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A blog dedicated to the Source of everything good.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Understandings not shared

I’m writing about Ellen Goodman again, and referring to her statements that confuse “religious” with truly “Christian,” truly Christian with cultural, and “conviction” with “arrogance.”

I’d like to think that Goodman is grappling with some important moral basics (beyond actually recognizing them, which itself is an important step), as the few of her recent columns I’ve had opportunity to read seem to indicate. But I still find it a bit puzzling that she is so skilled at making observations (and writing about them), yet seemingly obtuse when it comes to interpreting or explaining them. She insists upon categorizing these observations in a boxed-in, oversimplified sort of way, as if she can’t get past a sound-bite (or word-bite) way of thinking.

Witness her column, Pope John Paul II. (The newspaper I read the column in titled it “Convictions not shared.”) She starts off with a respectable concern over eulogies to Pope John Paul II, which “focused on his character, indeed, on the courage of his convictions more than the content of those convictions.” But she concludes that this has more to do with the fact that people admire a self-confident leader than they admire the actual moral content of a leader’s convictions. Perhaps this is true of those who are looking for a leader, period, rather than for a truly moral leader, or who are looking to a worldly leader rather than to a heavenly One.

But Goodman’s words serve to illustrate the stunted perspective of the person who can’t see past the empirical features of the world. The fact that President George W. Bush praised the former pope for “standing his ground:”
Tides of moral relativism kind of washed around him, but he stood strong as a rock.
does not merely mean that “politicians and reporters in a multicultural world looked for a secular way to praise a religious leader.” Nor does it mean that Bush and other “world leaders and church followers and the media mainstream seemed to pick and choose pieces of the garment to adorn their praise.”

And of what real consequence is it that the former pope opposed the war in Iraq? A person can be admired and respected for their character even if one does not agree with all of their views, because it’s character that matters more than agreement with all of a person's specific personal views.

It’s a person’s character, as demonstrated by their personal integrity, their principles, and their dealings with people that should earn them the trust of others, not merely their particular views and opinions. Such a trust in character does not represent a “sort of abstract support for conviction,” as Goodman claims.

At the end of her piece, Goodman displays either a misunderstanding of terms, a lack of precise definition of those terms, or a misuse of terms:
Today moral relativism has become a kind of intellectual whipping boy. It’s regarded as a weakness. But for many, moral authoritarianism is strength admired best from afar.

As for self-doubt, with all its difficulties, doubt may be the crack in the door that makes way for understanding and even change.

Self-doubt has nothing to do with moral relativism as far as definition of the term goes. And I don’t see moral relativism being an intellectual whipping boy – it is of moral, not intellectual concern, and serves as a definition and a distinction, not as something to beat on.

Whether “moral authoritarianism” is a strength best admired from afar or not depends on who or what one’s moral authority actually is.

Doubt is not always a “crack in the door;” it depends upon the nature of the doubt. But if doubt leads to humility, then that is a good thing. The two are not the same, however.

If Ellen Goodman herself is experiencing doubt, or self-doubt, I do hope that it will lead to a conviction of belief in the one True Moral Authority.

I also hope and pray to be continually kept humble by the exemplary character I observe in others – character which points me back to its Source.


  • Hi Bonnie, when you get a chance, can you add the reciprocal link to ...thanks!

    By Blogger jane, at 11:30 PM  

  • Good post! I son't know whether it is the change in Pope or what...but many in the media are revealing their struggle with moral issues and the bigger questions affecting society.

    Underneath our skin we are all so much alike.

    By Blogger Ilona, at 12:36 PM  

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