This discussion was prompted following posts by Laura on Asceticism and Spiritual Good Material Bad. Laura joined in on the discussions and enhanced our understanding on some of the aspects included here in this posting. Thanks Laura. Click on the icon to visit her website or on the address below.
Morality is influenced by environmental factors evolved over very lengthy periods.
On our earth some species do appear to be much more committed to a kind of basic morality (what we call humanity) than other groups (perhaps instinctive to a large degree) in caring and nurturing the members of their extended family often at a sacrifice to themselves. Humans and other species exhibit anger and aggression that lead to violence but it needn't have been be to that degree, if by chance a different evolutionary path had been taken. This is evidenced by the varying skeleton remains exhibiting past violence (or lack of it) within those respective communities.
William Calvin has an interesting website http://www.williamcalvin.com/index.html
Scientists are beginning to question just how close are we related to the higher order animals such as the great apes .Can we ascribe to them any moral values or responsibilities in a limited way. Or is it all instinctive or pre programmed in the genes of evolution. How much of their behavior is learned and adapted and to what extent do these developments enter into a state of “consciousness” where they are aware of themselves just like us. The tide of scientific thought is turning towards an acceptance (in a very limited way) that indeed some level of consciousness can be ascribed to these “higher order “animals. However for the vast majority of animal’s behavior their actions are overwhelmingly instinctive and hence the application of ”morals" is irrelevant.
It is in the more recently evolved area of the human brain, the frontal lobes that we separate from the animals. These frontal lobes are the most recent development in the brain and are the “Executive Function” allowing us to make complicated decisions drawing from available information stored in a number of different loactions.
As we learn more of the interaction of the brain. hopefully we will become a more compassionate society. In a study carried out of large sample of unpremeditated murderers continued in Elkhonon Goldberg’s Book “The Executive Brain" it was found in all cases the offenders had significant damage or poorly developed frontal brain lobes. The frontal lobes are the equivalent of the executive function of the brain. The offenders are able to distinguish easily between right and wrong and hence would be denied an insanity plea despite being incapable of making rational decisions in any pressurised situation. Click to visit his website.
The conflict of materialism with spirituality is more a question of relativity and balance rather than a titanic struggle of opposing forces. Materialism is a basic need of our human condition and it is perfectly moral to enjoy and appreciate the finer things in life including material possessions. It is only when our principles have to be compromised by the excesses of an overly focused material outlook to the exclusion of anything else that a conflict arises. Early christen thought divided the body and spirit as if they were entirely separate entities of good (spirit (except for evil spirits) was next to godliness) and the body was often associated with weakness -exposed to the sins of the flesh. We now know the two are inextricably linked but we are left over with theses antiquated ideas suggesting the body and spirit are at war with one another.
A study of our past behavior will indicate varying times of morality or lack thereof over different periods in history. It is our responsibility to be ever vigilant to our principles but be willing to make changes when new knowledge leads to a better understanding of our moral responsibility. Morals are a moving feast, just like (and at times in harmony with) creation as it also continues to evolve.
It is interesting to look back in time at one of that grand philosophers of the Middle Ages namely St Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274). Much of what he wrote then is still relevant to day and we can continue to learn from his ideas. He was the first to rationalise that through "human reason" we can know god and left us with an enormous legacy on every aspect of life. Notwithstanding this contribution to civilization, some aspects of his thought are entirely unacceptable to day given our benefit of expanded knowledge and understanding.
So our future is to continue contemplation and education seeking the truth as we find new pathways of understanding. This is the essence of our humanity. Click on the link for futher history.