Saturday, July 11, 2015

The foolishness of Western secular morality

Greek philosophers. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons.)
The victory of the LGBT bloc in creating the right to “same-sex marriage” is simply the most recent and most potentially devastating consequence of a tectonic shift in Western morality. Like the culture that produced it, though, the morality which shattered the traditional definition of marriage is something of a cyborg — a half-organic, half-artificial construct produced by combining an intemperate worship of the natural with an equally unrestrained desire to dominate the natural through technology and social engineering.

Consider, for instance, the bill New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently signed into law extending the state government’s “yes means yes” rules to include private schools and universities. The “yes means yes” standard has more potential for court-clogging legal action than the older “no means no” because — theoretically, at least — the least unconsidered, not-previously-agreed-to touch could be interpreted as sexual assault.

However, the standard has become so widespread that, as Heather Wilhelm reports, one group has launched a “Consent Conscious Kit” which features breath mints, a condom, and (of all things) a sex contract by which college kids can lay out the terms and conditions of their sexual contact with each other. Thus, the “Sexual Revolution” degrades from “kicking the government out of the bedroom” to the state-sanctioned micromanagement of affectionate touching, even while maintaining the fiction that sexual restraint is neither possible nor desirable.

As another example, this past Thursday the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution calling for the protection of the family as a fundamental unit of society, a resolution the US and most Western European countries opposed, by a vote of 27-14. The paradoxical nature of the opposition is highlighted by a sentence in a statement issued by the Sexual Rights Initiative: the resolution didn’t “[acknowledge] the harms and human rights abuses that are known to occur within families, or [recognize] that diverse forms of family exist.” Families are bad; yet a diversity of family types is good. The cognitive dissonance is deafening.

Before going further, let me make it clear that secular morality, as I use it in this post, refers to certain moral propositions that differ from traditional Judeo-Christian teachings (religious morality). Taking the whole of the moral sphere into consideration, there are arguably more points of contact between religious morality and secular morality than there are points of separation. Where secular morality separates from religious morality, religious and irreligious people can be found to some extent on both sides. Secular morality, then, should not be construed as held in full or part by all the irreligious, or rejected in whole or part by all the religious.

In this restricted sense, secular morality is not a new orthodoxy but rather a mere heresy. But precisely because it is a heterodox version of religious morality, the differences matter — so much so that the word morality is often used as if it only applied to those topics on which there is substantial disagreement. Indeed, it’s only within this limited, even crippled context that moral relativism could have been adhered to without any sense of hypocrisy. Now that the heresy has been established as the state cult, secular morality can be absolutist; relativism is a dead horse which only Christian apologists are interested in beating.

But how can the secular morality be, in any meaningful sense, “better than” religious morality? The only response which can succeed is, “Because we say so;” any further attempt to defend it quickly mires the secular moralist in begged questions and unexamined assumptions. Sic volo, sic iubeo:[*] you can neither defend nor defeat on rational grounds that which never pretended to be a product of reason; nor can you criticize for subjectivity that which never claimed to be objective.

Most defenders of religious morality have missed the mark by treating secular morality as though it had been produced by people engaged in moral philosophy qua moral philosophy; that is, as a serious and comprehensive inquiry into the eternal question of how we humans ought to live, requiring a certain background knowledge and a certain discipline of thought. On the contrary: the heresies of secular morality were largely produced “on the fly” by people who, for the most part, never had any meaningful contact with philosophy as a discipline, and were less concerned with how we ought to live than with what the law ought to allow, forbid, or require.

The Western philosophical tradition has desiccated to the point where the public discussion of the eternal questions is dominated by philistines and dilettantes. One class is not only ignorant of philosophy but proudly dismisses it as “bulls**t”, “a waste of time”, and/or “a bunch of people’s subjective opinions”. The other class has a passing acquaintance with Western philosophy but possesses neither the discipline or the energy to make a respectable hobby of it. Dilettantes (like, alas, Your Humble Blogger) may at least know enough philosophy to know they don’t know enough; the philistines, having characterized philosophy as “bulls**t”, are not thereby restrained from inflicting their bulls**t on everyone else and expecting it to be taken as fact.

However, so far as it’s true that a culture’s morality is a social construct, the society ordinarily constructs it in an organic manner which facilitates community survival in its environmental and technological context. Secular morality, by contrast, is an arbitrary, artificial construct, foisted on the community via mass manipulation. The only apparent consistency in secular morality is a dogmatic abhorrence of human differences. In practice, however, there are marked inconsistencies, as both artificial distinctions (e.g., race) and intrinsic distinctions (e.g., sex) are arbitrarily cast aside for one policy purpose, only to be reintroduced and concretized for another.

Science, all but worshipped by many irreligious, nevertheless isn’t trusted to speak to the question. The scientific method is praised as the source of all real knowledge when it reaches one result, damned as a product of class bias when it reaches another, and actively subverted to produce a third. Various concepts are enthusiastically embraced or unceremoniously abandoned as its precepts require; for example, essentialism (genes determine behavior) is dogmatized by gay liberation, anathematized by transgenderism, and alternately assumed and denied by third-wave feminism depending on the moment. In this context, social constructionism as a sociological concept has been distorted to become a pretext for engineering social change through language; its original purpose — explaining social change as adaptation to environment — is lost.

The ideological label under which secular morality is most often marketed, progressivism, entails an equivocation of simple forward motion — advancement — with a value judgment. What advances, it assumes, by necessity improves. However, such an equivocation is often propounded in the face of the secular moralist’s own complaints about environmental devastation, economic inequities, and social fragmentation, which are often produced or aggravated by the very technological and cultural innovations he depends upon for his association of progress with improvement. This confirmation bias, when combined with the secular moralist’s inability to question his assumptions, shows up as faith in an “historical inevitability of progress” when in fact our culture may be on its way to a cascade failure. Cultures have failed before.

Secular morality, in sum, is merely a Mulligan stew of precepts and imperatives mashed together without an overarching, coherent ethical theory to make sense of them; it is the acme of results-first-premisses-to-follow thinking. Far from being liberal, it’s becoming illiberal even in its libertinism. It can’t provide consistent arguments as to why its preferred policies should lead to equality or human flourishing. It can’t articulate a theory of the human being that gives coherence to the human rights it proclaims. It can’t even celebrate cultural diversity in one human sphere of activity without demanding pan-cultural uniformity in another.

Secular morality, I submit, is foolish precisely because it seeks to oppose religious morality without first understanding what either religion or morality is. It’s like a bridge designed by people who have never bothered to learn the principles of structural engineering, or an airplane built by people who dismiss aerodynamics as “ineffable twaddle”.

It’s a house built on sand (Matthew 7:26-27). And when it falls, it will most likely take us all down with it.


[*] Sic volo, sic iubeo: “Thus I want; thus I command.”