the faint of heart.

Reasoning

Subjective                   Objective

Deductive (a priori)              Inductive (a posteriori)

(self-evident propositions)             (observed facts)

Instinct                                     Logic

Start

1. Subjective “I Feel” – My conscience, intuition, or “gut” feeling

2. Objective “They Feel” – Reasonable person’s laws, mores, society

3. Subjective “I Think” – My logical conclusion

4. Objective “They Think” – Reasonable person’s logical conclusion

Then loop back around and go through the process again.

 

Moderation in All We Do

Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama) taught the Middle Way[1] about the same time that Confucius spoke of the “Balanced Order”[2] over 100 years before Aristotle started discussing a “Golden Mean.”[3]  Even though, the philosophers of East Asia and of the western world were separated by time, distance, and cultures, there were interesting similarities that seemed to meet in the middle.

Buddah and eastern religions had a somewhat different perspective, examining the world externally as if everything were connected, more circular.  Buddah said, “Nirvana remains incomprehensible in the vulgar whose minds are beclouded with worldly interests.”[4]  Buddha worked hard to find the middle path between the extremes of sensual indulgence and dangerous denial of his physical needs.[5]  Confucius instructed, “To go beyond is as wrong as to fall short.”[6]  But the eastern philosophers saw this moderate path as a connecting force in a circular pattern.

Buddha hoped that man could find a right view or perspective so that he could take the right action.[7]  Again, Buddha was trying to do the right thing.  Moral conduct was a prerequisite for nirvana.[8]  And the moderate approach was the preferred way for both Buddha and Confucius.

Ethics derived from the Greek word for customs.  Plato wrote in the Republic that ethics is nothing more than manners or conventions.[9]  Plato believed that if you knew the Good, you would do it.[10]  He believed that people would lead a moral life whether or not it made them happy.[11]  Plato also held that “excess” violated proportion and made bad ethics.[12]

Aristotle, a student of Plato, believed in morality and virtue following the “golden mean.”  Temperance and moderation was a moral virtue that could be learned.  Virtue must have the quality of aiming at the golden mean.[13]

Aristotle in Nicomachean Ethics stated that “… excess and defect are characteristic of vice, and the mean of virtue.”[14]  This famous Greek philosopher, born in 384 BC near Athens, Greece, branded ethics with moderation and temperance.[15]  Aristotle shared Plato’s conviction that there was an objectively determinable answer to moral questions.[16]

Mean was defined to be a middle point between extremes.  Aristotle explained that virtue, which he claimed should be an end goal for man, is like the mean since virtue also “aims at what is intermediate.”[17]  The western philosophers saw life as a linear path with the golden center lines in the highway as the moderate guideposts for leading a righteous life.

Aristotle spoke of the power of reason in man to reach a virtue or excellence through “clear judgment, self-control, symmetry of desire…”[18]  Aristotle envisioned a road to excellence, saving many detours and delays:  “it is the middle way, the golden mean.”[19]

Aristotle taught that doing the right thing, “making us better men,” was following the man of prudence.[20]  For example, if there are two extreme behaviors like being aggressive and passive, then the median approach should be selected, which would be being assertive.  Thus, doing the right thing involves assertive, not aggressive behavior.[21] 

Christianity also pursued temperance.  “Let your moderation be known unto all men.”[22]  Christ blessed the peacemakers, who followed a moderate path.[23]  St. Augustine studied the Greeks, but substituted “God” for Plato’s “Good.”[24]  Augustine battled the two extremes of good and evil, saying in the City of God that these two traits of man are coexistent.[25]  In order to be righteous and do the right thing, Augustine recommended following the path of God.  St. Thomas Aquinas bridged the worlds of Athens and Jerusalem by saying that God gave us reason to discern from right and wrong.[26]  In other words, we can do the right thing through both intuitive and logical reasoning.  Even though this involves our conscience, we also have objective tests provided by the Bible available to utilize in conjunction with subjective ethics.

Many philosophers believed that man, making subjective decisions, would not be perfect.  However, there also was an objective basis for ethics.[27]  These objective approaches for determining what was right or wrong could be applied universally.[28]  Thus, the reasonable person test could be applied anywhere. 

