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Religion and the Moral Imagination (Essay Sample)

Write an essay (no less than five pages double spaced in 12 pt font) on ONE of the following questions. Use the question as a provocation to your own thinking about the subject or theme that the question represents. Your essays are graded in relation to the depths of your insights (avoidance of quick and clichéd conclusions) and the clarity of your expression. An opinion is not a reaction or a long-held presumed belief. Instead it is a reflection of your fresh and new thought within the parameters of the material and ideas we have been considering. Feeling that the work you are doing is important to you is essential to an excellent grade. You are responsible to discern the essence of each question as a whole. Address the question as a whole and do not respond to each question, within the question, separately. The qusetion is: There are many texts in the course that present us with characters that are challenged with problems in adapting to their lives and the lives of the others. How might these difficulties be read, considering three characters from separate short stories or films, as a metaphor for all human life and weakness? How are these addictions and abuses connected to the human impulse for control? How do the characters let go of control without it being one more gesture of control? How do we understand words like love, care, kindness, charity, and surrender outside of a context of human possession and control? And what does this have to do with a distinction between the moral and the ethical? I've attached two short stories to include in the answer. The third source will come from the episode of Modern Family (Season Two, Episode Twenty-Three) where Jay is insecure about his aging and decides to get botox treatment. Additional details can be found on the internet. These are the short story notes too use as well. Lecture on Updike - These two stories seem to me to be connected, the fair child from the story Pigeon Feathers seems to be related to Martin Fairchild in The Accelerating Expansion of the Universe. They both in their ways seem both paralyzed and ticklishly informed by the notion of death. David reads Wells account of Jesus where he is described as a hobo, a political agitator, around whom a cult and mythology grew that was falsely based. This deeply rattles him. - He has a moment, as we all have a moment no matter what we believe, which that which holds him tight and comforts him in the strength of belief seems suddenly far-fetched and unbelievable. And with this doubt the gates of security tumble and the meaning one had built one's life is also deeply threatened while your life continues much the same, it still has its same trajectory but the rhyming reason is now suddenly gutted. As the story puts it: “It was as if a stone that for months and even years had been gathering weight in the web of David's nerves snapped them and plunged through the page and a hundred layers of paper underneath.” - He is confronted also not with a doubt about the meaning of his life but he is also deeply exposed to another confrontational idea in a young person – there are people out there radically different than you. His experience of reading these few paragraphs in Wells text have changed his vision – the world is no longer the basic uniform landscape where everyone is basically the same with interesting and colorful variations on a theme but there are actually people who are is devout in their opposite beliefs as you are in yours. “The world outside the deep-silled windows – a rutted lawn, a whitewashed barn, a walnut tree frothy with fresh green – seemed a haven from which David was forever sealed off.” - But it is not so, the world has suddenly been opened in a manner that is completely uncontrolled. David had experienced the world from the perspective of a lying on a personable and comfortable family sofa – he read mystery and science fiction novels that provided him with fantasies about the outside world. And now he had been given an adult shot, from an adult book, of something else. And everything changes for him, it is the movement, the desperate movement between childhood and adulthood that one would hope could be carefully and morally negotiated but it cannot be. It suddenly happens, the transformation occurs as it always does where it is not controlled, where it bursts in and captures in all of the places or one of the places where you lacked defense. - Has this not happened to you? Have you not had that moment where the whole world that you completely believed in was completely confronted by the actions or words of another person that radically shifted your understanding of the world? Many born Catholics that I know speak of the shocking and horrifying day where they suddenly realized that not everyone in the world was Catholic, that there were whole masses of people who did not share or even want the intimate belief that they took for granted. And this starts in horror and then leaks into the crumbling fear and realization that they cannot, can they, maybe they cannot be all wrong. - Is it possible that everyone in China, India, or where have you is in mortal error? Are they all really damned to the Hell that you know has been promised them? The thing that really gets us is that when we hear these things we do not hear them as flippant rebellions daring swearing which tickled us but still made