Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Theory of Moral Relativity

There have always been those in humankind that have done exactly what they wanted to do, regardless of what their society, culture, or creed dictated was moral. Unfortunately, since the 1960’s and the sexual revolution, it seems that this attitude has become ever more prevalent to the point that anything goes in today’s secular society and those that wish to still live by a moral code are typically seen as antiquated, rigid, prude, and intolerant of those whose mantra is “just because you think it is wrong, does not make it wrong for me!”

Before we delve into this further, let’s define a few terms here.

Moral Relativism: There are no absolute truths when it comes to moral judgments. Indeed, the truth of moral judgments are absolutely relative to the context of the individual or group. What one person or group might find to be moral and the truth may very well not be for another person or group. Further, there is no valid intrinsic standard of morality by which to compare them. Without such a standard for a frame of reference, it is a wasted exercise to try and determine the morality, the right or wrong of one’s decisions and actions in a morally relative environment. Morality is changeable, subjective, and individualistic to the moral relativist.

Moral Absolutism: There are very clear and well defined moral judgments that are absolutely true, regardless of one’s culture, society, or value system. There are definitive judgments of right and wrong, good and evil that transcend cultures and societies and are absolutely true for all humankind regardless. Natural law and a strong reliance upon it is typically a key component of it.

Nihilism: This is a belief that comes about when one accepts the premise of moral relativism as being true. Since moral beliefs and judgments are all relative to the individual or group and there is no overarching standard of reference, all moral conversations are meaningless. Morality is a relative thing and therefore the definition of it is abandoned. It is a belief in nothingness.

For those that know me or have read my blog for any length of time at all, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that I fall into the moral absolutism category, as it is my considered opinion that the belief in moral relativism creates the slippery slope that invariably ends with a belief in nihilism and a certain kind of secular totalitarianism.

Peter Kreeft writing in his A Refutation of Moral Relativism states,
“Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day defined a good society as one that makes it easy for you to be good. Correlatively, a free society is one that makes it easy to be free. To be free, and to live freely, is to live spiritually, because only spirit is free—matter is not. To live spiritually is to live morally. The two essential properties of spirit that distinguish it from matter are intellect and will—the capacity for knowledge and moral choice. The ideals of truth and goodness. The most radical threat to living morally today is the loss of moral principles.


Moral practice has always been difficult for fallen humanity, but at least there was always the lighthouse of moral principles, no matter how stormy the sea of moral practice got. But today, with the majority of our mind-molders, in formal education, or informal education—that is, media—the light is gone. Morality is a fog of feelings. That is why to them, as Chesterton said, ‘Morality is always dreadfully complicated to a man who has lost all his principles.’ Principles mean moral absolutes. Unchanging rocks beneath the changing waves of feelings and practices. Moral relativism is a philosophy that denies moral absolutes. That thought to me is the prime suspect—public enemy number one. The philosophy that has extinguished the light in the minds of our teachers, and then their students, and eventually, if not reversed, will extinguish our whole civilization.”

There are various reasons why some individuals choose to live with a seemingly oxymoronic code of moral relativism, and I would encourage you to read more of Mr. Kreeft’s excellent dissertation on the particulars here. Suffice it to say that for reasons ranging from psychological, cultural, social conditioning, to “tolerance” etc., far too many people try to justify their belief in this Nihilism.

Many folks do this from a sense of “enlightened” superiority in the mistaken assumption that our way is not the only right way to live. The moral relativist wants to be happy and therefore being able to live up to the “tougher standards” of moral absolutism is typically found to be exceptionally difficult. Failure to do so brings about guilt and a lack of self esteem at the failure to live by a transcendent moral code, hence the desire to cultivate only one’s happiness through the justification that all people should be tolerant and thus allowed to live as they choose.

While I would not ever be for forcing people to live by a moral absolutism code, that doesn’t mean that I won’t try to the best of my ability to live so personally and thereby hopefully provide an example for others as a contrast in the life they might have chosen. I realize that I always fall short of the moral code that my Christian faith and Western culture as defined by traditional American values prescribes, but far better for me to have goals that often exceed my grasp, than to have no moral goals at all for which I succeed at masterfully.

Indeed, living a life of moral relativism opens the door to everything being permissible. It is in such an environment where one states, “I am personally against abortion, but others can get one if they choose,” or to the extremes of “I personally don’t agree with homicide bombers, but I can understand their reasons for engaging in such desperate acts”. It is this thought process that creates that slippery slope from black and white, right and wrong, to everything being gray and some otherwise pernicious behavior being acceptable and permissible for some folks. Just because a Nazi thinks that genocide is okay, does not make it so. Just because some cultures insist on the mutilation of girl’s genitalia, doesn’t make it right. Just because a person practices a faith other than fundamentalist Wahabi Islam, does not make it right for that person to be executed in some nations, and yet all of these things have and do occur. To the true moral relativist, we should not judge these people/groups and hold them to our own moral standards of what is “right”.