Rene Descartes, the father of subjective philosophy, declared, “I think, therefore I am.”[29]  Descartes also could have said, “I feel, therefore I am.”  This would have embraced the full force of subjective reasoning, utilizing both logic and instinct.  Some subjective philosophers, such as David Hume, said, “Just because everyone else does it, does not make it right.”[30]  To which, Aristotle might have responded, “Everyone is not following the golden mean.  Unfortunately, it is only a handful of us.”  Christ also said that the middle path to righteousness was narrow and few would find it.[31] 

Sir Francis Bacon, the father of objective philosophy,[32] believed that customs, religion, and laws “reigned in men’s morals.”[33]  Since people have free will, they will be constantly bombarded with choices.  People can make decisions based on subjective desires, objective demands of society, or a combination of both.  “The subjective rights of conscience could still be countered in public by the claimed objective claims for truth.”[34] 

Moral virtue should have a quality of aiming for the middle between two extremes, between the vices of excess and dearth.[35]  For example, even if you enjoy wine, you probably should avoid drinking ten glasses of wine, but there should be no problem with drinking a glass of wine at a party.  If you like wine, you would be missing the mark if you abstained from all wine.  However, if you were an alcoholic, drinking even one glass of wine might be a bad decision. 

The moderate path, which is determined on a case-by-case basis and may vary because of individual differences, leads to pleasure and righteousness.  You should moderate your behavior based on both self-control and outside pressures, including laws and religions, imposed by society.  Aristotle, leader of western philosophy, primarily emphasized the individual and self-control focused on a straight-and-narrow line.  But the eastern world focused more on the social organism in the cycle of life.[36]  It is interesting when we combine the two primary world philosophies, incorporating the linear western philosophy in daily life, but utilizing the eastern philosophies as a lifetime goal. 

Good decisions are made after weighing all the circumstances.  If you are the designated driver, then you probably should not have any glasses of wine as your duty to the group.  If you are driving home after the party, you probably should limit yourself to one glass of wine early in the evening.  If you are already home, then you may consume several glasses of wine.  But you will know your limitations, and you need to impose them on yourself based on both your self-discipline and on what a reasonable person should or should not do under the same circumstances.   Earlier when we were determining whether or not to bomb a statue of Hussein, we found that utilizing both subjective and objective ethics could be beneficial in the decision-making process.   

Sometimes, it is referred to as “doing the right thing.”  We should constantly improve ourselves so that we make better choices.  We should seek moderation and balance in all that we do.  Society offers laws, religions, customs, mores, and peer & family pressure, but we also have our own sense of balance within our conscience.  We must use all the tools (nature and nurture) to find peace and harmony in the righteousness of ethics.  You have arrived when you follow the moderate path.  You do the right thing when nobody is looking because it is the right thing to do. 

Moderation is included in Homo sapiens genetic makeup.  Otherwise, our species would have gone extinct centuries ago.  Extreme approaches to life would have placed mankind in jeopardy, exposing us to larger and stronger predators.  Man had no hard shell or claws or speed or dagger teeth.  All we had was our ability to reason and a propensity to follow a moderate path.  Both of these qualities saved us from extinction.

We learned temperance from bad experiences that established better habits.  Since a lion ate our friend yesterday who jumped down from a tree without looking around, we learned to survey the area around the tree before climbing down.  We also adopted moderate habits from societal pressures, mores, and laws which imposed consequences.  Thus, our moderate innate and instinctive nature works together with all our experiences, leading to logical reasoning that makes us a better person overall.

So, why do we make bad decisions?  Well, we have free will.  We can do anything that we want, and most people want to satisfy themselves.  Sometimes, we hear people admit, “It’s not about you; it’s about me.”  Extremes occur more often in today’s world because we do not have the leveling effect of large predators outside our doors waiting for us.  In fact, the predators of today’s society are our own species who will take whatever you have if they want it.  And these predators come in all shapes and sizes.  Some are Chief Executive Officers of corporations, some are politicians, some are religious leaders, and some are criminals locked up in jails.  It is difficult maintaining a moderate existence around these people.    

But there is hope.  As long as you are making an effort to follow the moderate path and live a righteous life every minute of every day, then you are making progress and should continue that course.  We hope to do our best. 

