Tag Archives: Ethics

Morality: Divine Dictates and Reason

The Former Conservative recently offered a critique of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry’s homophobic “Questions for Homosexuals” a while back, to which CARM leader Matthew Slick replied.  The Former Conservative offered a second response, and I encourage anyone who has not followed the exchange to go read it in its entirety.

One of the things that came up in the protracted discussion was CARM’s strange beliefs about morality.  It seems that CARM understands that there can only be three sources for morality (and only the first one is valid in CARM’s mind):

  1. A Supreme Being offering inviolable declarations of what is right and what is wrong.
  2. A societal system that offers near-inviolable declarations of what is right and what is wrong.
  3. Individuals who decide for themselves what is right or wrong based on what feels right.

This list demonstrates that the folks at CARM might want to invest a bit more into the “Research” part of their organization’s name.  There are a multitude of diverse bases for developing a moral framework, as evidenced by the number of philosophers, both ancient and modern, who have explored the topic of morality and offered many different methods for determining morality.

As a devotee o the Norse gods, I would actually suggest that my morality is loosely based on more nuanced versions of all three above points.  For example, my gods have a lot of advice to offer as to what actions and what virtues and actions are considered noble and moral.  However, these are offered as advice rather than inviolable commandments.[1]  Instead, they offer advice, suggestions, and reasons why certain courses of action are preferable and more worthy of praise.

This offers something for individual reason and reflection to work with.  This does make morality somewhat individualistic.  This is appropriate as morality is itself individualistic.  I am responsible to make sure that I act in a manner that is moral.  I am not responsible for anyone else’s morality or lack thereof.  So I need to reason through what right action is based on the understanding of my situations, the virtues that I and my gods deem noble and valuable.

This sort of individual consideration of morality is not the narcissistic “do what I want” attitude that the folks at CARM or like-minded people consider it to be.  It is possible to use one’s own reason and thought processes, yet start with some sort of basis that leads you to a rugged moral framework from which to act in an appropriate manner.

In reality, CARM’s knee-jerk rejection of the application of personal reason and reflection on matters of reality suggests an anti-reason bias in their approach to the world.  Of the three above versions of morality that they perceive, I suspect the last is the one they trust least, as it affirms the individual’s need for an external absolute authority to dictate right and wrong to them.  They simply believe that human beings are incapable of such moral reasoning on their own.

That suggestion is almost as insulting as it is frightening.

[1]  To put it bluntly, a bumper sticker that said “Freyja said it, I believe it, that settles it,” would not be a highly marketable product.

Psychic readings and ethics

The other day, I received an email from the administrator of another website asking if I would be willing to do a link exchange with them, as our sights are of “common relevance.”  The site in question (which I will not link to, even in this post) is a site dedicated entirely to offering online psychic readings.

Now, bear in mind that I do not generally[1] link to or promote businesses.  And to be honest, if I was going to promote a psychic, I would either promote myself or one of the other psychics with which I am friends and for whom I can personally vouch in terms of reputation.

In terms of reputation, the site that asked for the link exchange raised concerns for me instantly.  When I received the request, the included description of the site read as follows:

Enjoy a complete site encompassing Online Live Free Psychic.

Ignoring the horrendous grammar[2], the promise of a site offering “free psychic readings” seemed to good to be true.  And sure enough, a glance at their “how it works” page upon visiting the site proves it:

3. First step towards getting services is to fill up registration form correctly. Sign in to website; add fund in advance and click chat now button with your preferred experts.

Now, tell me, why would one need to “add funds” for a free psychic reading?  Could it be that “free” isn’t so free.  I’m smelling a bait and switch here.

Now, the page does eventually explain the “free” part:

8. You’ll have a few minutes, at no cost, all sessions start ‘free’, to get a sense of the person you’ve chosen and to recognize whether they’re right for the job. Whenever you feel confidence that they’ll be able to provide you with the quality service that you need, you can click the ‘Hire now’ button to begin your paid session. None of session will go into paid session automatically like other websites. Submit your psychic experience!

So you see, you don’t get a full psychic reading for free.  It starts out free so you can feel comfortable that the psychic really can help you they can get you hooked and real you in.  Unfortunately, this is a common practice among unethical psychics.  The fact that the site can bury this explanation of how the “free” part works so deeply on their site is simply troubling.

As I mentioned above, I am a psychic and I do occasionally give paid readings.[3]  As a professional, I find the above practices highly objectionable.  The idea of offering a “free reading” when what you really mean is “a quick taste for free followed by a paid reading” is simply dishonest and it leads me to wonder what else those people associated with the site are willing to lie about to attract and keep customers.

Even if they were honest about what they’re really offering, I’m also extremely uncomfortable with the “free till we get you hooked” approach.  I’ve known too many unethical psychics who are willing to string clients along by giving them information and then hinting that there’s more that can be told, if they’re willing to pay for a longer session.[4]  This “starts free, then turns to a  paid reading” approach gives me the impression that this is likely a common tactic on that site.

What bothers me is that there appear to be large numbers of people who go to this site.  I find that unfortunate, as I suspect there are better and more ethical avenues for finding psychic advice close to their own homes.

[1]  The only two exceptions I have made so far are (a) to sell my own stuff through Zazzle.com and (b) to promote the local New Age shop with which I am associated.  I promote the former because it’ s my business and “it’s good to be the king.”  I do the latter because in addition to being a fantastic business, Psychic’s Thyme is a valuable resource for learning and networking here in the Rochester area.

[2]  This is actually one of a couple complaints I have about the severe unprofessional presentation of the site.  But I’m trying to stick to my ethical objections.

[3]  Thankfully, it’s not my sole or even primary source of income[5], and I only do it when Psychic’s Thyme needs a spare reader.

  In fairness, something similar happens during ethical readings.  Sometimes, a client wants more information than is initially given or has follow-up questions, and that takes time (and money).  However, ethical readers try to make the reading as complete and comprehensive in as short a period of time as possible.  Personally, I rarely have a reading that lasts beyond the minimum length set where I work.

[5]  If you’re not willing to pull the kinds of stunts this site is pulling, being a psychic doesn’t pay that great.  Sure, you might have that rare day when you get tons of readings.  Most days, though, you’d be better off working eight hours at minimum wage.

Exploring Sexual Ethics: Personal History

Quite a few days ago, I got into a discussion about sexual ethics and how people respond to others who have a different (mostly more permissive) sexual ethic than their own.  As the conversation continued, I’ve considered how my personal sexual ethic has changed over the past year.

Prior to March 2010, my personal sexual ethic was still more or less what it was like when I was a Christian.  While I felt other people should be free to come to their own conclusions about what was appropriate for their own lives – provided their choices treated others with the dignity and respect that they deserve – the best course for me was to continue to seek a life-long partner and enter into a monogamous relationship with him.

In retrospect, this did cause me to act rashly and rush taking a few of my romantic relationships to a more sexually intimate level more than may have been prudent.  I quickly convinced myself that I was experiencing “true love” so that I could acknowledge and consummate that bond through sex.  And then everything would crash and burn, and I would feel miserable, get depressed, and kick myself for being such a fool.

After a particularly abysmal failure at love and a relationship in early 2010, I decided that I was tired of that pattern.  I decided that I was even tired of looking for “true love” and a life-long partner.  I decided that I wanted to have short-term fun.  In short, I wanted to have sex for the sake of having sex.  And I spent a few months doing exactly that.  I looked for friends with benefits.  I looked for fuck-buddies.  I even looked for one-time hookups.  I had sex and I enjoyed it.  I found that I really could enjoy having sex with another man without first having some sort of emotional bond.  And in many ways, it took a lot of pressure on me to find Mr. Right.  I was able to relax rather than worrying about being single quite so much.

Of course, it wasn’t all roses either.  More than once, I found that I eventually developed those emotional attachments anyway.  I remember in one case, I was quite devastated when one of the guys I saw a few times suddenly quit showing any interest in me and even quit talking to me.  I was terribly upset about this, despite the fact that our arrangement was supposed to be no strings attached.

And of course, there was the incident where I caught an STD, despite the fact that I was  extremely careful.  I was fortunate that it was treatable/curable.  The experience was traumatic, but not the end of the world.  And then there was the incident when, despite the fact that I was being careful about such things, one of my partners managed to steal from me.  Being taken advantage of like that left me feeling quite betrayed, and I remember spending over an hour crying and blathering to a very dear friend.

I can honestly say that despite the bad experiences I had, I don’t regret anything that I did during that time.  I learned a lot about myself in the process, I ended up making a couple good friends, and I had a lot of great times too, far more than the bad times in fact.

All that being said, though, I can honestly say that I’m happy to put those adventures behind me.  While I feel like I needed to give myself that chance to explore and play and heal from my past experiences, I think I’m ready to think in terms of long-term relationships again.  After all, in the end, I personally will be happiest when I’m with that special someone I can share every part of my life and body with.

