Spiritual and Moral Vision
IV. Our Proposed Spiritual and Moral Vision:
2. Relational and Developmental Insights
Our view of
the different dimensions of the human person contribute to this holistic vision
of personal growth – growth that integrates the physical, economic, political, moral,
spiritual, intellectual, cultural, and artistic aspects of our personality and lifestyle.
Each dimension provides an opportunity to serve God by developing and sharing
one's gifts with others.
The Judeo-Christian tradition holds up one imperative that summarizes all of the principles of ethical and righteous living: in all circumstances we are called to love God with all of our heart, mind, and strength; and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Deut. 6:5, Lev 19:18; Matt 22:37-40). We wholeheartedly support this "Great Commandment," but we do believe that, because the word "love" is used in so many senses today, it is necessary to be more specific about what "love" really means.
In his book The Road Less Traveled (Simon & Schuster, 1978), M. Scott Peck claims that love is not simply an emotional or physical attraction to another person. Rather, it is "the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth" (p. 81). Furthermore, consistent with our focus on a dimensional view of the human person, we propose that spiritual growth should be understood as "holistic growth" that encompasses all aspects of the human person. Loving action thus serves all dimensions of the human personality.
We thus understand love as the desire to extend oneself for the holistic development of oneself and others. We believe that this more concrete and tangible notion of love -- love that promotes the development of the whole person -- expresses true concern for the welfare of oneself and of others. We therefore adopt it as a cornerstone of our ethical outlook.
b. The Social Dimension of this "Golden Rule"
Our 'systems' view of reality requires that we also
explore the implications of this 'Golden Rule' on the social level of
organization. While personal commitment,
self-discipline, and initiative are all necessary for personal growth, we place
great emphasis on the importance of social support in the drama of human
development. From birth to death, we depend on social institutions and
structures to provide us with the opportunities and resources for developing
ourselves and forming intimate, constructive, and enjoyable relationships.
Because of the central role that institutions play in the development of individuals, one of our first moral principles is that institutions must somehow address the needs of all of those whose lives are touched by their projects and policies. A constant vigilance is required in order to create, maintain, and reform institutions so that they enhance personal development. This vigilance is the social dimension of the imperative to love one another.
c. Ecological Foundations: An Extension of the Golden
Rule beyond the Human Community
We thus propose a second part of our "Golden Rule" that calls us to act with responsibility and care toward all living things and to exercise wise and far-sighted stewardship over the natural resources that sustain ecosystems around the globe.
In the following sections, we will propose specific values, virtues,
activities that may help individuals to embrace the personal, social, and
ecological dimensions of this Golden Rule. We will discuss how persons may
help themselves and others to navigate along the journey of personal
growth. We will also propose key values and principles that suggest how society
may be ordered so that the common good of all persons is enhanced.
Finally, we will offer perspectives and principles that promote the well-being
of species, ecosystems, and the biosphere as a whole.
1. Spiritual and Moral Disciplines: Regular Practices that Promote Spiritual and Moral Development
The backbone of our vision for the spiritual formation of
individuals is a framework of eight types of spiritual disciplines. Spiritual
may be broadly defined as regular practices that are designed to promote spiritual
eight types include contemplation, service,
theological reflection or study, faith-sharing groups, spiritual mentoring, ritual, witness, and
disciplines of the body. These types of activities are observed in practically all major
monotheistic religions. While
the emphasis on each may vary in different faith traditions, they may be
considered cross-cultural practices that are recognized and honored in diverse
Contemplation includes activities in which one quietly
focuses on one's thoughts, feelings, desires, and values, especially as they
relate to God and one's relationship with God. These activities facilitate relaxation,
introspection, personal insight, and a deep awareness of God’s presence and guidance in one’s
life. Examples include meditation, centering prayer, journaling, and reflecting
upon spiritual symbols or works of art.