Philosophers typically emphasized either subjective or objective ethics.  There were some subjective philosophers like Friedrich Nietzsche, who believed that individuals should not regret prior acts in their will to power.[37]  But Nietzsche’s philosophy was adopted by Adolph Hitler, and we know where that went.  There were other philosophers who employed subjective and objective simultaneously.  Immanuel Kant argued that objective experiences should be processed by subjective reason. He also argued that using reason without applying it to experience only leads to theoretical illusions.  Kant believed not only in an innate moral sense, but also in a logical morality developed as a code of conduct for group survival.[38]

The most interesting philosopher to me was Soren Kierkegaard, the Father of Existentialism.  Kierkegaard emphasized subjective ethics,[39] but also believed in a God, who was capable of all things, while we were capable of none.[40]  So, according to Kierkegaard, even though he emphasized the individual, needing God and objective ethics would be the highest perfection for man.[41]

Kierkegaard did not accept the objective reasoning found in traditional church doctrine.[42]  Instead, he relied on his “highly personal, subjective, passionate and freely chosen commitment to believe.”[43]  In other words, he didn’t allow the church bureaucracy to dictate his beliefs.  He came to God on his own terms, as an individual face-to-face with eternity and God.[44]  By isolating man from the crowd, this forced self-examination.  Only when man was alone could he face eternity and God.[45]  I consider the individuality of Kierkegaard as being similar to lightening, which when combined with objective ethics, creates the thunder.  Even though they are entirely different, one being light and the other sound, they actually do go together. 

In a trial, the burden of persuasion belongs to the party attempting to convince the trier of fact.[46]  One might argue that our individuality remains intact since we are both the party with the burden of persuasion and the trier of fact.  We, in effect, are trying to convince ourselves that the action being reviewed is a good thing.  There is no reason for us to be distracted by outside forces in this process unless we allow this to happen.  Thus, we subjectively apply the objective burden of proof “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Many philosophers and religious teachers have pointed us in the direction of organizing society in a harmonious way with philosophy, religion, laws, and mores that follow objective ethics.  Whether you call it the Middle Way, the Balanced Order, the Golden Mean, Christianity, or the reasonable person test, they are all focused on providing guidelines for mankind to know the right things to do throughout life.



[1] Deepak Chopra, Buddha – A Story of Enlightenment (New York: Harper One, 2008), 269.

[2] Lou Marinoff, The Middle Way (New York: Sterling, 2007), xii.

[3] Gordon Marino, ed., Ethics – The Essential Writings (New York: Modern Library, 2010), 73.

[4] William Corlett and John Moore, The Buddah Way (Scarsdale, NY: Bradbury Press, 1979), 66.

[5] The Everything Buddhism Book, Arnie Kozak (Avon, MA: Adams Media, 2003), 23.

[6] Marinoff, 105.

[7] Chopra, 268.

[8] Michael D. Coogan, World Religions (New York: Metro Books, 2012), 185.

[9] Marino, xi.

[10] Marino, 5.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns, ed., The Collected Dialogues of Plato (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1973), xxii.

[13] Marino, 73.

[14] Marino, 74.

[15] Renford Bambrough, ed., The Philosophy of Aristotle (New York: Signet Classics, 2011), 312.

[16] Bambrough, xxxii.

[17] Marino, 73.

[18] Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy (Garden City, N.Y.: Garden City Publishing Co., 1927), 86.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Bambrough, 306, 312.

[21] Lt. Col. Hinds, The Cincinnati Enquirer, June 9, 2011, Guest Column in Opinions.

[22] King James Version The Holy Bible (Nashville, TN: Kedeka Publishers, 1976), Philippians 4:5.

[23] Bible, Matthew 5:9.

[24] Marino, 109.

[25] Marino, 118.

[26] Marino, 121.

[27] Mel Thompson, Understand Ethics (London, UK: Hodder Education, 2010), 47.

[28] Thompson, 49.

[29] Durant, 166.

[30] Thompson, 51.

[31] Bible, Matthew 7:14.

[32] Durant, 166.

[33] Durant, 135.

[34] John A. Coleman, ed., Christian Political Ethics (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2008), 30.

[35] Marinoff, 117

[36] Marinoff, 119.

[37] Gary Cox, The Existentialist’s Guide to Death, the Universe, and Nothingness (New York: Continuum, 2012), 75-76.

