Secularism’s metaphysics

One of the charges raised against Christian in recent years is that they are ‘imposing’ their morality on the rest of the community. The most obvious response – morality has got to come from somewhere – is an important point to make, but there is a deeper issue that we need to explore: in reality there is a metaphysical basis to their arguments – they just don’t want to recognise it as such.

This is most obvious in the abortion debate. It only makes sense to argue that a woman has ‘the right to choose’ if the foetus within her is not a human being with rights. Much ink is spilt by secularists trying to avoid this logic – invocations of ‘science’ being a favourite ploy; certainly the claim that a baby is not dependent on the mother but the foetus is collapses into an argument in favour of infanticide as the Romans practised it, leaving new borns to die on hill sides when they weren’t wanted (there’s an American moral philosopher who proposes this as legitimate – he lives in fear of his life). Similarly the opposition of feminists to gender selective abortions proves that they don’t REALLY believe that foetuses have no rights.

A similar metaphysical argument is present in the debate over pornography. It is highly ironic that the feminists have now lined up with the church in opposing porn; the anti-Christian sixties regarded its prevalence as a sign of freedom; now however the zeitgeist has come to recognise that the treatment of people as objects to be appreciated for their external appearance is deeply flawed. Yet hiding in that argument is the claim that people are more than just their outward presence and what they can do, which is a metaphysical argument.

An interesting outworking of this argument is that given that the founding ideological text of the USA (the declaration of independence) argues that human rights are given by ‘the creator’, atheists should not be serving the American armed forces since they will not be fighting for ‘America’!

As ever, we Christians need to learn to THINK; that we routinely fail to do so is a culpable failure to obey ‘Love the Lord with all your… mind’. There is an answer to the intellectual issues that are irritating us – let’s make the effort to engage and not just run away.

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2 thoughts on “Secularism’s metaphysics

  1. Chris

    Apologies for responding 10 days late 🙂

    I argue that morality does have to come from somewhere — but a roughly hewn social contract is enough. Informal lawmaking, essentially.

    Regarding abortion, the right to choose absolutely does imply that the unborn child is not afforded full human status. Arguments based on dependence are utterly flawed: if the critical attribute for human status is the ability to thrive independently, then (a) as you point out, any child up to around 4 years old would not have status, and (b) various forms of disability would fall into the same category.

    No, the critical attribute is the ability to make human’s sad. It may sound facile, but if you’re building your ethics (or humanist morality, if you like) around an idea of harm, and you can’t count harm to the foetus or child itself (because dead people don’t have souls, and don’t experience pain), then the primary motivator against killing is that it makes people miserable when it happens.

    Murder of adults makes people very sad indeed: those who knew them lose a companion, everyone else empathises with their loss, and to some degree fears a similar fate themselves. Selective license to kill children is similar, without the fear of a similar event, but with additional harm because it treads all over our natural aversion to harming children.

    So why kill zygotes and other not-quite-human-yet developing blobs? Because they’re not human-like enough yet to command empathy, and so harm the onlookers. We’re happy that killing it (a pronoun I choose advisedly) because we don’t fear involuntary application of the same procedure to ourselves, and it’s not human enough to compel us to care.

    Of course, the zygote *does* command empathy in those who believe in souls. Thus the question comes down to, is a religious person’s aversion to X enough to compel a non-religious person not to do it? Which, unsurprisingly, is a question without a good answer.

    The case of porn rests along similar lines — if porn is ubiquitous, the reasoning goes, then (mostly) young males are more apt to behave in a damaging way towards (mostly) young women. Or, since young women know it is ubiquitous, it may damage their self-image, even if it is not actually causing harmful thoughts or acts in the consumers. Thence harm, and thence the drive to curb the behaviour.

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