5/12/2003

 

Moral left/right split?

 

In the Fall of 2002 "The Public Interest" published a paper that suggested new developments in the differences between Democrats and Republicans regarding religious beliefs. The paper has been sighted in several other recent articles. The thrust of it is this: That whereas until recently you could most accurately predict how a person would vote by looking at traditional factors such as working class versus upper class, now you can more accurately predict political affiliations by asking questions about frequency of attending church, or attitudes toward pre-marital sex.

 

The rather lengthy paper brings up too many points worth discussing to cover in one column but the authors do use, as one of the key points for their reasoning, this concept that I've heard bandied about for decades, that non-fundamentalists have a moral system that has no absolutes, that's rather free-floating and relativistic. As someone who would probably be put in the later category, I must admit I have never had the slightest idea what the heck anyone means when they suggest this concept of "moral relativism".

 

The concept is usually used as a sort of accusation, as if people who don't take a fundamentalist approach are somehow less moral. So what does this "moral relativism" term mean? Or is it just an empty phrase that has no meaning?

 

If it refers to the fact that some moral questions are influenced by the culture of the time and place, I suppose that's true. Are committed, loving couples who live together, living in "sin"? That is, indeed, a question that would vary depending on the culture and time a person comes from. Is that all that "moral relativism" means? Does that mean that people of every culture and time who would not consider that sin are moralless people?

 

You sure couldn't base that on spiritual commitment. Certainly there are plenty of people who give heavily of their time and money to worthwhile causes, who hold themselves to a very high level of doing right by others, who put much energy into growing as a spiritual person, but who aren't fundamentalist or go to a traditional church. No, spiritual commitment isn't the issue.

 

Is it about a lack of universal standards? I've never known anyone, who had the slightest inclination toward being a good person, who didn't understand that killing, stealing, cheating, lying, and generally harming others is wrong. There's nothing relative about that.

 

Is it something to do with the companion term "situation ethics"? The problem with that is, just about everyone applies it. Just about everyone, while believing "Thou shalt not kill", agrees that going to war in WWII was justified.

 

No, this "moral relativism" is a phantom divide between us. Fundamentalist and secularists alike know that harming someone else is just plain wrong. Once again, while we have differences, through the media they are frequently exaggerated.

 

Meeting of the minds:

I love opportunities for people of a variety of outlooks to meet. The “M.A.D. Linguist” in the McCormick Arts District is just that kind of place. It’s a not-for-profit venue for poetry, music, the open microphone, good food, and generally meeting interesting people. The Sunday night discussion groups alone have seen quite a mix of outlooks come together in a friendly “learn to listen to one another” approach. There’s usually something going on Wednesday through Sunday nights. Come on down and be part of a unique asset in the community.