Skip to comments.Absolute Zero Won't Warm a Cold Heart
Posted on 01/08/2002 2:37:14 PM PST by ancientart
For many young people (and many not-so-young people), the most troubling aspect of the 9/11 attack is that it calls on them to make the kind of moral judgments that they have been taught over and over again not to make - and that they have been refusing to make most of their lives.
When President Bush calls the attacks and the perpetrators of those attacks evil, they can't help but feel that he is right. And yet they have been taught that there is nothing worse than making absolute moral judgments: morality is a matter of personal choice. What's right for me is not necessarily right for you. And if someone with a different set of moral beliefs finds it acceptable to slam planes into office buildings, well then . . .
Well, no. It's not perfectly all right. I saw what happened on television, and it made me cry. This is w . . . wr. . . wro . . . wron . . .
Let me help you. It's wrong. Clearly and unambiguously wrong. It's evil. Bad. Immoral. Wicked. Absolutely unjustifiable.
And it's curious how hard that is for some of us to admit, how much we search for a way to understand and forgive. But what's even more curious is the odd way many of the moral relativists among us resolve their cognitive dissonance.
The 9/11 attacks don't demonstrate the existence of moral absolutes, they tell us. On the contrary, they show us the danger of believing in absolutes: any absolutes. Conservative Republicans and fundamentalist Christians are just like al-Qaida, and they'd have blown up the Trade Center if they'd thought of it first. Jerry Falwell is Osama bin Laden with a shave. And have you ever noticed that there are six letters in Ronald, Wilson, and Reagan?
Now the events of the 20th century give us plenty of reason to distrust the true believer. Fanatical political and religious groups have destroyed millions of lives.
But the problem is not belief in absolutes per se.
Whether or not belief in absolutes gets you into trouble depends in the first place on what those absolutes are. Believing absolutely that two plus two is four isn't going to get you into much trouble. Believing absolutely that two plus two is 117 will create a lot more difficulty. Believing absolutely in the ideals of Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln isn't going to get you into much trouble. Believing absolutely in Marx, Lenin, and Stalin is another story.
But what's important also is what one does with absolutes, particularly moral absolutes.
Over and over again, true believers make the same fundamental mistake: they consider themselves to be righteous, not because they themselves do what's right, but because they try to force others to do what's right. And, as I've mentioned before in this column, this is a particular problem with my generation. We are the most immoral and selfish generation in the history of this country: our personal lives a mess, and we've thrown away a good deal of what made this country great. And yet my generation is incredibly smug in its self-righteousness. We think of ourselves as marvelously good people because we stand up for one social, political, or religious cause or another.
Jesus warned us against this kind of hypocrisy, Cast the log out of your own eye, and then you'll see clearly to take the splinter out of your brother's eye.
Before we can take on the problems of our society, before we can improve conditions in our families, our schools, or our workplaces, we've got to make improvements a bit closer to home: in our own hearts.
And just maybe that's why we'd rather not make moral judgments at all.
Art Marmorstein, Aberdeen, is a professor of history at NSU and coordinator of the department of history, geography and philosophy. Write to him at the American News, P.O. Box 4430, Aberdeen, SD 57402, or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. His columns run occasionally.
Words of wisdom.
Well, of course, unless you're last name's "Clinton"...
Also a good tool for introducing/improving analytical thinking.
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