us nervous. My girlfriend has accounted to me a story of when she was kid of wanting to swear so bad with her friends that they developed the justification of pretending that maybe it was something's name. So they would say to passing dogs Hi Shit, in this way they thought they were getting away with something. But she tells me she still felt very guilty. - But the thing that really terrifies us is that people belief what they belief even if it is complete opposition to our beliefs and they do so with an equal devotion. They Hindus believe what they believe, they are not in some way semi or lapsed Catholics. The Jewish people do not believe in the divinity of Christ. They do not believe it, and this is a startling moment for a young mind. There is a world out there and it is not made in the same image as my little world, it is a world of people and thoughts and ideas many of which run contrary to the ones in my family and in my head. - David in our story is equally crushed by the declaration that Jesus was not divine, how could God let such a voice speak? His first response to the thought is not that it is challenging, of course it is ridiculous, there are churches everywhere, their mere existence refutes all challenges. But what offended him about these thoughts is that they “had been permitted to exist in an actual human brain… that at a definite spot in time and space a brain black with the denial of Christ's divinity had been suffered to exist. The universe had not spat out this ball of black tar but allowed it to continue in its blasphemy, to grow old, win honors, wear a hat, write books that, if true, collapsed everything into a jumble of horror.” - Why would allow God allow or tolerate there to be diversity of belief? Isn't it this very diversity, young David must think, the thing that creates doubt? If everyone on earth believed the same thing would anyone ever doubt it? Was the original sin that someone came along and took the story that absolutely everyone believed in and said I don't think this story is true. Is this not the thing that ruined everything, that caused all of us to look at the story in different eyes and say, maybe it is not true, maybe my understanding and my comfort is not secure. - Whatever the case there it is and it hits David, and it changes the way he sees everything. He comes to see his life, his own preciously held life, as potentially meaningless, his dead grandfather, his arm mottled grandmother who is casually in the way and thus casually abused by his loved mother, his cantankerous father, all of them there for no great purpose. But him, him of all beings, empty destined for a death that may be a nothing, may not be a promise that can be trusted. - He aches for confirmation of some certainty. He realizes that the miracles of his childhood prayers are innocuous, likely coincidences and not the result of divine action. He holds his hands aloft, whispering in prayer for Jesus to touch them just once, that one touch would be enough to provide a lifetime of belief and commitment. But he is not assured that he felt anything at all, he is not assured that he did not feel anything, the grace of the touch remains unconfirmed and unrejected; wouldn't, he tells, us Jesus's be infinitely gentle? - He looks up the word soul in the dictionary that definer of truth that the soul was separate in nature from the body and usually held to be seperable in existence. In this he takes some comfort, it cannot be felt so that does not mean that it is not there just because you do not feel it. And he tries to be comforted in the belief that his belief is still the belief to be had, that the strangers are so wrong or confused, and while he longs to belief that before he dies he will see the light of the next room brighten as the door to his life closes and confirmation will be held it is all at the level of a faith that he does not have adequate faith in. - The fragility of an insect's murmuring heart beat terrifies him. He goes to a Lutheran catechism class and is told by the minister to whom he felt he had a repore that heaven is like the good deeds of a person continuing on in the memories of others and this seems, as it does to me, so radically inadequate, no conscious continuation of his own life, no awareness of himself, oblivion for him but not for what he has done! It is awful. His need for a truth, for a validation of his own truth turns him in his own eyes and experience into the very other that he has been challenged by. - He feels that the minister is disdainful of his questions and his concerns, his doubts, and he feels on leaving the church that maybe he is now the one who is saying maybe this story is not true. The skepticism that has hurt his heart has become contagious and he is now desperately and irrevocably one of its creatures seeking confirmation and instead spreading the fire of doubt. It is no wonder that he ends the conversation with artificial acquiescence. - It fares no better with his mother, she supports and does not deepen the pastor's response. She speaks to him, a child, as if he is an adult like here. He is concerned that there is no longer any stated declaration of an absolute confidence in a storybook heaven, and a God in the clouds, he is starting to see that the world that he believed in and that the people he thought defended it sounded more like its critics than they echoed the beliefs that he thought he had been raised and cherished to believe. “She had