Writing a description of one’s values is as difficult as designing a new cosmology. Certainly one’s own values permeate all of one’s writing one way or another. It seems easier to model one’s ethics than to describe them, or, perhaps a better way to put it is: one can best show one’s values through one’s actions. Often people claim “higher” values than they demonstrate.
I find myself, at this moment, using the words “morals”, “ethics” and “values” interchangeably. Certainly distinctions have been made among them. I am presently wanting to be broader rather than more specific. Perhaps I will become more specific as I continue writing. I suppose that means that I am focusing on my own “values.” I will write rather freely concerning this topic without referring to other writings beyond what I am able to recollect at the moment. I believe that this procedure will better show what convictions I carry with me from day to day and, thus, influence my actions. The ideas that influence my actions the most may be the most unconscious, however, I will do my best to get at them.
My religious upbringing was pretty conservative. I grew up in a Baptist family with VERY conservative grandparents. My grandfather wouldn’t allow a deck of playing cards in the house. But, in my childhood innocence, I learned more from the stories about Jesus’ life (what Scheler would call a “model of goodness”). The ideas and prejudices of my grandparents often did not fit the model of goodness which I perceived in Jesus. In fact, many of the adults interpretations of Christ’s teachings didn’t really seem to fit what he seemed to teach by his life in the biblical stories. I have heard it argued that we weren’t really expected to model our lives after Jesus’ because he was a manifestation of God. However, I have always intuitively held the conviction that, if Christ was God, then he had become a man in order to teach us how humans should act. Pursuit of wealth seems to be a contradiction to Christ’s life and teachings so, really, most people don’t seem to be trying to follow his example.
I will paraphrase the two only commandments spoken by Christ:
1. Love YOUR God with your whole being.
2. Love everyone at least as much as yourself.
The first commandment refers more to a life beyond this world. It would not seem to affect one’s actions so much in day-to-day life except that it requires that one value more what is not of this this world in a physical form but, rather value what is above (or inside). We are told not to pray for wealth but for God’s will. If we follow this commandment we would not want to steal anything because nothing would really be worth stealing and we certainly wouldn’t kill, even for our own preservation, because why hurt someone else for the opportunity they are giving us to enter fully into a world which we value most? Not many have so much faith to allow such a thing to happen without at least some anxiety. Even Christ cried out to God, “Father, why hast Thou forsaken me?” If heaven is the internal world of the psyche, one must still live in order to enjoy the experience of it. But, even if one values one’s life as even the means to enjoy heaven, is the preservation of this life worth taking another’s?
Loving “thy neighbor” seems to expressly forbid the taking of another’s life under any circumstances. This also seems supported by Christ’s example. He made no attempt to save himself from being crucified. Also, the second commandment shows a greater value for the life of others. It seems to demand that we live for the sakes of others while the first balances this with a full inner life. Again, Christ shows us how he helped all people who came to him in need, feeding and healing them. He never strove to accumulate wealth and shared everything that he had. Out of this commandment comes the Golden Rule: Treat others as you would have them treat you. Also, he teaches us not to judge others.
Kant would have us test every moral/ethical idea as a universal in order to determine its validity. It is possible that other cultures would not value these ideas, so Christ’s teaching could seem unethical in another cultural context. Dying without putting up a fight could seem dishonorable to some. However, courage in the face of death seems to be valued the most in even the most war-like cultures and dying without fighting certainly requires greater courage than fighting to the death. I have tested this among a couple of violent cultures: my elementary schoolyard and a party among fighter pilot trainees. When I was in elementary school a bully threatened to beat me up after school. He started these threats in the morning and continued them throughout the day until the last bell rang and school was over. I then told him that I had no reason to fight him and he could beat me up if he wanted but I wouldn’t fight back. He decided to be my friend. In the other situation I went with a friend to his twin brother’s party of Baylor University Airforce ROTC’s and their girlfriends by the Brazos river. They were teasing us about our long hair and one of the women said that she thought we were cute. I told her that I thought she was cute and ended up kissing her in a van. Her boyfriend was in the back of the van. I found this out when I felt someone hit me full-fisted against my face. I didn’t feel fear or anger, only shock and surprise that someone had hit me. He got out of the van like he was going to “draw” on me and everyone gathered around for the fight. I told him the same thing I had told the bully in elementary school and he just rolled back on a car and said, “I just don’t understand you pacifist freaks.” We talked for quite a while that evening and I knew that he respected me although I wouldn’t fight him.
Many have argued the following: what would you do if you had a loaded gun in your hand and could kill someone who is attempting to murder your child? Every instinct cries out for shooting the attempted murderer. I would probably do just that, but it would conflict with my conviction for not killing. I suppose Christ knew it would be too much to ask of us to love everyone as much as our own children. However, I believe this conflicting instinct is the cause for many of us from our best convictions in general. We pursue wealth for the sake of our children and consequently this money becomes “the root of all evil.”
Now, I must not pass judgment against those who chose to fight for their country. One must assume, when reading this, that I am merely trying to understand what MY values are and how they influence me. I am publishing this for others to read as a service to them because someone else may find something useful to them in it. I even don’t want my statements concerning the materialism of Christians to seem judgmental. As I said before, I have been more influenced by the stories of Christ’s life than other teachings in the Bible. What has stayed with me is so simple that any child can understand it, so the more complex issues (dealt with, for example, by Paul) have not stayed with me so well. I may seem naive because these values were firmly ingrained in me during the innocence of youth, but again, Christ blessed the little children and advised the adults to be more like them, though Plato, among others, supports the idea that it is much worse to do wrong than to be wronged against. The thought of killing someone has always been more horrifying to me than the thought of being killed.
There has been a time when people killed for the sake of their God (or internal world). Human sacrifices were made in the temple and Arjuna was told by God to fulfill his true destiny by killing. Perhaps this was valid at a time when our internal worlds were truly ruled by the gods and not by our self-serving egos. Perhaps sacrificing an unwilling human was a degeneration from a time when people came willingly to be sacrificed to their god. My sacrifice is to do nothing to harm anyone attempting my death.
I have added bits of phrases to Christ’s first commandment in an effort to keep it universally valid and not culture-specific. (I’m not claiming to be making a SUCCESSFUL effort at doing this.) I believe that is it is significant that Christ said to love “THY God with all thy heart and thy whole being.” It seems adaptable to every religion in every culture. He says we must love the highest parts of ourselves (from a psychologist’s perspective - even respecting the not-so-high) or the absolute goodness and beauty (according to Plato). I believe that we do this more for the sake of ourselves (and God) than for the sake of others, although others may benefit when we share with them the beauties that we experience. I don’t believe that proselytizing or evangelizing should go beyond this. I don’t appreciate it when others attempt to IMPOSE their beliefs on me, so I would follow the golden rule by not attempting to impose mine upon others. However, anything I may have experienced is available to everyone who is interested. As an artist, I have had opportunities for using many media for this sharing. I live for my experiences with my gods and my sharing those experiences with others.
Now, Lord help me live up to these ideals I have stated!