Sunday, May 20, 2012

My Theory of Right and Wrong

"Placing a spoon on your nose every morning for 20 mins prevents you from getting cancer."
"What?  No it doesn't!"
"Yes it does.  Do you know anybody who has done it that got cancer?"
"That's because it works.  My aunt, who is a herbalist, says so."

My friends, my family, and my countrymen, today I'd like to speak on truth.  What is it?  How do you know when you have it?  How do you know when you don't?  Well, I don't have all the answers to those questions, but they are questions I've been asking for a while.  What I've come up with is a convoluted mess of gray possibilities.  A gray that only differentiates into black and white when you individually look at each pixel, each person, and the truth they perceive.  But what determines if something is right or wrong?  Who decides what right and wrong looks like?  Are there any absolute rights or absolute wrongs? 

Before I go much further, I do need to state one thing just to be clear.  I do believe in right and wrong.  I do think there are laws in the universe that act the medium for right and wrong to exist.  Laws that extend beyond the tangible world and laws that have and will exist, literally, forever.  Those laws are the embodiment of truth and offer the framework by which right and wrong can be differentiated.  Those laws do not change with culture, creed, time, or language.  Understanding of those laws will change as much as the moods of an adolescent teenager, but the laws themselves are as eternal as eternity itself.  Like understanding particle physics, an understanding of these laws enables us to do more and to become more.  Also like in particle physics, there are many aspects to these laws that we do not understand and have much more to learn about.

Like the law of gravity, I don't think we can choose which of these laws to live under.  You may hate gravity, even resent it, but you can't escape it (nope, not even in space).  It's in every molecule that exists in and around you.  In a very real way, it's utterly essential to your very existence.  And just resenting gravity and it's effects does nothing for you.  It does not, because it cannot, go away.  So what choice do we have then?  If we can't control the forces that affect us, what power do we have?  Well, just like the glory of God is intelligence, our power comes from knowledge and understanding of those laws.  The more we know about those laws, the greater ability we have to make choices that will result in a desired consequence.  Think about gravity.  The more we know about gravity, the more we can use it to our advantage.  Our greater understanding does not change the law, but it does change our ability to find joy, satisfaction, or a given desire while living the law.

The way I understand things now, right and wrong are bi-products of that knowledge and those choices, and that applies both physically as well as spiritually.  A wrong choice is a choice that acts in opposition to the law at hand, and a right choice is a choice that acts in line with it.  A example of a 'right' choice might be something as seemingly amoral as a humans choice to stand upright or take a step.  Some would call it overcoming gravity, but we aren't defying gravity in any way.  We are just using our understanding to take advantage of the structure that law offers.  We are living and acting according to the law. 

How does one make ever make a wrong choice then?  Here's where things get difficult for me.  If the laws are omnipresent and eternal, how does one act against them?  Well, I'm not sure they can, but I think the 'wrong'ness occurs in our attempt.  A wrong choice would be choosing to step off a building (unequipped with any propulsive device) and defy gravity.  The consequence of that wrong choice (and I would argue, every wrong choice), is that you will fall.  Gravity will act on you whether you want it to or not.  Whether you believe it exists or not.  It does not care if you did it for noble purposes.  It does not care if you did it for love.  It will accelerate you toward the ground, and the impact will either hurt or kill you.  But gravity did not hurt you.  You did.  You chose to act, or perhaps it's more accurate to say you chose to attempt to act, against the law.  So while we can choose the choice, we cannot choice the consequence.  Because we don't make the laws. 

So what is right and what is wrong?  Simply stated, right is an act that is in line with the law, and wrong is an act that attempts to bi-pass, ignore, or work against the law.  Unlike our human laws, these laws can't be argued with or changed.  They don't have sympathies, and they don't have friends.  They act on everybody equally, and are perfectly just in their nature.  How well you understand and use those laws determines your happiness and your success, or, if you so choose, your eternal demise.

This applies with both physical and spiritual laws.  After all, they are of the same body and the same origin.  They are the laws science, the laws of the universe, the laws of God.  But God did not create them.  He lives by them, but is not controlled by them because He too has choice.  Being perfect, having perfect knowledge, and knowing exactly what right is, he never chooses to act against those laws, because that would be wrong.  In fact, I'm pretty sure it's those laws that make him the all-powerful being He is.  His perfect understanding of those laws is what allows him to create, organize, know, and act in all the ways He does.  But God is love, and God loves His children, who are still very ignorant of those laws - at times to the point of self destruction.

