Monday, July 02, 2007

Sharpton vs. Hitchens on moral absolutes

I'm not particularly fond of either of these guys, especially Sharpton. He strikes me as the classical definition of a "blow hard". Hitchens, for all of his intellectual acumen is generally so abrasive that any merit his arguments about religion and the practice of religion may have are lost. This debate was especially fun to watch, though the debate would have been all the more entertaining were it between Dobson and Hitchens.

As for moral absolutes verses relativism, the question of how we prosecute people is flawed in this context. We prosecute people because we are a society founded on the rule of law. We arrive at this structure as the descendants of England and highly influenced by French thought, which itself was influenced by the classical societies of Rome and Greece. While our founder's motivation may have included theistic leanings law itself is viewed as an impartial arbiter to ensure freedom and the smooth operation of society. ("Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.")

To complain that removing the Ten Commandments will lead to the destruction of the rule of law is a flawed argument, and religiously motivated. This country was never founded on, nor enforced, the Ten Commandments. We have no laws enforcing "Thou shalt not covet" and no method of prosecuting someone for coveting or not holding God in highest regard. Were we to truly have as our foundation the Ten Commandments we would need to prosecute Atheists for breaking the first. These are religious laws that inform the spiritual mind. They are higher, or deeper, than our normal civil laws that are created as a response to societal problems.

To illustrate the difference between our laws and the Decalogue, consider the laws regulating traffic. Shortly after automobiles were invented two things happened. First, guys wanted to race and second the flow of cars through the streets resulted in chaos. Civil leadership understood that in order to facilitate growth and protect people laws were needed. As time progressed the laws, regulations and conventions evolved into what they are today. I well remember intersections regulated by lights with just a green and a red. Such a light would spell disaster today in many busy city intersections. The yellow along with delays provide a buffer that prevents desperate idiots from crashing into too-eager drivers who zoom out at the first glimpse of a green light.

To say that our laws are founded on the Ten Commandments is to hijack modern thought with ancient theology. Even the Christian who has understood the differences between the old and the new covenants understands that we are no longer bound under the Decalogue. The Ten Commandments simply are insufficient to regulate our societies, and would lead to a level of intolerance that is unacceptable. Unless we are prepared to outlaw any religion except Christianity or draft vague definitions of terms such as "god", "covet" and "lie" we have no possibility of enforcing the Ten Commandments.

While the Christian may believe in moral absolutes, this is very different than asking how we prosecute criminals. They are criminals, by definition, because they have been found guilt of breaking one of our criminal laws -- not for having broken some moral absolute. They are prosecuted for driving under the influence, or for having sold drugs. The fact that the various laws on our books can be grouped under one or more of the Decalogue does not in fact mean that our laws are derived from it. We have, as a society, decided that we do not want to allow dangerous drugs to be sold or people to drive unsafely. Fairness, and freedom dictate that one person's actions should not impede the freedom of another's.

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