Wednesday, September 1, 2010

An Ethical Dilemma

While I did not attend, like many other people in this country (and perhaps around the world) I watched a good bit of the C-Span coverage of the Glenn Beck "Restoring Honor" rally in Washington DC. I was curious about a number of things having to do with this gathering and hoped that such coverage would provide answers. 

In most cases it did. I wondered if the crowd would be as big as I expected it to be, and I think that it was (despite the disparate counts reported). I wondered if those attending would honor Mr Beck's wishes to refrain from bringing signs and attempting to make this a political event, and they did. I wondered if those attending the competing events held by Mr Beck and the Rev Al Sharpton could avoid less than exemplary behavior , and they did. I wondered if this crowd would, as requested, leave the site better than they found it, and they did. I wondered if the speeches would both touching and inspiring; and for the most part I think that they were, though some of those with the podium could have used the services of a good speech writer (sorry, but the the writer in me can't help but nitpick)

I found myself later with my thoughts drifting however, and found a question nagging at me in the days since that had not, and seemingly could not be answered simply, either then or now. 

Why is it that the clarion call to return to the principles of the Founding Fathers could not be sounded without religious overtones? 

Don't get me wrong, I understand that those Founding Fathers called upon the Divine Spirit in creating both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. I understand that Divine Providence was often credited for the language used by these incredible men as they explained their thinking and was used to justify their motives and the success of their objectives. I will even grant that the fundamental principles of this country were laid upon a foundation of the Judeo-Christian ethic (though some of the Fathers considered themselves Deists rather than Christians)

It is this last word however (ethic), that remained a sticking point for me. You see, while I consider myself a spiritual person and one who believes in a higher power, I fail to understand why this Deity must be called on in order for a man to show proper moral character and behavior amongst his fellows. Why is it not enough to do good, to yourself and to others, for good's own sake? Why are not self-sufficiency on one hand and charity to ones fellows on the other not valuable in and of themselves, without calling on the forces of heaven for guidance, regulation, and oversight? 

Forgive me Father (in the spiritual sense, of course), but requiring such behavior only as homage or obedience to a Supreme Being is making the very cop out that of principles that we are hoping to escape by the return of such thinking. These principles should not be adhered to out of a desire to worship, nor should this moral code be enforced out of a fear of Divine Retribution; but in fact should be embraced as the core of the very humanity that we possess. 

The concept of adherence to this morality because "Father is watching" is the kind of thinking that leads to the justification of red-light cameras and Patriot Act surveillance. Freedom cannot come in blind obedience, nor can truly good behavior be elicited under threat of punishment. 

I believe that men of good conscience must step forward to lead the way, and that this rally was a good faith attempt to do so. (A curious choice of words, don't you agree?) I applaud the spirit of Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally last weekend, and likewise applaud the example that was shown by the many gathered in attendance. I remain troubled however by this rally's apparent requirement of Divine guidance to elicit something that should by definition be part of the human condition; and therefore remain caught up in the midst of an ethical dilemma.


Hooda Thunkit (Dave Zawodny) said...

Amigo Tim,

I fail to see (or be troubled by) an "ethical" dilemma here.

What I do see is the exercise of a belief that goes back many millennia.

For all intents and purposes, it's more of a very familiar habit.

You are correct that we don't need a "divine" reason for doing what is good and right, for its own sake, but old habits die hard, IMNHO.

Tim Higgins said...


My concern was with the tone of the rally, which seemed to state that only by a return to faith can we hope to see these values once more.

Roland Hansen said...

Amigo Tim,
Thank you for the summary of your excellent (as usual) observations.

Yes, indeed, why should we not do that which is right for its own sake!!