Or rather, the discussion of right and wrong. I had the misfortune to go down a rabbit hole of some very right wing Catholic blogs earlier today and it got me thinking of morality and the notion of an absolute value of “right and wrong”.
I know, deep thoughts of a Monday morning. I blame my weekend…
What shocked me was that these discussions (no, I won’t link them because I don’t want to drive traffic to their sites in any way!) seem to look at a very black and white view of morality. Almost, if not actually, fundamentalist in nature. Now, I know, we get fundamentalist Christians the same as any other flavour of religion, but the standing joke when I was growing up was the closest thing to a fundamentalist Catholic was the auld grannies saying their rosaries before, during and after Mass on a Sunday. We were wrong. Very, very wrong.
There are such things as fundamentalist Catholics and their views on the world are very strict, rigid and controlling. I found it shocking, really, some of the views expressed in these blogs. It’s worse than Ireland in the 50’s. And it brings me back to a line in a Mercedes Lackey book, about a religion changing when priests view their congregations as sheep and start offering answers to everything rather than allowing and assisting people to follow their own questions to the answers that make sense for them. I think this has happened in the Catholic Church definitely. If you look at the early church, there’s a lot of focus on self development, learning for yourself what makes sense and what doesn’t, defining good, bad, right wrong, etc, in the context of your own life.
That’s disappeared by the time we come to the Medieval Church. It’s all about rigid, dogmatic viewpoints, with exceptions for the rich. And I sense the same thought process in some of these blogs I ended up reading earlier. Take any topic in the world and there’s rarely a harsh, definitive, yes/no answer: is violence wrong? Well yes, but what if it’s in defence? What if it’s preventing a greater violence? The ways of life are not black and white, but varying shades of grey for the most part.
There are specific events we can decry and condemn – the Holocaust, mass shootings, incarceration of innocents… but these are specific events. Is there a time I could rationalise a mass shooting as the lesser of two evils? Not off the top of my head, but “never” is a long time to commit to.
Where does this leave us? Well, we can learn the lessons we can from our writings, from our lore, from our modern lives. We can look at what looks right to us, learn from other people’s perspectives, accept we’re not always going to get it right, whether “it” is a singular action or a broader based attitude. We all mess up. We all do things that we think is the right thing but later find out is not. This is human. Learn from it, make amends where possible and move on. Do better next time.
Rigid rules are too inflexible for humans. Declaring that X is right and Y is wrong – well sure, in that situation, but then the whataboutery starts. For example, I will stand behind a woman’s right (or a man’s right) to choose what happens to their bodies. Consent should be a core tenet of medicine as well as every other aspect of life. But if someone has been in a traffic accident and needs life saving surgery and is unconscious or in a coma – I don’t expect the medical staff to try and wake that person up to gain consent. If there are files available to check specific religious views and preferences, fine, but otherwise, go ahead and save the life.
It’s easier sometimes to depend on rigid rules and limitations of acceptable behaviour. It’s a way to dodge responsibility (“I was following orders”) But it’s not enough. Brigid is a liminal deity after all, she lives in the grey, the less definite, the amorphous areas of life, she won’t lay down the law for us in that way. So we have to figure this stuff out for ourselves. There are some things we can follow fairly easily: we can’t give money to every charity, but we can choose where we give money, spend money, etc. We can decide on the things that are important to us – for example, it will surprise no one reading this that I actively work towards getting more woman into engineering positions and jobs. It’s something I feel evangelical about and consider really important. Is it more important that homelessness or poverty or any of the other myriad of social issues plaguing Ireland today? Hell no. But it’s what I’m choosing to work on.
And in saying “yes” to that, I’m saying “no” to other things. I’m ok with this, now. There was a time when I thought I had to support everything but really, I can’t do that. It’s simple. We make choices. Sometimes the choices are the right ones, sometimes they’re not, but they’re ours to make.
So, when someone starts on about morality, have a think about what they mean, where they’re coming from and how they build their morality for themselves. See if their ideas agree with yours and if yours need changing or adaptation on the basis of new information and experiences. And remember, we live in the grey, always the grey.