Category Archives: Religion and Philosophy

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/11/2017: Boston, Racism, Morality And The Media’s Continuing Conspiracy

Good Morning!

1 That’s my town! Spotlight, the Boston Globe investigative team that was the focus of the Academy Award-winning film about its crucial role in exposing the  Catholic Church’s child-molestation scandal, has published the results of an investigation into racism in Boston. Nobody who lives in Boston or did for any length of time (like me) can find that the conclusion of the Spotlight team qualifies as news: Boston is an overwhelmingly white city—the whitest of all the major metropolitan areas—which may have softened its traditional hostility to African Americans, but that so far hasn’t changed the impression among its black residents that they are outsiders, and tolerated rather than welcome.

I love Boston, and would move back there in a heartbeat if it didn’t mean uprooting my life in unpleasant ways. The report, however, is depressing, for that ironic feature of the city was a blight on it when I lived there, and decades have failed to change it significantly.

2. Not “Morality Alarms”. Let me stick this in quickly.

A commenter on the most recent Comment of the Day on the Masterpiece Cakeshop controversy sent in a defense of the baker’s conduct based on Scripture. I stated,

I dismiss this argument out of hand.

2000 year old biases are now called ignorance. They can be justified as of their time, but pretending nothing has changed since then is indefensible and willfully obtuse. The taboos against homosexuality were a matter of common sense when procreation was essential to a tribe’s survival. Before there was psychological research and knowledge of brain chemistry, ignorance about homosexuality was excusable, and even natural. 2000 years is a long time. There is no excuse for pretending that it isn’t, that human beings haven’t learned, that knowledge hasn’t expanded, and that ancient texts are not often dangerously and cruelly out of date.

In two follow-up comments I wrote, stitching them together,

That’s not reasoning or argument, and this blog is about ethics (what’s right?) not morality (what does God say is right?)…At some point discrimination and prejudice is still discrimination and prejudice. “The Bible says I should be prejudiced” is better, sort of, than “I just hate these people,” but it also is a cover.

Needless to say, an argument that relies entirely on the Bible is just an appeal to authority. That’s not a reasoned argument, but a declaration. Nor is it possible to argue with God, who works in mysterious ways, meaning that “but that makes no sense!” doesn’t work.

This isn’t a morality blog, and never has been. Simple as that. Continue reading

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Comment Of The Day #4: “Back To The Bigoted Baker: It’s Complicated…More Than I Thought”

Ryan Harkins’ Comment of the Day, the fourth on the post about the Great Cake Controversy ,responds to #3, by Extradimensional Cephalopod.

The four COTD’s cover a great deal of legal and ethical territory and if not the full spectrum of positions on this difficult topic. Ryan’s three predecessors can be read here:

After you read #4, I’ll ask you which of the COTDs come closest to your own opinion. If the answer is “none of them,” by all means try for #5!

Here is  Ryan Harkins’ Comment of the Day on the post Back To The Bigoted Baker: It’s Complicated…More Than I Thought:

EC,

I hate to answer for the baker, so I hope you don’ mind if I respond with how I would answer.

What if I walked into the shop and asked for a wedding cake for no reason at all? Nobody’s getting married; I just want the cake. Is it against his religion to make that style of cake for anything other than weddings?

It would not be against my religion, no.

One thing I want to point out about your line of inquiry here is that you are divorcing the mechanical action of making a cake from the purpose of making a cake. A cake is a cake, and apart from any purpose, it remains a cake with no further meaning than a configuration of confectionery molecules. But the purpose for making the cake defines the context. If you wanted me to bake you a cake so you could bury it in your backyard, I wouldn’t have any religious objections to that, but I would certainly object to having the fruits of my labor just thrown away. Just as I would object if you wanted me to write you a book so could use the pages of the book as toilet paper.

The purpose of making a wedding cake is for it to be displayed and consumed at a wedding. If you aren’t going to use the cake for a wedding, ontologically speaking, could it even be a wedding cake?

Do I have to show him a marriage license?