imagined that he had already entered, in the secrecy of silence, the conspiracy that he now knew to be all around him.” - She says to him as if to an adult of her own age and experience: “David, don't you ever want to rest?” And he says no, not forever, and she thinks him young and not yet exhausted. Pressed to concede that she believes in God, offering some remnant of his previous comfort, she blows it by telling him that man made God, and he notes that this is the same as saying that God does not exist, and she concludes by saying it is a mystery. - But this is the thing, mystery for David is the same as doubt, is the same as insecurity, is the same as being radically unprepared for one's own death. The confrontation with death that David has, and he begins to negotiate, is that moral movement, the one from a confident belief, past confidence into mystery, and into a religious life. Death terrifies David, he envisions it as a vertical hole in the ground, where he becomes a movement of the soil, a soil that is losing its soul. “Thinking of it this vividly frightened him. His own dying, in a specific bed in a specific room, specific walls mottled with a particular wallpaper, the dry whistle of his breathing, the murmuring doctors, the dutiful relatives and going in and out, but for him no way out but down, into that hole. Never walk again, never touch a doorknob again.” - Not even a blue doorknob, never walk again, never do the things that are ordinary in our lives, this haunts David and touches every aspect of his life, he is partially paralyzed, his ability to live has been compromised. This is what the realization of death, of our death, not the death of others, but our death brings to us. - A huge part of our existence is a complete mystery and that it is a mystery is a gift: it is necessarily a mystery. As awful as that sounds, we are forced to live life as a mystery without definite answers about who we are or where we are headed. This is the beauty of our lives that comes to some of us at least once and which we, like David, to the detriment, of a truthful and religious life, we try to solve it anyhow. We demand confirmation of our beliefs. - It is David's sudden and burst understanding of belief that has emptied his understanding of definite content. It is made him terribly insecure about who he is and what his life is about, the gift of other people's perspectives has come to him as a tremendous threat. The gift that is the diversity of other people's beliefs and how they need not convert us but that these beliefs of others make us wonder about the absolute confidence that we have in the content of ours. And this is not a rational or willed moment, as with David, it just happens. He would have done whatever he could to will it away, he was exposed to “before he could halt his eyes.” We don't look for this realization it finds us. - And even though it is a gift like the sudden clarity experienced by the pugilist at rest, we don't want it as David does not want it. And once it comes to him in its natural way, once he makes the move, uncontrolled and uninvited as it is, from moving to the confident innocence of a child to the open mystery of adulthood, he makes an adult move that seeks to return himself to a childhood innocence that has been altered. As a child he moved in a sealed world, and now once forced out of that bubble he wants back in. And we must wonder if we have done the same. Do we cling to beliefs that make us feel secure and treat others who do not believe the same as just nicely different than us? Have we developed policies of multi-cultural tolerance so that we do not ever have to consider the things that we hold dear. - The problem is, as far as I am concerned, is that we have belief instead of faith. Belief has replaced faith, faith is a living in the mystery, belief is the answering of the mystery in such a way that faith no longer has the starring role. David has always had belief, a belief supported by his other belief that everyone in his world feels exactly the same, and once this is threatened he has no faith to rely on, all he has is the collapse of his belief and the desire for them to be reconfirmed. - It is startling and telling how David does manage at least temporarily to reconfirm his sense of confident belief. His return to the presumption of grace involves the genocide of some pigeons that have taken over the barn, the same barn that now holds the sofa upon which his earlier fantastical understandings had been built. He goes to the barn at the urging of his mother on the request of his grandmother – it is a generation, a feminine generational request and it carries the task of taking care of that which lives, and is under the sky, but must be rid of for the mess they make to even that which has been discarded from ordinary life. - And so he trudges to the barn, gun in hand, the dog Copper towing along but eventually torn by what we are called is a fear of the gun and a loving loyalty to the boy, like some sort of penitent adorer of a God who loves the kindness but fears everything else, like the threat of violence and of death. He goes to the barn and he starts shooting and killing pigeons. Bang, and bang, he pops them as they move into a hole that is presented to us as both their grave and the possibility of grace in freedom and escape from the little night that is life in a barn. Little night and little deaths at the whims of a boy with a rifle; a boy afraid of death and