Category Archives: Politics

Kneeling During the National Anthem

Is kneeling during the national anthem an acceptable form of protest for police brutality against people of color?

antipas2First of all, I ought to say that I have limited right to speak to this topic as a white man. However, I do support the issue they are protesting. I say that only because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t have any right to speak to the topic. Polls asking the public what they think about the protest are unfair. Those who disagree with the object of the protest will of course disagree with the form. How many people disapproved of the 1963 March on Washington that culminated in MLK’s “I Have A Dream” speech? 60 percent of Americans did, it turns out.

The primary objection to the kneeling protest is that it dishonors the American flag and the national anthem, and by inference, veterans. I think that these objections are a way, conscious or not, of diverting attention from the true subject.

They are calling America’s attention to the fact that the white stripes aren’t quite as pure and peaceful as they suggest, and the blue isn’t quite as just as it would like to be.

In reality, veterans are divided in their views of the protest. Many support it. And, as we now know, it’s an NFL veteran who changed Kaepernick’s protest from a sitting protest to a kneeling protest to show more respect. And moreover, it’s a little bit of a stretch to claim that there is a great dishonor to the flag or the anthem. The players are silent and respectful, just making a simple and unmistakable gesture. One could say that they are calling America’s attention to the fact that the white stripes aren’t quite as pure and peaceful as they suggest, and the blue isn’t quite as just as it would like to be.

A creative article in the NYT suggests that the form of the protest isn’t as effective as it could be, because it’s easily redirected. The author has an interesting point, but at the same time it’s possible that the outrage over it has amplified the message. The protest is now enormously more visible than it was before President Trump started making it a deal. The real danger is that it becomes a protest against Trump, rather than the single-issue protest it began as.

If Jesus isn’t with the victims of injustice, I’m not sure where he is.

This ought to be a cause that Christians support. One could say that Jesus was a friend to the marginalized, and that the Church has always been most at home on the margins of society. Jesus literally spoke about giving hope to the hopeless. If he isn’t with the victims of injustice, I’m not sure where he is. We ought to be very familiar with people speaking out for justice, and we ought to be listening. This is a key part of our calling on earth. Furthermore, as Christians we know that God’s banner is higher than our national patriotism. We ought not to elevate the American flag or national anthem above God or Christian values, one of which is justice. Thus we should feel compelled by Scripture to at least evaluate the subject of the protest before rejecting it outright.

As has been pointed out, it seems like virtually every form of protest that black people in this country take has been considered inappropriate. This is the most peaceful and least disruptive of any.

 – Antipas

Response from Aurelius

Nice post, Antipas. I didn’t know that 60% of Americans disapproved of the 1963 March on Washington. That figure helps contextualize today’s protests. For example, 57% of Americans disapprove of the Black Lives Matter movement. I wouldn’t have thought that the Black Lives Matter movement has better approval ratings than the March on Washington.

You’re right that Jesus made a point to befriend the marginalized and the victims of injustice. That’s a big deal in Christian teachings and should be a larger part of this conversation.

You mentioned that Christian values supersede nationalism and the flag, but there’s a dangerous way to interpret that to elevate God’s word above the Constitution. The Republican Senate candidate from Alabama, Roy Moore, campaigned openly on his belief that the Christian God’s supremacy overrules all, and he has no hestitations disregarding constitutional laws that conflict with his beliefs. His lead over the Democratic candidate has narrowed, but I’m worried for the state of our country if he and others like him are elected while a good portion of the country is more offended than inspired by NFL players’ respectful protests.

 

aureliusYes. Kneeling during the national anthem is an acceptable form of protest for police brutality against people of color. It is not a sign of disrespect to the flag or to the military as the president and countless others have misperceived.

Those victims do not have a voice anymore. These NFL players are using their position and platform to give them one.

First, kneeling in silence is respectful. To mirror how service members kneel before the graves of their fallen comrades, Nate Boyer, a Green Beret and NFL veteran, convinced Colin Kaepernick to take a knee instead of a seat as a more respectful form of protest. When an NFL player kneels during the national anthem, it is in recognition of unarmed victims of police brutality. Those victims do not have a voice anymore. These NFL players are using their position and platform to give them one, and they are doing so in a thoughtful and respectful way.

Second, protesting injustices  is an appropriate use of an athlete’s platform. There is a long history of black athletes protesting injustices, which are largely viewed favorably in hindsight. Years from now we will look back at these kneeling NFL players much the same way that we currently look back at John Carlos and Tommie Smith in that 1968 Olympics award ceremony where they raised their fists in the air. They were protesting the same injustices the NFL players are currently protesting. It is the duty of a responsible citizen to  take a stand against injustices.

Third, the unsung verses of our national anthem are unintentionally fitting as a backdrop to protesting unequal treatment. The opening verse  of the Star-Spangled Banner that we commonly sing today is about unexpected victory against a relentless enemy. Those words alone are fitting for a protest when there are injustices to address. The other lesser-known verses highlight the freemen vs. slave context of our country’s early years. The third verse in particular has the line, “No refuge could save the hireling and slave / From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave, And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave / O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.” Maybe not what you expected. The British gave American slaves the option of freedom in exchange for their support. This verse describes the flag gloriously flying over the land of the free while having just condemned slaves for choosing freedom. The values that we purport during the national anthem are silently countered by the conveniently-omitted verses.

When something is wrong, it is our responsibility to acknowledge it and do something about it.

Our society is far from perfect. When something is wrong, it is our responsibility to acknowledge it and do something about it. By taking a knee, NFL players respectfully invite conversation and action to make our society better and finally equal for all. If it makes you feel uncomfortable or even angry, then great, let’s talk about it.

-Aurelius

Response from Antipas

A great statement, my dear Aurelius. It’s a fun feature of this blog that we write independently, and sometimes find similar reasoning.

I’ll play devil’s advocate briefly, however. Some have pointed out, rightly, that it doesn’t matter what you call something, only how people interpret it. If I give you the middle finger and say, “Oh don’t worry, I mean it nicely,” then you would be justified in saying that I had lost my mind. It may not matter how much the protestors argue that their protest is polite and respectful and not about veterans; if people choose to interpret it that way then there’s nothing the protestors can do about it.

It can be a shame, but the witnesses of a protest have the right to interpret it. The fact that they are mis-interpreting it is their fault, but it’s still their right. It’s sad that we have to wait for history to redeem people like John Carlos, Tommie Smith, Muhammad Ali, and even Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks.

Today, American patriotism is like a religion (perplexingly strong among the actually religious), and those who show divergence from the mainstream can be harshly persecuted.

Hello reader. Thanks for taking the time to read our post. Because we are anonymous, we can’t easily publicize our own material. If you liked this post, you can be a key part of our blog by sharing it on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, StumbleUpon, Digg, and more.

