Saturday, January 14, 2006

On Moral Character

In some of my philosophical wanderings around the internet, I write an occasional “diary” for Talk2Action a site devoted to preventing the Religious Right from establishing a theocracy in America.

One of the issues that has come up is the way that the religious right uses allegedly neutral “character building” programs. The charge is that the character traits that these people seek to promote are those that would make people willing and obedient sheep who will work to make “God” the official ruler of this country.

“God could not make it here today to accept this award. Therefore, God’s self-proclaimed spokesperson, will rule the in his name, until such time as God shall return, which . . . actually . . . might take a while.”

Through Talk2Action, I became aware of the article, “Cult of Character” by Silja T.A. Tulji .

This article concerns one of these conferences where participants are apparently seeking to turn people into theocratic sheep through promoting a list of character traits. What concerned me about this article, however, was the quote,

…attendees will come to learn that absolutely everything bad happening in our society--from crime to divorce, from drug use to school shootings--can be explained by lack of character.

It is written in a context that seems to ridicule this position. Indeed, the very title of the article, "Cult of Character", suggests (intentionally or not) that there is something sinister in thinking about moral character.

However, I happen to think this statement is true. Well . . . the word “everything” is an exaggeration. Still, almost every blog entry that I have written is yet another example of how bad (moral) character has contributed to bad things happening. Each of them is a lesson in how promoting good character traits in ourselves and others will make life better for all people generally.

If it is wise to build a tsunami warning system to prevent the death and destruction associated with a tsunami, then it is wise to protect ourselves from the harms that bad people may do by promoting character traits that make others less of a threat, and more likely to help in times of trouble.

It simply makes sense that, if you want those you love to be able to walk down the street without being raped or mugged, than you create a society that promotes in your neighbors an aversion to raping and mugging people.

If it is wise to child-proof your house to keep your children safe, then is it not wise to child-proof your neighborhood by causing those who live in it to have an aversion to doing harm to children, and to aiding them when they are in need?

I use, as a foundation for my writing, a moral view called “Desire Utilitarianism.” It states that the institution of morality is substantially devoted to using praise, condemnation, reward, and punishment to promote good (beneficial, helpful) desires (character traits) and to inhibit bad (harmful) desires (character traits). It is a theory that puts a great deal of emphasis on character.

My objection to the theocrats is not that they talk about character. It is that some of the character traits they seek to develop will do a great deal of harm. Some will no doubt do some good. Even a slave master has a reason to promote honesty, diligence, pride in craftsmanship, and a sense of personal responsibility in his slaves. But others such as subservience, intellectual laziness, intellectual recklessness, and hate (against those who the leaders, claiming to speak for God, tell them to hate), will bring suffering.

I have written against some of their professed character traits in the past. In “On Liberty and Theocracy in Ohio.” I commented on how their list of values describes liberty pretty much as, “doing what you are told so that we the leaders do not have to hurt you.”

In the blog entry “On Wisdom” I mentioned how they define “wisdom” as belief in “something greater than intelligence or knowledge”, which I suggest is meant to make the claim that atheists are fools by definition. I offer an alternative account of wisdom in its place.


My point here is to suggest that the devil is in the details.

These people are right in claiming that character is important. If you want to be safe, if you want your children and others that you love to be safe, and if you want the people and things they love to be safe, you have a reason to look at ways in which we can help to create a society of individuals who help others and not endanger them.

The problem is that these theocrats are promoting character traits that make those who they teach a threat to others. They define “good character” in terms of being a a blind, obedient, intellectually lazy servant that will do whatever the masters command.

Those masters, in turn, are looking for servants that they can turn against anybody who threatens their authority. This will inevitably include anybody who questions their assertions about what this God wants, such as homosexuals, atheists, and women (or at least those not properly subservient to men).

These people are not to be faulted because they speak about character. These people are to be faulted for their efforts in promoting character traits that make their followers a threat to others.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Religious right? What about the non-religious left? God's people against the devil's people. You might say that sounds simplistic, but it is not. The Bible makes it very clear that they who have never
experienced life through Christ are
servants of sin and Satan whether they realize it or not. Those who have repented of their wickedness against God and received salvation are called children of light and children of truth. There is a real
battly going on but it is not just between humans.

The Bible says that we wrestle not against flesh and blood (humans) but against spiritual wickedness in
high places; against the prince of the power of the air. The battle lines are drawn and everyone is on one side or the other.

Christ rejectors including those who follow false religions and false philosophies are serving a master they don't understand and in many cases don't even realize they are serving. Nonetheless, they are servants of the devil of their own volition because they refuse to acknowlege the Lordship of Christ.

It is repugnant to wicked mankind to bow before a righteous master because they have no desire to be accountable to him or anyone else.
However the Bible makes it clear that no man can serve two masters.
Joshua in the Old Testament spoke out to the Hebrews who were in the valley of decision concerning who they would follow. His declaration
was; "Choose you this day whom you will serve, but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. So it is today. It has not changed since Adam and Eve chose to obey their lusts and rejected the rule of God; preferring to listen to the
lies of Satan. It will be that way
until God puts and end to time and we all stand face-to-face with him in eternity for judgment.

Granted there are some who call themselves Christians who are a blot on the name of Jesus Christ and dishonor God by their daily lives and testimonies, but there are many more who are sincere and loving people who believe God is to be obeyed and the things they desire are based on God's word. Those things are what all men would want if they had enough sense to see past their spiritual ignorance.

I have been what you call one of the theocratic sheep, except for the fact that I determine whether I wish to obey God or not. My eternal destiny is in my hands as much as yours is. As foolish as it
may sound to anyone of sense, I can
choose to disobey God and live as I like and thereby choose eternity in the Lake of Fire. If I were so foolish, I would have nobody to blame but myself since God made a sacrifice that paid the price for my admission to his kingdom where there is nothing but joy and peace forever. So, being of sound mind and heart, I have chosen what is best for me. What you do is your own affair, but if you are as wise as you believe you are then it is vitally important that you use that wisdom to seek diligently to see if what I am telling you is the
truth. It is obvious to me that you haven't because you are still on the wrong side.

Theocratic sheep, are not mindless slaves my friend, they are very intelligent in the spiritual sense and have more insight than anyone on earth if they are walking with God as they ought. It is those who love to criticize what they don't understand fully that are in need of help to better assess what they believe from a perspective they have not yet experienced. In this you are miserably unqualified
at this moment. That is not a slam against you but a fact that can be proven by some simple Bible study with those who know what is contained in that great book which
is intended to guide us from this life to the next safely and teach us how we ought to live while we are here on earth.

I apologize for being so verbose, but a simple answer would never do for something of this importance.
I hope this might help open your eyes to see people you criticize and brand as theocratic sheep as they really are at least in some small way.