Thursday, November 20, 2008

Ethics: those who don't care and those who don't care

In recent times I have been equally struck by two different circumstances/observations that are very telling about people's attitudes towards ethics and morality.

The first is something Byron observed a little while back. On trying to tell people that he was doing a PhD on ethics, most people are a little bewildered about why he would do that. Aren't we post-ethical? I think this reveals a telling point about most people's ethics: don't murder anyone and you're free to pursue almost any kind of life you want. Morality has become almost obsolete, and so ethics is irrelevant.

The second is an observation from my wife that when you tell Christians you are a vegetarian, they almost inevitably begin to try and convince you that you should be eating meat, and feel like your moral stance is condemning them. I suspect this reveals an equally troubling point about those who have subscribed to an ethical position - they are unable to deal with alternatives.

This is true both within and without Christian spheres, and vegetarianism provides a good case study in our age (in which environmentalism is the new religion). Many people feel compelled to react to the news that you are a vegetarian by trying to persuade you how wrong it is, largely I believe because they are not comfortable with the moral difference you have introduced into the relationship, and are trying to correct it by conforming you to their position. Failing that, they may well resort to social pressure - jokes, snide comments, relentless down-putting of one's position.

Accompanying this is often the inability to accept that within an ethical system their could exist moral difference that didn't need to be resolved. This is particularly important, I feel, within Christianity. I'm fine with being a vegetarian and you not being one, because not all moral decisions are reducible to 'sin issues', let alone 'salvation issues'. If you saw the world as I did and read the scriptures as I do, I have no doubt you'd be compelled to the same conclusions, but until you do, you are entirely free to make a conscience call on vegetarianism. Why won't you let others do the same?

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