Sunday, May 9, 2010

Morality and the fascination of it

What is morally right or wrong? This is a question I've been thinking of a lot lately. When you think of morality you have to bring in religion to the picture. The two go hand in hand. I've already gotten to the point that we get some of our morality from religion, but that really means we get it from ourselves since religion is man-made. The issue I have is over moral relativism, and moral absolutism. This is what theists accuse atheists of not being able to posses: absolute moral truths. If morality is man-made, then it is all a matter of opinion. What is right and wrong is relative to the individual making it.

Well this is a deep subject that philosophers have been arguing for thousands of years, and surely for many more to come. I've been thinking long and hard on this, and I will continue developing my moral beliefs for my entire life, sharpening them as I age with grace. I don't believe in total moral relativism. That would be foolish. Total moral relativity to the individual opens up all kids of horrible scenarios. Look at what we consider right and wrong in the U.S. and look at what is considered right and wrong in the Middle East, or parts of Africa. It shockingly differs quite often. I'm still developing my morality on what is right and wrong. When it trickles down into the little things it becomes relative. For example, social customs in different cultures. In parts of the Middle East it is offensive to expose the bottom of your shoes to others, which is why many Middle Eastern men sit cross-legged like women do here. Is that morally wrong there? Female circumcision or female genital mutilation as others call it is still practiced in parts of east and northern Africa and parts of the Middle East. Is it morally right over there and wrong in the west? Who is right on this issue, and whoever is right, do they have the right to impose their beliefs on the others?

This is an issue the U.N. has undertaken, and international human rights organizations. I personally believe FGM is morally wrong but its practitioners cite the Qu'ran as a source of its sanction by the prophet Mohammad who allowed it to happen but never said it was mandatory. The fact that any parts of a person's genitals should be cut off to make the person behave better is to me if you believe it's a covenant with God or a recommendation, a flaw in God's design. Why would God give women a clitoris if it needs to be cut off to prevent her from being promiscuous? Is the clitoris an add-on in God's design, that can be uninstalled if not wanted or needed? Or, is God just having fun by creating parts on our bodies that he then orders us to have cut off?

FGM is an issue that is often cited as a moral issue in the world where we have two opposing parties who feel they each have the right answer about it. It is an issue that makes me feel moral relativism is impractical. If it is wrong here it is wrong there. I think the long and arduous road to the present day morality and humanism we find in most Western cultures is what we'd expect if morality was indeed man-made. There seems to be some biological and evolutionary morals that have become ingrained in us. Incest for example has negative biological consequences, it can lead to disease and genetic disorders that create weaker immune system responses to germs. This is why incest is morally wrong, even most animals don't do it. Killing and warfare is wrong, because the death of many loved ones with have a negative affect on your dependency on them for hard times. But what about killing is self-defense? Or revenge? Is killing ever justified? According to Christianity you're suppose to love your enemy and do good to them. So for a true Christian it is never sanctioned. To me killing is only ever truly justified in self-defense.

I was reading the book What Every Christian Should Know About Islam by Ruqaiyyah Waris Masqsood. In it, it tells what morals Muslims believe in general according to traditional Islamic beliefs. It says that in Islam, Muslims are against lenders charging outrageous interest to the people they lend money to. This is an egregious practice by the world bank organizations, credit card companies, and student loan providers to cheat people out of money who is often end up paying double or more of what they originally borrowed due to high interest rates. In the book it said that in Islamic beliefs there should be no interest at all. I agree with this actually. I started thinking about how horrible it is for those of us that need loans or to borrow money, then find ourselves trapped under a mountain of debt as the interest accumulates. I think it is morally wrong for these practices to continue. Wall Street doesn't seem to care. This is something that I actually agree with Islam about. That is why, I guess some Islamic radical fundamentalists have hated and targeted American financial institutions. Is it morally wrong to charge outrageously high interest rates or use deceptive tactics to trick borrowers? I say yes, others say no. Who is right? I don't think the answer is terrorism, but instead careful, open and honest debate and boycotting lenders who use those tactics.

Morality is fascinating to me. I love to debate it with friends. The literal morality found in the Bible or Qu'ran if applied today in our modern society would be atrocious. Human slavery is the issue I always bring up and ask. If it is morally wrong today why was it not in biblical times? Why doesn't God or Jesus, or Mohammad devote even one line specifically denouncing the practice of human slavery at anytime? You'd think that such a serious issue would elicit a little time devoted to it. The Bible and Qu'ran both condone human slavery and even go into detail about how to properly treat human slaves and when they can or cannot be killed or set free. Wouldn't a simple line or paragraph from Jesus or Muhammad denouncing the practice of human slavery for every person of any color or gender, as a crime in they eyes of God have stopped 1900 years or so of this sad memory of our history from ever happening? One line could have have ended millions of people from having to go through the horrible experience that is slavery. So why didn't these so called prophets utter these words? I believe it is because they weren't prophets at all, just regular mortal men, eccentric preachers yes, but still products of the times they lived in. And during those times slavery was common, they didn't know better, now we do. This is why I know the holy books of Christianity, Islam and Judaism are man-made. Their morality is frozen in dogma by religion. It is akin to deciding what is right and wrong at 14 years old and expecting those beliefs to be held when you're 30, 50 and 70. You will obviously learn more as your grow older and sharpen your morality with new information, just as we as a species have grown older and have come to a better understanding of right and wrong.

This still leaves us with the problem I mentioned earlier of moral relativism. Nobody's right if everybody's wrong. Who's right has the right to be able to impose itself on the others wrong? Who's right when it comes to the moral issues that plague the world? The answer is actually quite simple: we are.

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