Humankind’s Long Search for a Moral Compass


August 8, 2019

Image credit: pixel2013 at Pixabay

Dear Friends and Colleagues:

This past week’s triple tragedies have super-heated the national rhetoric and helped stoke long-simmering dislikes (if not actual hatred) among us – even to the extent of condemning half the population for the way it voted.  Lots of charges and counter-charges are tossed from the trenches – but none neither define nor hit their targets.  Lots of ideas – and “solutions”’ – are bandied about – almost all of them blaming firearms for the madness that resides among us.

But guns are merely a tool.  Folks have used explosive vests, knives, IEDs, even trucks and cars to murder.  Take away one tool, and the perpetrator will find and use another.  The tool is not the killer; it is the disturbed human who employs it.   When does aberrant behavior become mental illness?  How are good and evil defined in today’s world?  What are the standards for morality and on what are they based today?

Life used to be simpler, and before fast food and microwaves and TV and cell phones, humans actually found time for deep thought.  On every continent, and in every language, as folks finished their day’s endeavors, they lay on the ground and looked at the heavens – and wondered.  Without sophisticated telescopes or math tables and often without written language, they noted the changing positions of the planets and the more stable stars and constellations.  They noted the timing of the seasons – particularly after they gave up hunter-gathering to become farmers and they pinpointed the summer solstice and developed calendars with amazing precision to better know when to plant and when to harvest.

And, most of all, they thought long and hard about their origins – and purpose — of life.  And being finite beings, they assumed that all things had a beginning and might someday end.  They began establishing rules for behavior – things permitted, and things not.  They tried to define good and bad and to establish rules.  And they understood that rules made by humankind could be broken by humankind, and so they sought to establish a higher authority for “good” and better ways to banish evil.   In Judeo-Christian thought, in Genesis, we learn the origins of the Covenant.  In Exodus, centuries later on leaving Egypt, we learn of Moses’ ascension up Mount Sinai to receive guidance and of Moses bringing down the two tablets with Ten Commandments that memorialized standards for good and evil.

Why did the hero of the Exodus find it necessary to climb Mt. Sinai to obtain these laws?  Because although gifted and wise, Moses was, after all, just another human.  And he knew that, over time, his “laws” could be tossed and be replaced with things that were not so “judgmental” and strict, but more “nuanced.” Moses’ genius was to climb up the mountain and then descend and present the “laws” as the Ten Commandments from God.  That way, the laws carried the highest authority and could not be ignored.

In the Great Plains before the white man came, the native peoples worshiped the Great Spirit.  They also wondered of their origins and of an afterlife.  The ancient Greeks and Egyptians developed multiple gods, each with their own specialties to whom believers could pray for help with their particular problems.

What all these had in common is humankind’s search for the meaning and purpose of life and the desire for a moral compass.  America became great because it had a moral compass that enabled it to see its imperfections and to correct them – even to the extent of a brutal and costly civil war.  But all sides worshiped – in their own ways – and sought guidance and forgiveness.  All thought so much of the eternal truths of the Ten Commandments that we displayed them in the public square and in our schools.  We did this because we understood that much about us collectively and in our persons is imperfect, and thus we need some bedrock principles – eternal truths – that help us turn away from evil and seek to be better (as perfection will always escape us).

So, what’s missing from today’s America that has given some young men (and some women, too) such negative self-worth and led them to develop hateful, evil feelings of revenge against the rest of us?  How about the lack of a moral compass?  Or how about being confused as to whether there even is a “true north”?

If “anything goes,” then everything goes.  And if everything “goes,” then we can each define our own good and bad and feel righteous in doing so because  we can sneer that the “standards” were either from a discarded Bible, or from the minds of a bunch of old white slaveholders…(Not).

Bottom line.  Note Bene.  Guns don’t do the killing.  They are simple, inanimate tools.  The warped, misshapen, hopeless minds of the lost souls who use the guns or the pipe bombs or the trucks or the knives are the killers, and that is where our corrective solutions must be focused.  All else is futile and foolish.  Help us restore the compass.  Find the True North.

Old Frank

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