I wouldn’t require that. My general standpoint would be to take people at their word. That being said, if I knew you and you were known for pranks, were opposed to marriage in general, and nothing I knew about your recent activities hinted at a wedding, I might want some actual proof that a wedding was occurring.

I’m an atheist; will he refuse to acknowledge my marriage because you can’t have marriage without a god? Does only the Christian deity count for a “real” marriage?

Since I’m Catholic, I’ll just toss out what the Catholic Church teaches about marriage. Marriage is universal. Historically, marriage permeates pretty much every culture. Marriage is an institution that has, for the most part, united a man and his wife to the children they bear together. Marriage does not require a profession of faith, because it is a foundational institution of mankind. That is why eating, drinking, and shelter don’t require a profession of faith. They are also foundational aspects of the human condition. So, there is no objection to two atheists marrying.

Where the religious context comes into view is with the nature of that marriage. Catholics profess that Jesus elevated the institution of marriage to a sacrament. This means that a valid marriage between baptized individuals cannot be dissolved save by the death of one of the two parties. But that does not mean every marriage is sacramental. If one of the two parties is not baptized, the marriage is still a valid marriage, but it is not a sacramental marriage. Thus it could be dissolved, and either party would be free to re-marry.

A funny oddity of terminology crops up in Catholic teaching. Since a valid, sacramental marriage cannot be dissolved, but since parties can licitly separate for serious reasons (abuse, abandonment, adultery, addiction), a Catholic can be married and divorced at the same time…

I would argue that the artistic quality of the cake has nothing to do with who is getting married, or if there’s even a marriage at all–at least, as far as religion is concerned.

I agree with you to a certain extent, here. The artistic quality is its own concern. It is the teleological purpose of the cake that is the true contention. So that raises a question: if I bake a cake that I do not intend to be used at a wedding, but looks just like a cake that I do intend to be used at a wedding, is it a wedding cake? To use some technical terms, there is the essence of a thing, and there are the accidents of a thing. The essence of a thing is what is essential to a thing being that thing; accidents are just features that particular thing has that are not essential to a thing being that thing. The essence of a chair is something to sit on. Accidents of a chair are having one leg, or three, or four, having a back, not having a back, etc. So what is the essence of a wedding cake, and what are the accidents of a wedding cake? I think the only essential difference between a wedding cake and a non-wedding cake is the intent for which the cake is made. The only part I waffle on is the cake-topper…

On a separate note, I assert that religion ultimately must be subordinate to the law of the land.

I’m uncomfortable with how you phrase this, so let me toss out what I think about this, and let me know if it does or doesn’t conform with what you’re thinking. Continue reading

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Comment Of The Day #3: “Back To The Bigoted Baker: It’s Complicated…More Than I Thought”

And now there are FOUR Comments of the Day on the post about the Great Cake Controversy. This is a record number for a single Ethics Alarms post. It is a true ethics conflict: which should have priority in a pluralistic society, the right of all citizens to be treated equally under the law, and to have the government ensure their right to the pursuit of happiness, or the individual right to act and live in concert with one’s sincerely held religious beliefs, and to not be forced into expressive speech, part of the right to liberty? This part of the controversy doesn’t even include the ethical question of whether either party should have allowed this to be come a legal dispute.

When I post the fourth COTD, with was a response to #3, I’ll include links to the other three and include a poll for readers to register their opinion regarding which comes closer to their own view

Here is Extradimensional Cephalopod’s  Comment of the Day on the post Back To The Bigoted Baker: It’s Complicated…More Than I Thought:

There’s an obvious question here (well, several) that occurs to me: What if I walked into the shop and asked for a wedding cake for no reason at all? Nobody’s getting married; I just want the cake. Is it against his religion to make that style of cake for anything other than weddings? Do I have to show him a marriage license? I’m an atheist; will he refuse to acknowledge my marriage because you can’t have marriage without a god? Does only the Christian deity count for a “real” marriage?

