Friday, May 21, 2010

The question of morality

Everyday Thomist posed a question: What is morality? It is a common question and a difficult one. We so want to know what's good and what's not. After some preliminaries she writes: In response to the question “what does it mean to choose the good?” Aquinas asks “what do we even mean by goodness?”

She concludes with "Morality is simply what we do as human beings, trying to be good at what we are." I think I like this direction, but then in the comments, she notes that “In response to Job’s friends who claim that righteousness is rewarded with blessings in this life, Aquinas argues that righteousness is a spiritual good… ”

Spiritual as adjective? As if that explains anything. Spirit is more than a grammatical modifier. Spirit creates matter by its Word - so even Qohelet notes in chapter 11
As there is not for you the knowing of the way of the wind as bones in the belly of the full
so you do not know the work of this God that works all
Yes, this is my tiresome literal translation, but just look at it - the wind as bones! This phrase is in parallel with the work of this God. - that the work of God might be shown in material things.

So I responded to the comment with this:
Job does not argue this way or make a move to spiritual as adjective, nor does Yhwh, nor does Elihu, nor do I, and I am Christian – though the baggage in the label sometimes does not fit. I do not see any resolution of any part of this problem with an adjective ‘spiritual’. In this epic parable, Job is satiated with material good. He is commended for not making such a move. It is no different than Eliphaz’s opening gambit (where Eliphaz invokes the ghostly spirit in the night, Job 4:12 ff.)

It is not that I am against Spirit – quite the contrary. It is Spirit that deals with Behemoth and Leviathan including the theological evanescence of the abuse of its own name in a non-incarnational adjective. The wind blows where it wills and you see its effect in the real and sensible world of matter. One might even say that it is the Spirit that makes the world through, in, and with our decisions.
The point is simple: God is with us through the incarnation in Jesus and through the incarnation of the Spirit of the Anointed in each of us.

So what is the goodness that Aquinas asks about?

I began my teaching of Hebrew at Sunday School with the word כּי-טוב from Genesis 1 - And God saw the light, that it was good. This alone is a statement of faith. One only needs to look up 'good' in the Hebrew to know that we have both choice and invitation in that word. E.g. Psalm 34:8 (34:9 Hebrew) O taste and see that the LORD is good.

Or we could read Ecclesiastes and see that we should enjoy the good as a gift from God. Each of these is of faith. And this faith will find a full reward. It is not futile. When the faith is engaged with this God - and who can say how this happens - then the reward is good beyond measure. This is Job's reward - the presence of the LORD as the response to his parable.

The 'laws' of the Scripture are best thought of as teaching and promise rather than a moral code to be followed. The rebellious among us will question every rule. The questioning also is good. In this way the good stands against a regulation that has lost its spirit in the application. Laws thought of as teaching and promise presuppose a teacher and one who promises. This too is the goodness of faith.

Many Christians judge against the Torah thinking of it as legalism but they have their own demanding customs that are worse. There can be no legalism when the recipient of the teaching is engaged in faith with the Teacher. If there were no Teacher, then this good is simply social learning. The rebellious as they mature would gradually conform to the pressure and follow the spirit of the society. Is this good? It is easy to see how circular this is. I do not find any society which can fill this role and so create good.

I have come to the conclusion that good without God is impossible. And the goodness of God is known only by faith. Such goodness includes the confrontation with which God faces me on any decision I make that goes against what I have been taught by God assuming I have done any listening to the Other at any time. What possible freedom from this God is there when my freedom is caught in my relationship with this God?

Perhaps you notice that Qohelet never uses any name for God except Elohim and ha-Elohim  - that is God with the definite article. There is no Lord, no LORD, no El Shaddai, no El, in that book. What God will I chose for good? I know my answer - I chose the One that gives me words with which to describe how 'the God' works with me. That is my only basis for morality and my only basis for life.

But did I chose? Or was the 'election' out of my hands? And when I chose, does this God resolve for me the moral dilemmas that have no human solution? No - at least not as far as I can see. That is why I allow for abortion and for life choices other than those I have personally made even though others would say they appear to have been forbidden. I do not follow the appearance of forbidden things - there are no such things, "but not everything builds up".

I agree with the Apostle Paul that my good is only by faith. "Whatever is not of faith is sin." And that is not good. So I can "love God and do as I will" in faith. And I will to discover the good that comes only from God. All the words I have written about Jesus, the Spirit, the Anointing, Christ, God are predicated on this good - even if I still search for ways to speak these words creatively for others.

Morality is not then a 'what is' question - it reduces to a 'with whom am I engaged' question in relation to a Necessary Transcendence.