How not to do moral philosophy

While I was attending college at Susquehanna University, I took a class on religious philosophy.  A week of class-time was spent discussing morality.  The first day of that segment of the class, the instructor made it clear that the purpose of moral philosophy — and morality in general — was to aid an individual in evaluating situations in sir life and determining zir best course of action.  It’s a lesson that has stuck with me.

Unfortunately, it’s not a lesson that seems to stick with some groups, such as the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM).  Consider as evidence  CARM’s statements about morality in their Statement of Faith:

Homosexuality, lesbianism, bisexuality, pedophilia, bestiality, necrophilia, cross dressing, trans-genderism, lying, bearing false witness, adultery, wife-swapping, pornography, fornication, and coveting are all sinful practices, against scriptural revelation, are contrary to proper living, and are not acceptable to the CARM ministry as normal or approved behaviors. Still, we do not hate those who practice these things but pray for their deliverance.

Note that with the exception of laying, bearing false witness (how it differs from lying is unclear), and coveting, this list is almost exclusively about declaring what sexual practices[1] and gender non-conforming practices are to be considered sinful.

This is not a useful moral paradigm by the standards of my college professor, standards which I’m inclined to accept for myself.  It offers no advice to someone who is confronted by injustice, nor does it offer any practical advice on how zie may come to recognize injustice.  It does not cover what it actually means to live with integrity, how to embody compassion, or what it means to love both your neighbor and your enemy.[2]  The average person would find this list completely unhelpful in answering the question, “What can I do to live a more moral life?”

That’s because CARM did not develop the morality clause of their Statement of Faith to help guide people through the process of determining the moral thing to do in everyday situations or when confronted with some troubling situation.  CARM developed this clause in order to declare who they considered immoral — particularly and almost exclusively in terms of sexuality.  They creed it to attempt to exert control over other people’s sexuality.  This is not called morality, but moralizing.

I tell you the truth, there is far more moral guidance in 1 Corinthians 13 than in the CARM blurb.

Notes:
[1]  Actually, CARM doesn’t even say that same sex sexual activity is sinful.  It condemns homosexuality, bisexuality, and lesbianism.  It is not clear whether CARM does so because it does not consider sexual orientation does not exist beyond sexual orientation or if they are one of the last groups to still insist that even being gay — that is, having feelings for and experiencing an attraction towards  members of the same sex — is sinful in itself.  Either way, CARM demonstrates that even if we accept that CARM’s statement is only about sexual morality rather than morality in general, it is still deeply flawed.

[2]  Considering Jesus himself gave a direct command to his followers to love their enemies, I think it’s fair to say that any Christian organization’s morality clause that does not cover that command[3] is fatally flawed.

[3]  No, I don’t consider a quick “we do not hate…but pray for their deliverance” tacked on at the end as sufficient for that purpose.  That’s called “covering your ass.”

2 thoughts on “How not to do moral philosophy”

  1. I don’t think CARM has really thought this through. Where do their standards intersect? Is a liar who has no attraction to people of the same sex more or less immoral than a gay person who tells the truth? What about transgendered crossdressers– do they get the same amount of hellfire as porn-watching necrophiliacs? Inquiring minds want to know!

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