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A WORD TO THE SPIRITUAL SEEKERS: Secular ethics: The heart knows

A Word to the Spiritual Seekers
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BY DON MURRAY

The Dalai Lama is probably the most recognized, respected, and wisdom-filled spiritual leader in today’s world. He is a focus for all those yearning for some solid ground amidst our personal, political, and spiritual turmoil. If the Dalai Lama says it, we need to pay attention.

I recently came upon this quote in a Progressive Christianity blog:

“For all its benefits in offering moral guidance and meaning in life, religion is no longer adequate as a basis for ethics. Many people no longer follow any religion. In addition, in today’s secular and multicultural societies, any religion-based answer to the problem of our neglect of inner values could not be universal, and so would be inadequate. We need an approach to ethics that can be equally acceptable to those with religious faith and those without. We need a secular ethics.”

There you have it. We need a secular basis for ethics. I think we can go one better. Ethics is springing up from the secular world. The rise of the feminine is emerging from the intolerable situation in which women find themselves in a patriarchal world. Religion has not been a major push. Indeed, religion is more often the impenetrable bastion of patriarchy.

There has been a transformation in our attitude toward smoking. Granted, Christianity and other religions were supportive. However, the real force behind the move was the havoc tobacco was causing to human health. The same is true for our growing awareness of the devastation we are causing to the environment. We are beginning to see the results of what we are doing to the earth and its atmosphere. Again, religion is supportive but the real energy comes from the reality we are facing.

We need to hold up science, the secular approach that unearths the realities we face and confronts us with the facts. The anti-fact movement tells us we are slow learners. However, the fundamental process of learning how to be human arises from the experience of living and striving to be a human community upon the fragile environment of earth.

We are not looking at heaven to solve our problems. We look to ourselves and the very foundation of values that spring from the whole process of learning how to live as a human family.

We owe it to the various religions for bringing to light the values that make human community possible. In that creative time about four to eight centuries before Christ, the values that make us human emerged in various religions and areas of the world. In the Jewish/Christian tradition it was the prophets who were the moral movers and shakers.

Centuries earlier there were the laws of Hammurabi and the Ten Commandments. The prophets came along and pushed beyond the demands of Law to the motivations of the heart. The real drive to go more deeply within ourselves and into our relationships with one another is part of being human. As Jeremiah said, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.” (31:33-34).

Paul really had it figured out.“When Gentiles (non-Christians), who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires ... (it) shows that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their conscience also bears witness. (Romans 2:14).

In the Christian tradition we often speak of Christian values. Other religions no doubt do the same thing in relation to their religion. Hindus follow Hindu values, Muslims, Muslim values, and so on. The reality is that all values are human values. A particular religion may look to one or another, but all are rooted in the instincts of the heart and the reality of our experience.

Our profound appreciation goes to what religions have bequeathed to us. But as religions lose their hold on us we delve deep into ourselves and discover that our deepest instincts are the source of the ever-present desire for justice, peace, compassion and all that makes us truly human.

Let not the fact that we “have miles to go before (we) sleep” deter us from going into those depths where our communal instincts lie. Therein is our salvation.

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