There is a very interesting article in the area of cultural anthropology that considered whether there is a set of moral standards that are supracultural. Afterall, it is rather important whether morality is simply a human/cultural construct or whether it is built into us. Some have even made the argument that a universal morality in mankind points towards a single moral creator. While I think that may be a stretch, morality has been hit quite hard by relativism. If, however, one can say that some things are universal, or at least near-universal, this could place severe boundaries on relativism.
The article is
by Jenny Anderson, on the work of Oliver Scott Curry, an anthropology lecturer at the University of Oxford. (You can click on the title to read the article.)
The seven “universal rules” are:
- Help your family
- Help your group
- Return favors
- Be brave
- Defer to superiors
- Divide resources fairly
- Respect others’ property
Nearly all cultures promote these seven, even if there are some variations on what these mean.
This should hardly be surprising. If one considers the virtues we know as the Fruit of the Spirit, the phrase at the end, “against such things there are no laws,” (see Galatians 5:22-23) points out there there are virtues that are fairly universal. I know that when I talk about other religions in my Interreligious Dialogue class, there is commonly one or two who appear to be surprised that Christian virtues/morals are shared for the most part with other religions.
But there should not be this surprise. For the most part, Christianity is not a denial of human understanding of virtues. Rather, it uniquely addresses the dreadful failure humans have in living up to not only God’s standards, but our own as well.
That last paragraph is pretty important, I think. It suggests that if we are to speak to those of other faiths, cultures, and ideologies, the appropriate strategy is NOT to focus on differences. On the other hand, focusing only on the commonalities is not very useful either, since it dishonors our uniqueness. Rather, the similariaties can be used as a bridge for dialogue that addresses both similarities and differences. The seven common moral rules may be a good start.
Sometime I hope to expand this idea. But this is a good start.