Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Moral Relativism

I wrote this yesterday.  It is a response to a stream of comments on a friend's Facebook posting, in which a number of his friends were hounding him over disparaging remarks he made, first regarding the trustworthiness of Fox News and then regarding a statistic that 60% of Americans believe that the story of Noah's ark is literally, historically true.  One respondent, a believer in the Noah story, wrote, "The simple fact is, truth is not relative and there [are] absolutes":

Why is it that believers think non-believers are all moral relativists, when, by and large, it is the believers who think the most relativistically--seeing God's word as inspired when it condemns sodomy, but not so much when it condemns eating shrimp ... or possessing great wealth! Or through some twisted solipsism they argue that science is just another form of religious faith (even atheism is called a "religion" by some)--usually when they're trying to stack their absurd magical stories (lovely as they are as poetry) up against the theories of evolution at school board meetings--don't words have any meaning at all?

Sure, as a nonbeliever, I lack the "certainty" that many Christians claim to possess, but that hardly makes me a moral relativist. I believe in right and wrong. Most Christian teachings are highly improbable, reliant on irrational leaps of faith, and many are even ethically suspect--historically siding with slavery, with colonization, with witch-burning, with bloody idealistic wars on other idealists, with the desecration of the planet ... but against birth control, against women's rights, against sex for pleasure.

Contrary to new Christianist teachings, reason is NOT relative or amoral--the principles of judging probability on the basis of close observation of physical evidence, experience and/or experimentation, and theories of cause and effect have given us not only democracy, human rights, and the premise that all men are created equal (in contradiction to the tenor and tone of most of the bible) but also, for whatever they're worth, lunar landings, electron microscopes, polio vaccines, and the Internet.

The story of Noah's ark has, by contrast, given us some lovely pageants and a view of the Creator of the Universe as petty, quixotic, and befuddled, ultimately back-pedaling (after the fact) on the destruction of virtually all mankind, first repenting "that he had made man on the earth" in the first place (Gen. 6.6) and, after a good whiff of Noah's barbecue, deciding not to curse the ground anymore for man's sake because "the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth" (Gen. 8.21)--whuh??--he just figured that out? AFTER he killed everybody except for one small family with substance-abuse issues?

The God of the bible would be a great comic invention, were it not for his mean streak and his indifferent and willy-nilly treatment of even his most faithful followers (The Book of Job, anyone?)

No, truth is not relative ... and very little of what the bible says or what preachers or priests say in pulpits is even remotely true. But you are welcome to your delusions--just please stop trying to give them the force of law to coerce the rest of us into the small, fear-wracked, desperately hopeful, but numbly blissful lives you choose for yourselves.

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