Monday, January 23, 2017

Our moral focus should be on empowering people to do good, not on targeting and punishing people who do bad

In my previous post, I described how easy it is to exploit commandment-based morality to support discriminatory, authoritarian agendas. I made the point that such morality hinders and distorts our humanity rather than purifies it.

In our country’s few-hundred-year history from the colonial era until now, we have seen no evidence to date of this kind of morality ever achieving its stated goals. Regardless of the choice of some people to romanticize certain eras as the “good old days,” America has never had a true golden age of society that is safe for everyone to walk down the street without fear of harassment for being different, in which we all had unhindered access to the same basic civic, health, and economic services without backlash from a dominant group who doesn’t want to share, and where we never had to be nervous about how our children might be treated at a new school.

The biggest fear of commandment-morality is moral chaos—The proliferation of the decadence, sexual permissiveness, and other forms of “sin” it preaches against. The problem with its emphasis on rooting out and punishing people for these behaviors is, all the focus is on the negative, so instead of promoting and supporting good and safe conduct, it has backfired into all kinds of perverse expressions of these problems.

By perverse expressions, I don’t mean homosexuality, sex outside of marriage, abandoning religion, or such; I mean rape, murder, active support for institutionalized racism and sexism, the promotion of war, the prioritizing of financial profit over humanity’s safety and health, and the equating of conservativism with conservation of the values and privilege of one group at the expense of every other group’s rights and values.

It makes absolutely no sense that people are more concerned about sanctions against gay people and people’s reproductive choices than about seeking to limit the activity and influence of people whose would willingly commit mass murder by preemptive warfare. It makes absolutely no sense that many Americans want to reclaim this as a Christian country while they embrace the very prejudices and exclusionary social practices that Jesus Christ preached against. It makes absolutely no sense that so many people are more concerned about their rights to own and use guns than they are about preventing the misuse of guns that led to them feeling the need to carry guns to protect themselves in the first place.

The legacy that our country’s brand of commandment-morality has established is the continual, institutionalized reinforcement of fear and prejudice, instead of love and humane adaptation to humanity’s diversity of experience. This type of commandment-morality is not about maintaining standards, the quality of our society, our art, or our relationships; it’s about maintaining privilege for people with a specific set of views at the expense of everyone else.

As I said in my previous post, the strict enforcement of commandment-morality always only benefits the minority in power, and any gains by anyone else are always in spite of it. Such people are then branded misfits, “radicals,” or “liberals” by their own religions, and their reform movements are often not even considered by their original religious leaders to be legitimate expressions of those religions.

Such reform movements always have to heavily revolutionize and reinvent their religions in order to break them out of the restrictions and exclusions of the way commandment-morality has for so long been expressed in their religious tradition, and their struggle against the original establishment never ends because they’re fighting to change the system from within it, and everything they do goes against the way that system was created (or what it has long since turned into). 

Instead of fighting to change the system into something it never was, to create allowances for things it was specifically designed to rule out, we’d do much better—and make ourselves much freer—by seeing what our other moral options are.

By this I don’t mean that we need to throw away entire religions, or completely change all of them into something that would be unrecognizable by their current leaders; I mean that we need to see how we can stop using the mainstream system of morality as a weapon against most people, and instead use it as a tool to empower all people to become truly virtuous and good for the right reasons.


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Heart illustration by Karla Joy Huber, 2013; Prismacolor marker and Sharpie marker

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