Archive for November 2009

Of Mice and Meditation

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I just realized a few minutes ago that I haven’t ranted about my Psychology of Religion class yet (…on here anyway). And it definitely deserves some ranting.

So I’m taking this class this term – Psychology of Religion and Spirituality. And despite what you might infer from the title, it is not located within the Psychology department. Instead, it’s cross-listed under both the Religious Studies department and the Spiritual and Personal Development department. Before the classes started, I was curious as to why that was. But now I know why – it has very little to do with psychology.

Now, sure, we do talk about what different psychological theorists have said about religion. People like William James, Sigmund Freud, Abraham Maslow, Gordon Allport, for example. And that has been interesting. And the textbook is fairly decent. But the prof is another matter. Throughout the course, it’s been a struggle not to completely challenge him on his personal philosophy as well as his academic methodology. I know that sounds strange, and normally I would never challenge a professor like that….but this guy needs to be challenged.

During the first class, he went over some of the major theorists and topics that we would be covering in the class. After mentioning a few of them, he said that each theory has valuable insights to share, and that we needed to view them in complementarity in order to get a fuller picture of religion. Now, while I agree with that to a certain…Continue Reading

Capitalism, Class Structure, and Change

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There is another side to this issue of moral obligations that I did not bring up in my previous entry. It’s the idea of impossibility. In essence, it’s fairly straight-forward that you cannot be obligated to do something that is impossible for you to do. For instance, I cannot be morally obligated to go back in time and save John F. Kennedy from being shot. If, at some point, we do create a time machine, those obligations could change, but as it stands right now, I cannot be required to do something that is impossible for me to do.

This has, strangely enough, gotten me into the domain of economic systems. It began when I asked the question, “Is poverty simply a fact of life?” It seems as though if it is impossible to change it, we cannot be morally obligated to change it. Now first off, you might say that you can definitely change the well-being of individuals, and that’s certainly true. But I’m trying to think big picture here, and ask if it is possible to end poverty altogether. And as depressing as it is, I don’t know that it is.

The system that much of the world uses today is capitalism. To summarize briefly, it’s a self-adjusting economic structure that relies on market forces and the law of supply and demand to dictate the price of goods and the rate of wages in a given economy. It’s definitely a well-tuned machine (although as seen with the Great…Continue Reading

Ethical Obligations and Equal Opportunity

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For the past few weeks or so, I’ve been thinking about and working through an issue that I’ve had in my head. When on the bus, or when walking to and from class, I kind of stare off into the distance, contemplating this issue. It’s likely not one that most people pay too much attention to. But it’s something I think is important to resolve. It’s the issue of moral obligations – what are our duties as moral beings? And specifically, what are our moral obligations to the poor?

Now, let me be the first one to declare that I think helping the poor is a great thing. It’s an important thing, and I see it as a morally praiseworthy thing to do. However, I’m not trying to determine the morality of helping the poor; I’m trying to determine whether people are morally obligated to help the poor. Roughly speaking, there are three categories of actions: morally prohibited, morally permissible, and morally obligatory. Some people break these down in different ways, but this framework is good enough for me. Essentially, in the first category are things that are immoral and that you should not do. In the second category are things that are allowed but not required – they’re good for people to do, and praiseworthy, but not expected of people. In this category also falls actions that are morally neutral, not good or bad; say, for instance, choosing to wear a blue shirt instead of a red shirt. In…Continue Reading