Theological reflection or study is
the quest for a systematic understanding of God, human nature, human societies, the
natural world, and the universe as a whole. This discipline should enable one to create a
coherent 'map of reality' in light of one’s religious beliefs. It includes any
activity involving focused learning that is relevant to one's spiritual views
and values. For example, one may discuss a classic theological
text in one's faith community or explore psychological theories.
Service includes activities
that promote the development and well-being of persons and other living things. These
activities may be divided into two types: personal service and structural
service. Personal service provides immediate, face-to-face assistance and
comfort to those in need. An example would be providing medical care or simple
companionship to the sick or elderly. Another would be helping to restore lost
habitat for some plant or animal species. Structural service is the process of
changing social institutions so that their values, programs, and policies have the best possible impact on the
well-being of humans and the environment. Structural service is often
practiced in the realm of political life. Examples of political
activities include grass-roots political organizing and peaceful public demonstrations that
advocate social change. This type of service may also be performed in
other types of institutions. One may, for example, strive to change the
values of one's family or a civic organization to which one belongs.
the process of giving spiritual guidance and direction to those who may benefit
from one’s wisdom and experience. It
is provided by members of a faith community who are recognized as spiritually
mature persons. Examples of
mentoring activities include structured discussions that one may have with a
spiritual guide as well as religious education programs for new members of a
Faith-sharing groups build
'spiritual friendships' among peers. In these small groups, usually no
larger than eight individuals, participants may reflect on some significant
spiritual text or theme. They may then discuss the relevance of this theme
or text for their lives. In a more
open format, they may simply share the everyday challenges of living according
to the spiritual values and views that they espouse.
activities that summarize and express significant meanings in one’s life and
in the life of one’s community. Through
the interplay of symbols, sacred texts, presentations, and song, these
activities may highlight key turning points in the biographies and histories of
individuals and groups. They may
also affirm the core values and identities of persons and the communities of
which they belong.
The discipline of witness
involves giving an account of one's entire spiritual journey. It
calls one to construct a narrative of the experiences that have most
dramatically shaped one's spiritual views and values. It is important to
note that the emphasis in this discipline is less on one's specific views and more on the
experiences that have led one to form these views.
Disciplines of the body
include practices in which one regulates
one’s bodily processes in order to enhance one's spiritual growth.
Fasting, for example, requires that individuals abstain from
ordinary eating habits in order to enhance their spiritual awareness and
You may link to each of these sections now or return to
them after you have gained an overview of the entire moral and spiritual vision.
If one is not particularly interested in spiritual activities, or wishes to focus solely on their moral formation, we recommend a framework of eight types of moral disciplines. These are simply the spiritual disciplines without their explicitly religious content. In all of the major world religions, spiritual disciplines form believers both morally and spiritually. We thus propose that spiritual disciplines can be stripped of their spiritual content and yet still transform the values and priorities of those who practice them. Below is a brief description of how we have translated our framework of spiritual disciplines into moral disciplines. The types of moral disciplines include contemplation, intellectual formation, service, ritual, moral witness, peer counseling, moral mentoring, and disciplines of the body.
Like spiritual disciplines, moral disciplines can be practiced in a rhythm of moral formation that develops the personal and social skills needed for keen moral discernment and decisive action based on one’s deepest values and convictions. These activities can also be adapted to the special developmental needs and cultural contexts of different organizations and individuals. Since they are derived from spiritual disciplines that are practiced by a wide variety of cultures, they should be useful and effective in practically all cultural contexts.
1) Translating Spiritual Disciplines into Moral Disciplines
Disciplines of the body may be translated into practices that promote moral development by means of the regulation of one’s bodily processes.
In the context of moral development, rituals are activities that express, through symbols, symbolic actions, presentations, songs, oaths, and awards, the full scope of the values and behaviors expected of morally mature persons. Especially significant are rites of passage and initiation that mark transitions into new stages of life and new social roles, with new opportunities and responsibilities for moral action. Such a rite of initiation might include a ceremony that marks the first exercise of one's right to vote, a key opportunity and responsibility of all citizens. Other rituals might include regular events that affirm our responsibilities as stewards of the common good, such as planting trees on public lands; or annual rituals recognizing outstanding public service within business firms or civic organizations.