killing birds, birds related to the same birds that Jesus spoke of as under the watchful eye of God in his sermon on the mount. - These birds do not fall without God's grace and it is David who is knocking them down one by one, disturbed by the one who remains, dead but stuck in the hole, exactly as he is afraid to be. But it is not until he investigates their corpses that he has his epiphany, that he gathers or again finds the way to turn scribbles into words, and reconfirm his safety in the trust of his believing, and thoroughly David made God. He glimpses their feathers and their orchestra of what he sees as finely woven threads of beauty and in this glimpse, a very similar type of glimpse that his mother feels as she walks the fields of her ancestral farm. - In the intricacies of the pigeon's feathers, in a dead pigeon's feathers, he finds his belief. He is piling the dead birds and he notes in a moment of desperate and he thinks blessed return: “As he fitted the last two, still pliant, on the top, and stood up, crusty coverings were lifted from him, and with a feminine, slipping sensation along his nerves that seemed to give the air hands, he was robed in this certainty: that the God who had lavished such craft upon these worthless birds would not destroy His whole Creation by refusing to let David live forever.” - This, to my thinking, is well written – feminine sensation, the air hands, robed in certainty. Each of these offers us something. The feminine sensation is the one that seeks certainty that seeks domesticating innocence, but as the women in the story shows, the lives of brutal men always reminded of death, prevent this innocence from ever taking root in the soil of our modern world. David will likely be moved into this air as well, and it too will grab him and perhaps it will shake him free but it is more likely that he will find new ways, like you and I, to find a way to touch those hands in the night and call them the touch of Jesus or the touch of conviction. No, David is robed like a member of a higher church in his certainty. - And this certainty comes to him through aesthetic acknowledgement or appreciation. He sees what he thinks is intricacy and it shouts to him the majesty of the creator – one can only imagine the day in his young life when he picks up Darwin and reads of natural selection and evolution and his theory of the creation of species is thrown for another whack. But for now because he has a belief that God created the world as it is and created the way that he appreciated it, he marvels and is in awe of the beauty and grace of a useless bird and so knows absolutely, for now, that he is of more merit than any of these birds. - The history of the world and of genocide and of war of course turns these same precious human beings into pigeons with a nary a difference between them except that a pigeon does not ever have the inclination to pull a trigger. This is the thing about human belief and faith and understanding that the story presents – we find our grasp of creation in the acts of destruction. In murder we see life, in collapse we see structure, in being broken we see what it is to be healed – and seemingly only then. You want to see the wonders of creation? Kill something. You want to see the beauty of creation, topple something down investigate the pieces and be inspired by the grace that your searching eyes now recognize. The wonder of nature? Dissect it so to see it and then call it the thing that puts you on the throne. - We kill and we are moved to God. This is the movement towards belief that is desirous of a reconciliation with the belief that we once safely settled on. We are, in this way, also the thing that is killed, we come to have certainty of our privileged place in the divine and in that certainty we turn our believing backs on others, on strangers, we return to our monopoly on truth and our respect for the lives and thoughts of others becomes tolerance. It is not living but resting, a waiting for the light to change. The Accelerating Expansion of the Universe. - Martin Fairchild is an old man and a survivor, he is outliving his previous colleagues, his peers, his friends, his poker buddies, and his sense of usefulness. Like David, Martin has been exposed by a scientific discovery, the universe is expanding and this expansion is accelerating to the eventual and inevitable point that the universe will one day explode and darken. I can't say that I thoroughly understand this but I do understand that Martin does and that he sees that the religious beliefs of his younger days are also being exploded and he, like David, is being stripped of his beliefs and left in the darkness. This is a man much closer to death than young David and these altering views of reality and of metaphysics have left Martin depressed. - He is also depressed because of the darkness that he has been left in by his own accelerating expansion. He is aging and with aging comes the collapse of his physical powers, and with aging and surviving comes the loss of the world that you have come to rely on. There is that which he has gotten used to, the comfortable and unchallenging marriage that he rests in like a child and he is losing the friends and compadres of his past. He is both lost and at rest; he has peace in his life and a serious unrest that is leaving him feeling dead but still with blood pulsing and a life to live. - The universe is expanding and the thing that he feels, in very sharp