Moral Code

Everybody thinks they are a good person. The capacity of human beings to justify shitty behavior is endless. Everybody knows deep inside that they are very, very good.

This is why there needs to be an external moral law. One that exists outside oneself and is bigger than one’s own judgment. There are two variations of such external morality currently in existence. Religion and the penal code.

16 thoughts on “Moral Code

  1. I don’t know, Clarissa. Not sure that this is true. I constantly hear lapsed Catholics talk about how “Catholic guilt” drove them from the Church. It’s an incessant cry: the Church is about rigid rules, shame and guilt. People – usually women – talk on about how they feel guilty not doing enough for their kids, for putting their parents in assisted living, simply for “saying no” to people for pete’s sake.

    There’s also the interesting perpetual rash of self help articles all over the internet in places like Slate, Huff Post and Buzzfeed, usually written by young professionals for young professionals on “how to be happy and find fulfillment.” They say that no one is happy all the time, that money and success may bring temporary happiness (I think they actually mean passing satisfaction, because I think these people have no idea what actual happiness is at all..) These articles always have the same prescriptions: good time management, proper goal setting, a rich bucket list to pursue, good sleep, regular exercise, interesting hobbies, cultivating relationships – and this is the kicker, it always makes me smile – meditation.

    I laugh, because none of them ever mention prayer or confession. They talk about how much they resent the Church and God for making them feel guilty, but never think of contrition, probably because they would rather sin and don’t want to repent.

    I think that there is a lot of sublimated guilt and shame out there, a lot of people with clouded and burdened consciences, and I think it is making them all very unhappy. My own brother – a successful guy with a beautiful family – tells me that he is unhappy. This after saying that all we have to look forward is quantum death. I tell him that’s his problem, right there. But he just sneers at me, and tells me how much contempt he has for my mythology.

    Not to spite him, but I am never unhappy. Or bored. I’m often ecstatic. The reason for this is that I intensely cultivate my inner life, which is pretty vivid. But my primary tool is contemplation, not meditation. And contemplation is prayer. A palpable relationship with “all that is seen and unseen,” which is something that many of those skeptics and materialists foreclose on, even as others verge into new age pantheism, magic and actual witchcraft like some of my other friends and family are explicitly doing..

    Seeking and giving forgiveness, having confidence in mercy, which is to say love – both accepting and giving love – really is the key element to joy and happiness. My main source of occasional dissatisfaction and alienation is my own inability to tame my passions, and the best way of dealing with that is to acknowledge it, and respond with repentance, prayer and ascesis.

    All of which is to say that they may not acknowledge their guilt, because they say they don’t believe in the moral law (even as most of them largely keep the later three fourths of the decalogue pretty strictly, because if they didn’t their lives would be in shambles, and they’d probably end up in jail) but I say that that is really bullshit, because like I say, they in fact keep the moral law even as they preach the metaphysics and ethics of Nietzsche and Foucault.

    But it’s not what you say, it’s what you do that really proves what you believe.That’s why I still have some hope for most of them, especially my brother.

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    1. “I constantly hear lapsed Catholics talk about how “Catholic guilt” ”

      Isn’t that just an American thing? In Poland (90% catholic though just how observant many are is up for debate) there’s no “Catholic guilt” anywhere that I’ve noticed.

      Over-simplified version: Societies by and large use one of two things to help keep people under control…

      guilt: individual feelings of unworthiness triggered by one’s conscience and awareness of moral failure

      shame: social-based feelings of exclusion/humiliation based on other people knowing/finding out about transgressions

      All societies have both to some degree (as do individuals, an individual that never feels guilt or shame is not…. normal). But at the societal level one is usually far stronger. In the US that’s traditionally been guilt.

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      1. That’s because we’ve been conducting an all-out war on shame since the 60s at least. It is American religious doctrine that nobody should ever be made to feel ashamed, ever. That is why we have to have so much guilt.

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        1. “an all-out war on shame”

          I’d say the war has been more against ’embarrassment’ or ‘decency’ or and not shame as I was using it (a specialist term used in some cross-cultural studies).

          scenario: you see an old person drop their wallet… you pick it up and rather than return it to them you decide to keep the $500 you find inside.

          guilt: you start to feel like a rotten person, the owner of the wallet may have needed that money badly, you imagine your own grandparents in that situation… what kind of monster are you anyway? you can’t stand to look at yourself in the mirror, you can’t enjoy the money and you end up returning the wallet anonymously.

          shame: you feel fine until you find out that an acquaintance saw you pick up the wallet and go in the other direction and now the whole street knows what you did. not only do people look at you like your garbage but the rest of your family is suffering from your indiscretion as well. you return the wallet with many profuse apologies.