Contemplative practices more broadly include activities that promote moral growth through greater awareness of one’s everyday emotions, desires, and values — the basic dynamics of one’s inner psychic processes. In the context of moral formation, these practices may include centering meditation, journaling, and inspirational reading.
Theological reflection has become intellectual formation and includes activities that teach a basic understanding of character and wisdom within different moral traditions. These activities should clarify how different traditions view character and wisdom as necessary for personal fulfillment and social progress. Examples of specific activities here include systematic instruction in ethics in schools, churches, or business firms. Such instruction could use all of these moral disciplines in order to teach participants how different moral traditions understand these core moral concepts.
Faith sharing and mentoring can be translated into peer counseling and mentoring, which serve the same functions of social reinforcement, personal guidance, and role modeling. In peer counseling groups, peers can share their experiences of struggling to live up to the values and principles that they espouse.
In mentoring activities, respected figures such as scout troop leaders or teachers can provide guidance in the process of developing moral character and wisdom. Mentors may serve as role models for those who look up to them for moral inspiration and direction. In addition to scouting, Big Sister and Big Brother programs are excellent examples of this type of moral discipline.
Service still includes activities that promote the integral development of other persons and/or ecosystems. These activities may be divided into two types: personal service and structural service. Personal service provides immediate, face-to-face assistance and comfort to those in need. An example would be providing medical care or simple companionship to the sick or elderly. Structural service is the process of working to change social institutions so that they may better enhance the development of all those whose welfare they protect and promote. Examples include political education, grass-roots political organizing, and lobbying.
Like spiritual witness, moral witness involves sharing one’s moral values and convictions in the public square – in political, civic, cultural, and economic organizations in which one participates. It involves the explicit and consistent promotion of personal and public values that one deems essential to individual welfare and the prosperity of society as a whole. Simply acting on one’s values and convictions in everyday public life is perhaps the most effective form of this type of witness.
In the following sections we discuss: 1) how moral disciplines help us to respond to challenging ethical situations with wisdom and creativity; 2) how we can integrate moral perspectives into all of our roles and relationships, 3) the relationships between types of moral disciplines in a rhythm of moral practices, and 4) how we can adapt this rhythm of practices to the special characteristics and needs of different individuals and groups.
You may link to each of these sections now or return to them after you have gained an overview of the entire moral and spiritual vision.
h. Discerning Relationships between
Different Types of Moral Disciplines
For each dimension of social life discussed in our view of society – institutions, social sectors, socio-cultural affiliations, and levels of social organization -- there is a set of values and principles that promote constructive social dynamics. These dynamics encourage balanced social progress toward a just and sustainable society. We refer to this ideal society as 'the common good'. The various sets of values and principles are described below.
1. Ethical Issues for Institutions
In the section on "The Human Person," (III.C) we affirmed that individuals should work hard to cultivate the discipline, responsibility, initiative, social skills, and vocational capabilities that they need in order to develop their full potential. However, we also emphasized that without healthy social institutions, individuals are deprived of the collective resources, role models, and cumulative wisdom that are essential to their psychological, spiritual, and moral development. In this section we propose values and principles that may help institutions to provide this developmental support to individuals and groups that are affected by their programs and policies. We also suggest that organizations can promote the moral and spiritual growth of members and constituents by sponsoring activities related to the different types of moral and spiritual disciplines.
a. General Institutional Norms
The Priority of the Common Good: The Golden Rule for Institutions
From the family to transnational corporations, the most basic norm for institutions is the principle of the priority of the common good. That is, the values, programs, and policies of institutions must somehow enhance the well-being of all persons, groups, and ecosystems that are in any way affected by them. Institutions may not pursue their missions in ways that harm any of these entities unless they seek some greater benefit for the common good in the long term.
