Sunday, January 28, 2007

Gimme some of that old time religion!

Spot doesn't ordinarily read Katie's blog. Katie is such a tedious scold that a couple of columns a week is usually all--or more--that Spot can take. But your friend Spotty, boys and girls, did a search on the Strib website looking for the Bloghouse article from yesterday, and this popped up: Goodbye to Right and Wrong?

Can't you just picture it? Katie stands on the dock tearfully waving a handkerchief as the HMS Ritenrong pulls away from the shore, and the crew on the ship join arms and sings We've Lost our Moral Compass! Right out of Gilbert and Sullivan.

If you thought that Katie was a mess with an editor, boys and girls, wait 'til you read her blog; its subtitle is Untouched by Human Hands. Anyway, here's a bit (from an earlier scribbling that perhaps was edited) from the linked post:

This week’s debates have raised a vital question: Are there
universal standards of right and wrong that are true for all? Or must
we hesitate to “impose our values on others”?

I wrote about this some time ago:

Today, conservatives often press ‘family values’ as the answer to
our nation’s social ills. In response, liberals caution that we must
not ‘impose our values on others.’ What links these two notions is that
both employ the language of ‘values,’ whose widespread embrace marks a
quiet revolution in our national consciousness.

[T]he language of ‘values’ has brought with it a profound shift in worldview. ‘Values’ have replaced ‘virtues.’

Virtues…are universal standards of right and wrong. Cutting across
ethnic lines, they are timeless moral principles against which we judge
our own behavior and that of our fellow citizens.

It's funny, Spot somehow missed the recent debates on the "vital question" of universal standards of right and wrong. They must have been on Bil Bennett's radio show! Perhaps Spot was just transfixed by the sight of Michele Bachmann making out like a horny teenager with the President of the United States and they escaped his attention.

How, oh how, Katie can we learn these virtues, these "timeless moral principles"? Listen to you, because you--and people like you--will tell us? How will you get the answers? From religious leaders, especially the ones who talk regularly to God?

What Katie espouses, of course, is called virtue ethics:
The term "virtue ethics" is a relatively recent one. It is an umbrella
term that encompasses a number of different theories. Initially, virtue ethics was
characterized as a movement rivaling consequentialism and deontology because it focused on the central role of concepts like character and virtue in moral philosophy. Later versions developed fuller accounts of virtue ethics theories. Most virtue ethics theories take their inspiration from Aristotle, although some (admittedly less well discussed) versions incorporate elements from Plato, Aquinas, Hume and Nietzsche. This article looks at how virtue ethics originally defined itself by calling for a change from the dominant normative theories of deontology and consequentialism.
Katie would have you believe that virtues ethics is timeless and old, but as a school of thought it is probably not as old as Katie! Again from the link:
In 1958 Elisabeth Anscombe published a paper titled "Modern Moral Philosophy" that changed the way we think about normative theories. She criticized modern moral philosophy's pre-occupation with a law conception of ethics. A law conception of ethics deals exclusively with obligation and duty. Among the theories she criticized for their reliance on universally applicable principles were Mill's utilitarianism and Kant's deontology.
The great thing about virtues ethics is that it is an exercise in self-absorption. Katie doesn't have to worry about the consequences of her conduct, or her consumption, so long as she can view herself as virtuous. It is a beautiful system of self-justification: just pick the virtues that are consonant with the way you think the world should be. Even if it's not.

Katie ends her post with this question:
An even weightier question: Can we be good without God?
Katie clearly thinks not. But God is whoever and whatever suits Katie.

In one of those harmonic convergences that make Spot's ears prick up from time to time, public television in the Twin Cities ran the classic movie Inherit the Wind last night. The movie is a dramatization of the Scopes Monkey Trial that took place in 1925 Tennessee. In that trial, the coercion of the state and its courts are arrayed, in the name of virtue, against the truth.

And where does that virtue come from? As Leslie Uggams sings during the opening credits: Gimme some of that old time religion!

Remember, boys and girls, if it's good enough for Katie, it's good enough for you!

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