Sunday Sermon

Last week, I promised to talk about the second half of my vow - "to do what is right" - without really considering how hard a sermon like that would be to write. What is right to one person will naturally be wrong to another, and trying to enforce absolute morality is the path to tyranny. Organized religions often provide lists of rights and wrongs like the ten commandments of the Bible or the ten grave precepts from Zen, but these lists are subject to so much personal interpretation that instead of getting everyone on the same moral page, they tend to create divisions within the ranks of the faithful. The societal construct of right and wrong is no better, as it shifts and changes with time, location, gender, race, class, government, and a host of other factors.

In any given situation, we are faced with myriad possibilities, and usually there are several courses of action that could be the "right" one. We tend to approach each decision with a vague notion of our own ethical template in hand, assuming that it will fit every situation - or making it fit if it doesn't quite cover the situation. This can also lead to ill-informed absolutist positions. I have certainly had the experience of saying, "That is just plain wrong...who could do such a thing" - only to find out later that the topic was much more complex than I had thought, and the people involved were not so different from myself. I think it is safe to say that EVERY situation is more complex than you think it is, because you simply can't know what the people directly involved in it are going through. Your understanding of any other person's actions is based in your own perceptions of them, and may not have much in common with their reality.

Given all of that, how do we know what is right in a given moment? Is there some litmus test that can guide us in all situations?

I hate to sound like a typical Buddhist, but I think the answer resides in realizing that you are part of everything, and everything is a part of you.

On whatever level you wish to examine it - economic, environmental, physical, spiritual, etc. - every decision you make affects others; it stands to reason that you should think of others while you make them. When faced with a hard decision, I often "try out" the possible choices in my head; I imagine the outcome of a given choice in as much detail as I can, and then ask myself, "can I live with that?" Perhaps the real question is, "can my neighbor live with that?"

What I'm suggesting is exactly what Jesus, the Buddha, Ghandi, Bahá’u’lláh, and a host of others have suggested over the years - a fundamental shift in worldview. A shift away from self, in favor of unity. A shift away from the petty ( and ultimately illusory) personal issues of the moment, and a shift toward concern for everyone. In essence, it is about compassion for others - it's about love.

I realize that this is not particularly shocking news. In fact, I now recall that I've said it here before - it's always about love. (That's right - even I don't remember what my previous sermons were about...)

So here is your litmus test for right action; "Is this the loving thing to do?" I have yet to encounter a situation to which it doesn't apply. If you can look at the situation with love for everyone involved, you will find the correct course for yourself everytime. That's not to say that it's the profitable course, or the easy course, or the fun course, or the pleasant course, or the satisfying course, or the expected course...

Go in Peace.

5 comments:

Rachel said...

Linus, I just love your conclusion. Think how much improvement the social structures of the world would undergo if each of us asked ourselves that before we acted. Love is transcendent in its highest form, and if one works at it, they are capable of finding love for every human being, for every creature. It helps to look for the good, even when there seems to be nothing but bad.

Thanks for another moving sermon, Rev.

Raksha said...

I think that's an excellent suggestion! I agree that using love as a criteria for decision making could dramatically improve the world.

Unfortunately, you just know there will be all those assholes dragging in the concept of "tough love" to make everything shitty again....

Levi said...

How am I supposed to get my billions of riches by bein' nice to this world of dicks? Man.

His Sinfulness said...

You're right, Raksha. Perhaps I'll adress the types of love in a future sermon - and not just eros and agape. I'll include newer categories like tough love and sucker love...

Mark Travis said...

the only situation in which that is not the best test is when the person, things, whatever in question is influenced by fear... because fear clouds all judgement, and even though I do agree that love is the highest truth i can also accept that their are those who may not agree with that

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