Monday, April 28, 2008

Our Innate Moral Sense

I recently read a post by Andrew (formerly known as Chedner), in which he applies a certain kind of moral logic used by C.S. Lewis to this thorny question of the rightness or wrongness of same-sex relationships.

An important part of Lewis' (and by extension Andrew's) argument is a particular notion of "natural law," in which it is argued that there are certain basics of right and wrong that all people everywhere universally perceive. One of those basics, for instance, is the notion that it is wrong to tell a lie. Each of us has an innate moral sense, which we cannot violate without serious psychological, social and spiritual consequences. We can call this our conscience. Is this not also the "Light of Christ" spoken of in Moroni 7:19, where Moroni says, "ye should search diligently in the light of Christ that ye may know good from evil; and if ye will lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not, ye certainly will be a child of Christ"?

To what extent can and should we rely upon our innate moral sense? That sense of right and wrong that nobody needs to teach us because it is programmed into our hearts and souls? Now granted, there are psychopaths and sociopaths whose sense of right and wrong seems to be broken. Or are they? I'm not a psychiatrist, nor do I know what goes on in the soul of a sociopath. But the vast majority of us are not sociopaths.

The vast majority of us have very finely developed moral senses, grounded in the rock bottom principles of love, justice and truth. And the vast majority of gay people I know feel nothing inherently wrong either with being same-sex oriented, nor with entering into a loving, committed same-sex relationship. Even those in the Moho world who argue that same-sex relationships are wrong, do not dare to argue based on what we innately feel is right or wrong, but on the basis of the teachings of certain established ecclesiastical authorities.

Now the reason Lewis and others are interested in this concept of Natural Law is because it suggests a divine pattern reflected in human morality and sociality. Natural law is a reflection of divine law. And what happens when man-made law departs from natural or divine law? One consequence is an erosion of respect for man-made law. People recognize laws that violate our innate sense of morality as artificial and absurd, and they simply refuse to obey them, or they obey them only out of fear. And they certainly refuse to respect the authorities that maintain them. And this is arguably the reason why the vast majority of gay people have simply walked away from homophobic churches.

Now I have never argued, and never would argue, that something is right just because it feels good. And I am the first to admit that our sense of right and wrong can often become clouded; that we may need to measure what feels right and good to us against at least some external standards, and against the measures of logic and reason. But that having been said, to what extent should the moral calculus take account of the innate sense on the part of the vast majority of gay folks that there is nothing wrong with same-sex relationships, and that the loving, committed relationships we have established we experience as a positive moral good?


-L- said...

There's an interesting mix of secular philosophy and religious thought in this topic. We have to trust ourselves and our own feelings at some fundamental level, but we're also carefully tied to said feelings in a biological (read: self interested, carnal) way. That this tension exists is no news to anyone (or shouldn't be). The true gospel of Jesus Christ ads some structure to our methods of sorting out the disparities when something we feel deeply conflicts with something we feel deeply. Whether we choose the secular approach or the religious one is pretty key, I think.

I've used both approaches at different points, and I've gathered outcome data. We all do it.

The whole issue is unsolvable, I think, when the two are mixed. A person has to decide what to believe at some point, and be ready to accept the consequences of that choice.

Chedner said...

Indeed, I believe we are all endowed individually with the tools to discern truth from lies, namely: 1) Our Innate Moral Sense; 2) The Judging Question: Does This Produce Good Fruit or Bad Fruit?; 3) Prayer and Personal Revelation.

Quite frankly, I've never been steered wrong whenever I rely completely on these three standards -- that is, I've always been led to godly joy.

I have definitely been steered wrong when I've ignored any of the above in the pursuit of what I was told was right merely because I was told .

J G-W said...

-L-, Chedner -- thanks for these comments. My reflection on them inspired a new post...