Thank you!

Advertisements

Don’t Re-Church Us

Should young ex-Protestants go back to church?

Save the Mainline
Ross Douthat
April 15, 2017

Response from Aurelius

aurelius

“A large share of well-educated liberal America is post-Protestant…For the sake of their country, their culture and their very selves, liberal post-Protestants should find a mainline congregation and [start] attending every week.”

Not gonna happen for me. I respectfully decline.

My experience aligns with the premise that well-educated liberal America is post-Protestant, and the author links to supporting data as well. However, I don’t agree with the self-labeled implausible proposal that follows. The author is intending to provoke strong responses by lobbing a series of implausible proposals in his NYT column, such as “Trump Needs a Brain” and “Break up the Liberal City”. Akin to “A Modest Proposal” by Jonathan Swift, the real intention is to highlight real problems and promote real discussion on real solutions. So, let’s discuss.

“Liberal Protestantism without the Protestantism tends to gradually shed the liberalism as well, transforming into an illiberal cult of victimologies that burns heretics with vigor.”

Liberalism without Protestantism does not devolve into chaos. The 2017 college campus scene is an embarrassment to free speech, but Protestantism cannot reel this in. That’s a bizarre suggestion. Nor can Protestantism alter the apparent flippancy of liberal ideals. gjskkI believe this claim stems from Douthat’s flawed belief that liberalism is inherently unprincipled. Maybe it’s because liberals like to protest, and lately it’s often unclear what the unifying message of a particular protest is. I can agree with that, but just like the hypocrisy and sin of Christians do not nullify Christ, politically correct young liberals do not nullify liberalism. Furthermore, this assertion has a sub-claim that the alternative is principled. Today’s Republican party looks extremely different than a few years ago. Trump is not a principled man by any means. A phenomenon for sure, but terribly inconsistent in his stances. Republicans are not the unwaveringly principled party.

“Do it for your friends and neighbors, town and cities: Thriving congregations have spillover effects that even anti-Trump marches can’t match.”

I completely agree with Douthat’s supported point that institutions are needed to organize principles and build and sustain a sense of community. My biggest loss for me after becoming an atheist was leaving behind an omnipresent community. It’s lonely to leave the church. But, re-entering church is not the answer. Grassroots movements and political activism are how we should organize liberalism. The Democratic party has a tough job this next year before the 2018 midterm elections. Inserting religion is unnecessary bundling. While on that topic, I strongly believe that the bundling of Christianity with Republicanism and conservatism, while the status quo, is counterproductive and invites tremendous unnecessary divisiveness. Why is the Republican platform so accommodating to evangelical America? Why are Democrats not receptive to anti-abortion rights advocates?

“Do it for your family: Church is good for health and happiness, it’s a better place to meet a mate than Tinder, and even its most modernized form is still an ark of memory, a link between the living and the dead. I understand that there’s the minor problem of actual belief. But honestly, dear liberals, many of you do believe in the kind of open Gospel that a lot of mainline churches preach.”

There exist secular “churches” to satisfy this exact need of community and organizing liberal principles. They’re not nearly as popular as the religious variant, but I would suggest ex-Protestants go to a secular church such as Sunday Assembly over a denomination they’ve already rejected, probably for good reason. Get the benefits of going to church without the baggage of belief.

But maybe, the author assumes, most who slowly fade away wouldn’t be strongly opposed to re-entering those communities. Statistics aren’t in his favor here. A 2016 Pew study found that well over half of the previously-churched left because they do not believe or they dislike organized religion. Less than one third consider themselves on the fence or inactive believers, and it’s really only this latter category, about 10%, who are open to the notion of church.

“Finally, a brief word to the really hardened atheists: Oh, come on. Sure, all that beauty and ecstasy and astonishing mathematical order is because we’re part of a multiverse or a simulation or something; that’s the ticket. Sure, consciousness and free will are illusions, but human rights and gender identities are totally real. Sure, your flying spaghetti monster joke makes you a lot smarter than Aquinas, Karl Barth, Martin Luther King. Sure.”

Atheists have a bad stigma in this country, and it’s arguments like Douthat’s that perpetuate that perception. His argument here is pathetically straw manned. Yes, I’m sure the stereotypical neckbeard atheist with the FSM bumper sticker does exist, but that outdated meme is as uncommon as the Christians portrayed in the documentary Jesus Camp. What do his atheist friends think of that characterization? It describes exactly zero atheists that I know.

Finally, I counter that if you left Protestantism for good reason, then remind yourself of those reasons. Maybe even write them down. Seek out a secular church if you are wanting something similar but without the baggage of belief. Become politically active if you’re tired of incongruence in your party. But don’t proclaim Take Me To Church unless you are ready to re-explore your belief in Christ.

Hello reader. Thanks for taking the time to read our post. Because we are anonymous, we can’t easily publicize our own material. If you liked this post, you can be a key part of our blog by sharing it on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, StumbleUpon, Digg, and more.

Thank you!

 

Reactions to Donald Trump’s Election

How do you feel about the election of Donald Trump?

On November 8, 2016, in a historic election, Donald J. Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in a close and divisive election. We here at ConvergingMatters felt moved to comment on the election results, and we wanted to gather a variety of additional viewpoints as well. Each viewpoint will stand alone without cross responses.

antipas2Like a number of Americans, I’ve been in a continual state of shock over the presidential campaign of Donald Trump.  It often seemed like he combined the worst of Americans into one persona and ran for President unabashedly. His blatant materialism, sexism, racism, xenophobia, arrogance, and more ran from amusing to unbelievable to terrifying. I have rarely been confident that he even believes in the value of democracy.

His unrepentant behavior and attitudes are diametrically opposed to the Bible.

I fear for what he has done to my community of faith. I do not see any evidence that he is a Christian, and in fact I see plenty that he is not. His unrepentant behavior and attitudes are diametrically opposed to the Bible. Yet, exit polls showed that 81% of white evangelical voters chose him. It’s remarkable that out of 5 candidates, two were vaguely spiritual (Johnson and Stein), one was essentially a “none” (Trump), one was a Mormon (McMullin), and one was a Methodist (Clinton). And so many Christians united behind Trump!

No single political party has a lock on Biblical positions. However, the white evangelical church has come to believe that to be a Christian is to be a Republican. They have concluded this on the basis of a few singular social issues while overlooking a wide range of other issues. I would go so far as to say that each party has a roughly equal proportion of “Biblical” values as non-Biblical values. If such a statement surprises you, ask yourself whether care for immigrants, the environment, and outrageous generosity toward the poor are Biblical values.