I think it's why He needed His Son to perform the atonement.  Because while gravity may not care if we fall and hurt ourselves, God does, and He needed a way to help His children learn those laws with the possibility of choosing to not being destroyed by them.  He needed a force that could act against the force of death and destruction - both physical and spiritual.  It's the atonement that allows us to buffer ourselves from the consequences of wrong choices.  It's the atonement that allows us to choose 'right' at any time, and not be hit with the full weight of our previous wrong choice.  It's the buffer that saves us from ourselves and settles those demands of justice.  To use my previous example, think about what would happen if somebody did step off the building.  Gravity acts.  While plummeting toward the ground, they have a change of heart.  They decide to believe in gravity, to live by it's precepts and never step off the building again.  God wants to give them the chance to make that choice, so He uses the power of that atonement to catch the falling body, and give them another chance to live the law.

Like the properties that act as the root of gravity, love is the root of the atoning force that allows for God to counteract the force of justice.  It's why love is so powerful.  It's why we are taught to love God and love our neighbor, because that mercy is our only hope, and the more we cultivate it in our own lives, the more power He has to use it to buffer the consequences of our human ignorance.  And since we are all human and all ignorant - we all need it.

Likewise, what happens when the person steps off the building, initially feels the effects of gravity, but then after hitting terminal velocity, has convinced themselves they've done it.  They have overcome gravity.  Whether they're aware of it or not, gravity is still acting on them, and the consequence will catch up to them eventually - even if it takes a while.  Their ignorance will cost them dearly.  This is where that mock-convo at the beginning of this entry comes into play.  Like the person convinced a spoon would protect them from cancer, humans are really good at convincing themselves of things that simply do not line up with the laws of the universe.  And look at what it's gotten us: poverty, abuse, isolation, depression, anxiety, disease, etc and no end in sight.  I think it's pretty safe to say, ignorance is the #1 cause of suffering in the world - probably the universe.

What I wanted show with that intro is something big I have learned about truth over the years.  One, truth is always in line with truth, and if two truths are not syncing up, you need to deepen your understanding of both.  Two, when learning truth, try to learn from those who know truth and, even then, always check your sources.  Why?  Because people can be awful sources of education on truth, science, health, peace, and/or happiness.  Whatever the reason, there is a TON of misinformation out there about how to live, feel, and find joy.  Like the speaker with the herbalist aunt, many are just full of bad info.

My time in Thailand and India taught me this on a whole new level.  One example: While navigating a new city, it wasn't uncommon that I would get utterly lost, at least once.  When I asked for directions, I was flat out lied to about 60% of the time.  This became very frustrating to me because I could not for the life of me understand why they would give me bad directions.  What did they have to gain from deceiving me?  The more this happened, the more I realized that it was rarely done in malice or deceit.  Many just didn't know but didn't want to leave me hanging, or those that did know didn't know how to communicate it very well (or I just couldn't understand them).  Likewise, think about the many children who are lost and asking their parents how to be happy, but the parents don't know themselves, so they give bad directions in an attempt to just give some direction.  The children go in that direction, then get frustrated because happiness is not achieved, then look elsewhere and find more direction from an ever-present media, other lost people, etc, only to get more frustrated after realizing it was also bunk.

Many are satisfied with their understanding because they trust their source.  The herbalist aunt must know what she's doing, she's an herbalist.  Yes, there are good herbalists out there, but perhaps an oncologist would be a better source.  And even if an herbalist were the authority on cancer, there are good herbalists, and some that are complete loons working completely from old wives tales and rumor.  How do you know which one your aunt is?  This is a classic problem for humanity.  How do we know who to listen to? 

Sometimes I wonder if that's what makes living this life so difficult at times.  Because there is no simple way to learn the laws of the universe.  Like particle physics (which is only a minute portion of those laws), it takes a great knowledge of lesser laws and lots of experience to ever understand what those universal laws are.  It involves trying to digest those infinite laws into the finite human understanding.  Something that makes it so none of us will come to a perfect understanding in this lifetime.  But the more we know, the better off we are, so it's worth the investment of our time.  And while we may not ever understand all the possibilities of these powerful laws, we can learn and take advantage of the basics, and save ourselves from the consequences of ignorantly jumping off buildings.

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