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Friday, February 09, 2007

Shopping for answers

I worked at a CPA firm a few years back as a lowly staff accountant. Another lowly staff accountant got himself in trouble once. He had talked to a partner regarding a particularly unclear and vague accounting issue, and he really didn't like the answer he received. So, what did he do? Well, he went and found himself another partner. Eventually his little scheme was discovered by all and he was the brunt of not a few jokes.

Kids. The case study of kids is that if one parent tells them "NO" they go to the other parent and plead their case. Usually they have learned a thing or two from the first go-round and so the little rug rats do a much better sell job when they talk to the next parent.

There is an ethical point here. How do we as human beings decide that certain things are right and wrong? Are we predisposed to thinking that certain things are right or that certain things are wrong? And do we take our instincts and just build on them?

Perhaps we determine our moral standards in a similar way as lowly staff accountants or as kids: We shop for answers. Which religion agrees with me the most? Which god fits into my lifestyle? The world is getting smaller and smaller, and the more time that passes the more pluralistic our societies are becoming. This means there are more worldview choices out there to pick from. This make things all the more condusive to going out and choosing your beliefs from a myriad of good looking choices. In fact, I think things are moving more to the point where we don't sell our souls to a particular religion, but rather we pick and choose the better beliefs that belong to each system. We don't like to be sold out to a "system" - much better to be open minded and evaluate each belief on its own merit. Best to decide each issue on its own.

That brings us back around to shopping for answers. The "shopping for answers" approach to right and wrong fits well within a commercialized market economy. We are the consumer and if a religion wants our time, money and devotion, it oughta' make a good sell job. Hence, the focus of most religious sales pitches these days is not to sell a belief system, but to push the other goodies: community, connection, activities, social functions, programs, etc.

Are there any real "truth seekers" out there? Is there anyone with a pure love for what is morally right? Or do we all just pretty much walk in step with the groups that confirm our inclinations? Groups that make us comfortable with who we think we are and what we think is right and wrong?


ktismatics said...

Here's one of the big life tips I've offered my daughter: the teacher isn't always right. (By implication neither is the dad.) I'd rather have my daughter develop her own individual conscience than subscribe to any particular system, including my own. Do personal preferences and self-interests sometimes distort one's judgment? Sure. Part of learning is to be able to recognize the difference between what's right and what's merely self-serving. But prepackaged moral systems can be biased too.

Is listening to different opinions the same as shopping for answers? In part I suppose it is. To be able to distinguish good from bad features of a product is part of being a good shopper. Maybe the advantage shoppers have when "buying" things like ideas and moralities is that they can choose the best features of several "products" rather than having to settle for one "package" and live with its shortcomings.

Jonathan Erdman said...

To be able to distinguish good from bad features of a product is part of being a good shopper. Maybe the advantage shoppers have when "buying" things like ideas and moralities is that they can choose the best features of several "products" rather than having to settle for one "package" and live with its shortcomings.

Fair enough. I'll buy that.

Perhaps in today's global world it is imperative to hear varying perspectives. Perhaps it has always been critical to listen. I would certainly agree with that, because there are far too many talkers, movers and shakers, while there are far too few listeners who will take the time to hear out a different or even contrary perspective.

But here is my question: Consumerism and market economies put us into a mindset where we look for the best deal. But should we really be approaching morality in such a fashion? Or religion? Or God?

Maybe when it comes to the critical questions of morality, truth, and worship the worst deal is actually the way to go. The masses clamored to Jesus...but then he started talking about putting others before yourself, taking up your cross, and reaching out to the excluded members of society....often when the masses realized the free meal was over they moved on to the next messiah. (crf. John 6)

ktismatics said...

Yes, I see your point. I suspect consumerism is itself a moral system: the idea that pursuit of self-interest is itself the morally right choice.

A lot of people say that feeling guilty has gotten in the way of their personal growth, so the thing to do is to overcome this sense of guilt. Trust yourself, don't let your true self be stifled by moral demands imposed by others. There's some truth to that position too, I think.

But generally I'm in agreement with you. Equating the right thing to do with what I really want to do seems corrupt. It also seems like a good way to sell merchandise, churches, career choices, political candidates, gods...

LINDSAY said...

I like the Pop art feeling photograph at the top of the article. The black and white photo is very post-mod. I love that one, too.

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