Monday, January 3, 2011

Secular Morality

Susan Jacoby is an atheist who writes for the Washington Post's On Faith blog. Her year-end offering touts repeal of DADT as the most important victory for secular values of 2010. In the course of her essay she writes these two perplexing paragraphs:
For a secularist and for people of the more inclusive brands of faith, the sexual preference of adults who love other adults is not a moral issue, period. The moral issue is whether the straight majority condemns and forces a double life on those who happen to desire members of their own sex.

The ending of DADT is one of those rare political issues in which morality is more important than any other consideration. It is simply wrong for a government to demand that people lie about who they are in order to enjoy the rights and take on the responsibilities of a citizen.
Let's set aside arguments over whether repealing DADT is a good thing or bad thing, whether it will weaken our military or strengthen it. Let's focus instead on the following two claims Ms Jacoby, a self-acclaimed voterie of Reason, makes in these graphs.

She asserts, firstly, that sexual preference is not a moral issue for secularists, and second, that it is "simply wrong" to "demand" that people lie about who they are.

Why are these claims perplexing? Because for the secularist one's moral values are subjectively chosen preferences, like one's preference in the music to which one listens. Without a transcendent moral authority (i.e. God) there's simply no objective standard of right and wrong and certainly no duty to do one thing rather than another. This being so, for the rational secularist no issue, not just sexual preference but any behavior, can be a moral issue. What secularists like Jacoby call moral issues are like disagreements over whether chocolate ice cream tastes better than vanilla, the color blue is more attractive than green, or Beethoven's music is more enjoyable than that of Bach. They're just matters of individual taste.

For something to be a moral issue there has to be the presumption that one choice conforms better to another to some objective, non-arbitrary standard, but in the absence of God there is no such standard, and all choices about values are morally indifferent. They're all based on subjective predilections, and no one can say that their own predilections are any more "right" than anyone else's. Nor can anyone say that others are under any obligation to follow one's own set of values rather than some other set.

Thus, for Jacoby to state that sexual preference isn't a moral issue is banal because, if her atheism is true, there are no moral issues at all. There are only actions that some people like and others don't.

Moreover, when Jacoby further avers that it's "wrong to demand that people lie about who they are" she's uttering a vacuity. One might ask her to explain exactly why it is wrong to force people to lie.

Unfortunately, no answer she can give will make any sense, given her atheism. It may offend her own private value system to see someone put others in compromising positions, but only the most egocentric individual would consider that what she finds personally offensive is a sufficient ground for declaring it wrong for others to do. Indeed, what right does Jacoby have to judge others, anyway?

Atheists like Jacoby need to make a choice. Either they should give up making moral judgments or they should give up their atheism. They can't hold on to both and still regard themselves to be reasonable people. They can't continue to sustain the contradiction of living as if God existed while denying that He does. At least they can't do this and still expect the rest of us to admire their sophistication and intellect.

Seething Hatred

This news piece surprised me a bit:
CBS anchor Katie Couric believes a “Muslim version of ‘The Cosby Show’” could open the eyes of Americans and perhaps put an end to all the ”seething hatred many people feel towards all Muslims.”

“The bigotry expressed against Muslims in this country has been one of the most disturbing stories to surface,” Couric said. “Of course, a lot of noise was made about the Islamic Center, mosque, down near the World Trade Center, but I think there wasn’t enough sort of careful analysis and evaluation of where this bigotry toward 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide, and how this seething hatred many people feel for all Muslims, which I think is so misdirected, and so wrong — and so disappointing.”
Well, maybe Ms Couric finds this "seething hatred" for Muslims in the circles in which she travels, but I don't see it. What I do see are a lot of Americans bending over backward to distinguish between Islam and Islamic extremism, between faithful Muslims and Muslims who pervert their religion, and to give Muslims the benefit of every doubt. Sure, there've been criticisms of Muslims and of Islam, we've made them here, but unless Ms Couric equates criticism with hatred I don't know what her evidence is for her claim that Muslims are the object of such awful hostility. It seems to me, in fact, that the hatred is flowing in precisely the opposite direction.

In much of the world it is Muslims who express their hatred of Christians and Jews by killing them whenever the opportunity presents itself. One searches in vain for news accounts of Christians dragging Muslim imams out of mosques and riddling their bodies with bullets. Nor is it commonplace to find reports of gangs of Christians beheading Muslim children, or placing fatwas of death on "Christians" who convert to Islam, but maybe I don't read the same news sources as Ms Couric. In any event, almost any perusal of the daily paper turns up horrifying accounts of such atrocities being perpetrated against Christians.

Moreover, if Ms Couric wants to see "seething hatred" perhaps she might direct her attention to the writings of the New Atheists, most of whom are liberals like herself, who've made it their mission in life to broadcast to the world their utter contempt for the Christian church, the doctrines it holds, and the people who teach and believe them. One only need pick up Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens to feel themselves in the presence of someone who genuinely hates Christianity. Hitchens once wrote a book in which he ranted for the entire volume against Mother Teresa, of all people. To be fair, these writers despise all religious creeds, especially of the monotheistic variety, but it is Christianity which most particularly makes the veins in their necks bulge.

I wonder if Ms Couric would endorse an Evangelical version of the Cosby show to meliorate the anti-Christian hatred and bias that's festering in many liberal precincts in our society. Maybe the program could feature a family such as the one depicted in the movie Blindside. How about it Ms Couric?