Tag Archives: morals

Gay marriage, druidry and the slippery slope

Catholic Bishops are, I gather, up in arms in the UK about our government’s plans to make same-sex marriage legal. We’ll skip quickly over the hypocrisy of a church that deliberately covered up child abuse crimes and head for the slippery slope.

One of the most readily trawled out concepts by people who do not like a thing, is that it provides a gateway to something much, much worse. Thus you can get up in public, suggest you don’t think gay people are entirely awful, but question where this is going, what will it lead to? We must stop now before the rot really sets in, and so forth. It creates fear, Lovecraft-style, of some nameless dread, too terrible to describe.

Pagans get hit with this one regularly too along, no doubt, with plenty of other interesting minority folk. A bit of nature worship isn’t so terrible, but where does that lead, eh? Next thing you know there will be naked dancing, virgin sacrifice and Satan will personally turn up, and then things will happen that are too awful to put into words. Better to be very frightened right now and say ‘no’. It’s such an easy trick to pull. It plays to people’s fear of the unknown, very deliberately. And of course because the objectors are never going to pin down the nature of their nameless dreads, there is no scope for having a debate with them.

As they said on The Now Show last night, what gay marriage will probably lead to is some people having better decorated houses. Gay marriage is a move towards inclusion, tolerance and generally being a nicer society to live in. If you don’t like gay marriage, it’s very simple, don’t marry someone of the same sex. Perhaps the Catholics fear it’s going to be made obligatory! But what could be on the slippery slope? How about polyamorous marriage? More than two people who want to commit, being allowed to do so. Forgive me if I fail to see how that’s going to destroy Western civilization any time soon. It will very likely keep a good few lawyers in gainful employment though.

Laws do not prevent people from loving. They also don’t prevent people from cheating, abusing and perverting the system. Laws provide a framework in which we can try to rub along with each other, but they never have, and never will cause people to live in a moral way. The whole point of morals is that they have to come from within, you can’t enforce them. By giving people maximum choice, you also give them the freedom to be moral. Surely for a gay Catholic, making the sacrifice of not adopting the mainstream attitude to your sexual preferences would be a far more meaningful spiritual action than just not being allowed in the first place?

Slippery slope arguments tend to be employed by people who do not have a decent case. It’s one thing if you can prove a causal link, but usually the links are all imaginary. Of course one of the known causal links is that when you allow people freedom of conscience, they don’t always do what you want them to. If your spiritual power base depends on legal enforcement, the last thing you want is people having the power to choose. But real faith, real love, real commitments are chosen, not enforced. You can be a better sort of Catholic in a system that doesn’t oblige you to turn up and confess every week, but where you do that because you feel it and believe it. I think you also get better marriages where people are there by choice and can get out if they are miserable. Choice is good, and the slippery slope is frequently a work of fiction.

Whatever it takes

In the blog before last I suggested that people in survival situations do ‘whatever it takes’ and had a challenge  over that. It was one of those statements I typed out quickly as part of a different argument, so the subtleties of the issue just weren’t tackled. I really appreciate people catching me when I do these, because it requires me to think, to figure out ideas that I may have been taking for granted.

What I’ve come up with may be entirely personal to me, I don’t know. Usually when we talk about morals, ethics, behaviour we tend to assume that a given person has one set of values. On reflection, I realise that I do not. I have a number of levels within my ethical thinking, I’m going to simplify it to three for ease of explaining, but that’s probably not all of it in some instances.

I have ideals. These are the standards I would like to uphold, the things I think would be optimal. They include only buying organic and ethically sourced food, clothing and other objects, only using electricity I have generated myself by green and sustainable means, not using fossil fuels, re-using and recycling rather than throwing anything away, never losing my temper, never speaking or acting in haste, always acting with absolute care, thoughtfulness and integrity. There are others, but that’s enough to give a flavour.

In reality, I wouldn’t be able to afford to eat if I stuck to those ideals, and I certainly couldn’t buy clothes on those terms. The realities of not having much money are just not compatible with my ideals. I’m stuck with the available levels of technology, and while I have very low fossil fuel consumption, I’ve not got that down to no use, yet. And of course the whole being human thing means I’m not always perfect in my self-control, speech and behaviour.

So, I have an aspirational level of ethics, and the reality. I push towards the aspiration in every way I can think of, but the nature of those ideals is that if I get close to reaching them, I’m going to shift the goalposts. Those aspirational ethics are not fixed, they exist to stretch me.

Then there’s the ‘whatever it takes’ ethics, and I suspect we all have these too. I don’t steal. If I genuinely couldn’t feed my child by any other means (postulate some apocalyptic scenario if you will) I would take what he needed. No question. But that doesn’t mean that I would consider absolutely any behaviour if I had the right justification. I don’t believe that rationalisation holds water, although I have the impression some people do think that way. I would not, for example, kill someone in order to escape from an extreme poverty scenario. I would not countenance doing anything that put my child in danger to achieve any other end.

The idea of doing whatever it takes has a connection with whether you see the ends as justifying the means or not. For someone who does, ‘whatever it takes’ is a very broad remit indeed. I don’t see the ends as inherently justifying the means, I think instead that the means must support the intended outcome. So there are definitely things I would not countenance doing.

For most people then I think ‘whatever it takes’ exists within a moral framework. No doubt there are people who can uphold their highest ideals no matter that happens to them, but I for one have a ‘bottom line’ ethic as well. They come into play when two ethical positions collide. Duty of care versus something else would be the most obvious. How far would I go to save a life, to protect a habitat, to prevent a worse injustice from occurring? I’m not sure, I won’t know until it happens.

I’m not going to die of cold rather than burn coal. That’s putting immediate survival before aspirational ideals. Whatever it takes, is relative. It depends a lot on how you define survival and how you craft your priorities.