Monday, August 30, 2010
Saturday, August 28, 2010
Friday, August 27, 2010
Thursday, August 26, 2010
David Selbourne has got it right. In a recent pamphlet, Moral Evasion, he lists the eleven arguments now regularly deployed to sabotage any attempt to make moral judgements. They are: There's nothing you can do about it. It's never been any different. There's no quick fix. It's the price of a free society. You must move with the tide. You can't turn back the clock. The problem is much more complex than you think. It's beyond the reach of the law. You are focussing on the wrong issue. Who are you to talk? Everyone's doing it, so how can you object?
The result is one of the strangest cultural moments in history. What other ages found offensive - crudity, incivility, obscenity, blasphemy - are today so commonplace as to be routine. Meanwhile, what other generations saw as essential to civilisation - moral judgement, the capacity to discriminate between right and wrong - has become not just controversial but taboo. Merely to suggest that there may be some ways of life more gracious, honourable, decent, benign or just plain good than others is to risk accusations of judgementalism and moral panic. Hell hath no fury like a relativist scorned.
So it's worth reminding ourselves why every other age than ours has cherished moral wisdom. It's not because people wished to interfere in what others do in private. That may sometimes have happened, but it's not what morality is about. It's because life is short, and the bill for our mistakes is long. A child may bear the scars of a broken family for a lifetime. Trust, once broken, is hard to repair. An impulsive word can destroy a friendship. A single act of folly may wreck a career. Not everything we want to do, ought we to do. Our own happiness - let alone civilisation itself - depends on our ability to hold desire in check, restrained by thoughts of long term consequences and consideration for other people. That is where the moral sense is born.
It doesn't come naturally. Morality is not genetically coded. It is not hard-wired into our brain. That is what gives us our unique evolutionary advantage. Homo sapiens is the animal that learns. And we learn cumulatively, by not having to start afresh in each generation. Instead, through families and schools, we pass on the wisdom of the past, experience often bought at a high price. What makes humanity different from other life forms is our ability to think beyond the present. We remember what worked and what failed. We are capable of envisaging a different and better world. We can tell the difference between what is and what ought to be. We also know that, whatever world we seek, we can't make it alone. Therefore we need to create a shared language of the imagination together with relationships of trust.
So, at most times most societies have invested vast energies in the institutions through which children learn how best to behave - families, schools, public codes of behaviour, together with the stories, songs and canonical texts through which a culture conveys its memories and ideals.
Reducing morality to private choice is as absurd as the idea that we can each invent our own treatments to cure disease and that the existence of doctors is a threat to our autonomy. So ignore the critics. David Selbourne is right. Moral wisdom is never certain or complete, any more than medicine is certain or complete. But it is something we inherit and learn and share. Above all it is something we are right to teach our children. - Jonathan Sachs
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Saturday, August 21, 2010
Thursday, August 19, 2010
Friday, August 13, 2010
ex. "these are but shadows" & "the play did begin to write itself"
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Friday, August 6, 2010
The empirical fact is that even for the most G-d fearing person living a virtuous and spiritual life does not come easily. Life for most of us consists of a battle between good and evil, spirit and matter, self-indulgence and transcendence – between selfish cravings of material narcissism and commitment to a higher calling, with the former more often than not winning out.
Indeed, modern secular thought sees the human being as an evolved beast, a billion year old bacteria, whose primary drive is survival (“survival of the fittest”). From biology to psychology, from genetics to archeology – from Darwin to Freud – we have been taught that humans are driven by the irrational and emotional primitive “id,” which is all “want, want, want,” self-gratification driven by one rule – the “pleasure principle: “I want it and I want it all now”.
Moses however saw the human being in quite a different light. While its true that every person has a selfish inclination, we also have a Divine side, which is capable of the noblest behavior. Indeed, Torah sees that the deepest part of the human being is the “yid” rather than the “id.” The essence of the soul is like the letter “yud,” a dot, a spark of the Divine.
The easier route may be the narcissistic one. But a person always has the choice to overcome his/her primitive temptations and access the transcendent soul within.
The soul is a rich resource, with layers and layers of potential. And in the soul lies a dimension that is a “spark” of Moses. At this level it is as natural to connect to G-d as it is for a fish to be in water. The challenge is to recognize and draw forth this dimension, which can lay concealed beneath the outer shell of material survival.
It is critical that we believe in ourselves to be able to achieve anything in this world. But we must also know that our psyches are under a constant assault of many forces reminding us time and again about our limitations, feeding our insecurities and fears.
Comes Moses and says no! You have the power to be Divine, and with ease! You only need to believe that it is possible.
In essence, one can say, that this is the ultimate battle in life: How much we believe in ourselves; how much we believe in our possibilities.
When things sometimes seem impossible, think about Moses’ words. Think about the fact that by virtue of the “Moses” within” your soul you are within reach of achieving virtually anything you set your mind to.
So now that we know that the great Moses believes in us, the question we each much ask: Do I believe in myself?
With a leader like Moses the impossible may just be possible.
- Simon Jacobson