Saintly Thoughts

Canons of Morality

We attempt to create canons of interpretation that can be used at all times and in all places to give us moral guidance midst a stream of conflicting impulses and duties.  Thus the search for the ultimate canon, be it God or science or a unified theory of human rights.  In actuality, the answer is that no one canon will always yield the "correct" answer (and even this we cannot know with concrete certainty--but we feel it in our very marrow if we will only have the courage to accept this harsh truth).  Wisdom is found in being able to weigh the benefits of disparate actions, recognizing that morality exists, yet conceding that there is no such thing as an ultimate moral guideline for we as human persons.  Thus while the rule, "thou shalt not kill", might be the correct moral response 99% of the time, it is not always wrong (or "incorrect", if you prefer) to kill, and if we refuse to kill when killing is required (for the sake of our own moral "purity") then we do evil and shall be judged accordingly.  Yet surely, in doing "evil" so that good might come, we are also judged?  In a world such as ours, might "morality" not at times require that we get our hands dirty?  Or perhaps we should not speak of such a "dirty" action as "moral" but as "correct"?  How then shall we access the key to when it is "correct" to do one thing which is recognized as moral and when it is "correct" to do another thing which is not (and the answer is not legal approval; the shield of human law is merely a smoke-screen that allows us to aggregate and share the moral burden of "unpleasant" actions)?  The casuists would have us believe that we can recognize ordered hierarchies of goods and determine the correct action (even in morally complex situations) by means of the double effect.  How beautiful, yet what folly [this is not a reasoned refutation, but I stopped taking this style of reasoning seriously when it was employed to show that it is moral to remove a tumor in order to save a pregnant woman's life even if a recognized consequence is the death of the fetus but not moral to abort a fetus even if the only other option is letting both the fetus and mother die]!  Ah, the age old struggle: which is more important, the intention or the effect (and let us make things difficult and concede that both are always extremely important, but that neither one always has ascendancy)?  If there is a God in Heaven, perhaps the mystics and religious are correct that the way to elucidate truth is to draw close to Him/Her in an intimate relationship.  Be that as it may, this provides no clear guidance to mankind in the aggregate (thus necessitating our imperfect law) and even in the case of the individual, one must be suspect as to what internal impulses drive their actions.  Thus, mankind exists in the worst of all possible moral situations; in some sense (though not absolutely) having a true and free power to choose the good, and being judged (or if you prefer, suffering the consequences) according to his/her choices, while at the same time not being able to say with certainty what the good is in any given situation.  This is a terrible burden for mankind to bear.  It means that the greatest souls may be called to the harshest accounting!