At Mass this past Sunday, our priest pointed out that Satan doesn’t typically try to seduce the corrupt and those not living by any moral compass, as he typically already has those people in his grasp. It is those that are trying to be righteous that he focuses upon the most. In capturing them, he finds victory. Further, it is not through the temptation for the commission of grave or mortal sins by a person trying to live by a moral absolutist life that Satan typically tries to ensnare them, as most folks that try to live a righteous life are not typically able to be easily swayed to commit murder or steal or commit any other such obviously wrong actions.

Rather it is precisely through moral relativism that Satan will be most successful. Indeed, there often is the appearance of truth in some morally relativistic arguments that could persuade an otherwise morally absolutist person into abandoning his or her code to consider such actions as justifiable. Grandma is terminally ill and has lived a long life; she doesn’t want to be in constant pain, so we should do the merciful thing and help end her life compassionately. Of course this justification starts the slide down that slope to the next step of “Grandma doesn’t want to be a burden on the family and live out the rest of her life alone in the nursing home.” Then it becomes only a few generations away to the value of the elderly being deemed as unimportant or even as nuisances in this morally relativistic society. Such is the cost of abandoning a moral absolutist code and proclaiming that everything is permissible as an individual or group so desires. It creates a world where only might will eventually protect oneself as this secular anarchy will come to rule. Such is not a world in which I ever hope to live.

23 comments:

free0352 said...

“just because you think it is wrong, does not make it wrong for me!”

Guess I'm a moral relativist. Is there such a thing as right and wrong? Sure. Depending on where you live, what time in history you live in, and what culture you belong to.

Just ask the Catholic curch your priest works for. The definition of a moral person in that curch in 1230 is a lot different than what it is today.

As for me, I live by one rule, "Your freedom to swing your fist ends at my nose." If you want to smoke crack, have gay sex and worship satan it's absolutely none of my business. I'll judge you on a personal level of course (I.E. no lending money!) but as far as being "wrong" the question remains? Who do you hurt? Answer? Yourself, and so I don't care.

I find I'm often much more "moral" (I would say ethical) than most members of the Christian (or any other) faith. That's because in this society, it pays to be that way. When I go say, to a muslim society, behavior I'll tolerate changes quite radically. If I go back to the ghetto in Detroit, again you'll see a change in the old moral compass.

Take for example homicide bombing, I object only in that it's inefficent... not on moral grounds. While I've been targeted by "homicide bombers" (I prefer the term Haji-SmartBomb™) I object only because I or someone I don't want to die is often the target- not that it's "wrong." Were my country invaded and we under the occupation of say- Al'Queda- I would have no moral objection to those men (or women) who weren't particularly skilled in fighting to sacrifice their lives by straping on the old vest and going Ka-boom. In fact, I'd find that heroic. The only reason I don't like Muslim Haji-SmartBombs™ or find them heroic is because they use them on me. I feel the same way about them likely Haji feels about our JDAMs. So it IS relative. Are there absolutes? Yes, withing the framework you live in. We live in America, so we follow American laws and customs. If you did that in Africa, you wouldn't last very long. Is one set of morals and standars better than another? Define better? I tend to go with the one that makes me first safest and second happiest. Our American set of morals and standards (I'm talking middle america traditional- not San-Fran Sicko) is the most profitable and likely to lead to becoming happy- hence my primary use of it.

John Myste said...

Mr. Paine,

I hope I do not offend you with this response to your post. I found the article to be very good and very informative, and oddly enough, challenging to answer. I almost converted to Christianity, but then I sobered and up and thought clearly. The article is impressive, as is most of the logic. As I attempt to refute the main premise, I am going to sound as if none of it resonated at any level, but the opposite is true. I write this paragraph last, not first, though I will put at the beginning. Even after a solid rebuttal, I am still impressed and I added your article to a private list of links I keep for future reference. I will need it one day when I am a Christian and I may wish to re-read it or refer others to it in the meantime. Normally, I don’t really care if you think the art of what you write is lost on me. However, in this instance, it is a superior article, and I did not overlook its value; to the contrary, I very much appreciated it.

And without further ado, attack!


[To Be Continued …]

John Myste said...

[Continuation Part II of III…]

First of all, I think we are misappropriating the concept of the slippery slope. The grandma analogy is a good example. When we arguing that each idea about justice with grandma progresses to something clearly worse and therefore the first idea is wrong, we are using a slippery slope argument. In critical thinking the short name for this kind of reasoning is in fact “slippery slope,” as you identified. The long name is “slippery slope fallacy.” I agree with you that the grandma argument is a slippery slope fallacy and I dismiss grandma’s entire dilemma on that basis. Slippery slope fallacies can be used to argue that just about anything is wrong, but they offer no evidence whatsoever, because they have this inherent problem.

