On Subjective Morality

I don’t usually get flack on my posts, but when it’s happened, it’s mostly been on one topic.  It’s a religious one, so if this gets you fired up, feel free to exit now.

I’ve argued a couple of times now on what I consider to be the biggest hypocrisy in the practice of mainstream Christian faith: its exclusion of people from the community based on a couple of hot button social topics while it turns a blind eye to equally biblical but less politicized religious issues.  I think these posts may have been written in the days before my last host ran a magnet over my servers, but I’ve talked about both homosexuality and abortion in this context and gotten flamed by close friends both times.

My point is simple: I don’t buy the “X cannot be tolerated because it’s in the Bible” argument because there are plenty of behaviors denounced in the Bible that are most definitely tolerated because they’re harder to single out or are written off as a part of human nature.  I’ve made a variation on this in discussions with friends about Christianity’s single-minded obsession with abstinence at the expense of a number of other, in my opinion more important, ethical issues.

I’m going to make the point again, if nothing else than to give an example.  If it gets me flamed, so be it.

Rick Warren runs the Saddleback Church, which may sound familiar to you if you followed the presidential election this year.  President-Elect Obama and Senator McCain went there for a town hall symposium on moral issues and to kiss the ring of this very influential pastor.   He also wrote a book I have not read but know for its popularity amongst my religious friends: The Purpose Driven Life.

Andrew Sullivan in the above link gives a snippet of an interview with Warren where President Bush’s authorization of torture is discussed:

BELIEFNET- Did you ever talk to President Bush to try to convince him to change his policy?

WARREN – No. No.


WARREN — Never got the chance. I just didn’t.

Sullivan notes that Warren never discussed the subject of torture with President Bush, but did talk about abortion with President-Elect Obama.  I’ll go a step further.  In the Saddleback forum, Warren asked a question about abortion (and even asked a follow-up about it to Obama), but did not ask about torture.  Feel free to search for torture in the transcript.  It’s mentioned by the candidates, but not by Warren.

When I went to an Obama rally in Pittsburgh in October, a handful of anti-abortion protesters came with their grotesque pictures and signs to wag their moral fingers in our direction.  Where were the religious protesters with pictures of Abu Ghraib torture during this election season? Where have they been for the past 4 years?  Why is abortion a critical moral issue, backed by the Bible and thus so reprehensible that millions of dollars should be spent to criminalize it when torture is not?  Would someone like to make a Gospel centered argument in favor of torture for me?

If you believe that abortion is wrong and wish not to condone it yourself, or in your household, or amongst members of your voluntary church community, that is your right.  But to make a national political issue out of it, insinuating the moral degradation of all who oppose you while you ignore a myriad of other moral and ethical issues is absurd.  People like Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly have been happy to engage in ascribing some kind of phony War on Christmas to “secularists” while paying little to no heed for the humiliation, degradation and death of human beings who they have deemed their enemies.

My point has never been that you have no right to take a moral stand on issues.  It is the pathologically focused anger at a handful of easily politicized issues coupled with complete ignorance of far more insidious ethical problems that I can’t understand.

I understand that it’s harder to address school violence than it is to tell people not to have sex before marriage, but that doesn’t make the problem of violence in our schools any less critical.  But we can rationalize the need for our kids to punch someone in the face more easily than to engage in sexy time with someone.  This despite the fact that damage does not necessarily accompany premarital sex as it does any kind of violence.  Name for me a program as well funded and sought after by churches as Silver Ring Thing that addresses the very real and regular pain our kids cause each other in school.  Show me some piece of jewelry our kids are wearing that symbolizes their vow not to degrade and harm their peers. Like maybe a popular ring that says “Jesus said to turn the other cheek” on it.

Because I’m far more concerned about producing a culture of abstinent torturers than I am of promiscuous pacifists.

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