It goes deeper. When we as a church are willing to overlook an awful lot in favor of a few policies, we’ve lost something. We say “Yeah he’s a narcissistic proto-dictator with profound moral failures, but at least he’s pro-life!” Can you imagine a young woman using the same logic for a man? “Yeah he abuses me, but he’s great in bed!” “Yeah he cheats on me a lot, but it’s just because he’s so smart and funny!” We’d tell her to get out of that relationship immediately!

We have become so segregated from the world, and even from Christian brothers and sisters of other ethnicities.

I understand that Hillary Clinton is a deeply unpopular candidate with moral issues of her own. I share the concerns and do not even come close to agreeing with her on all the issues. I’d like to see a future where Christians are not heavily lopsided toward either party, but instead judge each candidate based on the quality of their character, experience, campaign, and stance on a variety of issues that are important to each person individually.

After the election, I saw an outpouring of emotion online from friends around the country who are different from me. I heard LGBTQ people, people of color, even women who had undergone abortions publicly expressing deep fears and pains over what was happening. I fear that the white evangelical church was deaf to those pains. We have become so segregated from the world, and even from Christian brothers and sisters of other ethnicities, that we think a Supreme Court nominee is all that matters. For a year, Trump has been saying that he was going to reclaim an America that had slipped away. That America no longer exists, and I don’t believe it should, because it wasn’t an America where all people were created in the image of God.

 – Antipas

 


Candide Image.jpegTrump was never my first choice. I found him arrogant, repugnant, and immature. I thought he was a wrecking ball, incapable of complex and nuanced policy positions. No campaign in history was run the way his was, and I thought presidential politics could be ruined forever if he won. But then I started listening.

I have never identified as conservative. In my younger days I was a strictly non-violent self-proclaimed socialist. I played punk rock and fought “the man.” I couldn’t support Bush’s interventionist war-profiteering. I felt answering death and destruction with more death and destruction was short-sighted, and could never align with my religious convictions.

As much as the millennial generation is maligned, they don’t want handouts, they want opportunities.

Today a libertarian lens colors my views. If you poll people around my age without using party labels, I’m not alone. They want to protect the rights of the LGBTQ community, they want to help provide for the marginalized in our society, but they also want the dignity and fulfillment that comes with working a good job. As much as the millennial generation is maligned, they don’t want handouts, they want opportunities.

Recognizing our country is not ready to elect a Libertarian, I began to envision how each presidency would function. Trump, a former Democrat, will enter the office with the most libertarian policies of any president since the 1940s, many of which will be difficult to pass with a republican congress. But he built these policies because he heard a voice. This voice, that also fed Bernie’s campaign, came from average Americans. They never recovered from the great recession, they sent their loved ones to fight in near-constant war, and they felt the economy was rigged against them.

That voice saw Clinton as more of the same, and she saw them as the enemy. She called them deplorable, basement-dwellers, uneducated, racist, misogynist, and worse. She lamented them for voting “against their interests,” which may be the most condescending thing a politician can say to an electorate.

Where I felt Trump was a threat to decency, I felt Clinton was a threat to peaceful democracy.

But my reservations about Clinton were not her words. I dug through Wikileaks. I saw illegal coordination between the campaign and PACs. I saw the suppression of Bernie Sanders. I saw conversations with journalists in media allowing her campaign to cultivate their message. That’s propaganda. I saw that her state department foment violent uprisings in the Middle East, funding the generation of groups like ISIS, leading to the death and displacement of generations. I saw in 2009 she was against gay marriage, I saw her call inner-city black men “super predators.” I listened, in two separate nationally televised events, as she insouciantly called for taking military action against Russia for allegedly hacking the DNC emails. Provoking a nation to war that has the nuclear capacity to destroy the planet is reckless, at best.

I would have preferred a more polished and less obscene candidate to carry that voice’s message. I hurt for those in pain from this result. But where I felt Trump was a threat to decency, I felt Clinton was a threat to peaceful democracy. Today, I am relieved America made that difficult choice.

 – Candide

 


Thank you very much to our contributing authors:

  • Antipas – 31, male, white, Evangelical Christian, loves gardening
  • Aurelius – 30, male, white, atheist, liberal, solves math puzzles for fun
  • Candide – 30, male, white, Methodist, libertarian, has a Weimaraner named Daphne
  • Timotheos – 50, male, white, Evangelical Christian, VP with a European specialty foods company

Note: We are well aware that all four voices are white males. We are actively pursuing additional voices and plan a followup post in the coming days.

aureliusI was among the majority of Americans convinced Trump would never become president of the United States. Religiously following 538’s forecast showed me that Trump oscillated between a 10% and occasionally 50% chance of winning, stabilizing around 25%. I liked those odds. They’re the same odds as flipping heads twice in a row, which was unlikely enough for me to be comfortable with my and my family’s future. Now those two heads have landed and I’m in shock. Not because of the odds, which really weren’t that unlikely. I’m in disbelief in how we elected a man who brags about sexual assault, demeans women, may or may not want to ban an entire religion, and who feels like he has to call foul and sue anyone that disagrees with him or gets in his way. Half of the country just voted for this man.

The chief alternative was a career politician, a woman, who had high praise from both Democrats and Republicans who have worked with her. But, she has been battling scandals since entering the public light 25 years ago. Her main criticism leading up to the election was how she mismanaged her emails while Secretary of State. The FBI investigated her thoroughly, which didn’t result in any charges. Meanwhile, Trump managed to continually say and do things that would immediately obliterate any other candidate’s chances. Ignorant, sexist, racist, offensive remarks, met with simultaneous cheers, blind eyes, and disbelief.

The first president my kids will remember is this awful excuse for a man who cares more about the perceived size of his hands than preserving the fundamental religious freedom of our country.

Yet, the American people believed Trump when he said that she was the crooked one, she was the incompetent one, she didn’t have the right temperament. The facts reveal that the opposite is true. I was with her, and I’m proud to have voted for her. Now the first president my kids will remember is this awful excuse for a man who cares more about the perceived size of his hands than preserving the fundamental religious freedom of our country.

This man. This stain on human history. Yes, he will now be in our history books. We wrote him in.

He has promised to “Make America Great Again.” I sincerely hope that he and the other branches of government do so responsibly. The dark campaign he ran is inconsistent with my view of the country. I hope his campaign rhetoric was an attempt to court the previously uncourted, not a foreshadowing of the next 4-8 years. I think we are pretty great right now, and we should continue making progress. Continue to lower the unemployment rate by getting people to work at good-paying jobs, educate people without saddling them with debt, provide health services without burdening people with outrageous hospital bills, intervene in foreign affairs only when human rights or national security are at stake, allow for responsible and legal immigration, and in doing so continue to diversify our country, drive innovation, and grow our economy. As stewards we must take care of the world we have inherited and are creating.

Together we can make our country greater and be proud of what we leave our kids and grandkids.