“For those that know me or have read my blog for any length of time at all, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that I fall into the moral absolutism category, as it is my considered opinion that the belief in moral relativism creates the slippery slope that invariably ends with a belief in nihilism and a certain kind of secular totalitarianism.” Nihilism is not the necessary product of rejecting absolutism. Morality is an almost universal concept and is no more agreed upon by the theist than it is the atheist or by the absolutist than it is the non-absolutist. I am letting you off on the misuse of the slippery slope concept, as we have already discussed that.

I find nothing more slippery than the statement that a “good society” is one that makes it easy to be good. That is like saying a “coachous society” is one that makes it easy to be coachous. The statement is meaningless, because our definition of coachous is contingent on our understanding of a “coachous society,” or vice versa. That said, I like the quote, because like other poetry, the thought was bigger than the sum of its words. It certainly resonates.

Your belief in moral imperatives does not spring from an avoidance of moral relativism; though I understand you think it does. It is propped up solely with faith, which trumps all reason. Were it not for your faith in God, you would have no grounds to declare morality in the absolute since (Unless you are Kant, but he was special).

Atheists, who rarely claim absolutes as theirs, are often very moral, even by the Christian’s standards, and for the same reason most moral Christians are moral. They have a sense of what morality is, which includes justice, do unto others, etc. It is the sense, they honor and respect. The same is true for the theist, who often does not feel guilty because he disobeys God’s law, but often feels guilty because he has done something he feels is wrong. Christians routinely covet, but as the commandment to not covet is irrational, it does not always trigger their moral sensors the way stealing or killing does.

It will probably surprise you to learn that God did not create morality. It is a word humanity invented to define the moral since. They sensed something and gave it a definition, just as they had done with love, nausea, happiness. I suspect each language has different words for it, each with their inflections and it is possible that we cannot even conceive of all the possibilities with English alone. If I were to embrace an absolute morality as the answer, it certainly would not be God’s list, as I find it to be lacking some main features and to contain extras and nothing on the list should be considered an absolute, as even God Himself knew when he routinely ordered people to break His laws.

If I were going to embrace a religious view, that is to say, a moral absolute on faith, then Kant’s categorical imperative is the only answer that makes any sense, so it is the one I would choose and I would toss the ten commands in the trash. I acknowledge that many of them are good basic guides, but nothing in them is a legitimate moral imperative.


[To Be Continued …]

John Myste said...

[Continuation Part III of III..]

You said: “Indeed, living a life of moral relativism opens the door to everything being permissible.” Unfortunately, the same is true with absolutism, which is another way of saying, close-mindedness on the issue. You define what you will call absolutes, making all things possible, just as with relativism (and I use relativism here, not to mean culture-specific values, but simply to mean NOT absolutism).

I do say that I understand why suicide bombers engage in desperate acts, even wrote an extremely persuasive essay about it here:

Conversation with Emerson

I do not agree with the act, but understanding it is important before we denounce the bomber as evil. For utilitarian purposes, we must act as if he is evil; our necessity does not speak to his inner morality.

“Just because a Nazi thinks that genocide is okay, does not make it so.” Right, and just because one’s moral absolutism, closed mind on the topic, thinks homosexuality is wrong, that also does not make it so. Just because one thinks allowing the production of Cheetos is ok, it does not make it so.

You are going to say that I am missing the point. You are arguing that there is a real thing that is morality and I am arguing that it is OK to eat Cheetos. Either I agree that morality is a thing, and not just a concept or I don’t, right? And if I agree that it is real, then we should strive to discover it and follow its code; and if I think it not a thing, but an opinion, then I admit that all things can be rationalized as moral and will thus be moral, which means there is no such thing as morality, in which case it would not make sense to try to discover it or to worry about it at all.

Here is the problem: humans invented morality, and not just once, but over and over again. They invented it to describe a feeling, a moral sense, which is undeniable real and seems to be shared by all civilized societies, and seems to be similar in most cases. Morality is a vocabulary term to describe a sense we have. We are mistaking the sense as an entity when we call it an absolute, a mistake you can only make with the help of God. It is God, not moral absolutes, per se, that you want to find, to follow, to honor. Atheists are as committed to the shared moral sense as theists are to God. And atheists no more often disagree about what morality is than theists do, and I think they disagree less, as they do not have competing God’s to blindly worship and to obsequiously follow. God puts morality in a box, but not the same box. Each person’s view of God creates his own divine box, which ultimately is a relative opinion. And each of the owners of the divine box, own the truth contained therein, a truth they packaged in accordance with their opinion or the authority who gave them their opinion.

The box is no more or less real than the God they put there. And, as some Moral Absolutist Jihadists will tell you, it is right to blow you up if Allah says so. It not only OK, but is just beyond moral question. He closed his box long ago, and with it his mind. He knows what he should do, and he can only do what is right and his certainty is absolute.

[THE END]

free0352 said...

