The Moral Order

The Moral Order

Is there a moral order in the universe? If so, does it come from a god, or some other force? If there is a moral order, is it something we should try to align ourselves with?

I think about that a lot, when I walk outside, look at the stars, hike, swim in the sea, walk along the strand. I also think about that whenever I read about comparative religion, and wonder how people could deduce a moral order from ancient scripture, and sometimes I wish I could as well. That it would be good to have that kind of faith, even though the scriptures themselves, at least to me, are anything but moral.

They contain moments of wisdom, beauty, and poetry, but are offset by too much brutality ordered from above. I need a different kind of moral order than that, one that extends beyond the limitations of any one religion, encompasses all of them, all things, all beings, across all time and space. One that needs no special designation or special invitation. One that never tries to convert you with promises of eternal life or threats of eternal punishment. I can’t believe in anything short of that. Anything short of complete openness to the All.

There is something truly awe-inspiring about Nature, the way it’s ordered, the way things work so well together. Cycles. Circles. Flow. Not perfectly. If you think about a lot of the aspects of the various animals, plants, insects, and humans, you begin to see flaws, baffling elements, things that just don’t make any sense. But despite all of that, it somehow coheres. It somehow does what Ezra Pound said his Cantos failed to do.

I’ve never understood the concept of a god needing to be worshiped. Always thought that if there were such things, they wouldn’t really need that kind of personal reaffirmation. That they would be a bit beyond that sort of thing. The act of worship was always for humans, for their benefit. To make them feel like they were carrying on a dialogue of some sort. To make them feel they weren’t alone, that something, some omniscient being, had them in mind at all times. That said, I do think it makes sense to want to be one with whatever idea a person has of the divine, or the moral order, or the Way. I do think it makes sense for us to try to live our lives in such a way that we truly flow with Nature, in the same way that animals do, in the same way that trees bend in the wind. To use a very much overused metaphor: catching a wave, riding it all the way into the shore. Not fighting against anything. Making your mind and body conform to the wave and the power of the wave, its motion, its speed, its crossing of time and space.

Robert Wright, in his book, The Evolution of God, talks about our inability to really conceive of the ground of being, or god, or the divine, in any clear cut way:

It’s a bedrock idea of modern physics that, even if you define “ultimate reality” as the ultimate scientific reality—the most fundamental truths of physics—ultimate reality isn’t something you can clearly conceive.

Think of an electron, a little particle that spins around another little particle. Wrong! True, physicists sometimes find it useful to think of electrons as particles, but sometimes it’s more useful to think of them as waves. Conceiving of them as either is incomplete, yet conceiving of them as both is … well, inconceivable. (Try it!) And electrons are just the tip of the iceberg. In general, the quantum world—the world of subatomic reality—behaves in ways that don’t make sense to minds like ours. Various aspects of quantum physics evince the property that the late physicist Heinz Pagels called quantum weirdness.

The bad news for the religiously inclined, then, is that maybe they should abandon hope of figuring out what God is. (If we can’t conceive of an electron accurately, what are our chances of getting God right?) The good news is that the hopelessness of figuring out exactly what something is doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Apparently some things are just inconceivable—and yet are things nonetheless.


Though he doesn’t talk about this in the book, his example of the electron got me to think about the way mystics sometimes achieve oneness with the ultimate reality. They contemplate paradox. They meditate on the seemingly impossible. They continue to meditate of those impossibilities, on a kind of harmony of opposites, long enough, with enough concentration, to move into another state of being altogether. It’s not a grunting and groaning concentration, though. That would destroy the moment. It’s yet another kind of riding the wave into the shore. And scientists, when they study the brainwaves of people doing this, see explosions, beautiful, wonderful explosions. Stars. A kind of internal moral order no doubt.



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