On Nurturing “Moral Ecologies”

David Brooks writes in today’s NY Times about the legalization of marijuana in Colorado. I was struck by Brooks’s moral reasoning far more than support or criticism of pot’s legalization.

These are his final two paragraphs:

Laws profoundly mold culture, so what sort of community do we want our laws to nurture? What sort of individuals and behaviors do our governments want to encourage? I’d say that in healthy societies government wants to subtly tip the scale to favor temperate, prudent, self-governing citizenship. In those societies, government subtly encourages the highest pleasures, like enjoying the arts or being in nature, and discourages lesser pleasures, like being stoned.

In legalizing weed, citizens of Colorado are, indeed, enhancing individual freedom. But they are also nurturing a moral ecology in which it is a bit harder to be the sort of person most of us want to be.

There’s obviously much to say about this specific issue and many valid points and approaches to morality in general. But beyond (or, perhaps, in addition to) plain right and wrong, I find it helpful in these sorts of discussions to ask about the shaping influence of certain practices. I think Brooks’s image of “moral ecologies” is supremely helpful along this line.

Beyond this specific issue, I wonder how helpful it would be for churches to think of their communities as moral ecologies. What sort of practices, habits of relating and patterns of community life “nurture a moral ecology” that produces joyful and faithful disciples of Jesus?

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2 responses to “On Nurturing “Moral Ecologies”

  • dmwestfall6

    Good quote from Brooks, and I appreciate your reflection. I’ve found James K.A. Smith’s two books on “cultural liturgies” to be helpful along these lines. The church’s life of worship, preaching, and fellowship ought to be geared toward just such a moral ecology – I think of the Lord’s Supper and a more general practice of hospitality in the church as key ways of approaching this.

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