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          1. We were playing bingo at church, and this was my first time ever playing it. I misunderstood the game and yelled BINGO! when I didn’t have an actual bingo. For the rest of the event, people treated me with such loving care that I almost freaked out. Then I realized: they thought I was embarrassed and were trying to compensate. It was really sweet. But also utterly unnecessary because at my age it’s impossible to feel embarrassed by bingo mistakes.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. “people treated me with such loving care that I almost freaked out”

              It’s not really bad until they start talking about you in the third person when you’re right there, as in asking N: “Do you have her purse?” or “You’ll make sure she gets home okay?”

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            1. The difference is between internal, individually activated negative feelings (that only affect the individual) vs external socially activated negative feelings that also affect others in a person’s group. Like I said all (normal) people are subject to both to some degree but at the societal level one tends to predominate. In the US that’s guilt in Poland (and I bet Vietnam) it’s shame.

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              1. I think perhaps we are talking around each other. I can see what you mean, and it seems the same as what I meant, but you’re defining “shame” perhaps (or perhaps not) a bit more minutely than I do.

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  2. But ultimately any such moral code needs to be enacted by the said human beings. The capacity of human beings to justify shitty behavior in the name of religion also seems to be endless. When we try to find a ground for ethical behavior outside of ourselves we fail to find any such thing. Is there more to religion than what we, mere humans, collectively create?

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  3. According to my knowledge, the word morality is derived from the word moralis, which means social custom or habit. The way the word is to be sensed is that something moral is something that is good for the human being within the society that the human being lives in.

    The ethics is related to the morality and is the overarching study of sets of moral principles that are right or wrong, meaning good or bad, for the human being in the society in which they live at any point in time or particular circumstance.

    Based on this understanding, things like stealing are usually regarded as being bad/immoral/unethical even when stealing is good for the individual, since the theft is bad for the society in which the human being lives, and therefore bad for the human being.

    As the same time, stealing is sometimes regarded as being good/moral/ethical, with an example being that food is stolen in a society that has become extremely unfair, to feed a human being who would otherwise die. In that circumstance the theft is seen as being good because the society would avoid being guilty of wrongly starving one of the humans in the society due to its own unfairness.

    In my opinion, both morality and ethics should be judged by both the human being and society that is external to them simultaneously so as to find the correct balance of good and bad custom or habit for both individual and society.

    So with respect and everything, I agree with the first bit about the requirement for a moral law that is bigger than the individual and their judgment, since those things are needed as one half of the judgment of what is good and bad-

    -but I can’t agree that the judgment fo a society as a whole can or should be confined to either religion or law, since even a group of people talking on the internet as we are now is as deserving of consideration in the overall determination of good vs bad as everything in any religion or law is.

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  4. The thing is while everyone thinks they are a good person in reality none of us are. We are told in the Word of God that we are all sinners, all of us are unrighteous, all of us guilty and sentenced to death. Romans Chapter 3 covers this. Without faith in Jesus one can be as ‘lawful’ as one wishes, it won’t matter, they are still condemned to eternal death due to their sin. Only through our faith in Jesus, our trust in the blood atonement of the Lamb of God are you saved. From there the Holy Spirit enters you and you are justified and sanctified in the eyes of God as being clean of sin. What’s interesting is that once you are indwelled with the Holy Spirit while you still sin, you don’t want to, and you feel guilt when you do and recognize that you have, Romans Chapter 9.

    Something else for consideration, I can’t remember if it was a watch-woman or one of the various preachers who’s videos are on youtube, but one of them had this to say recently and I find it very apt for this discussion. “Hell will be filled with a lot of good people, and Heaven with a lot of bad people. As it is generally those who have come to Jesus who can and do admit their sins and how sinful or wicked that they truly are.” That is one of the ABCs of salvation after all, in fact its the first step. A.) admit you are a sinner in need of a savior. B.) Believe in Jesus, that he is who he said he was. That he died on the Cross for your sins and rose again on the 3rd day. C.) Confess Jesus is Lord, “for with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” Romans 10:10

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  5. “you’re defining “shame” perhaps (or perhaps not) a bit more minutely than I do”

    I’m using ‘shame’ as it’s used in the social sciences (anthropology, sociology etc). Lots of everyday words have specific meanings (not strictly tied to everyday meanings) in particular academic fields. Usually I don’t do that … but I did want to make it clear that Catholic “guilt” is not a universal part of the faith.

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  6. “Everybody thinks they are a good person.”

    I’m an asshole, and you can be one too!

    It’s easy, just repeat after me …

    My moral compass does not deviate just because you may attempt to bully me or to disparage my views.

    When you say to the world that you don’t budge, that they’ll budge instead, that makes you an asshole to most people out there.

    Also, without possibly leading you into a lengthy discussion of Japanese moral codes and religious beliefs, you may find the existence of Bushido (武士道) somewhat interesting.

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