Moral Velocity -- Another View

I read this thread:

and in the course of my ruminations it dawned on me. The author has it almost completely backwards. The issue is not failing moral standards, but countervailing ones. His complaint I think is better seen as being irked since his moral cause was usurped by another, similar one.

Here is what I mean. If you listen to pretty much all political discourse today, the discussions are framed almost completely as moralizing. Pro-abortion talks about women’s unassailable rights, right to lifers fire back in the same way. The environment is being ruined by evil corporations and must be purified. The list drags on. The reason that this moral velocity occurs is that the other side of a debate, rather than being able to come up with a staid, rational policy, is thinking precisely in the terms of a crusade. This means if they get the upper hand, they will go overboard.

One of the big issues I’ve been thinking about is how society has become secularized over the last 100 years or so and I really think that most all the trappings of religion remain as the framework for behaviors. People get up and make confessions, do penitence and generally make asses of themselves in the name of a good cause. Oh the eco-warrior would probably be scandalized beyond words to be compared to some little old lady from the WCTU, but they sound the same in most every way that counts.

More to the point I think that, if I am right, it is precisely this sort of thinking (which the Enlightenment was trying to stamp out and failed at) which will continue to be the source of all friction. I for one feel very, very strongly that religion should stay out of politics and so should its proxies.

So people, give me your thoughts. Am I on to something here? Or am I just full of shit?

– jj

How do you take religion completely out of politics without taking religious people out of politics? Laws frequently have a moral basis, and many people have religion at the foundation of their moral lives.

As religions move beyond mere mythic-membership orientations (my God, my Country right or wrong) to post-Green meme orientations, I think you’ll see that religion would interfere less and less with the progressive functions of the state. Too many religious people still see religion as a rigid, albeit confused, set of rules to follow instead of a means by which to understand the subjective and intersubjective experience of one’s inner life.

I agree - you can’t remove morality from politics, because really what most laws are doing is enforcing morals.

Model Penal Code:

§ 210.1. Criminal Homicide.
(1) A person is guilty of criminal homicide if he purposely, knowingly, recklessly
or negligently causes the death of another human being.
(2) Criminal homicide is murder, manslaughter or negligent homicide.

10 Commandments:

Thou shalt not kill.

Whether the morals have a religious or other basis doesn’t seem relevant to me.

Even arguing for efficiency in a decision is a kind of moral judgment, because you’re judging efficiency more important than some countervailing policy goal.

Poor communication skills strike again!

Let me rephrase this. It is not that right and wrong have no place in a legal system, I object to the fashionable practice of treating everything as a crusade. This is also because so many people claim they are trying to keep religion out of politics but operatively are no different than those they claim to better.

Example. Pro-lifers are routinely painted as hysterical fundamentalists on a mission from God. The merits of their message are completely secondary to its origins. Then the same people who oppose them for little other than their supposedly religious bent promptly start on a tirade about “healing the whole Earth” that, aside from the topics, is pretty much the same stuff. Why pretend one is better than the other? evaluate them on their content, not how fervent their supporters are.

Historical note: morals and ethics precede Christianity in the West by a huge margin (Aristotle’s book on ethics was written about 450 BC). One of the more arresting discussions I had with a theologian friend of mine pointed out that in the Western Christian tradition, God is God because s/he is good, i.e., bound by moral law which even transcends his divinity. This for most people is the compelling reason not to follow Satan instead. Other cultures do not have this same standard (think, say, of various Greek, Hindu or Shinto gods who are very, very hard to distinguish as good or evil). This is so often what causes crises of faith for Christians, such as when some awful occurrence comes to pass (e.g. death of a child) and one must ask how a good God could allow for this. In Islam, for instance, God is seen as being just and also infinitely unknowable, so such a death would be much less likely to cause someone to turn from the faith. Indeed, it might even be seen as a test of one’s faith…

“We believe these truths to be self-evident, that…” is from this perspective a good deal more grand than you suspect. When I teach Calculus I make it a point of teaching a good section on the History and Philosophy of Science so that students can put what they are about to learn into proper historical context. In the case of the Founding Fathers, they really felt that moral law was something akin natural law and were very consciously trying to set up a system based on Newton’s Principia. It is better to view the opening of the Declaration of Independence as being a set of axioms. (No, I’m not saying they managed to actually distill it down for all people, but did get it right for their country at the time.) Much in the same way with the natural world, it was assumed that the various axioms would compete and this is why a set of checks and balances was built into the system later: Chaos and friction are the normal results of self-interest and liberty and mechanisms must be in place so the system is balanced & complete.

It also seems very much in this Western tradition that the government must be good and virtuous. An evil government would be cause for revolution (unlike, say, some 3rd World country where the state is a means of organized exploitation and the fight is over who runs the kleptocracy – don’t kid yourself for a minute that Mugabe’s successor will change anything). So yes, it is important that our laws be seen as fair, good and just. I did not mean to imply that this could not be part of the legal/political landscape, just that the acrid debate, demagoguery and vilification that is the norm should be help in contempt where found and should not have a place in public discourse.

And as always, I might just be full of shit…

– jj

[quote]jj-dude wrote:
(think, say, of various Greek, Hindu or Shinto gods who are very, very hard to distinguish as good or evil)[/quote]

Well now I’m confused.

[quote]Makavali wrote:
jj-dude wrote:
(think, say, of various Greek, Hindu or Shinto gods who are very, very hard to distinguish as good or evil)

Well now I’m confused.[/quote]

'bout what? Here is a typical part of the legend of Amaterasu, one of the main Shinto deities (from wikipedia) and her brothers Susano’o (Storm deity) and Tsukuyomi (Moon deity):

“Most of her myths revolve around an incident where the goddess traps herself in a cave because of her brother’s actions. For a while, everything amongst the three revered gods was peaceful and all of the world ran smoothly. One day, Susano’o, in a drunken rampage, trampled Amaterasu’s rice fields, filled all of her irrigation ditches, and threw excrement into her palace and her shrines. The Omikami [another name for Amarerasu) asked her brother to stop but he ignored her and even went so far as to throw the corpse of a skinned horse at her hand-maidens who were weaving at the time. The women were killed by the wood breaking apart and piercing their bodies (in the Kojiki [a very ancient religious text] it was their reproductive organs that were pierced.)”

the legend goes on to relate how Amaterasu hid in a cave, taking all light with her and nearly killing the world until the Goddess of merriment Ame-no-Uzume basically did a striptease to lure her out.

Not quite the Sermon on the Mount, is it? Most polytheistic religions have deities who are identified with natural phenomena. Since such things as the weather or sea are notoriously capricious, this often shows up in the self-same behavior (look at Poseidon, who might favor you with a good wind today and a typhoon tomorrow). My point is that in the New Testament Christian tradition such deities don’t act like what a deity should. This allowed earlier Christians to discount local spirits – demons – as, well demons. It also caused on of the early great schisms in the Church with the Gnostics, who asserted that the behavior of God in the Old Testament was more akin to that of Satan, and that therefore he was not God.

So back to my point. In the West, morality is considered to trump divinity, hence the Founding Fathers, antiquated dead white male cultural relics they were, set up a system of government based on this supposed moral law. Which has the damnable property of working very well 200+ years later…


[quote]Makavali wrote:
jj-dude wrote:
(think, say, of various Greek, Hindu or Shinto gods who are very, very hard to distinguish as good or evil)

Well now I’m confused.[/quote]

…or the Christian’s God for that matter. Anyone else think that a mass genocide including children and infants (re: passover) is the epitome of evil?