Monday, March 20, 2006

The Naked Reverse

I’m not saying that observant believers are all immoral, but I do note that traditional Christianity treats people as career criminals who are barely restrained from violence and fraud by human or supernatural sanction. You have to wonder if the folks who subscribe to this understanding of the human condition aren’t generalizing from their own case. Do you really want somebody who thinks of themselves like that taking care of your children? It’s one thing to be realistic about your own failings, quite another to cast oneself as the protagonist of an endless soapbox opera of sin and repentance. Maybe you really are more loathsome than a spider. If so, speak for yourself.

For the record, talk about morality doesn’t have to be addressed to the transgressor. Secular ethics, which recognizes human fallibility and weakness but assumes that the moral actor is responsible for his or her own actions, is a very different enterprise than pop religious ethics. Instead of focusing on “how do I keep from doing wrong?”—a question that assumes that we already know what to do—it addresses the more fundamental question of “what should I do?” because in a world without oracles we are responsible for deciding that, too. While the religious identify with the role of the servant, whose virtue comes down at last to obedience, the upright unbelievers think of themselves as authorities, individuals whose moral burden is all the greater precisely because, if only by default, they actually are responsible.

No comments: