Life against ethics part ii: natural law and the impulse of Being
As I mentioned in my previous post, Why foundationalist logic fails at life, the true source of moral intuition does not lie in an ideological foundation that roots ethical rules in rational articulation. Rather, true morality springs directly from the heart of being itself. It is an impulse toward loving wholeness that demands the flourishing of all sentient beings in harmony. One feels this impulse. The calculation itself is secondary and contingent.
Western philosophers of the past have attempted to nail down morality by virtue of a given natural order–a transcendental moral law issued by heavenly mandate. Such a law would dictate the boundaries of transgression and permission, what is acceptable to the divine and what is not. But we live in a modern world that thrives after the death of God. We roam in a realm of mystery that recognizes the irrelevance of theistic intervention in light of technology, medicine, and contingent circumstance. It no longer makes sense to imagine the name of God in terms of an external force that issues punishment or reward according to whether sentient beings obey or reject a historically revealed transcendental moral order. In no longer makes sense to imagine the name of God as the name of a transcendent Judge and Law-giver.
The philosopher Saint Paul developed as a Jewish rabbi with a firm and rigorous interpretation of Torah. Upon his encounter of the followers of another rabbi named Jesus, he lashed back in anger and dictated persecution and murder. He was disturbed by this new movement that was predicated upon an interpretation of Torah as love-centered rather than oriented around a priestly cult of specific regulations. Later he had a mystical encounter on his way to persecute more of Jesus’ followers, directing him into a new level of consciousness. Eventually Paul woke up to a realization that true morality lied not in the “letter,” or dictated words of paper, but in “spirit,” meaning the very heart of life itself–the animating spirit of the Torah that also transcends Torah.
The break from natural law as an externally mediated moral order to ethics according to the impulse of being toward love and flourishing life constitutes the historical movement from Judaism to Christian consciousness. This does not mean that Christian consciousness was non-Jewish or anti-Jewish, but simply that it broke open the confines of religion and its legislated moral boundaries. Once the Spirit broke free, it could not be contained or controlled in the rapid expansion of Christ-consciousness, which is grace-consciousness.
The philosopher Jacques Derrida, a French Algerian Jew who knew what it meant to be marginalized and oppressed, entered the European scene to make a Pauline move: the Spirit of Justice and Love harbored by his Torah was to be set free from the constraints of Western philosophy too. Derrida argued that while the law was constructed to ensure and create justice, it had inevitably become the biggest obstacle to justice. One can see something similar in Marx’s critique of private property. While the divisions of property under law and in contract are meant to ensure that one’s property is protected, the originary act of creating property is the first act of theft. In fact, one could argue it is legalized theft. The most obvious example is when America’s European “forefathers” arrived upon these shores and stole the land from the natives already living here. The natives thought they were simply sharing and borrowing it because they did not believe in the concept of “owning land,” which they considered ludicrous.
If the law cannot ensure justice (although we need it), neither can moral calculation ensure morality. Rather morality is a fluid and uncontainable dynamic that keeps its eye on the situation–a very different reality than the blind judge of the Western legal order. It is like King Solomon when two women came before him in a dispute over a baby they both claimed was their own. Rather then applying some blind method of determination, Solomon suggested that the baby be sawn in half so that each mother would be appeased. He knew that the woman who would cry out against it, willingly allowing the other woman to take her baby, would be the true mother.
Derrida was right when he claimed that justice is incalculable. Once one begins to calculate, a violence is done to the moral impulse that is a part of the fluidity of being. Rather a better rule of thumb, if one needs one, can be found in this simple but profound statement from John Shelby Spong: “whatever diminishes life is evil, and whatever enhances life is good.”