Friday, September 30, 2011

No One Agrees on What's Right

Living in a foreign country, the divergence in views about what is wrong or right strikes me daily. You would think a broad consensus would exist about which things are important and moral, just like a broad consensus exists about how to live a healthy life, or how plants grow. I feel like there should be some kind of objective standard about how to be a good person and live a good life. Certainly most religions promise answers to these questions.

The problem is that none of the religions agree with each other. I know that religious thinkers/writers often argue that they do: "Look how much various Christian denominations/Islam/Judaism/etc. have in common!" (See: C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity) But this is disingenuous, since ultimately the truly religious are convinced that their brand of faith is correct, and all others are wrong.

And honestly, the differences can be pretty substantial (leaving aside relatively minor issues like diet: no meat for Hindus, but alcohol is fine; no alcohol for Muslims, but coffee is fine; no coffee for Mormons, but meat is fine). For instance, Buddhists are prohibited from violence. But both Christians and Muslims have a concept of a "holy war". Christians believe in original sin, but Muslims do not. The good life according to Buddhists is to be a celibate ascetic; the good life according to Jews is to be married and studying religion; for many Protestants, it's being employed in a remunerative occupation and regularly attending church.

For as long as we have a written record, humans have been debating how to live a moral life. Yet there is still no shared vision of such a thing, let alone any (agreed upon) path to follow. Given the importance of being a good person, I find this both surprising and depressing.

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