Atheists, who rarely claim absolutes as theirs, are often very moral, even by the Christian’s standards

That's very true. I as you know refuse to use the term Atheist when talking about myself mainly because most "atheists" I know are just anti-christian ACLU members who can't really debate for or against atheism and simply shit on christianity every chance they get in a very smug, snooty, arrogant and frankly annoying way. So lets just say... I'm not religious- and no, I'm not "spiritual" either.

That said, I DON'T mean to sound overly self rightious but I'm living up to the christian ideal better than most of the christians I know. I actually sat down once and litterally wrote out my very own code of right and wrong when I decided to abandon faith back in 2000. And suprizingly, I'm pretty good at living up to it. Maybe because I can't go to confession anymore and be absolved is what does it. I'm totally responsible for myself, and out of pure pride I work really hard at being ethical. Then again, only having one basic rule makes it easy.

My freedom to swing my fist ends at your nose.

However, sounds a lot like "Do unto other's as you'd have done unto you."

But really, if I were to ever get the urge to adopt a religion I'd be Jewish. Seriously. Their thing makes a lot more sense to me than the New Testiment... which is absolute hippie gobbledigook to me. Love your enemies? Um, not my thing. I like "Eye for an eye" way better.

T. Paine said...

Free, while I wouldn’t dare to doubt your self assessment normally and to a large extent I do agree with your findings regarding yourself, I think in many aspects you are probably less of a moral relativist than what you think you are, my friend. You live by a moral code, and while you can understand and perhaps even to a degree empathize with others’ actions of which you would not yourself do, I think in the end that on the major issues you would probably fall down into the realm of someone that follows Natural Law.

As for the Catholic Church, just because members don’t follow the dictates of its teachings, even amongst its own clergy and Popes, does not mean that basic Catholic dogma has changed in the 2000 years since Christ first established the church on the rock of St. Peter upon which He built it. Yes, certain things have changed in those 2000 years, but overall the commandment to do unto others as you would have them do unto you and those to follow the ten commandments have not changed, regardless of how successfully anyone has actually followed those dictates.

When I speak of moral absolutism, I do so in the context of major issues such as murder, robbery, rape etc. I am not talking about violating old Jewish law as found in Leviticus to not eat shellfish.

Free and John, something of which you both touched upon and in which I am in complete agreement, true atheists can and often live a more “Christ-like” life and by a certain moral absolutist code than even those that proclaim Christianity as their faith. Again, I think this is because of the underlying understanding that most humans have intrinsically of Natural Law. One certainly does not have to believe in a deity in order to live a moral life and understand that there are many issues that by necessity must be moral absolutes. While I think a faith in God provides one way in which to have a foundation in understanding of moral absolutism, it certainly is not critical. Overall, I think that a sense of true justice is one of the linchpins of moral absolutism.

When it comes to the homicide bomber, I can understand why he does what he does. That does not make it right simply because I can find reason with the murder’s justification behind doing so. This is particularly true because often the bomber’s target is not the only one injured or killed, but often innocent targets become a part of the collateral damage either by accident or by intention of the bomber. This is especially pernicious when Palestinian bombers would go into Jewish cities and blow themselves up in pizza parlors etc. The intent was not to harm a military adversary, but rather to harm innocent civilians. The intentional targeting in war or otherwise of those that are not a party to the objective of the war is in itself evil.

T. Paine said...

(Continued)

The reason why disparate groups of theists or atheists won’t always agree upon the morality of a given subject may very well come down to their individual foundational axioms they hold. Again, it is not the cultural differences of whether one must paint a red dot on the woman’s head when she marries or whether a Mormon must tithe 10% of their income to the church that I am arguing for in my definition of moral absolutism. These are not issues that transcend cultures and people. I am talking about those larger issues, again born of Christian moral law, Natural law, and/or inherent human conscience, that realizes and respects the humanity in our fellow brother or sister. It is these larger things of which I am speaking.

John, I am admittedly daft and not understanding your thoughts in this following paragraph. Could I beg of you to expand on this or perhaps better illustrate what you mean here so that I can follow your thoughts accordingly. (It helps me if you use small words.) “You said: ‘Indeed, living a life of moral relativism opens the door to everything being permissible.’ Unfortunately, the same is true with absolutism, which is another way of saying, close-mindedness on the issue. You define what you will call absolutes, making all things possible, just as with relativism (and I use relativism here, not to mean culture-specific values, but simply to mean NOT absolutism)”. I don’t see how a moral absolutist opens the door to anything being permissible.

John, next you stated, “You are going to say that I am missing the point. You are arguing that there is a real thing that is morality and I am arguing that it is OK to eat Cheetos. Either I agree that morality is a thing, and not just a concept or I don’t, right? And if I agree that it is real, then we should strive to discover it and follow its code; and if I think it not a thing, but an opinion, then I admit that all things can be rationalized as moral and will thus be moral, which means there is no such thing as morality, in which case it would not make sense to try to discover it or to worry about it at all.” To this I say, you are right; you are missing the point while explaining it perfectly. What you wrote is the very way that moral relativism leads one to Nihilism.