distinction to David is that the movement of the universe is splitting away from other human beings, not just those that are of the same mind as him but everyone, the world is splitting away from him, and he does not know how to connect, to be a part of the global cacophony and landscape that he knows should or could be out there for him. He is depressed and distressed by this sense of distance, a distance growing by the day and making itself more and more obvious. He has lost his sense of urgency and of agency, he wanders and wonders in his home and he does not know where to go or what to with the life that he has been given. - It is in Spain that a movement touches him that he does not understand but his sense of himself is confusedly and deliciously upturned and overwhelmed. While walking a very narrow path between a wall of concrete and the rush of a traffic filled street, his wife's purse or handbag is grabbed by a passer by on a scooter and the momentum of his wife's resistance; her desire to hold on to that which defines her and shows her where she is from, this resistance tellingly pulls her into him and knocks him down. - He bangs his head hard and for a moment his life and world changes. He belongs, he feels connected to all the caring strangers – connected to all the people who in their everyday speech speak a very different language; he feels connected to them and beholden to them. He feels obligated to translate descriptions and discussions of his accident and experience to the strangers in their home land all around him. And he wishes to offer them this final thanks on parting: “you have all been very kind.” - The accident has been largely wonderful for him; he does not care as his wife does about ruining his inexpensive windbreaker. The accident has thrown him, again an act of violence has shown him creation, into the life of the other, into the lives of the strange to which he must translate himself. Because of the investigation of this blessed crime he is given the tourists privilege of seeing the real city. “Fairchild felt exhilarated, striding through the antique streets holding a bloody handkerchief to his eyebrow while his wife – undamaged, younger than he – trotted beside him, holding his jacket, which, for all her concern, bore only a single drop of blood, now dried….They were being taken, he realized, out of the tourist region, into the real Seville, its ordinary neighbourhoods and everyday institutions, its places for working and shopping, living and dying. They passed down streets of restaurants, past banks, and a department store, all still bustling in the growing dark, at an hour when an American city would be shutting up shop.” - He is wounded but awakened in a world that still hums and lives and at the hospital he is treated with graceful silk in order to put him back together, a formula for repair and return that is not, he is told, heard of in Martin's home country. He has been stitched up with the ways and means of another people and another style of living and he is moved by it, and depressed by its absence once he returns home. - He is left without a sense of any of these tenuous and foreign connections and he feels that his own personal universe is expanding beyond connections. He was crushed by the force of the violence of the world and as a result he is removed from the manners of belief and put into the line of a faith in actual painful and exciting living. And when this dissipates because of the nature of his own universe, of the own way that he has come to live, he is depressed, without a God, without an injury that renders him alive. He putters instead of live, he saw life in the eyes and actions of a foreign other and now this is gone. He had opened and exhilarated by that which horrified David, the ways of other people. And now in the safety of his own home this opening light has been shut off. He is returned to being a child after having felt like a living adult. - And like David, Martin is given an errand that sends him to the barn where again everything from lives past is gathered in the inertia of imagination and there he has an epiphany that stems from destruction but is of a very different sort. He has been sent on a task we are told that even a child could do. Martin is being sent to do a job that is suited for David. However, he is being sent instead from the place of a depressing and discouraging security to the place of open possibility of a door being opened in a different way; for David it was the opposite, he went from a place of depressing and discouraging openness to the possibility of a security. - He sees all the things that have been owned and the pleasure of what it is to own, stacked and sorted in an cherrywood cupboard that his mother had cherished and Martin had inherited. He recognizes that he loved to own things that there was a thrill to being possessed by the act of possessing something else. After appreciating his relationship to the things of his life he sets to his task of removing the blue doorknob from one of the old discarded heavy doors. - “To see a little better, to get the blue knob a few inches farther into the open, he shifted the doors, in their encumbering wrap, toward him, so that they were precariously balanced in a vertical position, against his shoulder. Suddenly he was being pressed, as he had been on that street in Seville, downward irresitably, by a force he could not at first understand.” He is being pulled