Thursday, September 6, 2012

Meditations for the Humanist – Part 1 – Moralism

Oscar Wilde famously said, “a man who moralizes is usually a hypocrite.” According to A. C. Grayling, a moralizer is a “person who seeks to impose upon others his [or her] view of how they should live and behave.” It reflects a coercive and exclusive worldview that is inherently opposed to democratic and pluralistic ideals.

Moralizers want others to conform to their views. They do this through coercive measures such as social disapproval as well as their more preferred option: legal controls. You can see this reflected in our nations history with blasphemy laws as well as more contemporary, hot button, issues such as gay marriage, abortion, religious symbols and text in public areas and prayer in public schools. 

Attacks on liberal policies such as these are expressions of hostility towards lifestyles moralizers personally dislike. Their hostility is brought into the public sphere, often through declarations of religious freedom, and manifest aspects of insensitivity, intolerance, ignorance of alternative interests and needs in the human experience and arrogance in believing there is only one acceptable way of living. They claim to have a “monopoly on moral judgment.’” We can recognize the familiar rhetoric of those claiming to defend the “traditionalist fantasy of ‘family morality’”. But the true attitude underneath moralizers is fear. The moralizer fears policies and practices that allow and encourage diversity in lifestyle and the freedom of choice.

Justification for their rigidly and arrogance comes from so-called religious doctrine and values. This is a pure reflection of exclusivist religion, which I’ve spoken about plenty in previous posts. This fear and its effects are inherently anti-pluralistic and anti-democratic. Diversity of thought is not allowed or encouraged. The demand conformity to lifestyles they see as personally acceptable. The external world, others, must conform to their internal preferences. Compromise is shunned and viewed as weakness. Their religious anxieties compel them to prevent the rest of society from “thinking, seeing or doing what they are afraid to think, see or do themselves.”

Secularism has become the enemy. Atheists and humanists alike are seen as being deviant and unworthy of any serious dialogue. Christianity is seen as being under attack. But secularism, in actuality, does not attack religion just like an umbrella does not attack rain. It provides a platform and foundation for diversity of thought, conscience and lifestyle. It protects all citizens’ right to have equal protection under the law, to have equal opportunity, voice and representation. Secularism encourages an ongoing, ever-evolving, creative process in public policy and societal norms. It sees culture and values as something malleable and dynamic, not fixed and rigid. And most of all, secularism, is not coercive or exclusive. All have a place at the table. Unfortunately, it also allows for the voice of the intolerant and the fearful (See “Tolerating the Intolerant” post).

Grayling, A. C. (2002). Meditation for the Humanist: Ethics for a Secular Age. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

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