That’s not to say I’ll never explore a more casual experience again, mind you.  Truth be told, if I ever reach a point where I feel I absolutely need to have sex – after all, there are just some things about sex that cannot be reproduced or satisfied through manual or mechanical stimulation – I might give myself permission to do so.  I think it’s far healthier than trying to rush around, find Mr. Right, and push myself prematurely into a relationship that’s not going to work out.  (In some respects, I think it’s also more respectful towards the other person and more ethical.)  And so long as I’m honest with the other guy and treat him respectfully, I see no problem with that.

That’s the thing I learned from the whole experience, I think:  it’s all a question of what someone needs at the time.  Different people have different needs.  Sometimes, the same person has different needs at different points in their life.  As long as the person is honest with themselves about what those needs really are, is honest with any partners and is clear about what they are willing to give in return for those needs, I think there is a lot of flexibility in what behavior is acceptable.

But I like shaving my palms!

gum.jpgI’m an avid follower of FAILblog, the blog where people post the most bizarre pictures mocking something that is or just seems wrong by marking the photographs with the word “FAIL.”  Things mocked include bizarre car accidents, poorly worded signs that end up giving an unintended message, and people just doing crazy (and usually dangerous) things.

To be honest, I often find myself wondering if some pictures are faked.  The picture for the “anti-masturbatory gum” (see left) is one of those cases.  Setting aside the fact that I can’t begin to understand how gum can make you lose interest in pleasuring yourself (short of messing with hormones, which I find a rather scary thing to do just to avoid a bit of sexual relief), I just can’t imagine why anyone would WANT such a product.

Well, anyone who isn’t a repressed bundle of unexpressed sexuality who’s afraid that some Higher Power is going to strike them dead for enjoying their own bodies and the pleasure it gives them.  Thankfully, my gods tend to have a much more tolerant view of sexuality and sexual pleasure.  In fact, they think it’s something to be celebrated!

Granted, they stipulate that such celebration should be done in a manner that is responsible.  But what could be more responsible than pleasuring yourself?  Let’s face it:

  • No one has ever gotten pregnant from pleasuring themselves.
  • No one has ever gotten an STD from pleasuring themselves.
  • No one gets used or abused when you pleasure yourself.
  • Everyone involved — you — is bound to enjoy the experience.

So please, if you’re feeling the urge, give yourself to take care of that urge.  It’s far more ethical and responsible than using someone else to take care of your physical needs and hurting them in the process.

And really, am I the only one who thinks that trying to stop people from masturbating by encouraging them to develop a possible oral fixation might be a bit unwise?  😉

Video: How Wyrd Informs My Ethics

I decided to do another video.  This time, my topic of discussion is on how wyrd informs my understanding of ethics.

I’ve been fascinated by the concept of wyrd for almost three years now.  I’ve explored it’s implications for magic, for community, and for justice.  So it’s no surprising that I’d find it an important concept when thinking about my ethics, as well.

Choice and Ethics

The opening page of Spinoza's magnum opus, Ethics

Image via Wikipedia

“But I had to do it!  I didn’t have a choice!”

I think most of us have heard that statement or similar ones like it.  In fact, I’d be willing to go out on a limb and say that most of us have made that statement or similar ones.(1)  It’s a common sentiment to express when we are faced with a tough decision, especially one with ethical implications or consequences we’re not entirely comfortable with or feel defensive about.

Claiming that we had no choice in such circumstances allows us to feel better about our choices.  It helps us feel less responsible for them and their consequences.  It’s away to mollify our own sense of discomfort and even guilt.  It’s an entirely human temptation.  The problem is that it’s both self-deceptive and anti-thetical to living an ethical life.

As I’ve mentioned before, choice is essential to ethics.  If one cannot make a choice, then there is no way to act ethically.(2) So in order to act ethically, one must acknowledge and accept not only that one had a choice, but that one made a choice.

I think that this is sometimes hard to do because we’re actually uncomfortable with the ethical choices we are forced to make.  It’s easy to make the easy choices when it comes to ethics.  It’s easy not to steal from our neighbor.  It’s easy to refrain from beating up the person who makes you angry.  In contrast, it’s not always so easy to decide how to handle a hurtful situation with a loved one.  It’s not always so easy to deal with a situation involving a painful truth.

I think that it’s these harder situations that make the “I had no choice” argument so appealing.  If we can claim that our chosen course of action — that might hurt our loved ones to some degree — is beyond our control and choice, then we can escape responsibility and the sense of guilt involved.  It becomes “not our fault.”

The problem with this approach, I think, is that taking such an escape becomes easier the more we do it.  It becomes easier to forget our own agency in our actions the more we deny it.  So suddenly, nothing we do is of our own choice, nor are we responsible of it.  In effect, we become free of our ethical obligations.  But again, the problem with this is that we cannot then be ethical.(2)

I would suggest that it is better, rather, to accept that we do have an element of choice in such tough situations.  It allows us to acknowledge that we (hopefully) made the best choice is among a list of rather undesirable choices offered to us.(3)  This allows us to acknowledge both our sincere attempts to live ethically in a given situation and the difficulty and imperfection of the situation.  And it puts us back in a position of agency and personal empowerment.

