The Golden Rule: Where does Morality come from?

a year ago i got into sunstone. i learned that the blacks being denied the priesthood was based on racist ideals. i realized i had given hundreds of hours to studying this other side of mormonism and thought i should give some time to god in prayer to see if he had anything to say about my belief structure that wasslowly changing. i wanted to give him a chance to respond to the new information i had been learning and accepting as true.

god, what do you think about all of this? to me it makes since but just say the magic words and i’ll do my best to throw out everything i’ve recently learned and go back to blind faith if needs be.

as i was losing my faith in mormonism, i was growing a newfound love and respect for people of all races, sexual preferences, belief-systems, etc. i started to not see gays as sinners and bad people. i stopped seeing blacks (even if just sub-consciously) as less-valiant fence-sitters in the pre-existence. i wasn’t seeing non-lds folk as “lost”, anymore. so i prayed to know if this was “okay in god’s eyes”. yeah, it sounds weird that i had to pray about something like that but those ideas conflicted with what i had learned in church and in my own private study of the doctrine.

when i prayed about this, the words came to my mind, “love one another”.

That’s it. that’s what it all comes down to. love one another with no biases or judgments. this video does a good job of portraying that with some thoughtful quotes:

click to see a diagram of the golden rule throughout the religions and minds of the world

~ by Anubys on May 17, 2007.

4 Responses to “The Golden Rule: Where does Morality come from?”

  1. This mirrors a lot of my thoughts of late. If anyone says that there is an absolute standard of morality, I ask “Where is it?” I’ve never seen one.

  2. This mirrors a lot of my thoughts of late. If anyone says that there is an absolute standard of morality, I ask “Where is it?” I’ve never seen one.

    Yeah, I’ve never seen one, either. It really changes through the ages for sure. I REALLY liked what Richard Dawkins recently said about that exact question here. Pretty well sums it up, right?

  3. I don’t think there’s absolute morality, because such a thing would be completely impractical. Human existence is simply too complicated to tolerate a real absolute set of behavioral guideleines. Thus, to apply a set of absolute morals, you either have to radically change your existence (which I think is pretty much impossible, at least to the extent that would make absolute morality work), or you have to radically change the way you see the world. And I don’t mean that in a good way, either. I’m talking about deluding yourself and constructing a worldview that doesn;t even reflect reality a little bit.

    That being said, where’s the basis for morality? I think Dawkins is kind of circling the issue and getting close to it in the interview you mentioned, Jonathan, but I think he missed the core.

    At the core, human morality is (or should be) based on informed empathy, the basic concept of caring about other people, coupled with some active effort to find out how your actions affect them.

    So, what makes killing wrong? Simply put, because being killed sucks,a nd I don;t want to be killed. Also, having people close to you be killed sucks, so I don’t want to kill some other mother’s son. But it’s not just the Golden Rule in its simplest form, because empathy means being sensitive to how other people feel about things even when it’s different from how you might feel about it were your positions switched.

    It also means trying to be aware of broader effects of your actions. It’s easy to have empathy when you’re ignorant of how your shoes were made, for example. But that’s an irresponsible way of going about things. Part of informed empathy means finding out how your shoes were made, and then exercising a bit of empathy and foregoing products made with sweatshop labor.

    I’m not talking about full-blown Utilitarianism, the greatest amount of hapiness for the greatest number of people. Again, that’s an absolute moral system and thus I think it’s impractical when applied to real life. I’m simply talking about taking other people into consideration when we make decisions. Callously disregarding other peoples’ suffering? Easy- that’s immoral.

    Sure, things change. Mores and norms change over time. Peoples’ ways lof looking at and thinking about the world often evolve and become more sophisticated. Much of this stuff is what Dawkins was talking about, the external morality. But internally, I think empathy is natural human trait that is truly universal (except for the dysfunctional and the broken, and well, they’re broken). Granted, people often apply empathy to only their own family or their own clan, or whatever. And people can have the empathy trained out of them, by various expericnes and circumstances, intentional or un-. But at the heart of it, empathy is universal, and so it seems like an easy basis for a universal (though not absolute) morality.

    Informed empathy is simply a matter of extending the sphere, and is by definition universal (in the sense of “this is what everyone should do, even if it not what everyone does”) because it means applying empathy to as large a number of people (and other living things) as possible.

    No, informed empathy doesn’t answer all the questions. It doesn’t solve the moral dillemmas, but I think if we’re looking for something that’s going to solve the moral dillemmas, we’re kidding ourselves. Existence is simply too complicated for that. That’s why they’re called “dillemmas.” Sometimes the situation may mean that you have to do something that hurts someone, despite the empathy you feel. Nothing’s going to fix that- if you’re looking for a moral system that never makes you make that kind of hard decision, then you’re either looking for a fictional notion or behavioral paralysis. But the point of informed empathy is that you realize and feel the ramifications of those decisions. You do them knowingly- if you have to hurt someone you feel a bit of their pain, and it makes you take those kinds of questions very seriously. Empathy is not going to tell you what to do; it’s going to tell you the factors to consider when deciding what to do. It leaves the judgment call to you without passing the buck.

    What informed empathy does is give a basic moral compass, one that is natural, internal, and universal, while at the same time it invites one to step a little bit outside their comfort zone and actively try to find out how other people feel, so as to better feel and shoe empathy.

    Empathy doesn’t give you answers, it just helps you understand the question. In the end, I think that’s all one can expect from morality. Anything more is unrealistic and out of touch with reality.

  4. Sorry; that was really long. I also posted it as a full-blown post on my own blog.

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