In response to Briguy and Dan‘s discussions of the wingnut gallery’s responses to the murder of Tim McLean in Manitoba (and I must reluctantly point to my own more irreverent take), and in the interest in sparking some conversation, I thought I would briefly discuss the topic of morality – a minefield at the best of times, but the twisted examples pointed out by my compatriots in this instance (and in a similar vein by Kevvyd) demands some closer scrutiny. I’ll get the ‘defining of terms’ stuff out of the way first…
Morals, in a broad sense, refers to behaviours or principles that conform to a sense of right and wrong. Our sense of right and wrong are, for the most part, derived from a consensus reached by members of a society, and generally expressed within culture – the concept of ‘good guys’ vs. ‘bad guys’ in film, literature, etc. Morality is derived from assumptions made about the nature of right behaviour vs. wrong behaviour, and how these are expressed through actions. Our understanding of the right/wrong axis comes through parents (don’t do that), socialization into systems of belief (thou shalt not) and the acceptance of institutionalized sanctions (laws and regulations). Morality is in some instances flexible, for example, a prohibition on killing is not universal: the act of killing another individual without negative sanction is available to soldiers in the performance of their duties during conflicts, and to almost every member of society in cases of self-defence. Nevertheless, outside of rare exceptions, it is generally understood that right is right, and wrong is wrong. It is, in some ways, a reflection of an enlightened self-interest. In essence, it generally boils down to not doing what we would prefer not be done to ourselves. (insert biblical quote here, if you are so inclined) And please don’t give me that ‘postmodern’ crap about morality being subjective – until everyone has a different set of values and morals, I ain’t buyin’ it. If you don’t have the same morals as the rest of society, you aren’t creative or intellectual – you’re sociopathic. Name one instance of ‘unique’ subjective morals that I cannot connect to the shared values of the society as a whole, and I will concede the point. Trouble is, you can’t.
Now that we have defined our terms, let the ranting begin.
Any of you who have been reading my writings for any length of time (poor you) have probably sensed a fundamental opposition to dogmatic beliefs in general, and religious belief in particular. I would have no particular objection if the belief system were a set of personal goals and rules for living – the problem is that religious belief never stays personal – the most religious are often the most vocal. If it did stay personal and private, I wouldn’t care less about what people thought about whatever topic – it’s only when the individual or group decide that they know best and that their beliefs are unassailable and worthy of imposition on others that I stand up and refuse to play the reindeer games. One of the most common ways for zealots to gain attention (and the surest way to annoy me) is to claim that their views are being suppressed – the image of the oppressed minority is a potent one in cultivating public opinion. They scream that they are fighting for freedom. Well, freedom implies freedom for everyone, not just your preferred group. Many have fought and died to allow us the freedom to believe (or disbelieve) as we choose. In fact, if anything, christians have more freedom, as Western society is organized around the observance of their holy days. Yes, definitely a neglected, silenced minority. If anyone is oppressed and looked down on, it’s us Atheists.
The idea behind the type of religious belief espoused by Phelps is that it assumes to have all the answers, as well as the right to impose those answers on others. The same can be said for PETA – they truly do not understand how anyone can think in a way contrary to their beliefs. To them, the truth is obvious, and we are flawed if we don’t see it.
The use of the horrific killing of an innocent man as part of a random act of violent insanity as a propaganda tool is immoral and unethical. In fact, using the results of a random act or occurrence as evidence for anything is insane – there is absolutely no way that you can prove a cause and effect relationship where ‘acts of god’ are concerned.
Additionally, equating the suffering and terror of Tim McLean (and his fellow passengers) with the suffering experienced by animals during their killing for food is – if you’ll pardon the expression – inhuman. Animals don’t have the same capacity for comprehension as we do – they do experience pain, but not shock or fear or compassion or anger or…well, you get the idea…the way we do. Humans and animals are not equal in any way no matter how much we like to think of them as furry people, and until I have to tell the damn dirty apes to keep their stinkin’ paws off me, I will not change my mind. Personification is a literary tool, not a valid philosophical viewpoint.
In claiming the moral ‘high ground’, these zealots have displayed how immoral they are. Would they feel the same way if one of their number had been killed in this way? It is easy to be callous and cruel to victims and families when they are not part of your cadre of believers, but more difficult if you actually have any emotional connection or empathy for your fellow human beings. Murder is wrong, exploiting it for publicity and potential gain is even…wronger?
I have, in the past, attempted to reason with zealots, which is a foolish activity. I have decided to take a different tack, one that works along the same lines as their methods.
To the religious folks: You claim that the murder of Tim McLean is evidence that society is crumbling and that our ‘filthy ways’ have brought god’s wrath upon us. To that, I have this to say: I have exactly the same amount of evidence that you have, and it tells me that god thinks this was a terrible thing, and, in fact, he denies any involvement. If you follow through with your intention to picket Tim’s funeral, he would consider that to be disrespectful and not in line with his teachings – and would consider that incontrovertible evidence that some people are using his name to justify mindless hatred. Trust me – he hates that shit.
To PETA, and in response to the idea that this horrible act is equal to the killing of animals for food: I firmly believe that the last thought that runs through an animal’s mind prior to slaughter is this: “I sincerely hope that, if I am reincarnated, I can come back as a human – this opposable thumb thing looks pretty sweet. However, don’t let me come back as a complete asshole like those idiots from PETA. If I become human, I would have to be embarrassed for them and ashamed to be of the same species. OUCH!”
To both groups: prove me wrong, if you can.