Thursday, January 30, 2014

Politicizing Morality – Good, Bad, or Unavoidable?

By definition, morality is a communal agreement about behavior or attitude, and by definition, is relative to a particular group. For example, one group agrees to share the use of a local pond. By agreement, the pond can only be used for swimming and fishing, but no powered vehicles are allowed. By definition, then, it becomes immoral to boat on the pond. If someone wants to use their boat, he must either defy the moral code by boating, or politic to change the moral code to allow boating. It’s during the politicking process, that I’m concerned with for this blog post.

The process of arguing morals within a particular group, can take a variety of tangents. But the common thread is, one person (or several/many people) wants to engage in a behavior that another person (or other people) believes to be against the agreed morality. And so the debate is engaged, and the group is divided into the boaters and the swimmers, the fishers and the players, the environmentally conscious and the polluters. Every member of the group is forced to align with one side or another of the debate, each for their own reason.

As the debate rages on, the common goal of the group (in this case, the use of the pond) is forgotten in exchange for the goal of winning the debate. Once this happens, the division of the group is complete – winners and losers. NOBODY wants to be a loser, so the debate degrades further into name calling and bullying. At this point, oftentimes, the boaters (the ones who originally desired to alter the moral) take matters into their own hands and, boldly violate the moral code causing further division of the group into law abiding and law breaking. Then comes sanctions followed by sympathizers who just want to keep the peace. The debate has become personal and THIS MEANS WAR!

I purposefully used the common use of a local pond to outline exactly what is happening in our nation about a variety of topics. I was asked recently for advice about how an Orthodox Christian should “function” within their work environment while such debates are occurring within the office. The example given was in regard to “non discrimination policies” and what categories should be included. The initial thought of the Orthodox Christian was simple, and genuine. “We do not discriminate! Why isn’t that enough?”

The reason it isn’t enough has to do with boaters and swimmers. As a society, we discriminate ALL THE TIME. (Think local pond) Society is a group of people who have agreed to discriminate based upon certain categories. Yes, we DO discriminate every day. We discriminate “against” pedophiles, bank robbers, short people, tall people, skinny people, fat people, married people, single people, gangbangers, polluters, dog walkers, dog owners… get the point. It isn’t that we don’t discriminate, but HOW we discriminate. The moral code – the agreement of the group – is what we are debating, and currently there is a growing agreement that certain characteristics should be included in the “not allowed” category.

Just like the local pond, we each have aligned ourselves with a particular group for our own personal reasons. And just like the local pond, the debate has degraded into personal attacks and NOW we are either haters or sympathizers. So, how do we “function” as Orthodox Christian within this environment? I suggest we consider Saint Paul’s advice:
 I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner -- not even to eat with such a person. For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore "put away from yourselves the evil person." (1 Corinthians 5.9-13)
If we heed the advice of Saint Paul, we will remember the proper focus during the constant debate of society morals. We are held to a higher standard as members of the Church. We participate in the process only so far as we are able to avoid the degradation of the process into haters and sympathizers. However, just like our local pond, I believe the degradation is unavoidable.

Whether the topic is discrimination policies, marriage, property rights, immigration status, it really doesn’t matter. The process is the same and continuous. The boaters will eventually be allowed to use the local pond, simply because the swimmers don’t want to be considered haters. And they will find another place to swim, until someone wants to go boating. THEN…the whole process will start all over again.

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