Commitment to Excellence
One important way in which institutions promote their own
interests as well as the common good is by striving for excellence in the skills
and capabilities that are central to their missions. For example, business
firms should ensure that their employees are well-trained in the skills
necessary for carrying out their specific functions within the
organization. This consistent focus on high standards demands
determined leadership, organizational discipline, and an openness to new
perspectives and ideas. These three virtues are central values in the cultures
of successful institutions, no matter what their size or mission.
Institutions may respect the principle of inclusiveness in
three ways. Regarding membership, institutions should welcome all
interested persons, regardless of their class,
race, gender, creed, age, ethnicity, or sexual preference. We will concede
that some groups may legitimately limit their membership if these limits are
essential to their mission. For example, some organizations may focus on
the special needs of members of historically oppressed groups. They would
thus limit their membership to these individuals.
But for the vast majority of institutions, particularly economic and political
institutions, the norm of inclusive membership should be strictly respected.
Furthermore, institutions may have to make a special effort to ensure that
individuals from disadvantaged or historically oppressed groups feel welcome to
Institutions may be held accountable to the common good in
a variety of ways. First, they should espouse a set of values or code
of ethics that specifically describes how the organization will pursue its
mission in ways that promote the common good. This code should include
guidelines for institutional policies and programs and for the behavior of
individual members. In addition, institutions should have clear policies and
procedures for holding members accountable to the ethical principles that the
institution espouses. As discussed above, groups should also adopt
inclusive decision-making processes. When all stakeholders have input into
important decisions, they may hold institutions accountable to their interests
and to the common good. In addition, groups must permit members and outside parties to
monitor and assess their values, policies, programs, and decision-making
processes in order to ensure that they promote the
common good. Even families should accept outside monitoring, assessment, and help when
such measures are needed in order to protect and promote the welfare of family members.
This openness to examination and assessment is termed transparency.
It is an essential part of any strategy for holding institutions accountable to
the common good.
The various types of spiritual and moral disciplines provide systematic and concrete ways in which secular and faith-based institutions can contribute to the spiritual and moral foundations of society. Institutions can thus do much more than simply uphold the law or a code of professional ethics. They can form their members, clients, and constituents morally and spiritually, as is appropriate to their nature and mission.
The Practice of Spiritual Disciplines in Faith-Based Institutions
Faith-based organizations such as schools, churches, and church-affiliated service organizations may sponsor a variety of different types of spiritual activities. These activities may focus on one type of spiritual discipline or integrate several types into a more complex format. In order to adapt activities to the specific characteristics of their members, groups may follow the guidelines discussed in the section above on "Two Principles for Creating Balanced Rhythms of Spiritual Formation."
The Practice of Moral Disciplines in Secular or Faith-Based Groups
While it may not be appropriate for secular institutions to sponsor spiritual activities, these groups (as well as faith-based groups) can still provide opportunities for members to clarify and carry out the moral dimensions of the organization’s mission. As with spiritual activities, these programs may focus on one type of moral discipline or integrate several types. In order to adapt programs to the specific characteristics of their members, groups may follow the guidelines discussed in the section above on "Two Principles for Creating Balanced Rhythms of Moral Formation."
We urge leaders of business firms, government bodies, and voluntary groups of all sorts to plan such opportunities for discussions and projects related to the moral dimensions of their organizations’ missions. These activities may provide all members with a chance to learn how the organization can promote the holistic development of individuals, the common good of society as a whole, and the health and integrity of ecosystems. Leaders should also provide opportunities for individuals to develop the skills and capabilities for making wise and compassionate moral decisions.
Moral Disciplines and Moral Education
The various types of moral disciplines can also be used as a framework for moral education in both public and private schools. As discussed in the previous section, moral disciplines provide a rhythm of engaging programs that may be adapted to all grade levels and learning styles.
