Tuesday, November 4, 2008

All Sects Are Different, Because They Come From Men; Morality is Everywhere the Same, Because It Comes from God

In my wanderings today, I would like to address an issue of morality. I follow a blog entitled Flying in Circles (even though I don't typically agree with their viewpoints), and they have a problem with a morality where we help others not on the basis of the fact that they are our fellow human beings, but only because Jesus wants us to help others. She makes the following statement:

"Can we not simply work to redeem this world in the name of morality? Organizations like Compassion and World Vision are primarily supported by churchgoing, Bible-toting Christians who feel that by donating a small amount of their paycheck to a needy child, whom they will never meet, every month they have done their duty to "feed [his] sheep." [John 21:17 NIV] [Oh my God, look! Daedalus just quoted scripture!?] I'm not saying that there is anything wrong with trying to do some good in Jesus' name [Lord knows the world could stand to have a few more people doing such], but why must we summon Jesus to the scene every time there is a situation that needs attention? Why can one person not help another, without summoning forth the divine, based entirely on the fact that they breathe the same air you do? I know this is a tangential issue, but come on people! We're humans first."

However, there is a problem with this line of thinking. If morality does not come from something outside of ourselves, then there is no basis for judging one system of morality over another. We can dismiss things because we disagree, we can urge others to cohere to our particular system of morality, but we cannot ultimately declare acts to be "right" or "wrong", because apart from some sort of higher power, morality becomes merely a conglomeration of issues of aesthetics, anthropology, and pragmatism.

Even if I wanted to make the claim that the Holocaust was absolutely morally wrong, I could not do so if there were not some means by which morality was decided apart from individual preference. A Nazi ethic would certainly declare the Holocaust to be just and good. If the moral values of tolerance and acceptance could not be shown to be in some way superior to the Nazi "virtues" of ethnic purity and destruction of the Jewish people, then there is no basis for judging the Holocaust to be either good or bad. The only way this can be achieved is with an appeal to a higher power.

p.s. Bonus points if you can tell me who is quoted in the title of this blog.

“The Promised Land always lies on the other side of a wilderness.”


brinticus said...

You seem to be confusing two issues here. (1) That morality comes from outside ourselves, with (2) That morality comes from a transcendental source (i.e. from a "higher power")

Now there is certainly a route to talk about morality in ways that move beyond individual standards and preferences w/o invoking transcendentals. For example, someone could claim that they get their morality from their community or tribe's traditional values. These values themselves might be questioned in turn, but the individual indeed has an external objective standard, and one which is not of a "higher power."

Thus, I would argue, external standards cannot be so quickly equated to transcendental standards when it comes to morality, which is what you've done here.

Anonymous said...

I like Brinticus' comment, though I would probably take a different approach. When one takes a tribal mentality to choose which system of morals is superior one runs into problems. One being that tribal moral systems are highly relative, a good example of this being King Darius. And if it is all relative how does one establish which moral system is right, or better. I can see this is your concern, so might I suggest looking into the works of John Stuart Mill. Utilitarianism is the idea that the moral worth of an action is determined solely by its contribution to overall utility: that is, its contribution to happiness or pleasure as summed among all persons. What moral ideas is beneficial to greater society as a whole? Just a thought.

By the way, your pun in the title is from Voltaire.