02 February 2018

Fake morality and coddling criminals

Libby Anne at Love, Joy, Feminism has a posting up on the Andy Savage case which well illustrates the difference between religious taboo-based "morality" and real morality.  Savage is the pastor who recently confessed to his church's congregation that he had sexually abused a 17-year-old girl in 1998 but had "repented" -- to which the pious church members responded by giving him a standing ovation.  The case manifested the usual institutional responses -- minimizing the offense, shifting blame onto the victim, talk of "healing" rather than justice -- but also brings out what's fundamentally wrong with the religious concept of morality.  Here's the key passage:

But the problem goes deeper, and elucidates a fundamental difference in how wrongdoing is understood. Progressives, particularly those who are secular, typically define wrongdoing in a way that centers harm -- it is wrong to cause harm to another person. Having consensual sex outside of marriage, then, is fine -- raping someone is wrong. But evangelicals do not typically define sin as harm-based. They define sin as going against the commands of God -- whether or not harm is caused to another person is irrelevant -- and talk of sin as being against God.

What Savage did was wrong because God forbids sexual contact outside of marriage. That Savage harmed Jules Woodson through his actions is less important -- the important part is that he sinned against God. And God -- evangelicals contend -- forgives those who sincerely repent, and washes away their sin, and restores them.

This is the difference between taboo and real morality.  Real morality is, at least in principle, objectively definable based on the harm or benefit that actions cause to humans and other self-aware beings.  Taboo is random and arbitrary, based on nothing but what "God" (or rather, whatever holy book purports to contain the edicts of that imaginary tyrant) happens to have forbidden.  It does not matter whether a forbidden act causes anyone harm or not.  One might as well have covered a wall with a written list of every imaginable act a human could perform, and then thrown darts at the wall blindfolded, declaring every act "hit" to be taboo.  Beard-trimming, eating pork, homosexuality, drinking alcohol, etc. -- in each religion, the list is arbitrary.  Some genuinely harmful acts are also taboo, but the point is that an act's status as "sinful" is independent of whether it's actually immoral.

Another consequence of this garbled concept of morality -- the marginalization of victims of actual abuse -- is visible in the responses of religious institutions in the Savage case, the Duggar molestation scandal, the Catholic priest child-abuse scandals, etc. It's inherent in the twisted mentality of Christianity that focuses on "sin" and redemption. Since sin is defined by violation of taboo rather than by whether it does any harm or not, victims are of secondary importance. The focus is always on the "sinner" and his internal mental and "spiritual" state, on whether he achieves redemption or not. Victims are mere props, part of the scenery for the drama in which the perpetrator is the protagonist.

The fact that the perpetrator claims to have repented and been forgiven by God doesn't do the victim any good -- since repentance is an unverifiable internal mental state and God, even if he existed, isn't the real offended party in the first place, the emphasis on these things amounts to a "get out of jail free" card.  But victims who insist on going public about the abuse and demanding justice are treated as uppity nuisances -- they're not following the script!

(Note the contrast with the fundie stance toward pure taboo violations like homosexuality.  They relentlessly condemn and shun gay people who have harmed no one, and treat baking a cake as Armageddon because it implies some distant "approval" of homosexual sin.  But for an actual abuser of other people who has repented, the coddling and excuse-making flow like water.)

This is not only a matter of protecting leaders of religious groups, though that's probably part of it.  Libby Anne quotes an evangelical writer who uses the Weinstein case to rebuke more worldly Christians who do call for justice:

Christian backlash presents a different challenge. Good Christians are calling for Savage to resign. Were the church to force his ouster it would send a powerful message to the culture: We police our own and will not tolerate abuse. The culture would applaud. But maybe the culture needs a different message: Jesus restores not only the abused but also the abuser. The culture is not rooting for the restoration of Harvey Weinstein. It does not want a wicked predator to know the mercy of Jesus, but the church should want just that.

Indeed, "the culture" is not "rooting for the restoration of Harvey Weinstein" because he doesn't deserve it.  "The culture" is rightly focusing its attention on his victims, on their right to justice, and on the need to deter behavior like Weinstein's in the future.  But to the evangelical mind, even a thoroughly secular abuser like Weinstein is a candidate for "repentance" and Godly "forgiveness" and "redemption", all of which are worthless to the victims and undermine the drive for justice.

