By David Anderson, Tillicum
With regards the same-sex marriage (SSM) matter (I almost said debate) – in addition to the opinions expressed that are more often than not interspersed with name-calling – we’ve witnessed flash-mob street dancing, Obama-boy-rainbow-colored-
As there “are good people on both sides of the issue you would think that suddenly our public policy decisions can be guided by good, old-fashioned, critical thought,” observes Joseph Backholm, director of the Family Policy Institute of Washington.
That may be asking too much.
The Philly Post is reporting that some of the more prominent gay activists invited by President Obama to the White House’s first-ever gay pride reception took photos of themselves flipping off the portrait of former President Ronald Reagan.
Maybe monkeys provide a means by which to measure the meaningfulness of our machinations?
“Bongo is a chimp. He’s being punished by other members of the chimpanzee band for not sharing his bananas. Bongo is selfish. Bad Bongo.”
Robert Wright has written a book in which he concludes from his ‘monkey-see, monkey-do’ observations, that animals exhibit rudimentary moral behavior.” It’s entitled “The Moral Animal – Why We Are the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology”.
Basically Wright’s thesis is that given we humans are reputedly a rung or two higher on the evolutionary ladder – debatable in some cases as evidenced in the current debate – we should expect at minimum from our fellow mammals at least a modicum of moral reflection to be evidenced in the choices we make including, but not limited to, withholding bananas from those we believe are behaving badly until they fork them over and we all share and share alike.
Carrie Underwood appears to support banana-sharing. Called the “country-crossover darling” apparently for coming out in support of gay marriage as the voice combining county-music stardom and Christianity, Underwood welcomes gays to the marriage group saying we should just all get along. “Above all, God wanted us to love others. We have to love each other and get on with each other.”
Is it analogous to say that as chimps force compliance from chumps by withholding bananas until they share, so SSM should be imposed throughout the land since we’re all in this jungle together?
But what if Bongo obtained his bananas by the sweat of his own chinny chin chin? Why then ought he to share? After all, they’re his bananas. He picked them himself. They’re his fair and square.
And why ought we to legalize same-sex marriage? Or why ought we not?
The missing link
Gregory Koukl says there’s a missing link in his review of Wright’s monkeying around.
Koukl is President of “Stand to Reason”, an apologetics organization (www. str.org), and the coauthor with Francis J. Beckwith of “Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air” (Baker, 1998).
“One can’t conclude that Bongo, the chimp,” says Koukl, “ought to share his bananas.”
Koukl’s claim – making Wright wrong – is that what is more often than not missing from discussions and debates of divisive nature, whether it’s who has legitimate rights to the bananas or who can raise kids best, straights or gays, the critical component that should concern those who care is the issue’s “moral incumbency”.
That is it should if we’ve indeed made evolutionary progress over our hairy predecessors.
“A key tenet of the campaign for same-sex marriage is that same-sex couples are just as good as other parents.” Not so say proponents for traditional marriage who “claim that children generally fare best when raised by their married biological parents.”
The missing link in this and many similar arguments with regards SSM is “oughtness”.
The emphasis from both sides is upon conduct – who can do it better – rather than upon compulsion – why ought we to opt for one verses the other. We end up debating observable behavior rather than what is objectively bedrock. The argument becomes one of bananas if you will – the superficial externals, instead of the foundational essentials.
In other words, we’ve not addressed “oughtness”, or “moral incumbency”.
Can’t legislate morality.
Upon the opening of the Grand Central Casino in our City of Lakewood, Washington a certain Lakewood City Councilwoman claimed that casinos were exempt from condemnation because gambling establishments were (1) legal; (2) profitable; and (3) amoral – or at least the moral argument was immaterial given (1) and (2).
Specifically, here’s what she said: “It’s a legally licensed business in the state of Washington. I don’t mind where the location is. I’m not a person who believes you can legislate morality. We do get a nice chunk of change from them, and they are good neighbors . . . very supportive of the community” (Tacoma News Tribune, July 22, 2003).
But Nicholas D. Kristof, op-ed columnist for the New York Times, raises a pertinent question that it would appear takes issue with such see-no-evil, money-trumps-morals group-think: “Do we want a society where everything is up for sale? Or are there certain moral and civic goods that markets do not honor and money cannot buy?”
Ironically the very same date of July 22, 2003 on which the council considered community criticism of casinos a non-issue, the Lakewood City Council was contemplating an ordinance to control Wet T-shirts, bikini’s and mud-wrestling in local taverns. And the City Council on November 1, 2004 passed Ordinance No. 358 zoning Sexually Oriented Businesses (SOB’s) on the basis, in part, that “an improperly operated SOB can constitute a public or moral nuisance” (p.141).
The question thus is not ‘do we make decisions based upon morality’, even legislatively, but rather whose morality shall we use – a monkey’s or some other.
“Morality,” in fact states Koukl, is so basic to human nature that it “informs behavior, judging it either good or bad.”
The Bare Necessities
Baloo, the loveable bear in the 1967 Walt Disney film “The Jungle Book”, animatedly sang of “the simple bare necessities” one of which was the bark of a readily accessible tree to scratch the hard-to-reach places of the back.
Are there simple bare necessities too for the otherwise difficult to reach places in debate or does the lion sleep tonight? Can clarity replace cacophony? With the exception of gambling (since after all there’s so much money involved we don’t want to go there), is it too much to hope that we, even better than say the monkeys, can agree that qualitative – if not moral – judgments about the appropriateness of most other matters can be made?
For the sake of argument, let’s make that presupposition. What then is the first bare necessity concerning morality?
Koukl writes, “The first thing we observe about moral rules is that, although they exist, they are not physical and don’t have physical properties. We won’t bump into them in the dark. They don’t extend into space. They have no weight. They have no chemical characteristics. Instead, they are immaterial entities we discover not through the aid of our five senses, but by the process of thought, introspection, and reflection.”
So #1: We make decisions based upon the existence of morality since it is intrinsic to being human. Monkeys demonstrate it; despite protestations, the Lakewood City Council has implemented it (at times); and this debate on gay marriage deserves it.
#2: Morality presumes intelligent discourse and communication. Thus flipping off portraits is crass, using our morally reflective minds is cool. Certainly those who believe we’re evolving would insist upon elevating the quality of the exchanges in the argument – as opposed say to just giving someone the finger.
Then again, maybe we’re devolving. Opining on Sandusky’s alleged sordid shower affairs, Maureen Dowd, op-ed columnist for the New York Times wonders, “with formerly hallowed institutions and icons sinking into a moral dystopia all around us, has our sense of right and wrong grown more malleable?”
#3: Morality is characterized by its incumbency. This is the “oughtness” factor of which Koukl writes: “It appeals to our will, compelling us to act in a certain way, though we may disregard its force and choose not to obey.”
#4: Good grief. “Fourth and finally,” Koukl says, “we feel a deep discomfort when we violate clear and weighty moral rules.”
Koukl concludes his article by addressing the source of morality but suffice it to say here that hopefully we have picked enough fruit from the tree of good and evil to realize that – with regards SSM or gambling or whatever – there are in Koukl’s words, “serious ramifications for the way we live our lives. We may be tempted to abandon careful thinking when we are forced to confront conclusions that make us uncomfortable.”
As a self-proclaimed “enlightened liberal” stated in his letter to the editor, “There is an unfortunate irony in liberal discourse these days: namely, that we don’t think critically about what it means to think critically.”
If the monkeys were observing humans instead of the other way around, the lack of civility and decorum among those on the ground would certainly cause some head-scratching of those swinging from the trees.
Darwin would not be impressed.
Even a monkey knows better than that.