This is a continuation of a previous post on comparative religion. The first part laid out the general approach of looking for truth and goodness, and some of the problems that come up in understanding "truth" and "goodness." This part explores one of the side-paths: the view of "goodness" as "harmony with nature".
The question of "harmony with nature" came up previously, and right away we meet some interesting questions if we define "good" as "harmony with nature" and "evil" as "disruption of harmony with nature." If nature includes people (and who would say that it doesn't?), then can anything be done by a person be out of harmony with nature? If an action is not "natural" for a person, then where does it come from, if not from human nature? And if it does come from human nature, how can someone say it is not in harmony with nature? I'll expore these questions a little bit more.
We know that some wild animals, such as wolves, might kill one of their own pack simply to achieve dominance. Certain parts of human history read very much like the behavior of territorial pack animals, ever seeking dominance and territory to gain some sort of advantage within the pack or amongst the packs. So what is the relationship between what is natural and what is right? Again, for the moment I will leave open the questions raised so that we do not miss too much ground as we do our exploring. I will simply say that someone would be wrong to imagine that I am condoning humans acting like pack animals simply because I have not yet covered the various approaches to the question. Various religions leave open ways for man to have an ambiguous place in nature so that man, even if natural, is not necessarily in harmony with nature. In some understandings, restored harmony with nature, or restored union with Ultimate Reality, is the final goal of religion. If (on the traditional Western view) nature is a self-revelation of God and God is Ultimate Reality, then we find a lot of similarity amongst several different religions though not to the extent of sameness.
On the topic of harmony with nature and its relation to goodness, another approach deserves mention here. The example may be familiar but still worth review. Suppose -- what I earnestly hope is not true -- that a doctor were to tell me that I have cancer. Suppose that, to preserve my life, it were necessary that some part of my body be removed, and that the doctor should take a knife to me for this purpose. It might be argued that there's some sense in which the cancer is natural since it occurs in nature, and also some sense in which I see the cancer as not good since it tends to destroy, even to the point of destroying its own host. The doctor's decision to perform surgery and remove the cancer is a decision that takes it for granted that certain cells have more right to live than other cells, that some are healthy and some are unhealthy. It seems obvious when we think of cancer that any part which tends to destroy the whole has got to go, regardless of any debate over whether it is natural.
Still, is cancer "natural"? In the normal course of things, the body repairs and renews itself with new cells made after the pattern of the ones before. These cells, built on the same pattern, work well with the whole. If a healthy body does not typically produce cancer, is cancer still "natural"? If cancer is said to be natural at all, then it is only natural in the context of an unhealthy, destructive system.
On the subject of goodness as harmony with nature, we will want to keep an eye on not only whether something occurs naturally, but also whether it occurs naturally in a healthy system, and whether it tends to benefit the whole or to attack, destroy, or weaken the whole. We will also want to keep an eye on the pattern that produced the nature in question, and whether something is in keeping with that pattern.
More to come on the topic of comparative religion, exploring with goodness and truth as the basic guideposts.