Moral Sense: The Variables

Athena fighting

Athena fighting (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve found that when discussing morality, it is important to recognize two things: Firstly, most people try to live their lives well, this includes being a ‘generally moral person.’ For some the pursuit of morality is deeply intentional; people spend years distinguishing and proceeding to follow fundamental principles of right conduct according to a heavily researched and tested value metric. Others simply try to ‘do unto others’ and ‘not be a dick.’ Either way, both mindsets, and every permutation in between, are indicative of (what I believe to be) a universal human desire to be good. Or at least good enough.

The second thing that is important to recognize, is that any two people may take completely opposite positions on an issue in the name of their moral code. The Christian who is for marriage equality may ask, “Why do some Christians hate gay people so much?” forgetting that their brother against gay marriage is wondering “why some Christians are unwilling to submit to the authority of the Bible as soon as it becomes difficult.” Still, another Christian is wondering “why the other two Christians don’t recognize that civil and religious marriage are two separate institutions, only one of which can be affected by a vote of the people.” All three Christians have come to their conclusions honestly, but because the issue is so polarizing, the temptation is high for all three of them to demonize the other two, or at the very least, dismiss their position as ignorant without looking at the thought process which led to it.

Similar dismissive attitudes may be found between any two people who take different sides on a polarizing issue, but in my community, is most prevalent between religious ‘liberals’ and ‘conservatives’ or between religious people and skeptics. I remember a Facebook argument that took place on my wall after I posted an article about women’s healthcare. Two of my friends were arguing with each other about the morality of abortion. It wouldn’t be accurate to say they were debating, as they neither addressed each other’s points, nor presented any particularly valid points of their own, but only spit righteous venom at one another, flavored with snark and sarcasm. Athena, an atheist and ex-Adventist trolled Darius, an ‘off-grid Adventist’ with intentionally absurd proof-texting, while he proclaimed ‘eternal destruction.’ Neither made any attempt to understand the other’s thought process.

“Why do I need to look at their thought process?” some may ask, “Their conclusion is flawed, so can’t I assume their thought process is as well, and therefore not worth my time?” Such a question misses the true benefit of examining alternate points of view. The benefit of examining the journey which leads to a disagreeable position is increased understanding the person who holds said position. Understanding leads to empathy, empathy facilitates discourse, discourse leads to collaboration, and collaboration is a means of effective problem solving.

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