Saturday, October 16, 2010

Natural Moral Law, Catholicism, Karma, and the Tea Party

This blog isn't political. I'm not a partisan in the sense that I say everything and anything done by politicos from one party is absolutely wonderful; while anything and everything done by politicos from other parties is utter hooey, at best.

I'm a practicing Catholic, and a convert: which makes me rather gung-ho about my faith. That means I'm a bleeding-heart liberal and a hidebound conservative: depending on which issue's in play at the moment. I've discussed this before. (November 3, 2008)

The Tea Party, Karma, and This Catholic

On the whole, Democrats are more liberal than Republicans - although I think it's a sort of bell-curve distribution in each case, with overlap.

This election cycle, there's a sort of wild card: the Tea Party. From one point of view, they're some kinda right-wing plot. Or simple-minded dupes of the plutocrats, or something like that. From any point of view, they don't seem to quite fit in the continuum of liberals and conservatives.

This morning, I ran into an op-ed suggesting that Tea Party members didn't quite fit, because they hold a sort of Americanized notion about karma:
"...The notion of karma comes with lots of new-age baggage, but it is an old and very conservative idea. It is the Sanskrit word for 'deed' or 'action,' and the law of karma says that for every action, there is an equal and morally commensurate reaction. Kindness, honesty and hard work will (eventually) bring good fortune; cruelty, deceit and laziness will (eventually) bring suffering. No divine intervention is required; it's just a law of the universe, like gravity.

"Karma is not an exclusively Hindu idea. It combines the universal human desire that moral accounts should be balanced with a belief that, somehow or other, they will be balanced. In 1932, the great developmental psychologist Jean Piaget found that by the age of 6, children begin to believe that bad things that happen to them are punishments for bad things they have done...."
(Jonathan Haidt (October 16, 2010))
Don't worry: I'm quite Catholic, and this is a Catholic blog.

I was around when New Age was new, thought the crystals and watered-down mysticism were somewhere between dubious and daft then, and haven't changed my mind. I like some of the artwork and music - but that doesn't mean I buy into the ideas.

The author of that op-ed made a good point: The idea of karma didn't start in America, somewhere between love beads and disco. The word - and the idea that actions have consequences - is part of Hindu beliefs.

And Buddhist. Actually, I think most religions - the major ones, anyway - would agree that cause and effect exist.

'All Religions are The Same' - No; and Yes, Sort of

One of the groovier ideas floating in the sixties' punch bowl was that all religions are really the same - except that organized religion is bad - but Hinduism and Buddhism, being not-Judeo-Christian, were okay - and that's another topic.


Groovy, or 'inclusive,' or whatever, as it seemed: there really are differences between different sorts of religious beliefs. Yet another topic.

On the other hand, I think there are some things that the major religions - and many which have lasted more than a few generations - have in common.

One of these, arguably, is that actions matter. According to Princeton's WordNet, when Hindus and Buddhists say "karma" they mean "the effects of a person's actions that determine his destiny in his next incarnation."

Maybe it seems obvious that what a person does has some effect on others. I'll get back to that.

Important point: Regardless of what you may have read on the Web, or heard from pastor Bob, or whatever; the Catholic Church teaches that we go through this world once. No reincarnation.
"Death is the end of man's earthly pilgrimage, of the time of grace and mercy which God offers him so as to work out his earthly life in keeping with the divine plan, and to decide his ultimate destiny. When 'the single course of our earthly life' is completed,586 we shall not return to other earthly lives: 'It is appointed for men to die once.'587 There is no 'reincarnation' after death."
(Catechism, 1013)

Actions have Consequences: Really

A common thread that I see running through Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, and Christianity - at least - is the idea that actions have consequences.

Most folks have little trouble accepting the idea that short-term linkage of action and result exist. I have yet to encounter someone who seriously believes that if one lets go of a rock, it may do something other than drop.

The connection between action and result seems to get hazy, though, when more time elapses. Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme, for example, ran for years without any ill effects. On Mr. Madoff, anyway. 'Obviously,' there are no consequences for bilking people? In Mr. Madoff's case, his 'karma' seems to have started catching up with him. (Apathetic Lemming of the North (October 16, 2010)

Maybe that's an extreme case. We don't always see retribution coming on people we think deserve it. Yet again another topic. (September 11, 2010)

The Natural Moral Law

The sort of 'karma' that The Wall Street Journal author discussed is pretty close to what the Catholic Church teaches about natural law: a moral order that God created - that's as real as the physical order.
"Man participates in the wisdom and goodness of the Creator who gives him mastery over his acts and the ability to govern himself with a view to the true and the good. The natural law expresses the original moral sense which enables man to discern by reason the good and the evil, the truth and the lie:
The natural law is written and engraved in the soul of each and every man, because it is human reason ordaining him to do good and forbidding him to sin . . . But this command of human reason would not have the force of law if it were not the voice and interpreter of a higher reason to which our spirit and our freedom must be submitted.5"
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1954)
There's more about the natural moral law. A whole lot more. (Catechism, 1954-1960, for starters)

The common-sense idea of cause and effect - that a person's actions have consequences - can be distorted, of course. Human beings are pretty good at grabbing a bit of truth and running with it right off the edge of reason.

I've run into too many folks who live up - or down - to what Gandhi is supposed to have said:
"I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."
There are people who say that they're Christians, who also seem convinced that God will punish everybody who likes the kinds of music they don't, wears their hair the 'wrong' way, or breaks some other cultural convention.

That didn't make sense to me in the sixties and seventies - and it still doesn't. Which is part of why I became a Catholic. And that's still another topic.

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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.