I don’t want you guys to misunderstand me. I am not necessarily condemning those folks that are moral relativists, as condemnation is not something I have the authority to do. I have many good friends that are exceptionally good people and are in many ways far better than I ever could hope to be that would probably be moral relativists by my own definition. That doesn’t mean that when they slip down that slope of relativism on any given issue that I will necessarily chastise or criticize them, although I probably would in a diplomatic way, but rather that I still can understand why they think or feel the way they do. I really try to live by the sentiment of loving the sinner, but hating the sin. It is because of this concept that while I still hold to my faith and my sense of moral absolutism that I can still befriend and love those that are moral relativists or those that think differently than I do. (I still don’t understand how ANYONE can think differently than I do, particularly after having had a chance to listen to my searing logic, but nonetheless it does happen.  )

T. Paine said...

Free, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is a New Testament philosophy, so your key principle which very much sounds like “do unto others” is a part of that hippie gobeldygook, my friend.

Further, the concept of an eye for an eye, like most things in the Old Testament, is not necessarily to be taken literally. New Testament theology on this meant not that you could blind someone that had intentionally blinded you, but rather justice would demand that if someone did intentionally blind a person, he would then be held responsible to act as that person’s eyes for the remainder of his days in all aspects.

John Myste said...

Mr. Paine,

I don't have time to address all of your points, as you apparently did not have time to address mine, and I am ok with that, really. I wanted to say them, not have them addressed, which could only lead to a stressful situation.

However, I would like to comment briefly:

"… but overall the commandment to do unto others as you would have them do unto you and those to follow the ten commandments have not changed, regardless of how successfully anyone has actually followed those dictates." That is the gist of Kant’s Categorical Imperative (without going into the technical aspect of it). Notice that “do not kill,” in this model cannot be a moral absolute; neither can “do not lie” or “do not steal. These are all hypothetically wrong, not necessarily always wrong. They are not “absolutely” wrong.

“When I speak of moral absolutism, I do so in the context of major issues such as murder, robbery, rape etc.” Perfect example of non absolute morals.

The fact is, both Christians and agonistics / atheists answer the same moral sense. One group is no more or less absolutist than the other in this way. The difference is that moral absolutists think they know the source of the call they answer. The fact that the details of right and wrong are uniquely questioned is indicative of relativism (meaning not absolutism), which is the real-world answer none of us want. (I agree with Free’s interpretation of what most atheists are. I post on atheist sites often and virtually always in rebuttal).

Additionally, those who think they have or own the absolute answer because it is absolute and they have it are some of the most closed-minded and dangerous people on the planet.

“I still don’t understand how ANYONE can think differently than I do, particularly after having had a chance to listen to my searing logic, but nonetheless it does happen.” We do not have to listen; we choose to; it is a pleasure; but it is too much for us to consume all out at one. If we only digest one tenth of it, we will double our wisdom and you will have succeeded.

S.W. Anderson said...

Paine, it might surprise you that I respect and salute your beliefs regarding how you conduct your life.

When you get to generalizing about society, though, things get a little rocky.

". . .since the 1960’s and the sexual revolution, it seems that this attitude (it's OK to do whatever you want) has become ever more prevalent to the point that anything goes in today’s secular society and those that wish to still live by a moral code are typically seen as antiquated, rigid, prude, and intolerant of those whose mantra is 'just because you think it is wrong, does not make it wrong for me!'”

First, how true are your generalized suppositions about today's secular society? You offer no evidence at all to back up your claims, which isn't surprising because it might be difficult to produce.

From a news story: "US survey finds fewer high school teens , young adults having sex ; reasons unclear" (I can supply the URL to article, but if I include it here my comment will disappear into Blogger's spam trap).

Another story indicates the divorce rate has gone down somewhat. And then there is this, from Wikipedia on religion in the U.S.:

"Religion in the United States seems to be expanding. According to recent surveys, 93 percent of Americans claim to belong to a religious denomination, 70 percent claim to attend services nearly every week or more, and 88 percent claim to pray at least weekly.[1] A majority of Americans report that religion plays a 'very important' role in their lives, a proportion unusual among developed nations." Those numbers are among the highest for Western industrialized nations.

Did things really change that much in the 1960s? I don't think so. There was plenty of premarital and extramarital sex going on before 1960. There were plenty of stag films being shown at VFW halls and the back rooms of taverns. Playboy and other racy magazines were available throughout the 1950s; they just quit using airbrushes in the 1960s. And so on. The biggest change was that many people quit being as discreet, or sneaky if you prefer, about their intimate activities. There probably was more sex engaged in outside of marriage quantitatively, but I doubt it was as much more as you seem to believe.
(continues)

S.W. Anderson said...

Likewise, I think you go too far in depicting society as consisting of two distinct camps: the morally correct who forever strive to be virtuous in every aspect of their lives and the anything-goes, relativists who are morally corrupt in every aspect of theirs. Morality plays from the Middle Ages are that simple but real life and modern society are not.

