This came to me because my friend Will wanted me to remind Reader-land to vote pro-life this Tuesday. Of course, me being me, this led to the philosophy of morality.
I really enjoy that movie. That and Tangled.
Ok, you guys ever heard of the Joe Rogan Experience? He’s a comedian, host of TVs Fear Factor former MMA commentator, and he brings on guests of all kinds to his show to talk about whatever. It’s very interesting, and if you can put up with the language, of which I am fluent, then he draws out conversations in a most interesting way. He’s opposite, politically, of me, but we can’t live life in an incestuous bubble, there are transcendentals outside our comfort zone, as I referenced in the last post. One of the things that I don’t like is that he has all this time but often only scratches the surface, he doesn’t get into deeper questions especially if he agrees with the guest.
Anyway, Joe had Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, and his new one, Outgrowing God. He brings up a fascinating point that people are moral outside of religion. They talk about the Westboro Baptist people, and how they use religion to be hateful, and the muslim practice of killing homosexuals or treating women like property. I’m not sure if they bring up the crusades or the abuses by Catholic clergy, but I will throw that in too. And he says the non-religious person is more moral because he does good not because God told him to, but that he can reason what is right and wrong and chooses the right. ( Dawkins rejects the concept of morality because of a higher power.)
Ok. You keep that in mind.
On the other thought process, which Will is guilty of bringing up, you all know I am staunchly anti-abortion. In the process of trying to save tiny humans, I am told that I can’t force my morality on someone else. That my opinion is that abortion is wrong, but that is just, like, your opinion, man! I am also confronted with the whole assisted suicide thing, and I get the same responses. That led me to have a train wreck in my head. See, if people can figure out morality on their own, and each stage of humanity is able to perceive moral values better than the stage before, then either 1) the moral values that each previous stage held were okay within their time frame and we can’t hold them to the modern standard, or 2) that there is a higher morality that is above and beyond and we are discovering it bit by bit, or 3) moral values are dictated by the culture you live in, or 4) there is no morality beyond I get mine. Does that make sense? Let’s break it down.
If, as Dawkins suggests, morality is discoverable by man alone, and it is developing over time, then we here in the 21st century have no right to criticize European colonialism, or American Manifest Destiny, because they believed it was the moral thing to go and civilize the barbarian and savage. The highest secular minds thought this, and we know that it was just to get power and resources, but can we judge them with our hindsight? Likewise, slavery was legal and at the time, morally avoided. Up until the point of the Declaration, when they codified a moral argument but then ignored the slaves, can we say that they were doing something beyond the moral values of the times? What about lobotomy? We say it is terrible, but at the time it was seen as healing. We certainly can’t judge them for that.
If you do judge them and believe that they should be judged by our modern views of morality, then you don’t really believe that man can rationally reach moral discovery, because the second you judge someone out of the context of the morality of their time you are saying that there is a higher, objective morality that people can recognize. Which is point number two. If there is a higher, objective morality, then good and bad are absolutes, not opinions. That brings up problems because if you apply absolutes to something like abortion, either it’s all okay, or none of it is. Exploring just abortion a little further, if it is okay, then miscarriages are not sad things, nor stillborn. If the tiny human doesn’t have moral value enough to not be killed at any moment, then it has no moral value if it died accidentally. Let’s talk about assisted suicide too! If that is morally acceptable, then why do we discourage suicide? We talk about kids and veterans committing suicide but we say it is morally ok, which is inconsistent. If there is a higher morality, then they are all ok, or all not ok.
Ok, let’s say it’s culture, then. Morality based on how you grew up and where. So my Catholic Faith says it is wrong, but your whatever faith or whatever doesn’t. At that point, it gets interesting, so let’s say that like in the US we have codified minimum standards of morality. I can’t beat my wife, for example. But if we move to Saudi Arabia, I can. So geographic location determines morality. Or to stick with abortion, I knock a girl up, then fly her to Colorado for an abortion up to what, forty weeks? What is immoral in Virginia is moral in Colorado.
And this is where it breaks down into the fourth example. The things I listed are laws, not morals, right? And technically, it was legal to exterminate the Jews within Germany’s borders. But the world said genocide is wrong, and I challenge you to base that in human morality. If you say it is a crime against humanity, then you have to acknowledge that there is a higher, objective morality that humans can discern to determine right from wrong, or you have to acquit the Nazis because they were following the morality of their time. Don’t want to do either? Then there is no morality beyond I get mine.
That means I can do what I want, when I want. It means that I can agree to uphold a societal legal system, but if I rise to certain levels I can break the rules I agreed to and get away with it. It means that you can’t judge me based on your morality.
Which is ironic, because that is what is happening. If I can’t force my morality on someone else, then that person has no right to force their morality on me. The Little Sisters of the Poor are being forced under governmental threat of jail or fines to buy insurance for their employees that pays for abortion and contraception, two things intrinsically opposed to their religious beliefs. What happened to not forcing morality on other people?!?! And if you claim that their morality is wrong, what moral ground do you have to say so, given the options above? A society can not survive intact with moral relativism.
What does it leave us? Perhaps there is a higher, objective morality that humanity can discern, because of reason and conscience. Let me throw some examples. Child killing? The Holocaust? Slavery? Those three things were legal in Rome, worldwide, and Nazi Germany. ISIS thugs throwing suspected homosexuals off tall buildings? What about 9-11? Was that wrong? Not to the terrorists. What about theft, murder, stuff like that? At some point we have to explain why there is a kind of agreed-upon level of human morality, that we can reach by reason. Something imprinted on our humanity that distinguishes good from bad. Dawkins objects, but that itself is proof of a higher being who establishes morality, good and bad. Otherwise, it’s the law of the jungle, and we can look at all of our histories to see the effects of going against that objective morality.
One other thing that Dawkins doesn’t address is whether the offending religion is true or not. He also doesn’t ever mention that the society of which he says can find its own morals is based on the Jewish ten commandments and the Christian tradition. But he’s a biologist, and not a theologian, so I will let it slide. I actually refer you to Bill Bryson and his book, A short history of nearly everything for a phenomenal take on the probability of God.
At the end of the day, either there is objective morality, or your opinions aren’t worth more than my opinions. Coercion by law is not morality, or people would be guiltless for the Holocaust. But they knew. And they knew they knew. That’s where we are.
So pray about this election in Virginia. I can’t tell you who to vote for, but I can ask you to look at first principles and objective morality. I am voting pro-life, obviously.
All these things have been crashing around in my head and I had to get them out. How is my logic, Mr. West?
I welcome discussion about this, I would love to flesh it out more.
3 thoughts on “Deep question; what is morality?”
I’m voting pro-life too. Your logic is phenomenal unfortunately I find more and more people can’t logic it out anymore or they choose not too. The main stream seems to “reason by emotions.” If that can be called reasoning.
Better than mine, Joe.
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No student can be greater than the master, as Jesus said! I learned it from you!