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  • The Problem of Competing Versions of the Truth

    Samain                                 Moon of the Winter Solstice

    Colds.  Yeccchhh.  Feels like another one coming on.  In the list of things to consider when theodicy is under issue, colds would be at the top of my list.  If God created a good world, why does it have the cold virus?  Or, yes, if you want to be more to the point, cancer or blood clots or the human propensity toward violence.

    Some people, read religious fundamentalists of all stripes, believe moral relativism, occasioned by secular humanist cynics or their equivalents, lies at the root of all social ills.  If people would just learn the commands of:  the Koran, Jesus, Hinduism, laissez-faire capitalism, Marxism, and FOLLOW them, then all the speed bumps and wild curves of history would iron out and we could get down to the smooth, orthopraxic life God or Allah or Vishnu or Adam Smith or Karl Marx intended.

    Without even delving into the particulars expected by each fundamentalist group, we can see immediately one of the chief problems with fundamentalism.  They can’t all be right.  In other words if the absolute tenets of, say, strict Calvinism and Wahabi Islam conflict, who’s got the right answer?  Marx or Smith?  Vishnu or the Pentecostal Christian?  To make the absolute claim, which does soothe the believer with apparent predictability, you also lay yourself open to the catastrophic consequences of error.

    Instead, colds come into the human body because the evolutionary process has created this dance between viral entities and,  in our case, mammals.  In the dance the virus hunts for a home with all the elements it needs to survive and reproduce.  The mammal’s body, as that home, tolerates its presence if it doesn’t throw things too out of whack, when it does.  Bam.  The body’s shock troops go into action.

    Is the virus bad?  No.  It just is.  Is our body’s response good?  Well, to us as an organism, bent on survival, yes, but, in the ongoing dynamics of life, no, even our body’s response just is.

    In the same wise human acts of all kinds can be judged according to criteria so certain, so dogmatic that they can be determined bad or good, sinful or salvific.  Trouble is, if you step outside that zone of certainty, then the same act may change its colors.

    Spare the rod and spoil the child is a good example.  In some fundamentalist Christian groups this dictum is taken as holy writ. This type of fundamentalist certainty is the one clear correlation with both child and domestic abuse.  Abuse is the evaluation of others outside the circle of fundamentalist dogma.

    This difficulty becomes even more trenchant, and even more pertinent, when we look from culture.  In the US and the West in general individual human rights trump collective decisions.  That is, genocide such as that carried out by the mercenaries of Moammar Qadafi, though state sanctioned, violated the human rights of those who resisted his government.

    In the East though human rights themselves are seen as collective, that is, the good of the whole comes before the individual.  This belief gets its strongest support in the traditional Asian family structure where each family members lives so as to strengthen the whole family.

    We in the West see this submersion of the individual in the larger whole as crushing liberty and freedom, the East sees us as leaning toward the irresponsible, selfish.  We tend to act in our  own self interest rather than the interest of the community, so our parents can’t count on us in their old age.  Even our children can’t count on us in our old age.  At least some of the time.

    So, who’s got the right of it?  One perspective says the right of it depends on location.  If you’re in the West, then the path of individual improvement and progress is right.  If you’re a contemporary Roman Catholic, then abortion is wrong and heterosexuality is good.

    Another perspective, one I hold, acknowledges the multiplicity of perspectives and sees the dialectical truths often illuminated by the conflicts between and among ethical systems as productive for our overall advance.  More on this later.  Gotta go sign a refinance document.