Religious and Secular Morality

Eugene Volokh has written a good post about forcing religious morality on others. It’s similar to the argument he made here.

Eugene argues, correctly, that all lawmaking and moral line-drawing come from the desire to implement our morality, and that we all have moralities that are ultimately based on unprovable axioms. Therefore, there’s nothing procedurally improper about people with religion-influenced morality engaging in this activity.

I agree with Eugene about this. The separation of church and state doesn’t require the separation of churchmembers and state. I would go on to say that many religious moral ideas are superior to many secular moral ideas. Most religions are informed by centuries of moral debate and reasoning, and they continue to improve.

However, I think he might go a bit too far when he says things like:

Those of us (like me) who draw secular lines shouldn’t feel superior to those who draw religious lines here…

This seems to approach the idea that all paths to moral ideas are equivalent. I don’t think they are.

I do think that there are better ways to approach moral truths than to assume the truth of scripture. If you don’t want to spend much time thinking about morality yourself, then perhaps adopting the doctrine of a major religion or a well-respected moral philosopher might be a decent way to go. But, if you really care about understanding and acting upon moral truths (or at least the best moral ideas yet discovered), you should want to choose the best method available, and I think that’s a secular one.

I don’t think Eugene uses secular moral reasoning because he flipped a coin one day and Secular beat Religion. He does it, I’m guessing, because he made a conscious, informed, judgment that religious moral philosophy is sub-optimal in some important respects. It’s better to choose a method that is rational, open to criticism and improvements through argument. As I said, most religions today have some of this, but they are also burdened by lots of doctrine that doesn’t tolerate or stand up to argument very well, and is thus handicapped as a method of approaching the truth.

So, while it’s true that it’s not outrageous or procedurally inappropriate to want your moral views to inform policy even if they’re based on religious belief…that doesn’t imply that there isn’t a better way, or that we shouldn’t prefer that our president would use it.

Embryonic Stem Cell Research

I’m not sure what to make of this story of the House defying Bush’s policy on federal embryonic stem cell research funding.

On one hand, I think it’s a good thing that there are many Republicans willing to take a stand for a secular, rather than religious, approach to policy.

On the other hand, I oppose federal funding for all non-defense research. I think that promising research is likely to get private funding (as we have seen with embryonic stem cell research itself). So, I actually don’t approve of this change in policy for fiscal and moral reasons (protecting property, not embryos).

Symbolically, though, I think it would be a shame for Bush to use his first veto for this cause, rather than something more worthwhile (like the bloated Highway Bill, for example).

On Target About Communism

Go read Radley Balko’s letter to The CEO of Target about its merchandising of clothing that seems to glorify “Soviet chic”.

I think Balko’s analogy to Nazism is apt. It’s not about left vs. right, it’s about totalitarian collectivism vs. individual liberty.

And, like Balko, I’m not talking about censorship. I’m talking about declining to support the obscuring of crucially important historical lessons. Communism wasn’t a noble experiment that went slightly wrong for obscure technical reasons. It was a horrible effort to crush individual wills (and lives) to support the whims of those who spoke for the collective. It was never noble.

And, I’m not opposed to joking about anything. If the Soviet chic clothing is a joke, I think it fails to convey the nature of the joke and merely helps to promote ignorance.

Anybody who thinks that the Soviet Union was a joke should visit Bryan Caplan’s Museum of Communism.

UPDATE: Apparently, Target will no longer stock the stuff because it isn’t selling. Cool.

Blogging Drought

Sorry for the lack of posts lately.

I’m in the process of transitioning from one job to another, so I’ve been a bit distracted lately.

Hopefully, I’ll have new things to post about soon.

In the meantime, you might want to check out security expert Bruce Schneier’s post about the just-passed Real ID Act. I don’t think that many serious people think that it’s a cost-effective security measure (particularly against determined terrorists), but it’s a bone for the anti-immigration crowd. What a shame.

Anti-South-Park Conservatives

I think that Eugene Volokh has nailed the problem with Michelle Malkin’s criticism of Laura Bush’s speech: She doesn’t make the right distinctions.

But, if you read all of Malkin’s article, you’ll also find criticism of South Park. Malkin admits to not being a fan of the show, so it’s difficult to say if she’s watched enough of it to get a good sense of what it’s about.

She complains:

I find that the characters’ foul language overwhelms any entertainment I might otherwise derive from the show’s occasional , right-leaning iconoclastic themes.

I think that if this is true (and I have my doubts), Malkin has a serious psychological handicap that she should try to overcome. She puts form over substance, and is compelled to apply prejudice where she should exercise judgment.

The simple-minded application of rigid rules does not indicate sophistication or admirable good taste. It blocks thought. This is not a good thing.

I think that South Park makes excellent use of foul language. I think that the vulgarity serves the purpose of helping the open-minded viewers get past stale conventions and focus on the situations and ideas of the show. People who can’t enjoy the journey with the kids because of language hang-ups are missing a lot, and they will find it difficult to appreciate many things in life outside of South Park, as well.

Many conservatives have too narrow a conception of what is appropriate behavior. Etiquette can be useful, but not all of life has to be treated as a formal tea-party. It’s good to be able to tolerate (and command) a wide range of expression.