I saw a bumper sticker a few months ago that has stuck with me. It simply said, Humankind. Be both. Together we can make our country greater and be proud of what we leave our kids and grandkids.

– Aurelius

 


TimotheosAs a kid growing up in the swampy marshlands of New Orleans I was always amazed at how the ships on the other side of the Mississippi river levee appeared to float above me when I peered out of my bedroom window. Of course, anyone with a basic knowledge of geology relative to this city knows that most of it is below sea level and protected only by an elaborate system of pumps and levees that keep “draining the bowl” so to speak. It’s been said that New Orleans is “the inevitable city on the impossible site” and by all geologic standards it should not exist. Still, since the late 1600’s when it was founded this city has defied logic and thrived as a metropolis that is home to 1.1 million people. New Orleans existing, along with many other occurrences and events throughout human history, clearly show that miracles do happen. It shows there are many things that human logic, intellect, science, etc. can’t explain. Such is the case, in my opinion and many others, of a Donald J. Trump presidency.

He listened to the American people and understood with complete clarity.

How did such a man with no political experience, no huge pool of donor money, no real fans on either side of the political aisle or in the media pull off such an impossible and historic upset? It’s really simple. He listened to the American people and understood with complete clarity their plight of being misunderstood, disdained, forgotten and put down by the elite politicians that supposedly represented them. Like Trump, I am a businessman and in business to be successful you have to listen more than you speak. Without taking the time to listen you can’t form a coherent strategy that will produce a solution which tries to benefit all parties involved. The success of Donald Trump’s candidacy from the moment he entered the race emanated from his ability to do this very well. Additionally, you don’t accidentally form a successful brand and multi-billion-dollar company like the Trump Organization by being a bombastic, hard-headed leader that doesn’t listen to their customers and the support staff around you. Instead, you know how to keenly listen, resist giving into emotion or hype, stay focused while pragmatically evaluating next steps and action plans that deliver results.

For me Trump’s strategic thinking skills as a very successful businessman resonated and the fact that he was NOT an elitist, good ole’ boy politician singing the same old song and dance as they do appeal to me. It seemed everyone hated this guy on both sides of the political aisle along with everyone in the media, other countries and anyone else who had an opinion of him. This, of course, made him even more desirable to me as a Presidential candidate and apparently many others. I found it quite refreshing that finally there was someone running for President that was not emboldened to special interest, lobbyist or corporate America. Despite saying some foolish and ignorant things there was no doubt that Donald Trump was sincere in his desire to do as his campaign slogan said, “Make America Great Again”. The political establishment was at least smart enough to recognize the threat he posed, but could do nothing to stop it while he plowed through victory after victory in the primaries overcoming 16 established, capable contenders en route to gaining the improbable Republican nomination. It was at this point that the biased, left leaning media turned their full frontal assault on him while basically ignoring the many irregularities and corruption of the Clinton campaign. If they ever wanted a great sound bite, Clinton would have given it to them, but for whatever reason they were fixated on derailing and destroying the character and candidacy of Donald Trump. Wiki leaks and other credible sources, admissions of carelessness by James Comey of Secretary Clinton’s use of classified information on personal servers proved this was the case, but the media still shrugged it off. Those that didn’t shrug it off were average “Joes” that Washington, pop culture and media elites wrote off, disdained and dismissed. They silently went about their day, ignoring poll takers and generally not letting anyone know of their choice for President for fear they would be labeled homophobes, racists, ignorant or some other derogatory name. They ignored the polls so much that not one poll was even close to predicting the inevitable outcome. On the morning of November 9, everyone was shocked and dismayed but those of us that voted for him and Donald Trump himself were not surprised. Like Donald Trump we listened and rode a wave of Populist fervor to the voting booths where we cast our votes ushering in one of the most unlikely, underdog candidates to ever become President of the United States.

– Timotheos

 

Hello reader. Thanks for taking the time to read our post. Because we are anonymous, we can’t easily publicize our own material. If you liked this post, you can be a key part of our blog by sharing it on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, StumbleUpon, Digg, and more.

Thank you!

Gun Violence

What Should Be Done About All The Gun Violence?

antipas2

The volume of gun violence in this country is, by any measure, staggering. As a Christian, (although I’d like to think it’s not exclusive to Christianity) I place a high value on human life. Although the statistics are overwhelming, that each person lost is a life with a story, family, and friends is crushing. It’s easy to focus on the terrorist attacks and the seemingly random mass casualty events in public spaces, but we ought not to distinguish them so dismissively from drug-related violence, gang fights, and domestic disputes. A life is a life.

I’m no expert on gun control. Yet, it seems that any reasonable person would see that our current system is nonsensical. As I write this, it’s possible for a person on a terror watch list to buy a gun. A person can fail a background check and still buy a gun if the background check takes longer than 3 days. Guns can be sold privately without any sort of background check or required process.

These sorts of glaring holes in the system are absurd to rational thought. Simply requiring a license for a gun could help close these gaps and does not violate anyone’s rights – we have to register our cars annually and get a government permit just to replace a hot water heater. A NY Times editorial points out the absurdity of being so cautious about abridging the rights of people buying guns while calling for a blanket ban on Muslim immigration.  You don’t roll out a tank to crush an ant hill while your house is on fire.

Again, I’m not an expert, but I fail to understand why we wouldn’t at least make it difficult to get a gun. This is an incredibly dangerous weapon we’re talking about. The other side argues that it isn’t the gun that kills people, but the wielder. This is of course true, and clearly anyone who has a strong desire to commit a crime is going to commit it. Our violent culture kills people at an alarming rate and we’ve got to speak up about the violence too.

Yet, even those who argue that our culture is violent aren’t willing to do much about it. We avoid talking about the neighborhoods where violence is a way of life. We won’t have a serious discussion about violence in media, despite a virtually proven link to desensitization and potential aggression. But we still aggressively ban Kinder Eggs because they are potentially dangerous.

If we’re going to talk about gun control, let’s talk about it in a rational way, not with charged preconceived notions. Such as how our media make us misunderstand guns. We see an actor take somebody down with a single shot, when even trained police officers miss 70 to 82 percent of their shots. That misunderstanding makes us think that even in a crowded place, having armed do-gooders makes us safer.

This is no easy issue to deal with. Nobody is seriously suggesting taking away everyone’s guns, or banning violent video games – neither suggestion is rational. We’ve got to have conversations about due process and the transparency of the terror watch list. But doing absolutely nothing, which we’ve been doing for years, is not rational either.

