Tuesday, December 05, 2006

In the Presence of Goodness

Canada's conscience, Stephen Lewis, was interviewed Monday on The Hour. While watching, I thought to myself, "Morally, here is a model for being."

This Wed's The Nature of Things also has a doc about his life:
stephen lewis: the man who couldn't sleep

4 Comments:

Anonymous david LAPPANO said...

i was thinking about this after we last talked, a good discussion about how one can justify one's existence, what one believes and extreme utilitarianism. i thought, i would like to ask darren to name, list, the top five people today or in history who he thought were the best models of being and morality. i'm guessing mr. lewis makes the list. the follow-up questions is: what do the BELIEVE? i have a feeling that if you had the opportunity to sit down with Stephen Lewis as you sit down with me, and discuss belief, truth, free-will, et-all, you would find you are dealing with no materialist. you might even find to your horror, that he doesn't fully understand what he believes, that he hasn't bothered to work out a rational moral system. here is a man who has faith and hope (otherwise he would have killed himself by now) because he acts inspite of the possibility of not knowing what the outcome may be, if he is effective at all, or if his method is right. because he lives by faith and not knowledge he must say to himself every morning when he wakes up, should i have done otherwise? is this futile cause worth the pain and suffering of my family? what ounce of reason makes me think i can make a difference in this suffering? here is where the 'devil' is real - the tempter. Mr. Lewis is temped to calculate some more, deliberate some more, think about it...take your time, think about it. But Lewis acts without having answered those questions difinitively, and so runs the risk of being rationally challenged, criticised and condemned - even by himself! yet he acts. in some respects Stephen resembles Abraham. God said to Abe, take your beloved firstborn Isaac up to that mountain and sacrifice him to me. Abraham, knowing that human sacrifice was wrong, always understood it as that which God does not require, was perplexed. He knows that if he does this act he will be considered a murderer by his community, and rightly so. Furthermore, this is the son that God himself had promised Abraham and Sarah in their old age. every calculation said 'don't do this - it's bad.' of course, as the story goes, when Abraham resolved to do the deed, tied Isaac to a rock and held the knife over his head, God commaned Abraham to spare his son. the point of this story is not that God is a sadist. the point is that in Faith you are willing to give up everything, yet only in faith do you receive everything. in being willing to fullly give up Isaac, Abraham fully receives him. and he had to believe this absurd truth. he had to believe that God would spare his son but he had to be commited to doing the deed that God required. this is the paradox, this is absurd, this is faith. this is Stephen Lewis' life too.

8:07 AM  
Blogger Darren said...

Yes, based on what I know, Stephen Lewis would make the list. When I think of top five people in history, intellectuals come to mind more than moral exemplars (Socrates/Plato, Einstein, Ghandi, Ben Franklin), so I'll have to think about that more. Of course, Socrates didn't seem too concerned about slavery, Einstein cheated on his wife, Ghandi was a racist and Franklin was a bad father/husband. What is one to do? Take what one can get I guess.

As for Lewis' moral system, I choose to be less presumptuous than you. I believe he would have some system, likely with a foundation based on universality (but I have no idea what his theological beliefs are). Many of our assumptions really need data to back them up.

Moving to your secondish point... Again, I think you've framed the topic inaccurately. I know you want to see things in terms of faith versus knowledge, but this dichotomy is a false one. Calculated risk is not faith, nor is using evidence to make probabilistic judgements.

As I said in our discussion, AIDS is bad. Very bad. While it is possible it could be good, is it HIGHLY unlikely that AIDS is good. One no longer need deliberate on this, just be aware of making changes to accommodate new information.
Thus, knowing AIDS is bad, it makes sense to attempt to reduce the spread/existence of AIDS. This is what Mr. Lewis does. Does he succeed? Well, he says though it is tempting to think a difference is being made, perhaps there isn't much of one occurring. I think he is being modest or seeing the issue differently. Is the pandemic increasing? Yes. Will many more suffer unnecessarily? Yes. Has Stephen Lewis helped the cause in any way? To this I would say, 'Yes.'
That final question is the one that matters most.
Additionally, I would suppose that Lewis doesn't just jump in and make a leap of faith. Every partner organization that his foundation supports is either examined by himself or trusted others. That's not faith. That's reason, evidence and all the other wonderful stuff. As well, I bet he often thinks about how to help, how much he should help and whether what he is doing is the best option available.

Finally, far be it from a Bright to offer theological tips, but if the God to whom you pray asks you to kill someone, then that God is not worth praying to.

6:53 PM  
Anonymous Jeff MacLeod said...

Stephen Lewis wrote a section of: "Seeking the Sacred: Leading a Spiritual Life in a Secular World." I'm not sure exactly what he discusses in that text, but it may be worth a trip to Chapters to see if you can find some of that data you're looking for.

11:03 PM  
Blogger Xander said...

That parable of Abraham always confused me because I don't see how it was a true test of Abraham's faith. My understanding is that Abraham had recieved God's word before. He knew God's law. He knew what God was asking him to do was against the law God had laid out. If he refused to follow God's command because it was against the law God had laid out, would he be a man of lesser faith? I don't think so. Should God then cursed and punished him for being false? I don't see a way for Abraham to fail this "test of faith." Not that he really needed that much of the faith that believers have today to begin with because he have a direct line to the almighty. "Hey God, it's Abraham, you there?" (Godly voice) "I am." "Thanks just checking."
Say is this parable universalizable? If I hear the voice of God tell me to sacrafice my first son, should I commit myself to doing it and trust that God will withdraw the request at the last minute? I don't think we should admire the faith and moral fiber of someone who tries to sacrifice their son because God told them so. Then the leads to the other obvious question. If God hadn't stopped Abraham would he have still have been a holy man even though he was a murderer? Obedience to the voice of God before God's Law; I don't even see how a religious person could justify the morality of this.

12:27 AM  

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