Friday, August 22, 2014

Can we enlarge our moral imaginations to include all living things in our circle of caring?

Chapter 10 in The Green Boat by Mary Pipher is entitled, “The Vast Sea Around Us: Interconnection, Deep Time, and Bliss.” She opens her chapter with this paragraph:

“Our species is consuming, contaminating, or destroying almost everything: rivers, oceans, topsoil, prairies, fisheries, and forests, not to mention cultures. We are not behaving this way because we are cruel but because we are caught up in the Great Acceleration and having a hard time slowing ourselves down and thinking things through. We are living in fragmented ways, disconnected from not only each other and the natural world, but from our pasts and our futures.” p. 180.

Pipher is preaching to the choir when it comes to Unitarian Universalists who are way ahead of their fellow Americans and Earth Planetarians because for several decades now, UUs have had one of their principles, the seventh, “respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part,” as one of its primary values.

On page 185 Pipher tells a wonderful story she got from a book called, Hey, Little Ant by Phillip and Hannah Hoose and Deb Tilley. Apparently as part of the story there is a song about a conversation between an ant and a boy on the playground with all his friends watching. The boy wants to squish the ant just for fun, but the ant sings that he has a home and family too. As Pipher writes, “He sings to show the boy that his life is as precious to his ant family as the boy’s life is to his human family. The song ends with a question for the listener to ponder, ‘Should the ant get squished? Should the ant go free?/ It’s up to the kid, not up to me./ We’ll leave the kid with a raised up shoe./ What do you think that kid should do?’”

Piper writes on that she is telling this story to her grandkids and she asks them what they would do. The nine year old granddaughter, Kate, tells Pipher she will never squish an ant again, and her seven year old grandson, Aidan, promises to let all the ants go free, but her five year old granddaughter, Claire, tells Pipher, “Nonna, I still like to squish ants but I won’t kill any talking ants.” Pipher comments jokingly, “Sigh. She’ll have a growth spurt soon enough.” P. 185

And it seems that when Claire’s pre-frontal cortex develops further and is able to control her amygdale she will indeed outgrow the instinctual urge to kill things different from her own species, but unfortunately, it takes more than just a chronological growth spurt because Americans, especially, are a violent people who love to kill things and, even each other, in far greater numbers than any other first world country or primitive cultures. We might speculate about why American culture is so violent and this fact seems, obviously, to be multi-determined, and the obvious thing is that “old time religion” hasn't helped but rather is used to justify killing as the Old Testament of the Bible gives human beings an injunction to dominate the earth, and as our American Presidents have sent our soldiers off to Vietnam, Persian Gulf, Iraq, and Afghanistan they end their rationalized arguments for the necessity of killing with “And may God bless America.” The ludicrous observation is what kind of God is it that Presidents and Americans are invoking when they justify their ant squishing with “shock and awe” by asking for a blessing from this imagined entity?

Once again it is apparent that if Unitarian Universalists are to live their espoused values, the principles that they covenant to affirm and promote, they will be in a counter cultural position vis a vis their fellow Americans.

Pipher, though a Buddhist, thinks like a Unitarian Universalist when she writes, “If we do not expand our vehicles of mercy and ways of helping each other, we will destroy ourselves. To adaptively cope with our global storm, we need to enlarge our moral imaginations in order to include all living things in our circle of caring.” p.181 If only a President of the United States would call on someone with the moral imagination of Mary Pipher and Unitarian Universalists to bless the country and his policies.

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