 – Antipas

Response from Aurelius

You bring up several good points. The “good guy with a gun” fallacy is rampant among gun advocates. The NRA’s executive VP, Wayne LaPierre, declared after the Sandy Hook shooting, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

Making it harder to get a gun seems intuitive. Unfortunately, the gun lobby is powerful and the public is unsupportive of most gun control measures. Our country needs a mindset shift, and increased mass shootings don’t seem to be jarring the public. In fact, even though the public overwhelmingly supports increased background checks, we are now more opposed to stricter gun control laws in general than previous decades where mass shootings were less frequent. What will convince us to actually make a productive change?

I’m one of the irrational guys you mention in your last paragraph that thinks we shouldn’t own guns. It’s a losing battle, I know, but any measure short of drastic will only at most dampen the gun violence. We need to reverse the trend. Australia enacted a gun buyback program once firearms were made illegal, buying back over 700,000 guns. The U.S. currently has somewhere around 300,000,000 guns. That’s an absurd number of guns. A buyback program probably wouldn’t scale to that size, but we should do the studies to find out what’s feasible.

Having a gun in the home increases the likelihood of suicide, homicide, and accidental death. Our gun-obsessed culture needs to change.

aurelius

There is a major problem in the U.S. with gun violence. While there are some countries in the world with significantly more gun deaths, the U.S. is high on the list. It’s important to establish this fact first. We have a problem that needs to be addressed.

Several news stories this past month claimed that there have been on average more than one mass shooting per day in 2015. This is true if we define mass shootings as four or more people wounded in a related gun incident. As others reported, the way the public generally defines mass shootings as four or more people killed, not just wounded, brings the count down to four in 2015. I don’t care to nit pick the definition of a mass shooting. One a year is too many. We are numbed to mass shootings. Each time one hits the news, gun control advocates repeat, “We need to make it harder to own guns,” while gun rights advocates repeat, “We need to arm and protect ourselves from incidents like this.” At least both sides agree that something needs to be done, but they talk past each other because productive debate on gun control is hindered by culture bundling.

As stated in the New York Times piece above based on an FBI study, “the more narrowly defined mass shootings have grown more frequent, and overwhelmingly involve legally obtained firearms.” Even with strict gun laws and background checks, people are legally obtaining firearms in order to commit atrocities. My proposition is that we should simply not be able to own firearms unless we need them to defend against predators such as wolves and mountain lions or for strict hunting-for-food purposes. The UK has these types of prohibitive gun ownership laws, and while mass shootings still occur, they are significantly less frequent. Australia has even stricter gun laws prompted by a horrific mass shooting, and they now have fewer than 10% the number of gun deaths per capita as the U.S.

We have many laws that protect us from being harmed by others – speed limits, airport screenings, customs, environmental regulations – but we hold on to our right to own firearms because it is deeply ingrained in our culture and written into our constitution. It is a huge part of what defines us. When we now have active shooter training at elementary schools, we need to redefine ourselves and rethink what’s best for our society.

Our second amendment grants us the right to bear arms for the purposes of establishing a well regulated militia. We now have a police force and state/national guards that serve this purpose. Citizens with semi-automatic weapons are also no match for a government that owns multitudes of tanks, F-16s, and drones.

Since this is a serious topic, I’ll end with a 16-minute stand up bit from Jim Jefferies discussing America’s gun culture. Our ownership and obsession with guns is causing more harm than good. We need to entirely rethink our gun culture.

-Aurelius

Response from Antipas

First of all, that’s a hilarious video of Jim Jefferies, but he does make some very good points. You’ve got a very well-researched post here. I’m particularly interested in the argument that the right to bear arms is no longer really a relevant right since we have police and military to protect us from outsiders and we aren’t going to win a war against our own government anymore.

Really, I think the point that Jefferies makes is a strong one: really the reason we want guns is that we just like them. They’re macho, they’re cool, they make us feel tough. I went shooting at a gun range with a friend once and I couldn’t resist making a tough guy face with the handgun for a photo. It’s just like driving really fast on the highway. Do we really need to get to our destination 30 seconds earlier or do we just enjoy it?

You’re also absolutely right about the “culture bundling”. That’s a new term for me, but it’s spot on, and of course one of the reasons why you and I, my friend, started this site. Irrational debates are fun, as the article points out, but I think we’ve lost the ability for meaningful dialogue when we need it. This is one of those instances.

I won’t go as far as you to say that all guns need to be banned and bought back. I’m a fan of reasoned steps, and it could be that we ought eventually to end up with no guns, but I think it’s better to take things one steady step at a time to measure the impact and ensure we aren’t making unintended consequences. This is a bit of my political philosophy, but in general I don’t think it’s always a bad thing if governments move slowly.

Hello reader. Thanks for taking the time to read our post. Because we are anonymous, we can’t easily publicize our own material. If you liked this post, you can be a key part of our blog by sharing it on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, StumbleUpon, Digg, and more.

Thank you!

Christians vs. The World

What is the deal with the “Culture Wars”?

antipas2

Christians often have a confrontational relationship with the culture around them. Some characterize this as Christians being “anti everything” and others just get annoyed by their insistence on things like traditional marriage, abortion, cultural Christian artifacts, and so forth.  People rightfully ask why it is that Christians seem to be so angry all the time.

There’s a great older book called Christ and Culture by H. Richard Niebuhr that details the different ways that Christians can interact with culture. You can be against culture, absorbed in culture, above culture, in paradox with it (we have a secular life and a spiritual life that continually intersect and diverge), or you can view Christ and the Christian as the transformer of culture. It’s very common for Christians to take one of the first two stances – at war with it, or just making Christian copies of things and consuming them. Some set themselves aloof with the third option and sort of ignore the world around them, but the author of the book has a respect for the paradox view and encourages the transformer view.

God created people as cultivators of a garden and I think that analogy can have value today.  You can’t cultivate a garden by being angry at it, or by embracing the weeds, or by viewing the soil as beneath you and unworthy of attention.   You’ve got to take what’s there and work to make it better, caring for it constantly and bringing great things out.

Does this approach minimize the bad things in the world and just accept them?  Not at all.  I think it’s disingenuous to our own faith to deny that there are things wrong with the world.  If the Bible is clear about a certain subject, then Christians ought to be similarly clear.  But this doesn’t mean you have to be confrontational about it.  You can believe, as I do, that abortion is wrong, and not picket in front of abortion clinics and criticize people who have had abortions.  You can maintain both your convictions and your love for others.  For example, you could quit yelling about making abortion illegal and start encouraging women to make different decisions.

There’s a lot of yelling in the world today.  Our semi-anonymous culture of internet communication and mass media makes it easy.  Solomon is wise when he says “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”  There’s a time for harsh words, and there’s a time for gentleness.  When Christians are known for their harsh words rather than for their love, they’ve missed the point.  There is no Christian nation, our USA not even being close, and much of the culture wars come about because Christians think that the USA is one.  We have to accept that and be glad for it.

If it’s not a Christian nation, then we can feel free to hold our own beliefs strong and not seek to impose them on the world around us, as if a non-Christian would want to live by Christian beliefs.  We can embrace the world, weeds and all, and take an attitude of seeking to leave this world better than we found it through loving cultivation.

 – Antipas

Response from Aurelius

Nice perspective. We tackled this prompt in markedly different ways. In those five responses to culture, I see many of today’s Christians taking a combination of the first and third approach: against and above culture, which is why many Christians come off as angry or culturally divisive. The person that I think best exemplifies the transformative approach is Mother Teresa. She viewed the world around her as a garden begging for love and compassion and therefore devoted her life to loving and helping others.

I agree with you that there is too much yelling in the world today. In my view, yelling, protesting, and picketing rarely produce the desired outcome. On the contrary, quiet fortitude can wake people up, just as Rosa Parks exemplified. We all probably know someone with this type of character. The loud voices of the room become noise after a while, but when the quiet person speaks, everyone listens.

I wish more Christians in the U.S. would share your perspective of accepting and even being glad that the country is not a Christian nation and not try to impose Christian beliefs onto others. Imposing your beliefs on others only perpetuates already-divided camps and comes off as foolish to those who believe otherwise, more eloquently stated by one of my favorite British actors, Stephen Fry, on one of my favorite TV shows, QI. “The myth of the Jewish people having manna dropped on their heads, that doesn’t actually matter… That’s like a Greek myth or any other myth. It’s when it gets to telling people how to behave is where we do draw the line.”

We can all agree on your last point. Let’s leave this world better than how we found it.

aurelius

If you live in the U.S. or keep up with U.S. news you are likely aware of the political atmosphere’s close connection with religious differences. Christian vs. non-Christian. Right-wing fundamentalist Christian vs. moderate Christian. Tea Party vs. moderate Republican. These divides played a huge role in this summer’s same-sex marriage ruling and they are a significant influence in many other cultural and moral issues.

“Culture war” only makes sense within the context of a single group with conflicting cultures, such as a non-homogeneous country. It’s important to note that every country has some unique culture war but in this post we are talking about the U.S. culture wars. The U.S. culture wars are predominantly religious, primarily between Christian and Other.

To understand the current culture wars requires an understanding of their influences and beginnings. I had to educate myself here, so here’s a recap. The culture wars became increasingly religious in the 80s and 90s even through today but they have more secular beginnings in the 60s. Early issues were civil rights, feminism, minority representation, and war vs. peace. Major issues then became abortion, homosexuality, religious discrimination, and again war vs. peace. Today’s media serve to propagate instead of mitigate the culture wars, with Fox News on one side and MSNBC and CNN in the opposing corner.

So, what can we do about the culture wars? How do they benefit and harm society?

The benefit of the culture wars is they can unite a large group of people into action based on beliefs they strongly support. It challenges people to examine their own beliefs to determine which they stand for and how strongly. Having to pick a side also promotes competition, and competition has many proven benefits and is one of the most natural human endeavors.

The major harm in culture wars is the creation and sustainment of the Us vs. Them mentality. We are all the same species and should embrace our humanity and endeavor to improve our collective existence, not highlight our differences. Even though we will naturally associate with one side based on our beliefs and upbringing, allying ourselves with one side makes it easy to dismiss the other side. We must resist the urge to be dismissive and divisive.

With the holiday season now here, instead of bickering with our loved ones, what if each week or two each of us read an opinion piece from the other side or tried to carry a conversation with someone with sharply different beliefs with the sole intent of respecting an opinion contrary to our own and understanding its premise? It’s not a farfetched idea, but we don’t take the time to do it. It would require just a small effort but the ripples would be long lasting. That is the primary intent of this blog because my coauthor and I believe in the power of respectful discourse. It is not hard to do and I can attest that it is remarkably refreshing to have your opinion respected by someone who disagrees with you while you are being enlightened by genuinely listening to their perspective. It’s a beautiful thing that we should all strive for. We don’t have to be divided.

-Aurelius

Response from Antipas

You’re right that this issue strikes at the heart of why we started the blog, so of course we’re going to have the same mind on it. There have been times that I have really enjoyed reading some academically-minded Tea Party literature, because sometimes once you get past the vitriol you find some logical arguments. I may find that I disagree with a premise, or think the argument leaves something out, but understanding the argument is key to understanding why I hold my own position.

The same is true of any issue, whether it’s homosexual marriage, allowing refugees and asylum-seekers into the country, or even something silly like red Starbucks cups. Our world would have a lot less yelling if, before anyone brought out their argument, they listened to and understood the logic from the other side. Your suggestion of carrying on conversations with those who disagree is a great one, and I hope more people do it.

Finally, thank you for pointing out the positive aspects of the “culture wars”. I glossed over these, but you make a great point. I may not like the angry and bitter conflicts that Christians sometimes pick, but this energy can also be harnessed for good – mobilizing to action, for example. I also know that I have rarely understood my own position so well as when I was forced to defend it against an onslaught. Let’s go out and manage the culture wars positively!

Hello reader. Thanks for taking the time to read our post. Because we are anonymous, we can’t easily publicize our own material. If you liked this post, you can be a key part of our blog by sharing it on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, StumbleUpon, Digg, and more.

Thank you!

Justification of Torture

The Senate Intelligence Committee released a report in early Dec. 2014 indicating excessive torture and cover-ups by the CIA after 9/11. Plenty of information has been made public, including the 20 key findings of the report.

Is the CIA Torture Justified?

antipas2

I’ll just come right out and answer simply: NO.  I’ve got two major issues with torture in general.

Firstly, the moral issue.  I do not believe that torture is ever justified because I do not believe that the ends justify the means.  This is what I heard over and over in the news.  Most did not seek to discredit the reports of torture, they sought to claim that the torture yielded valuable information that led to military victories against terrorism.   First, I’m not sure that the idea of a “military victory against terrorism” isn’t a prime example of winning the battle and losing the war.  Second, this line of reasoning is very troubling.

Ethicists, literary authors, religious leaders, and more have debated the question of whether the ends justify the means for ages.  Proponents often go immediately to the extreme: “What if you could save a million people by killing one?”  However, there’s an inherent fallacy in making an argument from an extreme example – it assumes that somewhere there’s a line at which point it changes from right to wrong.  This is a dangerous way to go about thinking.

Ethicists say that this question divides people into deontologists (the morality of an action depends on its qualities) and consequentialists (the morality of an action depends on its outcomes).  Most people, in practice, slide back and forth between the two at will, never worrying about whether their resulting beliefs are incompatible.  However, just like people’s philosophical frameworks, the ends and means are a jumbled up mess.  There’s no clear distinction where means become ends, and whether or not the ends aren’t just more means on the way to more ends.  Without falling into a philosophy discussion, I’ll extricate myself here by saying that I believe this jumbled-up mess and the incompatibility of deontology and consequentialism makes it impossible for me to regularly allow for the ends to justify the means.

