Last year while studying at a Christian-infested university, one of the devout admonished me for logically constructing ‘morals’ as a distinct and separate idea from ‘theism’. He was uncomfortable that I had provided verifiable and immediately accessible evidence that morals do not stem from religions, much less his and the other students’.
Despite his failed attempt to repress reason and genuine curiosity, I have continued my attempt to define ‘morality’.
Two frames of reference I use are on the one hand, religions which all assert they are the sources of morality despite blatant inter- and intra-faith conflicts, and on the other hand, Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek (1966-2001), which consistently demonstrates morality and judicial insight and fairness.
Let us briefly note these two hands with a case in point:
Currently, most major religions target gay men for vilification, harassment and death. Is this moral? In accordance with religious texts, yes. If so, what is the definition of ‘morality’ here? The use of violence against a vulnerable target group which is defined by sexual intercourse. There is no account of how targeting or even removing this group from society, which is created by heterosexuals and is a natural phenomenon in all species, would benefit any society. For no clear reason and with zero evidence, gay men in particular are subject to horrific levels of emotional, psychological and physical violence.
Here we have a philosophy of exclusivity and violence.
Star Trek presents a society where sexuality is not addressed specifically – it is taken as accepted and causes no affront. Most interactions are presented as heterosexual but The Next Generation tried to present gender identity as fluid and a non-issue. Roddenberry’s Star Trek, while not able to directly address sexuality, repeatedly addressed the use of violence. Every confrontation was met with dialogue, diplomacy and curiosity. Defence was used for self-protection. Differences were contexutalised as opportunities to learn and where that was not possible boundaries were respected.
Here we have a philosophy of inclusive, cosmopolitan morality.
To my reasoning, the label ‘moral’ may not be applied to any system of thought which employs coercion, and demands people comply without reason or evidence or choice. The morality of a belief system rests in that morality’s resilience and which improves with introspection and research. ‘It is immoral for two men to have sex’ conveys no insight or meaning or consequences to others of that act.
I believe I am a moral person: I have spent most of my life helping others either in my family from childhood, as an adult working to prevent environmental degradation, as a teacher to ensure my students develop their skills and find their voices. Yet there are nations in which I may be murdered in public or private simply because I do not align with their ‘spiritual’ definition of morality.
I must conclude that too many people and peoples around the world need a way to vent their violent tendencies and that religions and state ideologies provide them with such. Is it moral to murder? Many people and nations around the world unequivocally indicate ‘yes’. What is morality where people gleefully think of or engage in murdering another for no crime other than that of having sex? A wonderful balm to this murderous rage is quite simple: mind your own business.
Our species as a global whole is remarkably infantile.
Morality stems from inclusiveness and respect, not from religious texts or overwhelming emotional reactions. Cosmopolitanism provides a framework for constituting a more mature set of attitudes to living on a planet filled with diversity.