Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Transcendent Morality - Part I

A while back, Joe (other one of The Two Men) sent me the video below and asked what I thought. The video argues that morality should not be based on any kind of sacred text or other religious authority; I found it intriguing in couple of ways. One is because of a logic method we use where I work, in which we scrutinize fact vs. opinion, vet-out relevant vs. irrelevant data, track assumptions and clarify over-generalizations. We do this to find the root-cause of a problem, in other words, finding the truth. Besides this, it’s amusing to hear a voice in a British accent using big words, sounding smart, but saying nothing new when viewed from a Catholic perspective.

If God & religion are out, on what should our morality be based? The video answers the question while describing 6 different societies (interesting that it is “6” from a biblical standpoint). The society types outlined serve as examples, but they are also distractions. The video is really about a long litany of opinions, assumed relevancy and over-generalizations. The list below is what they claim morality should be based upon. Some clarifying questions immediately came to mind.

Ø  Improved Education: How do we know it is improved? What one may call good education another may call indoctrination. 

Education makes me SMRT
Ø  Valid Reasons: What is valid or not? Who will decide “validity”? How will it be measured?

Ø  Prohibiting Needless Harm: What is needless? What is harm? Could killing a healthy unborn child possibly qualify as needless harm? What is your opinion?
Healthy baby 8 weeks after conception
Ø  Avoid Pointless Suffering (euthanasia): Don’t some hardships make us stronger or make others around us stronger? Who determines “pointlessness”? How is it defined?

Ø  Recognizing Relevant Differences: Who determines what is relevant and on what is it based?

Ø  Identifiable Harm: How can we identify emotional or psychological harm? Where is the threshold and who will judge it?

Ø  Sufficient Justification: When is it sufficient? Who says so?

Ø  Accurate Information: Is it? Are you sure? How accurate?

Ø  My favorite…..Doing what is right and not what we are told to do: How do we know what it is “right”? The sweeping statements above will tell us?!?

In fairness, I’m sure one could write-up a similar post against some “religious video”. This is easy to do if we over-generalize ALL religions as ONE thing. Over generalization allows us to pick & choose whatever examples support our premises best, and ignore examples that do not. For instance, Catholicism holds that the universe is a created thing that is rational and orderly (like the creator) and should be studied, not worshipped like some past religions have done. This kind of thinking led us to formal scientific disciplines during the middle ages and beyond. In many ways Catholicism was a top contributor to western civilization, but there is no place for these examples in the above video.
What if we were to over-generalize atheistic thinking? Is the thinking of Joseph Stalin the same as Richard Dawkins? Is the morality of Mao Tse-Tung the same as Christopher Hitchens? I guess the point here is to separate & clarify our thinking, ask questions, demand specific answers, and understand the power of our premises. It’s OK to disagree, but not when we are unclear on what we disagree about. Speaking for myself, there are times when I actually prefer clarity over agreement.
Stay tuned for Part II on this in a week or so…

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