My second issue with torture is a Biblical one.  One of Jesus’ most famous sayings was to love your enemies.  The apostle Paul elaborated to quote Solomon who said that repaying good for evil was like heaping burning coals on your enemy’s head. Radical as this teaching may be, I actually subscribe to it.  I do believe that overcoming evil with good is not only possible, but that it may be the best way of resolving conflicts.  It’s a common literary theme for the good guy to become evil in his fight against evil, and Jesus was clearly interested in preserving his followers on the right side of righteousness.  While “love your enemies” doesn’t preclude the idea of justice for evil, it does make it pretty hard to defend torturing your enemy.

In a broader sense of the Biblical idea, I think that a decent understanding of Scripture shows that all mankind has a certain brotherhood.  We are all of different families and different faiths, but the Bible never teaches that those who believe differently are our enemies.  A more appropriate analogy would be to say that if this is a war, those who believe differently are the prisoners of war to be fought for, not fought against.  Taking this idea beyond the question of religious belief, if we could think of our enemies more as prisoners to be rescued than as the enemy themselves, our wars would look a lot different.  And, to touch on that earlier tangent again, I’m not sure that our “war on terror” wouldn’t resolve itself a lot quicker if we stopped making our enemies hate us so much.

 – Antipas

Response from Aurelius

Straight to the point. Nice response. We both fall into the roughly 25% of the U.S. population that believe torture or harsh interrogation techniques are never justified. What we label these techniques: torture, harsh interrogation, or enhanced interrogation, matters. We both label these as torture perhaps because we disagree with their use. I think we would share a similar viewpoint with the 18-20% who think torture is rarely justified. However, I would love to hear from the 50-55% of the U.S. population who think these techniques are sometimes or often justified, even given that research shows that harsher techniques positively correlate with faulty information. To support Antipas’ point about overcoming evil with good, the Costanzo research study I linked supported the idea that, “strategically useful information is best obtained from prisoners who are treated humanely.”

You mention that you disagree with “the ends justify the means.” I do too, and I’ll just share a bit about that phrase’s origin to expand on the deontologists vs consequentialists topic. The idea, not the direct quote, is a common theme in Machiavelli’s The Prince. There are many historians and philosophers that believe this work is a satire, as it was written as political advice to the ruling Medici family while Machiavelli was imprisoned by them. In his other works he is a supporter of free republics, not monarchies.

Although I am hyper goal-oriented, the ends cannot always justify the means because the ends cannot reliably be foreseen.

aurelius

The five-year Senate investigation resulted in a 6,700-page report, 525 of which have been publicly released. Without much searching you can find highlights, key findings, shocking findings, public responses, and endless media coverage. The report and response fell on sharp political lines with all six Republicans on the committee not participating in the investigation and instead they issued a 167-page dissent. One prominent Republican that supported the report’s findings is John McCain, who stated that the interrogation techniques used by the CIA as documented in the report “damaged our security interests, as well as our reputation as a force for good in the world.” McCain has first-hand experience with torture while he was a prisoner of war in Vietnam for over five years. President Obama and other Democrats issued similar statements. The current and former CIA directors issued countering responses, with the current director, John Brennan, stating, “It is our considered view that the detainees who were subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques provided information that was useful and was used in the ultimate operation to go against Bin Laden.” Michael Hayden, a former CIA director, stated more to the point, “I think the conclusions they drew were analytically offensive and almost street-like in their simplistic language and conclusions.”

Like many contemporary American issues, politics muddies up the real concerns. Neither side denied that enhanced interrogation techniques were used on many terrorist detainees. Whether or not these produced actionable intelligence, shouldn’t their use be concerning? As a society, where do we draw the line between enhanced interrogation and torture?

I argue that much of what the CIA classified as enhanced interrogation techniques is in fact torture and should not be practiced by the U.S. regardless of the circumstances. Waterboarding, one of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques, has its roots in an earlier form used during the 16th century Spanish Inquisition where it was designed as mild torture with its name bearing its intention, tortura del agua. Since then it has been repeatedly classified as torture and was even outlawed by the U.S. during the Vietnam War. If even some of the Senate’s report is true, many techniques used against detainees were far worse than waterboarding.

Even though mild torture or enhanced interrogation may be ethically wrong, it may be valuable if it prevents harm to a greater number of people. To me, that would be a gray area. However, it doesn’t. The techniques are not effective. The severity and length of torture correlate strongly with the likelihood of false confessions. Furthermore, as noted in the previously-cited research paper, perceived torture techniques “generate hatred and desire for vengeance against the perpetrators, radicalizing even ordinary people with no strong political views.” The CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques may have ended, but they damaged the reputation of the U.S. and created enemies where none previously existed. Torture is not justified. We must do better.

-Aurelius

Response from Antipas

It’s great to see that we are agreeing on this point.  I particularly like how you point out that harsh interrogation correlates with false confessions and wrong information.  I hadn’t come across this information, but it doesn’t surprise me.  It points out that there is a difference between stern and forceful interrogation that delivers results, and torture which probably doesn’t.

I think that it might be worthwhile to reconsider what kind of “information” is valuable these days.  What do we need from prisoners?  Names?  Take out as many of the enemy as you like, as long as the ideology lives on more will spring up.  Locations?  Satellite and spy imaging is developing more and more almost daily, and it’s not too far away that we could have a daily-updated photo of every part of the earth’s surface.  Plans?  Easy to lie about under pressure, and easy for the bad guys to change when they are compromised.

No, your final point is, I think, the most significant.  If enhanced interrogation radicalized our enemies against us, and damaged our reputation to create more enemies, then any actionable intelligence created by the torture was worthless compared to the harm done.  This is where I have major issues with the foreign policies of both major US parties – if we continue to drive other nations around the world to dislike us, we are only injuring our own future selves.  We don’t have to be friends with everyone, but we can’t keep making enemies.

Because we are anonymous, we can’t publicize our own material. If you liked this post, you can be a key part of our blog by sharing this post on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, StumbleUpon, Digg, and more. Thank you!

Legislating Morality

Should You Legislate Morality?

antipas2You can, you must, and you do.  Morality is simply considering what is right and wrong in a public sense.  Laws forbidding things like indecent exposure, public intoxication, and child pornography are legislating morality – they’re just morals that nobody has questioned (yet).  The question is really which morals should be legislated, and which shouldn’t.  We usually meet this with things that people wish to have legislated for religious reasons.  If someone has a religious objection to homosexuality, they might like it to be made illegal on the basis of immorality.  It’s essential to this discussion to realize that there is no inherent difference between making homosexuality illegal, making marijuana illegal, or making child pornography illegal.  The only difference is that some moral issues are up for debate right now, while others aren’t.

