Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Moral Ethic

In The End of Faith, Sam Harris purports that the bronze-age writings of religion fall short when expected to provide a moral guide for 21 century life. Citing specifically Leviticus and Deuteronomy as particularly inappropriate sources when taken as the whole, he then suggests that a group of intelligent people of the present could come up with a better guide to morality in as short a time as 5 minutes.

Really? Just 5 minutes? For a globally appropriate 21 century code of moral ethics?

Lets give it a try.

(Note: The words you are about to read are my opinion, not yours. They are not meant as a revolutionary manifesto, nor are they meant to spearhead an attack against any particular religion or philosophical creed. If, having read this, you choose to read on, and subsequently take offence at what is written, I hold you responsible for your own outrage. -Jefe)

Lets start with the Ethic of Reciprocity

Treat others the way you would like them to treat you.

This is a simple one. It covers a whole gamut of possibly in one simple sentence. No murder. No theft. No battery. No torture. No confidence schemes. No grifting. No cheating. No lying (*). Being nice to our Elders.

Be considerate of others feelings.

This one seems straightforward. If we all have an interest in other people being happy, or not being unhappy, then we'll all work toward a greater global happiness in life. How can that be a bad thing?

Be kind.

This may seem a bit redundant, but as a specific behavioral instruction, and as a slogan perhaps in the new 21 century age of ethical morality, perhaps it needs to be said. Besides which, it would make up the third instruction of our proposed moral compass for the modern world, and I'm personally fond of things that come in threes. (Don't go too crazy with the Freudian analysis of my penchant for trios.)

So now we need to see how this stacks up against the major religious Morality Sets:

Looking at the 10 Commandments, Sikh Principals, Buddhist Principals, and Islamic Instructions, we can see that this little sketch of 21 Century Morality shows considerable overlap to each of the 4 listed Religion/Philosophy Guides. The only places where we see a failure of overlap is where there are specifically dogmatic instructions pertaining to Religion, or personal guidelines for behavior and diet.

Otherwise, the three principals listed in our 21 Century Ethical Morality function just fine for all 4 listed Ideologies.


The three statements took far less than 5 minutes to accomplish (thanks, Sam Harris), but the comparison took almost 1/2 hour to format nicely to fit the blog.

I invite any comments re this sketch for 21 Century Ethical Morality.

Later I'll try to add Hinduism to the comparison, as I feel this is also a major belief system and begs comparison to this little sketch.


*Note: I believe there is a quandary between being honest and being kind. Consider the age old conundrum faced by a male who’s mate asks the question “Do these (garments) make me look fat?” Clearly the one asking about it is feeling insecure, and thus to say “No” would increase their self esteem. But in some cases the statement might not be the truth. Do we abandon diplomacy, esteem building and/or civility in the cause of unerring honesty, or is there such a thing as a “white lie” - Perhaps we’ll examine the white lie in another episode of “as the principal turns”. - Jefe

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