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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Life and Love and Tantrums

This past weekend has been a busy one in Modesto.  The online community at The Hive is a hoppin' over stuff that happened a year ago, while the same old creatures keep doing the same old stuff.

Weird.

Anyway, that is over and done.  I am sure the conversations will be stopped again (poor Dan and Brian.  I bet they thought this foolishness was behind them but well....).

We are discussing Justice this month at the Dominican Chapter meeting.  It is interesting in light of all that is going on in the world, as well as in light of a very stimulating article my atheist friend sent me on whether or not morality can exist without the concept of Free Will.  The atheist believes it can, but the arguments that were presented in the piece seemed a little strange and out of sync to me.  Of course, he would say that is because I am one of those foolish religious types (remember when RS would write things like 'I am clutching my Rosary, praying for....' whatever was being discussed about the Hispanic population of Modesto?) who has been brainwashed into thinking morality only exists within the parameters of religion.

However, I think (and I could be wrong) that the article was actually just stating the old argument by  St. Thomas Aquinas - that being, it is possible to discern the existence of God through the observation of the natural world.  The difference seems to be that the atheist believes discerning patterns of reason simply point to a natural evolution of structure.  In other words, what the believer sees as evidence of a Higher Power, the non-believer sees as simply a natural evolution of vegetable to mammal to human (big leaps there, I know, but bear with me). 

He used as an argument the idea that if a child, say a four year old, playing with a loaded gun accidentally shoots a 25 year old woman and kills her, that child is not held accountable for his action despite the fact that the result is the same as when a 25 year old man deliberately decides to shoot the same woman for whatever reason (she is his wife and he hates her, she is his neighbor and he hates her, she is a stranger and he wants to kill someone for the thrill of it, etc etc etc.). 

Yes, the result is the same.  The intention, however, is not - which determines the degrees of culpability.  This might also be mitigated by the circumstances the killer has experienced (or is experiencing).  Is the killer a victim of abuse, a sufferer of mental illness, a target shooter with bad aim?

Now if I understood the article, the atheist found it wanting to assign culpability in terms of Free Will - did the person intend the results of their actions (or, in the case of mental illness, were they capable of understanding the results of their actions, or properly identifying their target, or clearly processing all the sensory input to which they are subjected every day)?  And if they knew, for instance, that pointing the gun at the woman and pulling the trigger could possibly result in her death and were perfectly OK with taking that chance (in order to achieve something, anything), then can we state their actions are wrong without falling back on the idea of morality as defined by religion?

I don't think we really can.

Again, it is probably a matter of definition.  What the atheist defines as feelings that come from their own brain we believers see as something more.  We recognize the metaphysical - it is not just electrical impulses that happen to flow together at the right moment.  It is electrical impulses flowing together for a reason - because we, as creatures, want to be safe and comfortable and happy and loved and we want OTHERS to be safe and comfortable and happy and loved.  We are pained when they are not.  We are hurt when some of us are cruel, or mean, lonely or hungry.  We do not want to suffer, true, but we don't want others to suffer and we recognize that people who put their own comfort ahead of others are somehow doing themselves an injustice by being unjust to their own kind.

It comes out in phrases like "How could someone do...." (fill in the blank - rape a child, beat an elderly person, pretend to be a combat veteran, steal money from the poor box, etc. etc.). 

Granted, only the most advanced among us seem to be able to forgive the unforgivable - but it is done, again and again and again by some of the most average people on the planet.  Not the intellectuals or the billionaires but the little girl stabbed thirty times by her would-be rapist, lying on a hospital gurney and telling her priest, "I forgive him" or the man standing in a courtroom facing the killer of his only son, saying, "I forgive you".

I guess the flaw I saw in the atheist's argument was the place he stopped in his analysis.  There is more nobility in human action that what he sees - and that nobility comes from something far more than a simple need for order or security.  Those are great places to start, but we keep proving over and over that we do not stop there - we go beyond those borders and do things that no mere animal would consider doing simply to preserve their own species or insure their own survival.  Yes, we can be horribly cruel.  Yes, we can also be unfathomably mean.

But we can also be so dang beautiful towards each other - and that kind of beauty is beyond reasonable explanations.

I don't know...what do you think?

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