Simon Duffy

Thoughts, Bemusements & Arguments

Tag: morality (page 2 of 2)

The Citizenship Imperative

If one of your countrymen becomes poor and is unable to support himself among you, help him as you would help an alien or temporary resident, so that he can continue to live among you. Do not take interest of any kind from him, but fear your God, so that your countryman may continue to live among you. You must not lend him money at interest or sell him food at a profit. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan and to be your God.

 Leviticus, 25:35-38

This is a powerful moral test. Notice that the imperative to help a fellow citizen is put on the same terms as help for the alien. This may seem strange to us – because we have forgotten the ancient imperative to take particular care of the alien. To the Greeks Zeus was the champion of strangers. To the Jews – who really understood slavery and isolation – the duty to the stranger was absolute. So here the imperative to treat a fellow country man as if a stranger is to lift him on to the same, honoured footing. This means not taking advantage, demeaning or exploiting him.

We believe we are so advanced. But we treat the stranger as if he shouldn’t be here and we treat the needy as if they deserve their fate and anything we do for them is not from duty but from our own patronising kindness. We have fallen down from these ancient Greek and Jewish standards, but we close our eyes and pretend that we are rising. But we are simply rising on the back of the success of industrial production – there has been no moral advance.

The Poison of Power

Power is a poison well known for thousands of years. If only only no one were able to acquire material power over others. But to the human being who has faith in some force that holds dominion over all of us, and who is therefore conscious of his own limitations, power is not necessarily fatal. For those, however, who are unaware of any higher sphere, it is deadly poison. For them there is no antidote.

 Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Of course the existence of the religious totalitarian seems to contradict Solzhenitsyn. We can certainly find plenty of religious people who are quite capable of believing that they know what God wants and that they are entitled to act out his wishes.

But even a religious maniac must – logically – recognise he could be wrong. He knows he is subject to another power – even if he has deceived himself that he is its agent.

Those who reject all moral authority outside themselves, the true existentialists, cannot be wrong. This is why the poison of power is so dangerous to them. Not because they are essentially any worse than the religious, but when you see no constraint other than what you are able to achieve with the power that you do have then the temptation to acquire more power, and to protect yourself with that power, can quickly become over-powering.

Logic impels each honest atheist to become a tin-pot dictator. What other choice can he have? Who else can he believe in than himself? When push comes to shove even ordinary standards of integrity and honesty must be sacrificed if they get in the way of success.

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