Exposing the Cracks

Posted: September 2, 2017 in Uncategorized

I am now reading  David Brooks’ moral fishing expedition The Road to Character (Random House, 2015).  This is his own quest for some moral compass in the midst of a culture that has lost one. In particular he is looking for a larger set of morals for the public square, not an overly individualized version. And where does one go to find that, especially when the traditional role of religion has been minimized in that regard? Where do narcissistic people turn after they have caved in upon themselves? His answer is to select characters of virtue who exhibit admirable qualities, all shaped differently by different influences. They are often flawed heroes. But they could be called inspirations, examples. Reading this book is pleasurable and uplifting mostly due to the biographies. As to guidance for a moral system it is a bit like dragging a magnet through file shavings, picking up random fragments as we go.

In the section on George Eliot the author described the Victorian era in which she lived and how rising science caused great consternation and varying reaction among religious people: “Science was beginning to expose cracks in the Church’s description of human creation.”(155)

The response to this state of affairs moved in a variety of directions. For laced up Victorians one answer was to double-down on the moral front, living more restricted than ever. Some Church people moved back to the ancient way of things, reclaiming a more medieval form of worship, buildings and piety. Some moved inward to the place of personal devotion and mysticism. Others moved outward in social relevance by addressing the evils of society. Others such as the Diests sought out the universals of truth without tying them to dogma or religious structures; God the divine clockmaker has set things in motion but is relatively uninvolved in the ordinary way of things. Figure it out, said they, and move as a moral person in the world the best you can.

In moments of transition such as these do the faithful isolate in order to affirm and claim tradition and the truths the value? Do they engage in order to become more relevant? And if so how do they maintain the balance between honoring their own center and finding a faithful response in the world?

We all have our blind spots, our unawareness of influences, both past and present. In reading these descriptions I became aware of one of mine. I grew up in a religious community that leaned on tradition to articulate the universals of belief and practice and also a kind of enlightenment rationalism that engaged with all arbiters of truth. In other words our responseto the dilemma of Eliot would be to constantly reassess the sources of truth, both religious and secular. Science is not to be avoided but rather engaged with. Social contexts are meant to be explored and entered. And all this while continuing to look through some kind of spiritual lens, the universal sources of truth within and without.

When the cracks are exposed we move inward, outward, upward and forward. The answer is in the future, as the Process theologians would say. It is yet to appear. And we should not be afraid.

What are your influences, past and present? Where do you lodge your authority? How do you negotiate the truths of tradition and the demands of the present moment? What do you do when the cracks are exposed?

  1. Dick Dalton says:

    Some would say “love” has become trite or passe, but I believe all humans want to be healthy and happy, to feel secure and have peace of mind, to love and be loved. That reveals our values. I explore this much further in I Am NOT My Thoughts. I left a copy in your mailbox.

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