2. Ethical Relationships between Different Levels of Social Organization
In our view of society, we described how society may be divided into different levels of social organization. We also proposed that the well-being of lower levels of social organization often depends on effective policies at higher levels. It is thus imperative that institutions on higher levels of social organization foster social conditions in which individuals and institutions on lower levels can enjoy opportunities for development and prosperity. However, according to the principle of subsidiarity, it is important that higher levels of institutions, like national governments, refrain from assuming responsibilities and functions that would be better assumed by lower levels of organization such as state and local governments. This principle encourages local groups and individuals to take responsibility for promoting their own development and the progress of society as a whole. Larger institutions may and often must lend them some assistance in this process, but this help should be given in such a way as to empower lower level groups to fully participate in all dimensions of social life.
This principle of subsidiarity applies to all types of institutions, whether they be political, economic, religious, or cultural. Whenever possible, institutions large and small should spread responsibility among as many individuals as possible, encouraging them to participate in all sorts of social projects from government to business ventures to educational institutions. We propose that the citizens who enjoy the most liberty are those who are engaged in many social projects, since through these projects they determine their destiny and build up society as a whole.
3. Ethical Relationships within and between Social Sectors
Relationships within Sectors
Political systems must also ensure that elected officials
do not use their incumbency to prevent others from challenging them for their
offices. This task requires careful regulation of campaign and election policies
In summary, in order to maintain ethical relationships within sectors, citizens must demand policies that promote the right types of cooperative and competitive relationships among the institutions that comprise them.
Relationships between Sectors
It is also imperative to maintain the right combination of
cooperative and competitive or adversarial relationships between social sectors.
For example, governments must regulate markets in order to
ensure that business firms conduct their operations in a manner that promotes
the common good. In turn, business firms should prevent the state from
taking on economic ventures that would be more effectively and efficiently pursued
by the market sector. Organizations in civil society must hold both
the market and the state accountable to the common good, and the state must
regulate organizations in civil society in order to ensure that they raise funds
and pursue their missions in an ethical manner. In a historically famous
example of checks and balances between sectors, most democratic governments now
insist that religious groups and the state remain separate so that religious
groups are unable
to use political leverage to impose their beliefs and values on citizens against
Constructive Cooperative Relationships between Sectors
These examples demonstrate how the relationships between sectors are complex. Citizens must discern how to enhance constructive cooperation between sectors while maintaining structures of accountability that enable sectors to "keep each other in line."
a. The Special Role of Institutions in Civil Society
Though they must be held accountable like all social institutions, the groups that comprise civil society have a special responsibility to be "visionary voices" in their culture. The primary goal of business firms is to earn profits and secure the financial prosperity of their owners. In addition, many businesses measure their progress by their short-term earnings. Many politicians also focus on short-term goals because they must run for reelection every few years. They therefore feel compelled to demonstrate that they have accomplished something during their relatively short term in office. The vision of government leaders may also be limited by the special interests that pay for their campaigns.
Institutions in civil society, however, may create long-term visions of social progress that embrace all individuals and social groups, as well as the health and integrity of the environment. We therefore propose that institutions such as faith communities and colleges should take a leading role in articulating and promoting long-term, holistic visions of social progress. They must encourage all social institutions and sectors to come together and create visions of long-term social goals toward which all may strive. Even if there is much disagreement on the details of these visions, the dialogue will raise and clarify crucial issues that must be addressed as we work together to build a free, just, and sustainable society.
Furthermore, if these social issues are discussed in a civil and open-minded
manner by persons of good will, we believe that common sets of values and
priorities will eventually emerge. Organizations in civil society must then lead
discussions on ways in which to integrate these common values into the laws and policies
that order our society.
A central focus of the mission of The Eos Network will be to encourage and empower the institutions in civil society to assume this leadership role. This is the main function of our Political Education and Action Groups (PEAGs), which will be composed of groups of persons in our local chapters, or in any other organization, who wish to participate more actively in public life. As we discuss in the list of programs for our Public Ministry, PEAGs represent our attempt to renew the tradition of small-group political dialogue. In both Europe and America, small groups of citizens served as the bulwark of early democratic movements. They provided opportunities for individuals to freely express their political views and share their aspirations for responsible self-government. Similarly, we hope to establish intimate communities in which citizens can learn about politics and form their own political views, which they may then articulate in the broader arena of public discourse.
