Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Postmodern "Moral Reasoning"

I must admit that on my way home from teaching my Intro to Ethics class, I caught a portion of the Dennis Prager Show. For those of you who might despise talk radio, Prager is probably the most reasonable and clear-headed host out there, and one who could easily stand on his own outside of the talk show format. In any event, he was interviewing Chris Matthews of Hardball fame about a recent speech of his at the University of Toronto. Some of his comments on Islamofacism and the Iraq war have caused a bit of a stir. The most prominent of them being:

"The period between 9-11 and (invading) Iraq was not a good time for America. There wasn't a robust discussion of what we were doing," Matthews said. "If we stop trying to figure out the other side, we've given up. The person on the other side is not evil. They just have a different perspective.”

What I was privy to on the Prager show expanded on his point. Matthews argued that the wrong moral stance to take in the face of Islamic absolutism was moral absolutism. In his opinion, the right response to moral absolutism was moral “fuzziness” (his word) and a refusal to label them in any significant moral way. He had his own convoluted version of “If you do X, you are with the terrorists.” He kept on arguing that reacting with moral judgment is exactly what the Islamofascists wanted and they were getting it because we have labeled them as evil.

And, in typical postmodern fashion, Matthews kept on arguing with Prager that we can only think and act in “tribal” ways and we don’t have the ability to reason morally outside our tribes.

In reaction to Matthews, listen to this quote from the J.P. Moreland article cited below:

I am…convinced that postmodernism is an irresponsible, cowardly abrogation of the intellectual duties that constitute a disciple’s calling to be a Christian intellectual and teacher….Faced with such opposition [intellectual differences] and the pressure it brings, postmodernism is a form of intellectual pacifism that, at the end of the day, recommends backgammon while the barbarians are at the gate. It is the easy, cowardly way out that removes the pressure to engage alternative conceptual schemes, to be different, to risk ridicule, to take a stand outside the gate. (Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. Vol 48, No. 1. pp. 87-88)

To apply Moreland’s basic complaint ethically, not only is it a faulty ethical strategy to react to moral evil with moral timidity, it is itself immoral. It is not, as many postmoderns claim, morally superior to refuse to draw a line in the sand. It is cowardly. Certainly there is room for “understanding” moral evil, but the wrong conclusion is that understanding those who are different from us should result in a refusal to morally categorize their behavior. For Matthews, and so many others like him, the “understanding” move is a “get out of moral reasoning free” card.

1 comment:

Jeff Downs said...

I am beginning to teach a SS class on Ethics Dec. 4. This will be my first time teaching such a class. I'd be intereted in your notes, if you are willing to give them to me.