[38] Durant, 313-314.

[39] Cox, 153.

[40] Howard V. Hong, ed., The Essential Kierkegaard (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1980), 87.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Cox, 152-153.

[43] Cox, 153.

[44] Soren Kierkegaard, Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing (New York: Harper One, 2008), 15.

[45] Kierkegaard, 16.

[46] Roger C. Park, David P. Leonard, and Steven H. Goldberg, Evidence Law, A Student’s Guide to the Law of Evidence as Applied in American Trials, 2nd Ed. (St. Paul, MN: Thomson West, 2004), 92.

Origin of Morality

There are two main theories on the origin of morality:  (1) manmade legalistic morality – moral codes created by man, defined by laws of society and religions and (2) holistic morality – moral values known instinctively through reason, a priori, since our consciences were created about 13.8 billion years ago, imprinted as a living part of the entire universe.

These two moral origins may coexist, but only one stands the test of time.  The moral codes created by man are temporal.  Since they are not controlled by a common denominator, they are unpredictable and chaotic.  The holistic approach embraces true moral values found in the subjective test dating back to the creation of our universe. 

The objective test of what society or leaders want is not a fair evaluation of pure morality.  This legalistic morality is contaminated with prejudices of the creators and leads to rules designed to make members of society conform to “cookie cutter” moral standards.  However, the holistic morality goes beyond the parts of a moral code fabricated to address only a section of anthropocentric life.  The entire universe is unified and connected so that we can infer moral understandings that are incorporated into the whole, and thus are more than the sum of all legal moral codes created over the short history of mankind.

The first law of thermodynamics and the law of conservation of matter and energy can be united to show that in a closed system, the total amount of matter and energy in our universe has remained constant since the Big Bang.  Matter and energy can be transformed from one form to another, but can neither be created nor destroyed in our universe.  In effect, our conscience and everything else in our universe was created during the Big Bang and have been in existence in some form or another for about 13.8 billion years.

The imprinting event occurred during the Big Bang, so that the control that exists in our universe was created simultaneously and thus incorporated into the matter and energy.  The alternative is that the universe would remain in chaos forever.  We know that control exists in our universe; otherwise we would not be alive.  The approximately 4% of observable matter in the universe looks like filaments and the remaining 96% of the universe, which is invisible, appears to be connected like glue forming one holistic organism.  The original creation may have changed over the years, but it still has the Big Bang imprint of control.

So the imprint is the mark of control provided by the creator of our universe.  This control can be as powerful as dark energy and dark matter or it can be as simple as self-control from the conscience of man.  Our moral restraints can be learned through experience, a posteriori, so that you know that if you commit murder, then you can be punished under society’s laws.  But the holistic moral code is something you were born with, but actually goes back further than that.  It goes back to the origin of our universe because if it exists now, it existed in the very beginning.

I don’t even need to argue whether there was a creator or not because that is proven by the definition of creation, itself.  If our universe, including all matter and energy, were created in the Big Bang, then something had to create this outside our universe.  In effect, there had to be a creator or there would have never been a creation.

And the creator stamped a conscience in our brains that we can either use or avoid, depending on how independent we feel at the moment.  If we are confident that there will be no consequences for violating manmade laws, then we might become a lawless society.  So, society’s laws can be good by providing control.  However, they do not always match the holistic moral code.  If we are confident that there will be no consequences from the creator, then we might ignore our conscience and do whatever we wanted.

But there is another consequence, rarely considered for hardening your heart to your conscience.  In a closed universe, when you die, your thoughts and conscience may not be destroyed.  Your thoughts may be stuck in a perpetual motion machine for infinity.  If you are stuck within yourself, thinking about what you have done over your short term of life, you might be your own worst enemy.  Your conscience would not be distracted by all the sensory satisfaction that you enjoyed during life.  Your conscience would now have to examine all the sordid details of what you accomplished or failed to accomplish during your life.  You might be harder on yourself than a loving creator ever would be.  That would be hell!

 Thus, holistic morality may offer the best opportunity for control during your brief life, but more importantly, during the period after life.  For it is likely that your conscience and thoughts will not be destroyed at your death.  Holistic morality stands the test of time and can accompany us through the unknown world that awaits us.  These imprinted controls may follow us wherever we travel.