Whisper Ethics is a way of approaching political decision making from a Christian perspective. It is intimately related to process theology, the work of Alfred North Whitehead and several prominent Christian theologians.
Process theology posits that humans are decision makers who make decisions in response to different messages that float through their awareness. There are messages from the past—memories, emotions, goals, wishes, hopes. There are messages from our reptilian brain centered around survival. These messages pertain to fear, greed, and lust among other things. There are also messages from God—a sense of beauty, goodness, love, justice, harmony, and creativity.
When approaching a political issue, different messages may float through your awareness. Messages from your reptilian brain to decide in terms of self-interest may be prominent. These messages may drown out the messages of goodness and love that come from God. The question addressed in this essay is how one can become better able to hear the voice of God which gently calls us to move beyond self-interest. In other words, this essay is about how one tunes into Whisper Ethics.
The best approach I have discovered comes from the practice of mindful meditation. Mindful meditation is designed to help the practitioner move beyond ego-centric thoughts. The ego is a personality structure organized around our insecurities and demons. It is based on the assumption that we need to be defended, that we are separated, isolated, alone to face the world and thus in need of protection. In pursuit of our defense, the ego generates thoughts that tell us to win, to succeed, to compete. Ego generated thoughts condemn others and thoughts that seek revenge when the ego perceives we are threatened. Because of such thoughts, we become self-absorbed, obsessed with our own self-centered concerns which creates a dense smokescreen making it very difficult to hear God's messages of goodness and love.
Mindful meditation provides a simple technique to quiet this self-centered, ego-driven noise. With regard to my practice, I begin by sitting in a comfortable chair, closing my eyes, and focusing on my breathing. I center my focus on the process of breathing, one breath in and one breath out, as a way to quiet my mind. Once my mind is quiet and I am at peace, I imagine myself sitting in a tree looking down objectively at my life. I examine my insecurities, what motivates me, what causes anger, situations that create anxiety, the people who bother me. This examination is conducted with honesty but without judgment. The goal is to understand what lies behind this darkness and then to reject it as not representative of my best self. Over time I have come to see that these less attractive parts of my character are part of an invented self that seeks to protect me, but I have learned that I don't need that kind of protection. When you look at your insecurities and demons directly in the face and refuse to identify with them, they lose their power. The smoke lifts.
Twenty-five hundred years ago the Buddha argued that the purpose of this type of meditation was to clean the windows of perception. With clean windows, we tune into the voice of God. To be a follower of Jesus means to listen to this voice and then to act on it.
Sadly, critics will jump all over this conclusion. It's too simplistic they will say. Lots of people hear the voice of God and act accordingly. The Russian Orthodox church is mostly united in its support of the war in Ukraine. Priests are telling their congregations that God is calling on Russia to bring all Orthodox Christians under the benevolent umbrella of Mother Russia.
Soon after President Biden's election, Christian nationalist pastors called on their followers to wage spiritual warfare. Their crusade began in a nondenominal church in Phoenix Arizona two weeks after the November 2020 election. God was telling them Trump was his chosen instrument to bring moral government back to the United States and that they should do whatever it takes, including the use of violence if necessary, to achieve God's will. This rhetoric played a prominent role in the January 6, 2021 attack of the United States Capitol. (See Jon Ward, Chief National Correspondent, Yahoo News, February 16, 2023)
Life is complex, humans have limits, and messages that float through our awareness are often ambiguous. I take inspiration from the Prophets, Jesus and Paul. They all claimed to hear God's voice; and, in all cases, this voice called them to act in ways that transcended their narrow, self-interest. This voice called on them to work to achieve economic and social justice, to resolve disputes nonviolently, to be inclusive, and to forgive those who have injured them in some ways. Because of our limits as humans, we can never be sure whose voice is floating through our awareness, but when I receive messages that match those received by the Prophets, Jesus or Paul, I am confident that I am hearing the voice of God.
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