View from the choir

I am a Catholic layperson and Secular Franciscan with a sense of humor. After years in the back pew watching, I have moved into the choir. It's nice to see faces instead of the backs of heads. But I still maintain God has a sense of humor - and that we are created in God's image.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Imposing morality

Even if it hasn’t been addressed at us directly, we’ve all heard and read the classic response when discussing moral issues: Don’t impose your morality on me.

That response is actually meaningless and hypocritical.

First, it is an attempt to impose the speaker’s morality on us.

Second, all laws and all judgments are based on morality and thus, under the moral relativism that underlies the response, they can be considered imposing morality on others. Laws against accepting bribes, pedophilia, theft, discrimination, illegal immigration, trespassing, plagiarism, voter fraud, unethical business practices, assault, and so much more are based at some level on moral principles with which some people might disagree. If we accept this response as valid, the pedophile, the thief, the corrupt public official can all legitimately declare: Don’t impose your morality on me.

Third, this response is often motivated by a desire to avoid honestly addressing the moral position that prompted it. In some cases, the responder is in actuality comfortable with imposing morality as long as it his or her morality. In others, the responder is trying to redirect the discussion to get away from the sometimes uncomfortable truth that underlies the moral position.

Finally, it often is not a matter of imposing the moral position on others. It is a matter of reminding others of the moral positions they perhaps did not know or understand or have neglected or which might make them look at themselves. There is often an underlying fear of honestly dealing with the reality that underlies the moral position, for that might call into question their beliefs and actions.

So when people say, “Don’t impose your morality on me,” often what they are really saying is, “Don’t make me be honest with myself, because I might have to admit I support or do something wrong.”

Now if we were dealing with an issue of someone forcefully imposing religion on others – as, for example, some Christian and Muslim conquerors have done in the past – that would be a different issue. But that is not what we are dealing with here.

Ultimately, “Don’t impose your morality on me” is simply an empty rhetorical cop out.


Blogger RailRider said...

It could also mean: "Just because you believe this does not make it so. Don't judge me because I don't adhere to your belief system."

There are many points on which people of good conscious can disagree.

Not in all cases does it mean that the other's beliefs are not sincere and thoughtful.

8:33 PM  
Blogger Lee Strong said...

In my experience, it is rarely used that way. When I've seen or heard it, it's almost always used in connection with a a moral issue on which the speaker has little solid ground to stand or with which the speaker does not want to deal. It's used to evade, not advance discussion.

Plus, it is in and of itself a moral statement, and an imposition of the speaker's morality - so it is hypocritical.

8:47 PM  

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