Monday, February 21, 2011

Righteously Correct

I admit to being very uncomfortable with terms such as "moral absolute" and "moral relativism." Both have one thing in common: they are summoned as justification for just about anything whenever an argument arises. It was somewhat refreshing, therefore, to read Gregory Rodriguez's attempt to deal with both terms in a rational way in his latest column.

Here's his starting point:

Political fanaticism fosters moral relativism. That's the lesson we should all learn from the gruesome case of Shawna Forde, the Arizona anti-immigrant vigilante who was convicted last week of two counts of first-degree murder.

Prosecutors argued that Forde and two accomplices killed 29-year-old Raul Junior Flores and his 9-year-old daughter, Brisenia, in a botched robbery attempt meant to raise money to fund a splinter group of the anti-immigrant Minuteman movement. ...

...Evidently, Forde's political fixation overrode any belief in the injunction that "thou shalt not kill."

Rodriguez summons other examples of a moral absolute transmuted by fanaticism leading to moral relativism: "enhanced interrogations" being justified in the name of national security; the shooting of abortion doctors being justified in the name of "murdered children-to-be." He even suggests that liberals are just as guilty, but cites Castro and Stalin supporters (which I find a bit of a stretch ... I would have used the Symbionese Liberation Army here).

We seem to be seeing a lot of this kind of deadly shift these days, especially in the US, and Rodriguez cites some authorities as to why this is happening.

The great irony is that many observers believe that the global rise in political and religious fanaticism is a reaction against the freedom, choices and moral relativism of modernity.

"Under modern conditions," sociologist Peter Berger has noted, "almost everyone lives in communities in which diversity has taken the place of consensus." Some people react poorly to this "certainty scarcity." They adopt fervent convictions — fundamentalism, if you will — as a coping mechanism.

A coping mechanism which plays out in the demonization of the other, which makes the torturing, even killing of that other justified.

In the only weak part of his column, Rodriguez concludes that the answer to this dilemma is to trust "the heart" to properly guide behavior. I'm not so sure that this works if the heart has never been taught those morals which values community in the midst of diversity. How to teach that kind of morality is the question which we'd better find the answer to.

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