Morality and Spirituality

by Shirley-Anne Hardy

In a letter to Land and Liberty referring to a discussion of the origin of natural moral laws, Ed Dodson wrote the following:

Henry George could not bring himself to state what is to this writer an important aspect of our liberty which is the right of freedom from religion. Our moral sense of right and wrong exists independent of the existence or nonexistence of a conscious creator. The scientific evidence is on the side of evolution. Belief in a conscious creator is humancentric, attaching a much greater importance to the existence of our species in the universe than is warranted. Faith in an afterlife is, sadly, one of the reasons why we are such poor stewards of the delicate balance that supports life on this planet.

The following response was submitted to Land and Liberty, but didn’t appear there.

Whilst I have much enjoyed elsewhere the Georgist writings of Ed Dodson, his contribution in your Winter 2010 issue on “Morality and Nature” stems from a strangely constricted viewpoint! By all means let us have “freedom from religion,” for the religions of this world are all constructs of limited human thinking. But they have nothing essentially to do with spirituality – which is surely what Henry George was referring to in his statement1 that to bring about land justice would require “nothing less than the religious conscience,” “intelligent self-interest” alone being insufficient for the task. The distinction between religion (as referring to dogmas) and spirituality (immediate experience of the Unseen) has received much more recognition since George’s day. His writings are steeped in spirituality.

Ed deplores “faith in an afterlife” as a mode of escape from responsibility in this life – e.g., how we treat the planet. But this is a view strictly religion-bound! and stemming (since presumably Ed is mainly speaking of Christianity) from a religion that had long ago become an extremely adept instrument of human politics. The Christian church emphasized an afterlife as an escape for itself from declaiming against the injustice and misery that stemmed from land monopoly.

What we may call spirituality is something of an entirely different order. For some are born knowing that “not I live, but some force lives through me,” and stemming from this inner knowledge, that “there is no death.” This is something far deeper than a mere intellectual knowing, being the most certain identity of one’s individual self even in the here and now. Instead of an afterlife, we see life as a continuum, in which we reap as we sow every step of the way. This is, of course, at the other end of the spectrum from escapism!

“Belief in a conscious creator is humancentric,” Ed writes. But how so, when this marvelous creation consists of myriad other forms and forces which equally draw our wonder and awe? And what indeed could be more “humancentric” than the belief — for it is by no means proven — that moral nature arises exclusively in man?

Furthermore, if the laws of nature are morally neutral, as Ed would maintain, then what is to be made of the blazing exception of the natural law of rent — whose challenge to the human race lies precisely in our recognizing of its profoundly embedded moral code?

Finally, it is impossible to imagine — and anthropology bears this out — a people living in close contact with their soil, and partaking of its seasonal rhythms and productive powers, who are not profoundly aware of a Creative Intelligence running through all things, and existing far beyond the narrow boundaries of time and space. The growth of humanism today (or “humancentrism,” if you like) is the signature of a people too long divorced from their land — this unfortunate dumbing-down of their life- experience no doubt playing a part in our movement’s tendency today to reduce the Land Question to a purely fiscal measure. We need to remember that the final chapter of Progress and Poverty was the sounding of a great trumpet: “The Call to Liberty.”

But what does a people dispossessed of their land and severed from the great Creative Intelligence know of Freedom?

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