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Righty: Everything we need to know about morality is conveniently contained in the Bible. For those of us with short attention spans, God even summarized His moral laws on a couple of stone tablets. We call them the Ten Commandments, and they’re as relevant today as they were back in Moses’ time. Don’t kill. Don’t covet. Don’t commit adultery. Don’t eat uncooked shellfish. And the other seven, too. Of course, our cultivated, upper-middle class “progressives” think they know better than God, and that’s precisely what’s wrong with the world today.

Lefty: Morality is in the eye of the beholder. Some of us (are you listening, Righty?) still believe that it consists of rigid laws supposedly dictated by the bloodthirsty god of an ancient desert tribe. If they still want to believe in their myths three thousand years later, that’s fine. But it’s immoral for them to impose their moral delusions upon the rest of us. For me, true morality means taking collective action to improve life for the oppressed. It means loving our fellow humans regardless of race, creed or sexual orientation. Morality has nothing to do with the bedroom, as long as we’re dealing with consenting adults. If it feels right, chances are it IS right.

The New Moderate:

Once upon a time, our religions supplied us with all the morality we needed. And regardless of whether those morals were divinely inspired, most of their principles are still surprisingly sound. (That goes for the teachings of Confucius, Buddha and Lao-tse, too.) But what happens when ancient religious dictates lose their grip over the educated classes, as we’re witnessing in our time?

Here’s what happens: we see a great, gaping rift between the pious folks who still swear allegiance to the Good Book… and the more self-consciously “enlightened” crowd who essentially create their own morals as they go along. Of course it’s moral to love your fellow humans, but is it OK to make love in a public park? Shouldn’t we insist on moral absolutes that govern our actions? It’s a tricky question.

Most of us can agree that child abuse is morally wrong, for example. But what constitutes child abuse? If your kid sets off a cherry bomb inside the house, is it abusive to administer a few sharp whacks to the posterior? Fifty years ago such punishment would have been considered a character-building experience; today a progressive-minded witness might notify the child welfare authorities. (Naturally, that same progressive witness might also have the poor kid suspended from school for possession of aspirin.) In short, whose values do we honor?

Until the social upheaval of the late 1960s, Western society took its moral guidance from the Bible: no agonizing over values, no shades of gray; everything was laid out for us on the printed page, including the all-important ban on fornication.

Sexual morality is a universe unto itself, of course. The ‘60s liberated millions of libidos in a massive wave of sexual self-indulgence — much of it healthy, some of it excessive or downright kinky. Suddenly any private act between consenting adults was considered kosher, even if it involved buggy whips and Nazi uniforms.

Are sex fetishists immoral even if they confine their peculiar appetites to the bedroom? We’ve lost the authority to say so in public, though we’re still free to conclude privately that a lust for being handcuffed while wearing a chicken costume says something important about a person’s character.

That right to private judgment might be the key. We can’t legislate morality, but we can internalize it. We can set good examples. (When I asked a wise friend how to raise a decent kid, he told me, “Morals are caught, not taught.”) We can reject the cult of “cool” and create a culture that once again encourages honor and kindness and all the other noble virtues.

We might think we live in depraved times, but we still have the ability to recognize when something grates against our moral principles. That instinct is called a moral compass, and it comes in handy when we’re lost in the woods. I was encouraged by the mass revulsion we felt toward the Wall Street honchos who made billions for themselves while they gambled away our life savings. Maybe we’re not so close to perdition after all.

Summary: We can’t force our moral principles on others, but we can lead by setting positive examples in our own conduct.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Taliesin Knol permalink
    January 6, 2010 3:42 am

    Religion can interpreted 20 different ways by 2 people, and religous morality is often a justifiacation for horrible acts. Clear, just, unbiased, moderate laws are needed for a stable moral foundation. Fear the law, not an illogical sky-god’s loving-revenge.

    • Mobius permalink
      January 19, 2010 2:49 pm

      But what happens when the law is governed by people who follow the illogical sky-god’s love-hate relationship with us? Is it our right as citizens of a constitutional republic to free ourselves from such unreasonable belligerence?

      • Taliesin Knol permalink
        January 19, 2010 2:55 pm

        It is in fact within our rights as citizens to remove any unjust government, infact, its a civic duty.

  2. joanne permalink
    October 27, 2010 3:46 pm

    Legislating morality scares the b’jeebers out of me. We’ve decided as a law-suit loving nation to embrace the legislation of stupidity (disclaimers about hot beverages, seat belt and helmet laws, etc.), I fear that without the insertion of a more moderate view (and FAST), moral legislation is not far behind. (really, we’re there already…one word – abortion)

  3. Anonymous permalink
    June 26, 2014 4:37 am

    The Canaanites had a religion and in that religion all the immoral things in the Mosaic law were allowed and normalized. It does not make it right…look at the Mosaic Law closer and you will see it is a fair code to follow and expect others to follow.

  4. Jay Stride permalink
    April 2, 2017 11:46 am

    In reading The Bible I have found that neither testament provides clear moral guidance. For example in Matthew when Jesus tells his followers to turn the other cheek it is with the expectation that the slappers will be roasted for all eternity on the Great Cosmic BBQ. Definitely not a moderate punishment. Perhaps we can look towards Greek or Daoist philosophy instead.

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