Saturday, October 10, 2009

EfM Year 1 Chapter 4: The JE Account of Creation and the Fall in Genesis 2:4b - 3:24--Thoughts on Moral Development

The story of Adam and Eve and the fall certainly has a lot to say about moral development. I also have some thoughts on the matter based on my own experience. I'll look at these three areas: development of an inner sense of right and wrong, sin, discernment.

DEVELOPMENT OF AN INNER SENSE OF RIGHT AND WRONG. I grew up with fear-based obedience. Fear was used to motivate me to obey: by my father, by the teachers at my Catholic school, by the Catholic Church, and by the God of the Bible. Obey--or you will be punished--you will be spanked or humiliated or sent to hell for eternity. To avoid those extremely undesirable consequences, I obeyed. I obeyed out of fear.

This ripped apart my inner sense of right and wrong. Right and wrong were outside myself--whatever the authorities said. I had little inner sense of right and wrong. I simply wanted to do what the authorities said was right so that I could avoid pain. THAT'S WHAT CHILDREN LEARN WHEN FEAR IS USED TO ENFORCE OBEDIENCE.

Children need to be taught to distinguish their inner core of wisdom from their surface emotions. That inner core of wisdom is present within each of us by the very fact that we are human beings. It's part of our nature. We need to learn to access it. But we will never learn to look within if we rivet our attention on authorities who will pounce to punish us for any disobedience.

One way to develop our inner sense of right and wrong is to develop our highest vision of the world we want to create. We then live into that vision. Our inner core of wisdom supports that vision. Our surface emotions may or may not support it. Certainly acting on surface emotions of fear or anger does not. We need to learn to recognize fear or anger in ourselves, acknowledge these emotions, and simply choose not to act from them for the temporary relief or power-surge they give but to act instead from our deep core of wisdom and compassion.

SIN. I'm starting to doubt that sin is a useful concept, largely because it refers to individual actions. The course materials define sin like this: "Acts of sin are specific things that we do that are wrong in the sight of God." I think that direction of movement is a much more useful concept than acts of sin. In which direction is my life moving--toward God or away from God? We need to be aware of the direction of our life. Certainly our acts will move our life in a certain direction, but it's the direction that's important, not whether any given act is a sin or not. In other words, an emphasis on sin seems to me to be so focused on details as to avoid the big picture of one's life.

That said, I think that my reluctance to see sin as a useful concept may be colored by the over-emphasis on sin during my Catholic childhood and adolescence. All those catalogues of mortal and venial sins. And the belief that one act of mortal sin could send you to hell forever if not confessed and forgiven (in which case you would escape hell but you would have to settle up with time in purgatory). No wonder I was so focused on individual acts of sin and whether any given sin might be a mortal or a venial one.

Maybe the correct way to see this is to consider both the big picture (the direction of life) and the details (individual acts which become that life direction).

DISCERNMENT. Oh, this is so important. The sin that caused the fall is seen as a sin of pride--human beings taking to themselves that which belongs to God alone. God alone determines right and wrong, and the fall was occasioned by human beings taking that function to themselves.

Well, okay, God alone determines right and wrong. But how does God communicate God's determination of right and wrong to us? God does not speak to us directly with an audible voice. So we either use our discernment, or we blindly accept what someone else tells us that God has said.

There are those who would say that God has told us what God wants us to know about right and wrong in the Bible. Oh, great. According to the Bible, slavery is just fine, men should dominate women, war is a great way to extend one's borders, homosexual acts are an abomination, and killing "God's enemies" is a godly act. No. We simply cannot blindly accept what the Bible tells us that God says. We must discern for ourselves: where does the Bible ring true as God's voice, and where does it not?

We each have a deep core of wisdom that comes with being human--God within. We need to learn to go within and listen to the God-part of ourselves. When someone tells us that God wants us to do this or that, we need to check out what they are saying with our inner wisdom. And that includes checking out the Bible.

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