Most people are neither morally black nor morally white. They're shades of gray. And even within one person's life, how dark or light gray they are will vary over time.

You would probably deem me a moral relativist. Yet there are things I believe are always wrong, always unacceptable. I think the same is true of most people.

When it comes to tolerance and getting along in society, I find the best spiritual advice in the golden rule and the Bible's admonitions, "Judge not, lest you be judged" and "Judgment is mine, sayeth the Lord."

I was brought up to believe that what those mean in practice is to keep my own record as clean as I can and not fancy myself as qualified or empowered to sit in judgment of others.

My years of living have confirmed for me the wisdom of that approach.

free0352 said...

The problem Anderson is the people Paine is talking about hold to no level or standard or moral compass. Far too many people simply "Do what feels good" or "believe what they want" and frankly tham makes them weak, regressive, throwbacks. I hate them. They use moral relativism as a cloak for self destruction and theft.

As for my buying into hippie/christian gobbledigook- I don't think the church or jesus would apreciate my value of revenge as justice (Love your eneimes), juding of people as a duty and correct to do so (Judge not, least you be judged) hatred of altrusim and charity (pretty much the enitre new testement) and rejection of faith of any kind (the rest of the new testement.)

T. Paine said...

First, my apologies to all in taking so long to respond.

Myste, first in the original Hebrew translation, or perhaps it was Aramaic, the commandment of “Thou Shall Not Kill” is more faithfully and understandably given as “Thou Shall Not Murder”. As you have implied, sometimes killing is justifiable as is the case in defending an innocent person or the use of deadly force by a police officer in the faithful execution of his duties. There are even circumstances when war is seen as a necessary and moral cause, and indeed just war theory in Roman and Catholic philosophy has long been a study of certain theologians accordingly. Thus killing in and of itself is not necessarily immoral. Indeed, standing by and letting evil kill an innocent person when one has the means to stop it would be immoral.

Next, your quoting of my quote, “ ‘When I speak of moral absolutism, I do so in the context of major issues such as murder, robbery, rape etc.’ Perfect example of non absolute morals.” I am not certain of your meaning here, as I am a little dense. If you’re meaning is that my exclusion of smaller offenses from my list of moral absolutism shows my hypocrisy on this matter, well I guess a good case can be made there. My reason was not necessarily to excuse even minor offenses necessarily, and indeed I don’t excuse those transgressions (even in my own failing conduct), but rather to illustrate larger concepts that transcend all cultures (or should) in a moral absolutist sense.

Again, I absolutely do not attribute a lack of morals or an inability to live as a moral absolutist to a person simply because he might be an agnostic or atheist. As I have already said, some of the most morally absolutist people I know are atheists.

For the record, when I stated that I don’t understand how people cannot understand my searing logic, I do so mainly in jest. Indeed the older I get, the only thing I grow more sure of is that I really don’t know anywhere near as much as I thought I did.

Anderson, I do appreciate your kind words, sir. That being said, I don’t try and live my life as I do for the sake of praise from others. I do so now in my life because it is my belief that such is the way that God wishes for me to live. While I am indeed ALWAYS falling short of living up to the moral absolutism to which I theoretically ascribe and indeed my words, deeds, thoughts, and actions often fall short of being a good Christian, I KNOW and am AWARE of my failures and am remorseful accordingly. I go to confession regularly and pray for the strength and wisdom to live as God would have me live for His glory and not mine because of this.

Next, as to your statement that I have over-generalized things in regards to the decay of the morality in society since the 1960’s, you do make some very good points and indeed there is much truth to what you have said. Still, also as you have ironically said, back before the sexual revolution, often times those immoral things were done behind closed doors or much more sneakily. Why is that? I would submit to you that this is because more folks still understood the moral absolutism code and did not want to be seen doing things in violation of it. Nowadays, many more folks see that code as outdated and ascribe to relativism accordingly. Where in th1950’s those things were at least acknowledged as being wrong, even though still occurring, in current times since then, often this is no longer the case.

T. Paine said...

(continued)

Further, I have heard some of those same reports of which you cite of morality improving once again. I think this is because the pendulum is finally swinging back in that direction after having gotten so far to the moral relativistic end of the spectrum. Hopefully this is just the beginning of an improving society morally speaking.

Next, while what I described may sound like two distinct camps of absolutists and relativists, I do understand and indeed agree that in practice, if not in ascribed theory, many people are going to fall into the gray areas between the two camps. Again the difference comes in the fact that the absolutists, while hypocritical, at least understand that they are not always faithful to the code of which they proclaim trying to live by. The relativists don’t have the guilt of failing to live up to their relativistic code, by definition.

As for your own code of living by the golden rule, Anderson, it sounds like an excellent one to me. As for the not judging lest ye be judged, well I admit that this is one of the areas where I fall short of the goal sometimes. I don’t condemn those for not living like I do or agreeing to my standards or values, but I do have a harder time of not being judgmental of those that are guilty of felonious crimes and the like.

