Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Good And Bad

Most organized religions expend extensive words and effort towards defining what is good and what is bad (“evil”) in this human world.  By extension, secular societies built upon those religious forms and likewise develop extensive rules and laws designed to distinguish between these two conducts.  At first glance, such rules read quite simply and clearly.  The Ten Commandments seem easy enough to understand and absorb, yet they led to over 600 detailed rules of practice under Mosaic Law.  Similarly, Christian Catholic canons, Islamic Shari’ah laws and Buddhist precepts are spelled out in page after page.  Nevertheless, whether we are any more clear about “good” versus “bad” after all of this “explanation” is highly questionable.

So we also see in the secular side of societies.  U.S. and state criminal codes fill a bookcase; the same for our tax codes.  Our religions say “Thou shall not kill,” echoed in the secular laws of our society.  Yet those laws go on to subdivide and rank killing by the degree of badness and scale of punishments.  Murder in the first, second, and third degrees; voluntary versus involuntary manslaughter; suicide and assisted suicide/mercy-killing; accidental death; killing in self-defense; state-prescribed execution; killing as a patriotic duty in wartime – unless you are on the losing side and charged with committing “war crimes.”  So what do we really believe about killing?  Thou shall not kill?  Or Thou shall not kill EXCEPT …”?

In our minds, we can tie ourselves into knots as we run in circles trying to decide whether the violent act of killing is good or bad.  In the end, to answer the question case by case in each individual occurrence and set of circumstances, we usually turn to twelve everyday peers of the accused rather than the greatest religious and civil minds of our society.

The same discussion can hold true for most all of the great spiritual truths and moral laws.  Are our moral truths absolute, or are they relative to people, place and circumstance?  And if they are in fact relative, then how are we to conclude what is right versus what is wrong, what is good versus what is bad?

We will never properly answer that question solely in our minds, by our rational thoughts.  We are all too capable of rationalizing any desired irrationalization to our predisposed conclusion.  Rather, our true moral compass is in our body, our heart, our feelings.  “Good” is that place, that action, those words that create true Joy – in ourselves and in others.  This is not the same as the short-term joy we may experience in the moment; our destructive impulses are all too capable of instant gratification driven by our mind: the sweetness of revenge, the satisfaction from speaking back to power, the thrill of defending the defenseless, the pleasure of a sharply worded retort.  These kinds of joy evaporate soon enough, and later our supposed joy inevitably turns to regret at our impulsiveness, the hurts we generated, the pettiness and thoughtlessness of our action.

In our mind, we will dwell on such false joys, continually replaying the scene, trying to rewrite the script to a better end, while looking for reaffirming confirmation from others.  But in the joy of truly doing good, we are able to take our satisfaction and then easily move on.  There is no need to dwell, to replay, to create alternative endings, to seek affirmation from others.  There is a sustaining calm in our moments of reflection, nothing more to do or say.  Our minds work in the present and look toward the future rather than obsessing and second-judging about the past.  “Bad” things trap us in the past.  “Good” is known throughout our body, settled comfortably in the heart.  That is where we find it.  And there it frees us.

In the end, we are forced to ponder the vexing question: are “good” and “bad” two opposites locked into perpetual conflict for dominance?  Or are they two partners embraced in a dance of perpetual unity, two unique parts of one greater whole?  For undeniably, where one travels, the other is often an ever-present companion, one giving birth to the other.

©  2014   Randy Bell

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Maturing Of God

When my children were born, like most new parents I was pretty clueless about what being a parent really meant.  Much less how to actually do it.  I read books, I asked questions.  My own parents were a tangible example, both for better and for worse.  There were no qualifying exams to become a parent; such permission was easier than getting my first driver’s license.

Ultimately, I learned parenting simply by being a parent.  Basic trial and error.  More reactive to circumstances and events that presented themselves, rather than being proactive in determining “this is how I will parent.”  As a result, some things were done well, some things not so well.  In truth, trying to fulfill the perfection your children think you are is pretty futile.  And no doubt vice versa.

In retrospect, there were three very important things I did learn.  The first was that each child you have is different from one another, and different from every other child.  So we have to individualize our parenting to fit the individuation of each child.  Especially if you hope your child will become an independent-thinking , self-sufficient adult.  That is where the true parental difficulty and creativity come into play.

Secondly, I learned was that my parenting job had to change over time.  What was needed from me for my 1-year-old was vastly different when he became an 8-year-old, further when he became a 15-year-old.  I needed to be very directive to my infant child; I had to give my teenager a lot of slack to learn who he is and how he would sustain himself as an adult.  As a child, she needed to hold my hand crossing a busy street.  As a teenager, she had to cross it alone.  As an adult, she has had to hold the hands of others.  The parent role is an evolving one.

Thirdly, I learned that I had to learn.  The questions my children would ask me, the choices that they made, the personalities that they developed, the knowledge that I gained, all required me to question myself.  Question my own thinking, my own values, the appropriateness of my own upbringing.  The old adage is very true: the good teacher (parent) listens to, and learns from, his student (child).

This understanding of parenting is also applicable to God’s spiritual parenting of us.  We want to think of God as perfect, as all-knowing, as omnipotent – all of which God is.  Just as we thought our own human parents to be.  In that idealization, we typically see God as somehow fixed in time and place, constant and unchanging.  Not true.  God is always learning, growing, maturing, changing.  Growing by self-initiative; growing in reaction to human maturing.  God just happens to be way ahead of us.

We err in thinking about God, and relating to God, when we fall into the trap of a “static parent” perspective.  When we were a child – both individually as well as the collective whole of humanity and civilization – our singular and collective immaturity required God to be very directive with us.  Do this.  Do that.  Follow my rules (commandments).  But now, singularly and collectively, we are somewhere in spiritual adulthood.  God has long since moved to more of a guidance role, cutting us slack, giving us room to exercise our own judgments – for better or worse.  Like a good parent, God is always right there for us, available to counsel us if and when we seek it, but relying upon us to make good decisions reflective of our increasing maturity.  God is no longer directive, but consultative, reflective of our own and God’s increasing maturity.

God is not static.  God has changed, has grown, has learned about spiritual parenting from – in Western religious terms – Genesis through Revelations and to this day.  Change is inherent in all creation, including with God.  What we hear for our spiritual history should not confuse us, but inspire us with confidence.  We are no longer the child Adam or the child Eve.  Neither are we yet the spiritual adult we will ultimately become.  God has been smart enough to learn over time, and to adapt as we have changed.  We should be smart enough to follow God’s model for our own growth, and act more as the spiritual adults we are becoming.

© 2014   Randy Bell