again, lost, irresistibly, into mystery, into faith, into that which he cannot and need not understand. The expanding universe is moving again but this time he is spinning into a trajectory of faith and action and not mere belief. - He is knocked down by a door that also knocks down and destroys all the heirlooms and possessions of his past, he is returned to the position of the injured and we are given access to the powerful closing paragraph: “The crashing successive tumult, as he lay with shut eyes and stinging knees on the useless saved lumber, came in stages, had followed by worse, worse by worst, and then by silence. Winter wind whispered in a high corner of the barn. A splinter of glass tardily let go and tinkled to the floor. All was destroyed, shattered, dispersed. Fairchild's brain, working as fast as a knitting machine, had in a split second seen it all coming. For that split second, he had not been depressed.” - The action of collapse is an action and in that action, even or especially because it is an action of smashing the possession and the possessed, there is life and there is living and in the destruction there is a movement of life that is alive and in that it is alive and not a possession like a belief, there is a return to a faith, an active participation in one's life. It has taken the smashing of everything that was a remnant to bring about this opening of life. In that second he was not depressed for in that second he was freed, as he was in Spain, to the truth of living. - There are forty plus years between these two stories and within those years, from that movement to childhood to adulthood, there is a singular lesson not to be learned but to be lived and the metaphor that the stories shows is that a destruction that is a violence of killing of something else brings you a closed and deadening security, and that the violence of an accident to oneself, and one's sense of security can provide you with a movement of faith. - We are returned to a relationship with that bookend of our lives, death, and the movement of truth is in an acceptance of the mystery and not in the possession of a declarative and assumptive and hopeful belief in how you feel you must understand that truth. In this distinction, in this privileged and truthful relationship to death and destruction, is the moral movement towards the other, the stranger and forbidding and opening and enticing and alarming other, the one that you are to me and I am to you, and we all are to each other. source..

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(04 August 2011)
Religion and the Moral Imagination
Morals are character that causes a difference in someone’s intentions, decisions and actions. They are virtuous that causes a person to differentiate between what is good or bad. They come into play especially when we relate with others. Morals are values that we share with others and they justify our actions. Morals are the rules of conduct that individuals or a particular group adhere to. Thus, our morals dictate the things that are important, the ideas, and believe which we hold on and consider, as special Values are measures of integrity which ethical actions can be based on. Individuals and cultures consider morals depending on whether they are virtues or vices. For illustration, caring for a sick person is morally upright.
The first decision that David made is to change his belief. Naturally, the beliefs that people hold comforts them. However, if doubt and disbelief creeps in, people tend to question the purpose of life. When David realizes that, there are people whose beliefs are radically different from his, his entire world changes. He believes that God creating other people with different religious belief is not right. This takes place when he realizes that there are people with nearly opposite beliefs to his. The uniform landscape that was his world changes with this realization. He believes that allowing people with different believes to exist and thrive on earth is wrong. Morals, which are directed by someone’s beliefs, describe the standard of behavior and belief that the person will hold. David after realizing that there are different believes on earth, live morally and spiritually empty life. His life lacks purpose. His thoughts consistently ponders on the possibility reality that something is not right. He lives a life of escapism.
Martin Fairchild, unlike David is old and has outlived his sense of usefulness. He faces the same challenge as David. He has come across some scientific information that radically changes his religious beliefs. He thinks that like the universe his religious beliefs are exploding. The new information has caused depression in his life.
Human beings are confronted with new truths every day. The challenge is how one handles the new information. If one changes his belief system because of some new information that he has learnt, it portrays a weakness in ones life. This is because belief is a deep conviction that forms the foundations of someone’s character actions and entire life. This is why a person may die to protect his belief. Strong belief dictates that one should continue believing even after coming across disconfirming evidence. In fact, the art of believing demands that one should protect his belief in the face of evidence that disconfirms the belief. One faltering because of disconfirming evidence shows his or her weakness. Thus...
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