Free, you definitely got what I was trying to convey when you said, “the people Paine is talking about hold to no level or standard or moral compass. Far too many people simply "Do what feels good" or "believe what they want" and frankly that makes them weak, regressive, throwbacks. I hate them. They use moral relativism as a cloak for self destruction and theft.”

Further, Free, you absolutely have a moral code, my friend. It may not always fall into the moral absolutist end, as I would characterize it, but I have a feeling you are more there than what you may consider yourself to be. Your helping that motorcycle accident victim a little while back is an example of your moral character. Most people would have just kept driving on past. The very fact that you are always consistent in your beliefs and have a logic behind everything you do accordingly speaks to a strict code you live by. In that vein, you are certainly not a moral relativist in my book.

John Myste said...

Mr. Paine,

"Myste, first in the original Hebrew translation, or perhaps it was Aramaic, the commandment of “Thou Shall Not Kill” is more faithfully and understandably given as “Thou Shall Not Murder." I am glad you acknowledge the fallibility of the King James Bible. I wonder if you acknowledge the fact that King James himself had his translators intentionally mistranslate certain parts.

I think the Ten Commandments would have been written in Hebrew. I studied Hebrew and used to read the newspaper in Hebrew when I was younger. It was a newspaper, Sha’ar La’Matchil, which I think could mean “Gateway for the Beginner,” written for students coming out the Ulpan, which was an intensive training school for students becoming citizens of Israel. That was more than fifteen years ago, and much to my great shame, I have forgotten most of the language. However, the good news is, I still kind of remember the conjugations. In Hebrew there are active, passive and reflexive verbs and there are causative, active and simple, but an easier way to think about it is passive causative and reflexive causative.

To refresh my memory of the conjugations for this specific verb, I used this site:

http://www.cfaith.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2410:permissive-vs-causative-verbs-in-the-old-testament&catid=41:healing&Itemid=67

Hebrew verbs do not work like English verbs. In Hebrew you can think things that would not think to think in English because Hebrew has these seven applicable conjugations. Unlike English, it is very logical and organized. Anything you can do, you can cause to do, be caused to do, actively do, passively do, have done to you, cause someone else to do, do to yourself. Imagine what this means by playing around with English verbs using the seven Hebrew conjugations.

In case you are interested, these are the conceptual conjugations of the word “to kill.” Remember, the word exodus uses is not the main word and is some arcane thing used by a drunken God or something.

Qal to kill

Niphal to be killed

Piel to murder

Pual to be murdered

Hiphil to cause to kill

Hophal to be caused to kill

Hithpael to kill oneself

I was prepared to challenge your “true” meaning of the word used in Exodus (ratzach). I looked up the passage in my Hebrew Bible. It was Tiratzach, nott ratzach, as is commonly stated. Unfortunately, the logical normal path Hebrew verbs take did not seem to apply to this specific verb (or I have forgotten so much I cannot reconcile it). I was unable to determine its conjugation with certainty (which I think is probably the real answer, by the way).

My second attempt was simply to look up the Word in Ben Yehuda’s Hebrew to English dictionary, which I did and it said: to slay or to murder.

For now, you are vindicated on that front. However, I would like to point out that God Himself routinely murdered and ordered executions. He did not consider the prohibition against murder to be an imperative. Not to say He was not allowed, but when African Dictators do less, America not only condemns the action, but fights it.

As for all other comments you made, your concession that moral absolutism is something some people seek, but that it is ultimately knowable if it did exist, and so is irrelevant, is graciously acknowledged.

John Myste said...

Utimately knowable = ultimately unknowable.

free0352 said...

My "moral compass" is directly relative to my location and my circumstances. For example, I'll oppose abortion vigorously here in the states because I think it kills children but I've called in artillary that surely killed children to kill one sniper.

Wouldn't do that here, regardless of the circumstances.

See, it's relative. I give a shit about Americans getting killed a lot more so than hajjis getting killed. Goes further, in our culture I would never require my wife to wear a burqua. If I took her to Saudi Arabia, I'd make her wear one, because that's how things are done there. That's purely hypothetical, because I don't like going to Saudi Arabia because it sucks there by myself, let alone would want to bring the wife on vacation there.

T. Paine said...

Free, your first example is understandable and yet regrettable.

I always was infuriated when idiots like Saddam placed air defense batteries on hospitals so they could claim that we were killing civilians when we took out those batteries.

It is the same when our ROE said we couldn't attack mosques early on in the war, so the terrorists would target our troops from those mosques. In war, sometimes the lesser evil must be chosen. In that regard, perhaps I too am a moral relativist.

As for your example of your wife wearing a burqua, well that is more of a cultural dictate, and would likely be a wise choice in Saudi simply for the protection of your wife in that backward country.

