An Exploration Of The Moral Topography Of Sin: Part Six

Having examined in the previous parts of this exploration [1] the difficulty that is faced in conceiving of the moral topography of sin, and in examining different aspects of that moral topography, I will seek to tie together the insights gained from this investigation by use of an extended metaphor from regional geography. For those who are not aware of regional geography, it consists of seeking to understand the characteristics that define certain areas of space as a region. When we are dealing with questions of sin and morality, we need to divide the space of moral possibility into several regions, each of which has different characteristics, and towards which we should have different responses. To refresh readers of the previous parts, we began our investigation of moral topography by comparing it to orienteering, where one has a compass and some clues and seeks to find the destination one is seeking. We then explored the question of boundary lines, pointing out that many aspects of sin relate to trespassing over boundaries and borders, before examining that other aspects of sin relate to missing the mark and failing to reach the target and goal that we are aiming at. After this we explored two additional aspects of sin that dealt with a failure to progress as well as sinning against the conscience, which is our internal compass by which we steer our actions, and which is imperfect but capable of great improvement so that it more closely aligns with the divine standard by which we will ultimately be judged, so that we may better reach the destination of the Kingdom of God that we seek.

Relating this to regional geography helps us recognize the spatial elements of our moral behavior. In particular, we can recognize very easily that there are three sorts of terrain that we must deal with. Some areas of conduct are mandatory, actions that are required of us, duties and obligations that we are commanded to do. These areas are like the pathways to the Jerusalem that is above, ground that must be traversed for us to reach our destination. Other areas of conduct are permissible, allowable but not commanded. Much of our lives, hopefully, is spent in this area, which amounts to the pleasant meadows on which we play, the scenic overlooks on the side of the roads, the historical sites and museums and other destinations that we enjoy going to but have no obligation to visit. These are roads we take by choice, not roads that are commanded of us. There are other areas of conduct that are strictly forbidden, ways that are blocked to us and where our trespassing and violation can lead to great harm to us and to others, as well as the possibility of a fatal interruption of our journey towards the Kingdom of God. We may stumble into spiritual and emotional minefields, find ourselves imprisoned by a failure to control our behavior, or may enter into territory that leads us far astray from our destination and hopelessly lost, without the possibility of saving ourselves or finding the right path without painful retracing of our paths and the help of skilled guides.

In speaking of moral topography we have need to be less exact than when we speak of the topography of the earth that we know, but even the real world admits of more variety in terms of how we conceive of topography than is readily admitted. As children, the world seems like an enormous place, as we walk or bicycle all over creation, finding ourselves a few miles away from home to think that such a trip is an immense adventure, traveling slowly enough to recognize the country stores, the houses of our neighbors, the secret paths by which one can make a circuit of one’s neighborhoods, the quality of the ditches on the side of the road because there are no sidewalks, or the odor of pig farms and chicken coops. Or we remember the dreary sameness of identical suburban neighborhoods where we are lost in a fog, unable to find the way out to the main road because all of the neighborhoods have houses that look the same and nearly identical cul-de-sacs that lead to continual turn arounds and the puzzled looks of strangers who live only a few streets down. Or we travel over roads marked with potholes and uneven attempts at occasional and cheap road maintenance while trying to avoid the flooded areas on our paths that would make our vehicles stall or be submerged completely. We travel over roads that at one time of day may take only a half an hour to go long distances, while at other times these same roads may require hours of travel for the same distance, or may be completely impassable because all the roads are blocked from a fatal accident where an inattentive truck driver smashed into a row of cars stopped in bad traffic, leading to death and destruction on roads most of us depend on for our continued existence.

How, then, are we to handle the moral topography of our lives? For one, it helps if we can recognize that although we may have the same destination we begin in different places, and that the terrain is shaped slightly differently for most of us based on our own sensitivities and experiences, which mean that some of what is permitted ground for others may be very dangerous ground for ourselves, and vice versa. A few suggestions appear to be very appropriate to mention. For one, we can study and pay close attention to areas of the moral terrain that are common to all people, so that we can find areas of commonality between our own journeys and those of others. We can also be sensitive to aspects of our moral terrain that will vary on our means of transport, our stage in life, and our own personal backgrounds and temperaments and sensitivities. We can enjoy the times we may be able to spend with others traveling along the same path, providing encouragement as well as a compassionate ear to the stories of our fellow pilgrims and sojourners and travelers. We spend our entire lives traversing the moral topography of our existence; we should make the most of the good company we find along the way as well as the insight we can gain from our neighbors into the mysteries and quests of our existence.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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2 Responses to An Exploration Of The Moral Topography Of Sin: Part Six

  1. Pingback: Semi-Profesional Orienteering | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Zones Of Disaffection | Edge Induced Cohesion

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