Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Moral cripples . . .

There was no Katie column on Monday. She must still be at home cleaning up after that family Thanksgiving! Well of course, this leaves Spotty somewhat at loose ends. So, Spot is going to wax as philosophic as he is able, on a Katie-like subject.

What is the role of religion – especially Katie’s brand of religious fundamentalist thinking – on the ability to make moral decisions? Spot says that it is overwhelmingly crippling. Whoa, Spotty, that’s pretty strong; do you really mean that? Yup.

Any dictionary that you care to consult will tell you that one definition of faith is belief in the absence of validation. That’s why the challenge to any religious orthodoxy provokes such a vicious reaction. Faith appeals to emotion, not critical thinking. Religious orthodoxy cannot permit rational examination of its tenets.

Katie gives us an example of this in this in a recent column, commented on by Spot here. Katie says (commenting on her distaste for same-sex marriage) I am a Christian; I hold certain beliefs, and I am entitled to hold them as a matter of religious freedom. Questioning my beliefs is taboo. This becomes a problem when Katie and her ilk think this alone is a sufficient basis for making public policy.

Organized religion also promotes a sense of us and not us, or the other. Part of the function of religious ritual is the reinforcement of the boundaries of the group. This works surprisingly well because humans have become wired over millennia to operate this way. For a long time when humankind was into hunting and gathering, being able to identify quickly whether someone was in the tribe or not could save your life.

If you accept uncritically the tenets of a religious orthodoxy in order to maintain group membership and identity, you have abdicated your responsibility as a moral actor. Religious orthodoxy becomes a substitute for examining the world and your relationship to it. Kind of like nationalism.

If you’re not a moral actor, then you’re just following orders. That was an unsuccessful defense in the Nuremberg trials. That’s kind of an over the top analogy, but Spot believes that it is essentially accurate. If you’re not a moral actor, you can be Jimmy Swaggert and say the devil made me do it.

On the other hand, if you are a moral actor, you will examine religious tenets in light of the subsequent history of humankind, the writings of other learned philosophers, and in light of science and reason. To refuse to do that is a moral self-maiming.

That’s probably where Katie got the limp.


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