So which morals should be legislated, and which shouldn’t?  Many say that laws should be designed to prevent harm.  Preventing harm to another person is obvious.  It is, and should be, illegal to shoot someone at a four-way stop.  Laws that prevent harm to society are a bit more ambiguous, but often still valuable.  It’s harmful to society to run a four-way stop even if there’s nobody else around.  What about laws that prevent harm to yourself?  At our little four-way stop, it’s illegal to not wear a seatbelt.  The only person you’d be harming is yourself.  Other than that, there aren’t a lot of these types of laws.  Drivers have to maintain insurance, but only so far as to cover the damage to other vehicles.  You don’t have to cover yourself.

So now how do we consider the typical “legislating morality” issues that people talk about?  I believe that an honest look at many issues will reveal that harm is being done.  I don’t believe there is any such thing as a victimless crime.  In this I am arguing that we need to expand Mill’s “harm principle” ethics.  We need to think more broadly about harm, and what kind of good and virtuous society we need to create.  Some will argue that if we have so many forbidden things, freedom is lost.  Freedom is lost if the legislature has to process many details of daily life, indeed, so let me consider an alternative path that leaves the freedom with the people.

I wonder which is more important – freedom, or a virtuous society?  Or is freedom merely one virtue among others?  Democracy is meant for a virtuous society.  If society becomes corrupt and decrepit and loses its sense of right and wrong, I question whether pure representative democracy would even be the best form of government.  This is part of why Plato didn’t think democracy would work – he figured the people would be too dishonest to vote for what was in the best interests of society, but would only vote for what was in their own self-interest.  Thus, I would like to argue, finally, that more important than legislating morality is for the government to work intentionally at encouraging a virtuous society.  This is self-preservation for the government, because otherwise the nation will either slip toward an unethical society or a tyrannical government.

 – Antipas

Response from Aurelius

You raise a good point that the question is not whether or not we should legislate morals but which morals. To take it a step further, I would argue we cannot determine which morals until we establish a basis for those morals (e.g., a set of rights, a historic religious text, a list of principles, etc.). Morals need a basis, something upon which they can rely, otherwise there are gray areas inviting division.

Your point about a virtuous society is noble but not clearly defined. In particular, a virtuous society is one that upholds a set of virtues. This set of virtues, however, is based on morals, since virtues are defined as qualities that are morally good or promote individual or collective moral greatness. We still have the same logical problem. We still need a basis for the set of virtues that make up a virtuous society.

To be a little more practical, maybe division isn’t so bad and might be one of the reasons that democracy sort of works. Different people value and prioritize morals differently, and democracy, in theory, allows the people to adjust the rules to fit the views of the time and the majority. True democracy means we don’t require a precedence or basis for our moral decisions. Instead, the people decide what is right through elections, legislation, and the judicial process.

I’m glad we decided to tackle this question because I’ve learned a lot through the discussion. We came up with similar concepts and reasoning, which is always neat. As a society, we need to understand that morals are very rarely absolutes. What we value may not be valued by others, and we must respect what others value. In our society at least, another’s opinion and vote counts just as much as our own.

aureliusI had a hard time with this response, rewriting it completely, which I don’t often do. There are two issues at stake here: understanding morality and determining whether or not it has a place in law. Both are highly philosophical, so it’s perfectly reasonable to have different viewpoints.

With that preface, let’s first discuss morality. It’s denotatively black and white, but in practice is highly dependent on a variety of factors. What I mean is that by definition morality differentiates right and wrong, good and bad, but in practice there are gray areas. We don’t all agree on what’s right and wrong. Descriptive morality is formed primarily by culture, religion, and experience. For instance, while we may agree that killing is generally wrong without strong justification, we may not agree on the moral and legal issues of abortion or capital punishment. Normative morality, on the other hand, is universally applicable. To be exact, it is a “universal code of conduct that all rational persons, under plausible specified conditions, would put forward for governing the behavior of all moral agents” [Stanford Philosophy Encyclopedia]. But what does that really mean in practice? Well, it generally deals exclusively with preventing harm to oneself or others. It does not apply to the juicy gray areas we see in descriptive morality.

Legislating morality, the second issue at stake, is truly a slippery slope. What is right for one person is not necessarily right for others, and vice versa. But, if we don’t legislate based on morality, then on what should legislation be based?

Morality provides rules of conduct, while the purpose of the law is to enforce a set of rules. In the U.S., we base our laws on a constitution, which mostly just shows how our country should be governed, but it also includes amendments that delineate certain rights. The authors and judges used morality and ethics to construct these rights, which have evolved over time, for example abolishing slavery and giving voting rights to women. Those seem like no brainers today but were considered moral and legal gray areas at the time.

To answer the question, my view is that only normative morality should be legislated, i.e., if the law reasonably prevents harm to oneself or others. This is why we have seatbelt laws (self harm) in addition to speed limits (harm to others). It’s simple and logical. Any laws related to descriptive morality may not stand the test of time and may have sometimes severe consequences, for example banning homosexual marriage or the Three-Fifths Compromise. You may not see those two as similar, but I’m not trying to equate them, just pointing out that both do not prevent harm to oneself or others and clearly do harm a group of people, either by dehumanizing slaves or by limiting significant rights of gay people.

My view is incomplete, however, since it doesn’t detail if or how to form laws that do not relate to harm to oneself or others. Luckily, legislation is not my job.

Interesting follow-up sources:

[1] When morality opposes justice: Conservatives have moral intuitions that liberals may not recognize

[2] What does it mean to legislate morality? The Austin Atheist Experience answers.

-Aurelius

Response from Antipas

I love how we write independently, yet come up with such similar concepts, my friend.  We’ve both landed on the familiar ethical question of harm, but you’re right in noting that it’s incomplete.  I’m broadening the principle to include harm to society, and arguing that a lot more harm is done than we realize.  But you surely can’t make everything illegal that causes harm.  Thus my interest in a virtuous society, which goes beyond legislation to things like encouraging higher education, civil society, community, and so forth.  I’d of course also add that religion and spirituality, rightly applied, can be great sources of virtue.

In the end, if we followed the path of looking at descriptive vs. normative morality, we’d find a lot more differences between us.  What goes in which category?  One person might say, “It’s wrong for me to practice polygamy, but maybe it’s right for others.”  I’d say that it’s universally wrong to practice polygamy.  How do we decide which category it goes in?  Is murder universally wrong or just situationally wrong?  How about stealing?  How about jaywalking?  You’re right to say it’s a slippery slope, and not one I’m interested in treading.

I’m with you in being glad that I’m not a legislator.