Fortunately our culture is now predominantly secular, and sees the evangelical sniveling about repentance and "washing away sin" for what it truly is -- the coddling and enabling of criminals, the cheating and pushing aside of victims, and the antithesis of justice and morality.


Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

I had to read this a couple times to get it straight (you know me {:-), but it made sense. You know, that is one of the biggest problems, how victims are tossed to the side. I previously heard a little about this case, but never looked much into it (you know how I loathe some of these xtian ass kissing ventures). It's the same ole same ancient defense, Infidel ... of no real consequences ... and temptation, devils, or whatever are the excuse, they then get their flock to imagine through crafty wording, gets into the folks subconscious, they think and twist it in their minds, which they simply figure if they "think it", it means god meant for them to think it, so they support, praise, their fellow perpetrator, forgive him/ her ... forget the victim , etc, etc. To me this is a centuries old culture of thought, that sadly permeated every level of society, even non- religious, politically or otherwise for centuries. And I credit some of this thinking for even why we have such a reckless way of accepting the reckless actions of those at the top or even in politics, giving them more chances, than they clearly deserve.

On another note ... I did read your last posting as well concerning satanism, but didnt comment. But, you see now, from the comments you received, just how difficult it is to explain (which is why I dont in most cases). Also ... I have been following news on "The Satanic Temple" too. Even though most Church of Satan folks probably sneer them, I commend them for what they do. I mean, there are many different denominations of satanism too (my order, even though CoS affiliated, was non-denomination, and incorporated various things), which some folks dont understand ... I had to have belonged as a member, to at least a half a dozen organizations at some time. I added a link below for you on the Dallas Chapter of TST.


02 February, 2018 06:15  
Blogger Daniel Wilcox said...

You wrote, "Real morality is, at least in principle, objectively definable based on the harm or benefit that actions cause to humans and other self-aware beings."

Excellent one sentence definition of ethics!

02 February, 2018 07:44  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Ranch: They have so many excuses to either forgive or condemn in any given case, it turns into just a reflection of what their deeper prejudices are.

Daniel: Thanks!

04 February, 2018 03:02  
Anonymous PsiCop said...

A few minor observations:

Re: "It's inherent in the twisted mentality of Christianity that focuses on 'sin' and redemption."

Indeed! In Christianity there's a slogan: "Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven." Really, it's understandable: If "sin" is universal, and if all humans are equally "sinful," then really, "sin" ceases even to be an issue at all, and all that matters is God's forgiveness for it. This philosophy is inherently heinous, because it dispenses with accountability for any and all misconduct.

Yet, it lies at the core of Christianity.

Re: "... and God, even if he existed, isn't the real offended party in the first place ..."

Christians wouldn't accept that idea. To them, all "sin" is offensive to God. It's tautological: That's what it means for something to be a "sin." They can't point to any way in which their deity is harmed by it — after all, what could possibly harm a supposedly-omnipotent being? — yet they insist their deity is offended by "sin."

Lastly ... for me, a lot of this comes down to their notions of sanctity. In the case of Savage, they have someone they view as "a man of God" on the one hand, and some woman (or girl, at the time in question) on the other. To which of those do you think any devout Christian is going to pay attention? Of course they will give this "man of God" the benefit of the doubt, and not give a crap about the woman/girl. For them to think ill of a "man of God" would call into doubt their allegiances to other supposed sacred people, and maybe their church itself — and most humans will avoid that at all costs.

This is exactly what happened in the Catholic Church as priests around the world abused children. Parishioners were persuaded to look the other way. In many places, law enforcement did so as well. They did it because they didn't want to think the worst of "men of God" and a "holy church." Instead, they ignored and/or silenced the victims. Some even cooked up the notion that the abused children themselves somehow caused the abuse.

04 February, 2018 21:07  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

PsiCop: Since the varying magnitude of "sins" relative to each other is de-emphasized and the only thing that counts is whether you're "saved" or not, they're free to allocate their indignation (and, frankly, their hate) based on their personal prejudices or any other criteria they choose. Since homosexuality offends God (meaning it offends them, since their God is just a product of their own minds), they can rant endlessly about it while ignoring the actual abuses of people like Trump or Roy Moore, since God has presumably forgiven them.

And of course the "men of God", the leaders, get a free pass as far as possible. As God's men they're most likely to be "forgiven" and also most psychologically vital to the community. Accusers are troublemakers and probably lying.

Any suggestion that I should show or feel any respect whatsoever towards religion is an unspeakably obscene outrage.

05 February, 2018 17:40  

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