Friday, September 24, 2010

A Culture in Pain

The longer I live the more I am intrigued with the concept of a moral fiber or fabric that holds a society together. Mystery and spirituality seem to shroud the connection of morality to our lives. Religious people repeat the mantra, "Morality, morality, morality!" Is it just for them? Is it important?

Understanding morality and what force it really exerts in life is difficult to assess at times. For instance, traditional morality tells us that lying is wrong. So you would think that when you lie you would immediately get an electrical shock, a pain in your head or a tweaked conscious at the least. But the truth is when someone lies they most often benefit from it immediately. Examples like this make it hard to say morality matters or is important. Politicians seem to demonstrate this every day.

The current state that we are in as a nation has brought the question to the forefront. Does morality matter? Or are we just in a financial mess that has nothing to do with morality. Did morality (good or bad) have anything to do with this situation we are in or is it the result of an accounting mistake? Would a sound moral standard have prevented this crisis?

If there is a moral standard or law that is woven into the existence of man then it must be important. If there is a moral law that is written into our conscious then when it is violated in some way you would expect some consequence.

May I gently suggest that there are consequences. Those little lies people benefit from build a character that will meet with trouble. Even if it is after you have been elected governor of a state.

When I was a kid there was a commercial whose by-line was "It's not nice to fool Mother Nature." Well, not without consequences anyway. If there is a moral law that is universal then you would think the same would be true for it. You can't fool the moral law, something will make you aware of the infraction.

Is there any evidence of this thesis? If there is a moral law and it is important, then if you violate the law you would expect to have some adverse experience from violating it. This would be true whether you are aware of, believe in, or know all of the moral law.

The last thing I want to do is injure someone who is already hurting. My real hope is to start a process of healing in the lives of those who are hurting. The stakes are very high so I think we have to have this discussion. A recent article I read provides a good place to start. My thanks to for high-lighting this article.

You can read the article at . The article addresses the phenomena of women who have had an abortion and are suffering afterward with depression, grief, anxiety etc. This does not happen to all women who have abortions. To women who experience this, it does not matter if they believe abortion to be morally wrong or a legitimate choice. A couple of captions from this article fascinated me. The authors are talking about a web site for women who are struggling to connect and help each other through this experience.

The website contains thousands of women’s stories about their abortions—and about their post-abortion feelings. And many of these women are in acute pain; some are almost totally incapacitated. One writes in a post: “I am not coping at all; I feel as though the top of my head is going to fly off.” Another says: “I am just grieving like crazy!” A third: “I don’t understand why I am not getting better, but worse all the time! I am so depressed!” (Stories on this website are protected by copyright, and it is not permitted to quote directly from them. Quotations provided here are therefore faithful rewordings.)

The use of the word "pain " to describe what these women are experiencing is accurate and insightful. One medical definition of the word is: an emotional response to a noxious stimulus. In layman's terms it is an emotional reaction to an unpleasant or damaging event.

Pain could be considered to originate from one of three areas of our being, our physical body, our psyche and (I believe) our spirit. Science has discovered a great deal about physical pain. The biology of pain is one of my areas of interest. I believe that physical pain is a great model for understanding psychological and spiritual pain. Many cultures do not make a distinction between these types of pain. They believe all pain is physical, psychological and spiritual. Even if they are not the same, they are all three intimately mingled. After all, the same drugs that relieve physical pain are used by addicts to relieve psychological and spiritual pain.

Pain is the universal warning. It is universal in its message to the body, mind and soul. Its says, "Something is wrong, something is being damaged." The acute phase of pain tells us that something is being damaged. The chronic, dull ache tells us there is something wrong. With that said lets read more of the article.

What is particularly striking is that most of the women who have these powerful emotional reactions to their abortion are stunned by them. They were not opposed to abortion; many were actively pro-choice. They were blind-sided by their own reaction. One woman lamented—and thousands of others echo her mystified anguish—“If this was the right decision, why do I feel so terrible?”


Thus, though a woman can decide rationally to have an abortion, afterwards the other shoe may drop—and it may drop very hard indeed. For the thousands of women on and similar websites, a terrible and shocking reaction sets in after their abortion. Many women have discovered that somewhere down in their psyche—deep in their limbic system—they were already in a living relationship with the fetus, their “baby” (though they may have thought they thought it was just a random clump of cells). Often what lasts is not the relief or the power of the logical arguments: these may prove very short-lived. It is, rather, the failed, betrayed relationship between the woman and her fetus—now, in her mind, her dead baby—that has staying power.

This kind of ache of the mind and soul has a deep meaning that can't be ignored or misinterpreted without grave consequences. This mysterious, mystical thing called moral law may be the very thing that is sounding the warning, "Something is wrong, something is being damaged." Pain is the language it speaks in. If this moral law was written into the psyche and soul of men and women from the beginning and we have lost our conscious ability to know and abide by it, we are in for a tsunami of pain. Breaking this moral law in ignorance will leave us suffering without knowing why. Pain without understanding kills hope.

Science is now looking for new drugs that will “fool” the brain into not making the assessment that something is wrong. This new drug could be marvelous for those in physical pain, but if it also negates the conscious it may be the parent of a thousand Hitlers. Could mankind survive without a normal, healthy, functioning conscious?

The writers of the article then goes into a strange explanation of this experience these women have.

If we look at all this in evolutionary terms, we cannot be surprised. Human mothers (unlike the females of most other species) produce few offspring. For infants to survive, they must be very carefully tended and protected, over many years. Historically, culturally, the investment of women in their young has been tremendous. Billions of mothers have lavished their time, energy, and attention—their love—on their children. And what is the reward, the reinforcement for all this maternal time and effort? What does the mother get out of it? Whatever it is, it must be a reliable, immediate, and strong reinforcement. Otherwise, infant mortality—always high in the human and primate past—would have led to our extinction. Thus, we should not be surprised that human mothers are richly rewarded—by their own feelings, their own brain responses, their own chemistry—for good mothering, and that they are emotionally punished, internally, for failure.

It is a contradiction in reason to say that evolution, a "system" of random mutations that result in the advancement of a species (this is a stretch of reason in itself) has intelligently designed a sophisticated physiological system of punishments and rewards for the furtherance of a species. It does looks like design to me but not the "design" of a mindless, random process.

If that mythical moral law really does exist and has an author, experiences like these women relate may be first hand encounters with it. Biological pain warns us of harm to the body. Psychological and spiritual pain warns us of harm to the soul and spirit. This moral law, when breached, may result in psychological and spiritual pain, the signal that something is damaged or harmed. This moral law, if we could know it and live by it, would then protect us from harm or damage.

If there is a moral law that could protect us from harm then the author must have a motive for writing a law for us to live by that would keep us from harm. Could I be so bold as to suggest the author cares about those for whom the law was written? That avoiding harm and pain was part of the reason for writing this moral law? The ability to perceive pain is in larger terms a gift to protect us. Pain was never intended to be a way of life yet if we continue to deny there are harmful beliefs, attitudes and actions we are bound to live in agony.

Knowing the moral law, the breaking of which brings serious consequences, could save us and our neighbors a great deal of pain and change the experience of life into something much more than we could have imagined.