Moral Truths and True Beliefs

Suppose I’m about to flip a coin. Somehow you’re just certain it will be heads; you strongly believe so. I flip and you’e right. Say you’re right five times in a row. Can you claim rightness in any meaningful way, or did you merely hold a true belief on invalid grounds? What if you held a strong belief about a complex social issue with no personal knowledge of its details, but followed your community’s lead?

Were Democritus and Lucretius right in any meaningful way when they told the ancient Greeks and Romans that all matter was made up of “atoms” held together by forces, or did they merely hold true but unwarranted beliefs? Does George Berkeley deserve credit for getting quantum mechanics right in the 18th century?

It is moral truth that slavery is wrong and that women should not be subjugated, though this was once obvious to very few. Jesus, at least as he appears in the New Testament, misses every opportunity to condemn slavery. He tells us only not to beat them overly hard. And he tells slaves to obey their masters. Women fare only slightly better. Sometime between then and now the moral truth about women’s rights and slavery has been revealed. Has the moral truth about nuclear power been yet revealed? Solar power? GMO foods?

Last weekend while biking in the Marin Headlands I happened upon a group of unusual tourists. An old man with a long white beard wore high-wasted wool pants and a plain flannel shirt. His wife was in plain garb, clearly separating her from modern society, just as intended by Jakob Ammann, the tailor who inspired it. A younger man also wore a long beard, high wool pants and a plain shirt. I asked him if they were visiting and he said yes, from Ohio. I thought so, I said. He told me they were from Holmes County, naming a tiny town I knew from having grown up in Ohio. They were Amish, on tour in San Francisco.

We talked about the bay area’s curious summer weather, the Golden Gate Bridge and so on, I wished them a nice visit and rode out to Conzulman Road, where I stopped to add a jacket for the cold ride downhill. Two spandex clad local riders did the same. I overheard their snide condemnation of the “Mennonite” (they were Amish) religious zealots and their backward attitudes toward women and cosmology. The more I pondered this, the more it irked me. I think the I can explain why. With no more risk of unwarranted inference than that of my fellow San Franciscans about the Amish visitors, I can observe this about these socially-just bikers.

Get off your morally superior San Francisco high horses. The Amish visitors are far less wedded to dogma than you are. They have consciously broken with their clan and its rigid traditions in several  visible ways; while you march straight down the party line. If your beliefs are less destructive to the environment, your cosmology more consistent with scientific evidence, and your position on women’s rights more enlightened than theirs, it is merely because of geography. You are fortunate that your community of influences have made more moral progress than theirs have. As it should be. Your community of influencers is larger and more educated. You can take no credit for your proximity to a better set of influencers. You hold your beliefs on purely social grounds, just like they do. But they examined their dogma and boldly took a few steps away from it – a mega-Rumspringa into a place that invites fellowship with lawlessness[1],  where separation from the desires of the modern world[2] is not an option.

Transportation Modes
[1] Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? – 2 Corinthians 6:14

[2] And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. – Romans 12:2

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  1. #1 by Joe Geranio on August 27, 2013 - 9:50 pm

    Since the Bible is a narrative and Jesus never even talks bad about the Roman empire, ie “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesars”, the importance is the condition of our souls, What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world , (along with social issues) and lose your soul? This life is not what is important, its the next, to the only TRUE GOD=JESUS) who can and wants to redeem us back to Him with His blood that was shed and Hid gift of GRACE to all who will accept it. .

  2. #2 by swallison50 on August 31, 2013 - 4:22 am

    Your post caused me to reflect upon and to honor how the Amish people responded to the school shooting tragedy of 2006. There was a lack of fear. The immediate reaction was forgiveness rather than desire for retribution. They were models of how to minister to each other.

  3. #3 by Joe Geranio on September 4, 2013 - 9:04 am

    As a True and Believer in the literal Holy writ, Social issues have no bearing on our lives, Read the book of Philemon only a chapter, where slavery is again not condemned? The issue has been and most important the condition of the peace of God in this life and all His promises in the next. Jesus was not a reformist, He was God in the Flesh and His Word is infallible, He cant lie. Women had an important part in early first century Palestine and in His ministry, they are praised like no other texts from this period and who was the first person to see Jesus risen! A woman. Not a good testimony for 1st century Palestine. But it was the truth, so it stays in the gospels. Ask yourself this, “Where will I end up when I die”, You can know through His Word. I feel for folks that see the sky and the stars and say, “there is no God”.

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