PEAGs may be formed practically anywhere -- in our local
chapters, in other faith communities, in schools, in civic organizations, even
in neighborhoods and families. During their period of orientation, PEAG
members will be introduced to our overall strategy for political organization,
dialogue, and advocacy. They will learn helpful guidelines for establishing
their organizations. They will also have the opportunity to master a
variety of skills that are essential for constructive political dialogue.
Some of these include communication skills, goal setting, conflict management, and
consensus building. In addition, they will study our method for analyzing a wide range of political
In conclusion, we hope to create, within and beyond our membership, a new civic spirit that encourages vigorous public dialogue on important political issues. We hope to convince leaders of schools, churches, and civic groups that they and their members must explore the political implications of the ideals of their organizations. Only then can we all work together to have a greater voice in public policy and in the shaping of public morality – a voice that advocates the long-term well-being of individuals, human societies, and the environment.
To achieve these ambitious goals, we must emphasize to our members and partners that the process of promoting political reform is often a challenging struggle. Individuals and institutions may be reluctant to move beyond their own self-interest. They may focus only on their short-term gain. Or perhaps they are immobilized by their sense of powerlessness in the face of political systems that are largely controlled by wealthy interest groups. Participants in PEAGs should thus be prepared to struggle with courage and perseverance as they engage in political dialogue and participate in political action. We trust that our faith and fellowship will be strong enough to sustain these efforts to reinvigorate public life.
4. The Ethical Relationships within Socio-Cultural Affiliations of Race, Class, Gender, Creed, Age Group, Ethnicity, and Sexual Orientation
As discussed above in our view of society, socio-cultural affiliations are groups of persons who share some characteristic that may influence their access to resources needed for their development. Persons from some classes or ethnic groups may, for example, enjoy more advantages than individuals from other groups as they attempt to better themselves and participate in society. Faced with these patterns of inequality and discrimination, we affirm the values of fairness, equality, mutual understanding, and tolerance. We propose that all individuals should have the same opportunities to find meaning and fulfillment in life, regardless of their race, gender, class, creed, age group, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. We also maintain that it may be necessary to redistribute resources and opportunities from more privileged to less privileged groups.
For example, we adamantly affirm the equal dignity of men
and women, and we insist on their equal responsibility to be leaders in
families, in civic groups, in the workplace, and in political associations. We therefore
maintain that each gender ought to be given equal opportunities for personal
growth and for leadership in social institutions. Toward this end, we believe
that allowances should be made for the unique challenges that women face because
of the special physical and emotional needs associated with pregnancy,
childbirth, and the rearing of children.
We also promote respect for the distinctive values
and customs of different ethnic groups, as long as these customs benefit group members
and do not harm other persons or groups.
1. Helping Individuals to Value Nature in a
Variety of Ways
One may also experience nature as a tranquil place in which one may encounter the divine in a more focused and immediate way. Thus, it is not only aesthetically beautiful, but also sacramentally rich, disclosing to the eyes of faith the mystery, beauty, and awe of the sacred. The natural world may be a source for intellectual enrichment as one studies the great variety of forms of life and the complex living systems within which they thrive. One may experience the moral challenge of gaining humility before the vast legacy of life of which we are a part; one may cultivate the virtues of simplicity, discipline, and foresight as one tries to live a 'sustainable' lifestyle. In this way of life, we meet our needs in ways that preserve the environment. We may buy fewer material goods, drive less polluting cars, use mass transit, conserve energy, and recycle waste. And finally, one of the most popular ways to experience nature is through recreation: hiking, boating, hunting, fishing, or simply having a picnic.
The spread of an ecological consciousness
requires that all persons gain the opportunity to encounter and experience
nature in these ways. Part of the vocation of this community is thus to pursue
these experiences in our own lives and to help others to do so as well, whether
they are our next-door neighbor or someone living on another continent.