Crossroads: America’s Moral Dilemma
The concept of morality is a complex topic that elicits passion and consternation as people of differing beliefs attempt to validate their own particular versions. I’ve always found it a little odd that God would only provide us with Ten Commandments when it should have been obvious that we would need an abundance of guidance and far more detail if we were to ever be able to reach some mutual consensus. Perhaps that is a factor in my skepticism regarding the Bible as the actual word of God.
I’ve long wondered what would motivate a God to speak definitively to a select number of people at only one defined period in history…and never have returned to do it again. Further, if someone were to assert that God had spoken directly to them in this day and age, they would likely be determined mentally incompetent…yet we cling to beliefs that cannot be verified and that were reinterpreted time and again over centuries of time. Unfortunately, we cannot definitely resolve any of these conundrums so we struggle to define our morality each day through the decisions and the actions we exhibit.
When I attempt to discern morality, I usually look for consistency…an issue I’ve previously discussed here at Thought Theater. The premise of my argument is that the application of morality should remain consistent across all elements of an individualÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s life in order for it to be considered more than the rhetoric of what I might characterize as politics…the means by which we negotiate to impose the “truths” we hold upon others within society. All too often I find the morality (“truths”) of many whom I encounter to be inconsistent and that leads me to doubt the sincerity of their beliefs. While none of us holds a monopoly on ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œtruthÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚?, we can nonetheless consistently live the ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œtruthsÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚? we embrace. Perhaps that is the best we humans can achieve?
Michael Kinsley has an interesting article in the Washington Post that touches on this means of evaluating morality in the context of our President and his politics. Let me begin with an important caveat…we all have inconsistencies in our beliefs (“truths”) and that doesn’t necessarily invalidate them or our sincerity. Nonetheless, it does raise questions about the degree to which we have vetted those beliefs as well as the propensity we may have to ignore our own contradictions. Kinsley’s article opens the discussion of inconsistencies found within the President’s “truths” that merits further analysis and expansion.
It was, I believe, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) who first made the excellent, bitter and terribly unfair joke about conservatives who believe in a right to life that begins at conception and ends at birth.
This joke has been adapted for use against various Republican politicians ever since. In the case of President Bush, though, it appears to be literally true.
Bush, as we know, believes deeply and earnestly that human life begins at conception. Even tiny embryos composed of a half-dozen microscopic cells, he thinks, have the same right to life as you and I do. That is why he cannot bring himself to allow federal funding for research on new lines of embryonic stem cells or even for other projects in labs where stem cell research is going on. Even though these embryos are obtained from fertility clinics, where they would otherwise be destroyed anyway, and even though he appears to have no objection to the fertility clinics themselves, where these same embryos are manufactured and destroyed by the thousands — nevertheless, the much smaller number of embryos needed and destroyed in the process of developing cures for diseases such as Parkinson’s are, in effect, tiny little children whose use in this way constitutes killing a human being and therefore is intolerable.
But President Bush does not believe that the deaths of all little children as a result of U.S. policy are, in effect, murder. He thinks that some, while very unfortunate, are also inevitable and essential.
You know who I mean. Close to 50,000 Iraqi civilians have died so far as a direct result of our invasion and occupation of their country, in order to liberate them. The numbers are increasing as the country slides into chaos: more than 6,500 in July and August alone.
Bush is right, of course, that the inevitable loss of innocent life in wartime cannot be a reason not to go to war or a reason not to fight that war in a way intended to win. Eggs, omelets and all that. “Collateral damage” should be a consideration weighed in the balance. But there is no formula to determine when you have the balance right. It does seem to me that both our wars in Iraq were started and conducted with insufficient consideration for the cost in innocent blood. Callousness, naivete and isolation — isolation of the decision makers from democratic accountability and isolation of citizens from the consequences, or even the awareness, of what is being done in their name — all have played a role. I don’t see anything coming out of this war that is worth 50,000 innocent lives, although a case can be made, I guess.
But it is hard — indeed, I would say it is impossible — to reconcile Bush’s absolutism over allegedly human life when it is a clump of unknowing, unfeeling cells with his sophisticated, if not cavalier, attitude toward the loss of innocent human life when it is children and adults in Iraq.
KinsleyÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s point is well taken (and one that I am inclined to agree with) and while I could elaborate at length on his particular focus, I want to use the premise he raises to pivot to another important issue. In light of the passage of legislation related to the treatment of detainees, both in terms of their physical and psychological well being and in terms of the legal rights they will be afforded, I can’t help but expand upon Kinsley’s argument. More importantly, the argument must be moved beyond the President and those who voted to enact this new legislation…we must look at the consistency and the morality of the society that elected those who hold these positions of power.
This is a difficult topic…one that kindles intense passion. Recently, the dialogue has deteriorated into an evaluation of the patriotism of those opposed to the new legislation; specifically aimed at the Democratic Party. Frankly, anyone that doubts the patriotism of a fellow American is actually engaging in the dismantling of the social contract that makes us Americans. Are there individuals who reside in the U.S. who are unpatriotic? Of course they exist. Can they be identified by the political party with which they affiliate? Absolutely not. Is the issue of Iraq and fighting the war on terrorism simply a matter of patriotism? That may well depend upon one’s interpretation of what it is that we are actually defending as patriots.
To read the full article at Thought Theater…link here: