― Karen Armstrong,
*ethics refer to rules provided by an external source, e.g., codes of conduct in workplaces or principles in religions. Morals refer to an individual’s own principles regarding right and wrong.
Our lives are a compilation of experiences, encounters, readings, rejections, trophies, scoldings, teachings and losses. As Tennyson's poem, Ulysses, puts it:
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro'
Gleams that untravell'd world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.
For both Tennyson and Armstrong, (a serious contemporary writer about comparative religions), there is a common theme of action, putting into practice, behaviour linked to transformation. In fact, without the discipline that accepts the premise of both free will, including the will to experiment, to adapt, even to adopt the wisdoms of the ages. This collected wisdom includes the basic foundational pillars of the myths and the legends and the unique conflation of our experiences with those stories in a dynamic, kaleidoscopic patterning of colours, sounds, sights, scents, memories and dreams, all of these influences discerned, parsed and reflected upon, as an integral process of spiritual formation...as each individual like a rotating magnet gathers those figures from literature and from film, those pithy sentences from poems and diaries, those memories of canoe rides under a midnight moon, and those walks on endless beaches, while also passing by other characters, phrases, memories, walks and ideas that seem irrelevant at that moment.
In a groove of masculine-based, hard-copy-enshrined, intellectual bricks, history has passed along millions of bricks of philosophy, morality, ethics and an expectation that, in order to pass into heaven, as a "chosen" one, one accepts and adheres to a specific collection of specific bricks, memorized often, repeated frequently, literally incorporated into one's world view and character. There has been a kind of stability, a kind of security, and a kind of permanence in our perception of the inherent ethical value of these bricks. Rooted, for the west, in The Decalogue, the archetype of rules as a basis for social and personal integrity and stability has and continues to serve many people, especially those responsible for the preservation of those institutions whose existence depends on finding and securing adherents to a galaxy of intellectual lights.
There is a fundamental challenge to this archetype, however, that comes directly from nature: a universe that remains static, constant, unchanging and immoveable does not exist. Nature, including our understanding of the many millions of planets whirling through the universe is evolving, dynamically demanding a renewed perspective from both amateurs and professional scholars.
Similarly, the issue of a personal spiritual pilgrimage that remains open to new and verdant discoveries of both our blind-spots from our past, including those dismissive attitudes of what have now become significant people and ideas, re-opened briefcases of files of our personal history, looked at through eyes and emotions and perspectives previously unavailable or merely closed opens possibilities of growth and development, shortened walls of fear and isolation, tentative steps into previously avoided 'dark rooms' of trauma, memory and failure.
However, such openness to and acceptance of a fluid and evolving universe as well as our own personal opportunity to grow and change requires a character strong enough to be able to acknowledge new ways of looking at and of imaging how we would today face some of the chapters of our past. Such openness and acceptance also needs a culture in which those close to us are supportive of our choices to revisit previously unopened doors in our own histories. Meeting others who, themselves, have opened their consciousness to new paths of seeing, feeling and remembering is a highly supportive feature to growing a cadre of individuals who share the potential of such a pilgrimage.
Whether such a biography is more linked to spirituality or a specific religion may be a question to be answered only by each unique individual. For some, the experience may be enhanced through association within a faith community; for others, the process may be significantly impeded by the restrictions imposed by a single, especially dogmatic, enclosed faith culture.
There would seem to be, today, a drama of these two paths playing out in world history. Those who cling to a narrow band of black-and-white dogmas, regardless of whether those dogmas are based in what is generally known as Christianity, Islam, Judaism, or a fragmentary segment of any of these three main world religions, are repelled and perhaps even revolted by the spectre of others who reject such an approach to religion, faith and spirituality. Similarly, those already on a path that can be characterized as open, receptive and transformative find their colleagues adhering to a fixed star of dogma are also saddened by their approach.
Much of this divide can also be framed by a difference in one's evaluation of objective as opposed to subjective truths and realities. When and where one injects a perception and a need for absolute fixed truth(s) differs from one person to another. And while no spiritual path is sustainable without some mix of objective and subjective, a higher proportion of the latter is important to those open to transformation. Objective truth, especially those ascribed to a deity, will continue to sustain many, while their counterparts continue along a different path, "one less travelled" (Frost).
How these paths, and their respective variants, influence social and political policy, of course, is important. Those who believe higher ethical and moral values existed in the past will seek laws and policies that return to those values; those who believe that we can and continue to move toward a world of more compassionate, ethical and moral values and their implementation will likely favour new approaches.
And, almost none of this discussion will make its way onto the public airwaves. There is almost no likelihood that advertisers, and ratings monitors would support such a conversation of spiritual pathways, and their influence on public policy, for the simple reason that, in some states, religion has to be kept cordoned off from public policy (at least on the surface of the public discourse), while in others, the anticipation that audiences would find the discussion divisive would make advertisers shy away from engaging.
However, for the purposes of this piece, it seems significant to warn that one's world view, including one's receptivity to new evidence, and new ways of seeing and integrating such evidence into our personal lives is and will continue to be an important variable in our estimation and evaluation of those who seek public office. Their adherence to a party's policy might even be replaced by a careful examination of their spiritual life, and that not indicated by whether they "prop a Bible on the podium' to demonstrate their spiritual bona fides.
Surely, the body politic is more sophisticated, and less gullible and more perceptive than the levels of those qualities currently on display in the United States of America, as well as those demonstrated in October in Canada.