T. Paine said...

Mr. Myste, you are a man of many surprises what with your knowledge of Hebrew. You may be in danger of being considered a modern Renaissance Man. Are you from a Jewish background or faith originally, sir?

As to your point, I am well aware of the fact that the King James Bible is more of a literary translation and not a faithful reproduction of the original scriptural texts. That is also the reason why the Catholic Church does not recognize it as a faithful source of scripture.

Indeed the ICEL group of the Catholic Church (International Council on English Language) which is a group of theologians and linguistic experts has just concluded a fourteen year task of pouring over the original scriptural texts in Latin etc in order to provide a more faithful translation of the Rites used in Mass. This is the second time this has been done in the nearly two thousand year history of the church. The first was completed with the Vatican II council that began in 1962 when the Mass worldwide was changed from being said in Latin to the vernacular of the country in which the Mass was celebrated.

Now, nearly fifty years later, the Church is revisiting the original texts yet again to ensure a more faithful translation of the original scripture for use in Masses.

As for your rather uncharitable characterization of God having murdered, well, I let’s just say I find your take on that somewhat unsettling and I am not certain whether I am prepared to delve into this deeper without specific examples from you of which you speak.

Lastly, I stand by my other comments regarding moral relativism and absolutism.

As for your mathematical equation, I don't see how ultimately knowable = ultimately unknowable, but then being an engineer, math was never my strong point.

John Myste said...

Mr. Paine,

I hail from a down home Pentecostal background. My grandfather, the carpenter, called himself a minister and often had a church. Religion entertains me and I have always had a strong affinity for foreign languages, though I never actually mastered one. I came the closest with Hebrew, (and who wouldn’t? It has its own alphabet), second closest with French, third closest with Spanish. As a child, I wrote a language that my sister and I spoke. It had a cursive and print alphabet and elementary grammar rules. See, I like words. My dictionary was marked up in way that was similar to my Grandfather’s Bible. Today, I barely speak English and must get help with the big words.

I refuse to get into a debate with you over God’s high crimes. Were I not so stubborn, I would start here:

Isaiah 13:15-16 says something about showing no mercy, dashing babies to death for the sins of their fathers.

Genesis 7:23 – God murdered everything and everyone.

Exodus 12:29 – God killed all first born, no matter the age.

Exodus 20:4 – God kills the children for four generations to punish the father.

And by the way, though it is not murder, I ran across this the other day: Matthew 13:10-15, and said, “what the hell is that?!” I would have posted about it, but I think it would have offended the “simple folk,” and I cannot run around doing that.

I am stubborn and I will not discuss those passages. There are hundreds of them. I just don’t want to look them up. Some people say, “Oh, that was the God of the Old Testament. Jesus died and thus God was forgiven for His sins.” I may buy into that line of reasoning, though it is a little clumsy if we assume that Jesus is God, but the fact that Jesus is still alive makes me question the whole tale.


If absolute morality existed, we could not detect it or have definitive proof of what it was. Therefore, to believe we have found it, and then act on and enforce our belief, we create a very dangerous situation. This is how some fundamentalist Muslims justify blowing things we need to bits, like our brothers and sisters.

As for your standing by your former comments, I will assume that is similar to stepping aside, and not akin to standing behind them. I respect the fact that you see the writing on the wall, sir.

free0352 said...

It is the same when our ROE said we couldn't attack mosques early on in the war

Early in the war? Hell, we still don't dare shoot a mosque, even if we're taking fire from it!

free0352 said...

If absolute morality existed, we could not detect it or have definitive proof of what it was.

Sure you can, I do. The only morality that matters is to do what's in your rational self interest. However, it's learning that what is in our own interest "LONG TERM" is often quite different from our "IMMIDIATE WANTS."

The average flower child type never got beyond "IMMIDIATE WANTS." If it felt good, they did it, and gave us a fucked economy (run away entitlements for themselves) or another example they screwed everything that moved and gave us AIDS. Just two of a million examples.

In the end, if you act in your own self interest you end up the picture of a conservative. You don't drink, smoke, screw arround, break the law and you save all your money who is prepared to defend yourself.

What I think Paine really means by moral realativist is someone who acts like a grown up child, simply acting on immidate wants no matter who they run over to meet those "needs" or feeling entitled to something they have no right to. Like other people's money taken though taxes to pay their welfare! If by that he means moral realativist, they by all means I hate their stinking guts.

But as for a 2000 year old code writen by long dead jews, I'm so over it. I'll stick with my own best interest. When I act on it, I end up more "moral" than most christians anyway.

T. Paine said...

Free, I was grossly misinformed, my friend. I was under the impression that when the enemy started firing from mosques intentionally because they knew we couldn't return fire, that the rules of engagement were then changed so we could neutralize their threat.

As for your last comment, I give you an A+ for getting what I guess I did not clearly state from the beginning of the whole danged mess.
Thanks for clarifying for the rest what I was trying to convey, Free! :)