(1)  The variation I’ve personally struggled with recently is, “You put me in this position so I had to do it!”  The idea behind this is that someone else has created a situation where I had to make a hard decision, one that I could’ve avoided if they had made a different choice themselves.  The thing is, my entire argument still stands.  They may have created a situation where I had to make a hard choice, but it was still my choice to make in the end, and I have to own it.

(2)  This is not necessarily the same as being unethical, mind you.  But it does put us in a position that is not one that I would personally enjoy.  Nor would I enjoy the company of one who chooses to live in such a position.

(3)  I also suspect that the “I had no choice” argument is often tempting due to a fear that we didn’t make the best choice in a given situation, or that we might even discover that we totally overlooked a better choice.  That’s a concept I might come back to in a future post.

Thoughts on Justice

Recently, I joined Circle and Cross Talk, an email discussion list dedicated to dialogue between Christians and Pagans. The other day, one of the list members posted an article, The Just World Theory. I posted my own thoughts to the list and thought it appropriate to post them to my blog as well.

Hello all.

After giving some thought to the topic (as well as what I want to say about it), I’ve decided to weigh in on the “Just World” hypothesis. Unfortunately, I’m at work and thus have access to neither the article nor the excellent thoughts everyone else has already shared. So please forgive me if my thoughts are rambling and don’t stay quite on target. Of course, in fairness, my thoughts would probably stray even if I *did* have access to the discussion so far. 😉

I honestly can’t say that I’m surprised by the article’s suggestion that most people operate under the philosophy that we live in a “just world,” and that therefore we are inclined to think that people have somehow brought their fate upon themselves. And to some degree, I don’t think that this is an entirely bad thing. While I cringe in horror and disgust at the suggestion that a rape or murder victim did something to deserve such brutal treatment, I also cannot deny that some people find themselves in situations of their own making due to the choices they have made. For example, the person who gives into our society’s consumer mentality and consistently spends money in excess of their income will need to recognize the part they played in creating their situation when they eventually find themselves crushed under insurmountable debt. Until they do so, and correct their spending habits sufficiently, they will continue to find themselves in that situation. (Indeed, many people who do not learn this lesson before making use of consolidation loans and other tools for making one’s debt more manageable simply spend their way back into a worse situation than the one they were trying to escape.) After all, there are those situations in which the concept of personal responsibility does apply.

However, there is a huge difference between such a scenario and a situation where someone is victimized by another person (or a case where someone who finds themselves in debt due to the high costs associated with an unexpected medical emergency, to offer my own counter-example) is unthinkable. A victim has been clearly wronged by someone acting in a reprehensible manner. There are no factors that nullify that or even mitigate that fact. And to suggest that a victim “had it coming” for any reason is unthinkable and, in my opinion less, morrally reprehensible. In short, comparing the two scenarios is like comparing apples and bicycle tires.

What bothers me even more deeply about the whole concept of the “just world” hypothesis, though, is the implications of how we as a society understand justice. It suggests a paradigm in which justice is nothing more than the process of punishing wrongs and rewarding right behavior. To my mind, this understanding of justice is incomplete, poorly devised, and practically useless.

To me, justice is about maintaining and restoring the right order in all situations. To again draw back to the example of someone being raped, punishing the rapist alone is not justice. A victim has been traumatized and seriously wronged, and true justice must address that and rectify these wrongs as much as possible. This means helping the victim to heal from this ordeal, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It means helping the victim to put their life back in order as best as anyone can accomplish. In this sense, I sometimes think that the civil law system offers more true justice than the criminal justice system in the fact that it enables victims (and their families) of violent criminals to sue those who wronged them, as they can then use that money for expenses that reasult as a part of the healing process.

To go back to my own example, justice is not served if we simply determine that someone is in debt due to their own poor financial choices, either. Even if said person is in that situation due to his own choices, he doesn’t deserve to be left there. In that instance, justice is served by not only helping him get out of debt, but gently pointing out his own part in getting there and showing him how to make better choices in the future so that he can avoid returning to the same situation down the road.

I’m convinced that the belief that the world is a just world is a false one, no matter how appealing the idea is to all of us. But I think that part of the reason it’s false is that the underlying premise of what justice actually entails is flawed. True justice requires action, and we are the actors.

My apologies for being so long-winded.

— Jarred.