Saturday, July 28, 2012

Moral systems

Morality or ethics, not a subject in which I feel expert. Or in many ways, interest. Moralism is a trait I find tremendously irritating. And baffling.

The moral/ethical system I know most about, of course, is Catholic. And it's a fusion of Biblical material with natural law theory. Grace and nature schmoozing it out together. And then applying it to the vagaries and variances of history and contingency.

It has become apparent to me that preserving the system is paramount, if Catholicism is to have any ethics at all. So people who expect to have their exceptions made into principles are barking up the wrong tree.

But I know of no ethical system which can adequately deal with the vagaries and variances of history and contingency. Sometimes life slips out of the categories of mind.

Italian Catholicism, with its Mediterranean hedonism, Romanita, and general disinterest in actual perfection, had a gift for making clear moral statements but then not having a nervous breakdown when life did not comply. There's a fine line between reality-based compassion and agnostic antinomianism. The "Roman solution" for difficult moral problems was one thing on paper (strict) and another in practice (Say Three Hail Mary's and try not to do it again.) As well, public and private sins were treated differently. And moral failings far more tolerable than offenses against authority or doctrine.

AngloSaxons and the Irish, etc. have a different attitude. No exceptions. Which puts an impossible burden on principles and laws.

Anyway, things like contraception, homosexuality, euthanasia are examples of places where life slips out beyond the categories of mind. For a coherent Catholic ethical system, these cannot be condoned without the whole edifice unravelling. But that doesn't mean they are always actually immoral. There are other values that can override the ethical guidelines.

With the Italian style, you adjust and move on. With the moralistic passions of the Northerners, this is hypocrisy, so you agitate to change the guidelines.
Or you force yourself into doing things, or not doing things, to match the guidelines even if the outcome in particular cases is stupid, cruel or soul-killing.

I think my choices are pretty clear. I respect the system --hey, I'm a Five-- but I long ago decided that trying to live within all the guidelines was not possible.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

GREAT post. I have been sensing this in some capacity for a while now, but I have not been able to put it in to words as concisely or coherently as you have. I love reading something that allows me to finally articulate a feeling that I just know is true but cannot explain why or even how exactly. Thanks :-)!

I tend to look at it as a "standard" to try to live up to, but life does not always comply with standards so its not the end of the world when they arent met. I think what you call the "italian" view is much more healthy than the neurotic, perpetually crusading Anglo approach - even today in "post-christian" England, they STILL get so worked up in moralistic hysteria over even the smallest things. The US is little different, and I truly find it emotionally taxing and physically draining to live in a country where EVERYTHING sparks some end-of-the-world we-need-new-legislation-and social-institutions uproar every time someone gets offended. I am beginning to feel as if Anglo-saxons are the most insane and mentally ill of all of the races....we seem to suffer from low-level but inherent schizophrenia with a dash of historionics. I want to move to a country where people do not freak out over every-tiny natural non-conformity to the theoretical standard because the people haven't lost touch with the fact that nature is too wild and crazy for any theory to completely cover everything. I really have begun to wonder if the so called "Enlightenment" was not actually the instilling of unnaturally rational thought processes that alienated us from a more mentally-healthy way of viewing and living given our biology.

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