Monday, August 4, 2014

The "Dogma" of Consent

We’ve all heard the teaching. It’s an often unquestioned and perhaps unconscious assumption. It acts as a sort of secular dogma. Nothing is morally wrong as long as you don’t hurt others.

But what if a doctor needs to perform a medical procedure on you involving some physical pain or “hurt”? What if an emergency responder needs to damage some of your property in order to respond to an emergency? What about two sadomasochists? They must hurt each other physically in order to satisfy their depravity. The “dogma” is not really about hurting people or property, it’s about consent. If what you do must affect others, it’s okay as long as you have consent.

Let’s work with this idea a bit beyond things that are already legal in some states like gambling, prostitution & recreational marijuana. If two parties consent to making a wager or to exchange drugs or sex for money, it’s all perfectly moral under the dogma of consent, but…

What if black salves consented?
Life for African-Americans in the South after the Emancipation Proclamation was not exactly the America dream. Imagine house slaves working in a mansion for a very wealthy plantation owner. What if they preferred their life as slaves over the prospect of being thrown out into the mean streets of the South to fend for themselves? They could have willfully signed a contract with the plantation owner to forfeit their freedom and remain his legal property. Under the dogma of consent, couldn’t slavery be reinstituted as legal in the U.S.?

What if the Jews consented?
Nazi scientists preformed inhumane experiments on Jewish people against their will. What if they consented? Suppose some old or terminally ill Jews agreed that the experiments on them could provide valuable data to help others? Suppose poor Jews were offered a large sum of money that could be given to their families after their death in an experiment. Would this not be perfectly moral under the dogma of consent?

How about suicide?
This would NOT be about doctor assisted suicide. Suppose a young man no longer wished to live for whatever reason, but alas, the poor guy does not have the courage to kill himself. What can be done? With consent, a friend (or stranger) could agree to shoot him in the head without any fear of reprisals.

Foolish humans!
We will make them consent!
What about date rape?
Are all the date rape incidents at the college level prosecuted? What if the woman gives consent initially, but then violently resists in the heat of the moment.  Too late; she consented, therefore the act is perfectly moral. In fact, if her physical resistance injures the man, perhaps the woman should be prosecuted instead.

…and marriage laws?
If any consenting adults should be able to marry, then it should be any consenting adults. Three or more should be recognized by the state as well as any consenting relatives. If you oppose parents marrying their adult children in order to obtain state offered marriage rights, then you are a bigot that makes groundless distinctions simply because two persons share very similar DNA.

One thing that confounds the Two Catholic Men is how many people will claim that moral absolutes can’t really exist objectively, but they don’t live that way, which implies they don’t really believe it. They actually do accept certain morals that are universal and unchangeable (just like physical laws) regardless of any consent or a lack of. As a side, the existence of moral absolutes or moral laws would reasonably imply a moral law giver, and what a curious thing that would be.

It’s the same kind of contradiction for someone who would deny the existence of physical laws. You would note that they do not live as if they actually believed what they claim (if they are sane). Consider the law of gravity; we attune our life and safety around it. Living in harmony with the law of gravity allows us to live a happy life. Disharmony with gravity will hurt us or even kill us.

It seems, deep down, we all know moral laws exist irrespective of “consent”, but many won’t admit it because it points to so much more. We also sense that we need to live harmoniously with these laws in order to be happy. The fact is, we actually can’t break moral laws, just like we can’t break physical laws. They break us; either as individuals or as a society, so it is vital that we strive to know what they actually are and where they come from.

“In you, O Lord, have I hoped; I shall not be confounded forever.”
- St. Claude de la Colobiere




  1. I'm in England, so maybe I haven't got the full picture but, from what I've seen of Obama's 'apology' for torture, seemed more like a request for consent from the people to do it next time, without censure.

    1. I once heard a military general say we don’t water-board terror suspects any more, we kill them. My thought is that the current administration condemns the torture of suspected terrorist to get information, but will blow them up with drones along with innocent bystanders. I do not think it is about ethics. Torture gives bad publicity, drones attacks have more consent in the U.S.

  2. Wow - this "consent" talk made me squirm. You really hammered the point home, and I couldn't agree with you more. Thanks for making me think about new ways to present this side of the issues. God Bless...