I would argue that the artistic quality of the cake has nothing to do with who is getting married, or if there’s even a marriage at all–at least, as far as religion is concerned. If I asked someone to draw me a picture of a bird, they don’t have to know anything about me in order to make it. Their art doesn’t have anything to do with me, and they are not expressing any objectionable ideas. They’re not endorsing me in any way by taking me on as a customer. Therefore, this isn’t like refusing to make a swastika cake. This is like refusing to sell a cake to Nazis. (Yes, Nazis should be able to buy cake like anyone else. Preventing them from doing so is just bullying, and won’t teach them anything except more hate. How will they learn how to appreciate different people if only other Nazis talk to them?) Continue reading

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Morning Warm-Up, 12/9/17: Let’s Hate The President! Edition

Good Morning!

It’s snowing in Alexandria, Virginia!

1 Obviously,racial division works. The President of the United States quite appropriately and necessarily accepted an invitation to attend the opening on the  new Mississippi Civil Rights Museum today. So many black dignitaries then announced that they would boycott the event as a result, however, that the Mississippi Department of Archives and History and the White House agreed to hold a separate private program for Trump as a compromise.

You know. Separate but equal.

The disrespect for the Presidency and democracy shown by so many black Democrats since the election, low-lighted by the Congressional Black caucus’s divisive and offensive boycott of the Inauguration has succeeded in propelling race relations in the U.S. backwards. Prime among the offenders is Rep. John Lewis, the “civil rights icon,” as he is routinely referred to in the press, an angry, bitter, hyper-partisan who sees a racism in any policy or position he doesn’t like. Lewis, Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba, Rep. Bennie Thompson and Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, were among the first to announce that they wouldn’t extend the courtesy to the elected President of the United States to stand with him to honor the civil rights movement and the heroes who laid the foundation of racial equality in our nation.

What is the alleged justifications for this insult, which only exacerbates the dangerous racial tensions in the U.S., which were recklessly manipulated for political gain by Democrats during the Obama administration?

The “racism” of unambiguously opposing illegal immigration and calling Islamic terrorism Islamic…

The President’s support for voter IDs and efforts to prevent voter fraud…

Trump’s refusal to be pressured into condemning a legal, First Amendment protected protest of the removal of Confederate statues after police allowed the protesters to be attacked by antifa thugs in a counter-demonstration. He said both sides were at fault. They were…

The President’s opposition to the Affordable Care Act, because opposing the signature botch of the first black President makes you a racist, and

The President’s public criticism of the incoherent Kaepernicking by NFL players.

None of these individually or collectively are evidence of a lack of support for civil rights or racial comity. Lewis and the rest are harming the nation and their own cause by their effort to “otherize” the President.

2. Nurturing a culture of contempt.  Newsweek decided that the death of Vice President Pence’s beloved cat Pickle justified this headline: “Mike Pence’s Pets Won’t Stop Dying” A commenter wrote,

You are a trash publication. And in a piece that ostensibly tries to represent the fact that the Pence family has lost some old, but long beloved pets, as well as tell us who the new pets are, you bury that content under a headline that is nothing short of gloating, hateful, sociopathic, and cruel…

Ah, but “the resistance” loves it, and that’s the target audience.

3. A news media double standard note. Both President Clinton and Barack Obama promised in their campaigns to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capitol. Both failed to keep their pledges. Trump made the same promise, and kept it. The overwhelming verdict by the news media and pundits: he’s a reckless fool, because if Trump does it, it must be bad. Unless you can detect another reason…

4.  Somebody tell Professor Butler. You will recall that when I explained to NPR’s Michel Martin that a woman who viewed a sexual advance as welcome decades ago could suddenly decide it wasn’t and accuse Donald trump (or Al Franken) of sexual harassment years later, my fellow panel member Georgetown Law Professor Paul Butler interjected, “Come on!”

Legendary Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue model Paulina Porizkova, whose career peaked  in the Eighties, told an interviewer that sexual harassment was such an ingrained part of the modeling business that it was viewed by the models as a “compliment.”  After all, if nobody was hitting on you, maybe you weren’t as hot as you thought you were. Some, though far from all, of the #MeToo mob’s witch hunt is based on a sanctification of “presentism,” imposing current standards on past conduct. It is not politically correct to admit it. Good for Paulina.

5. CNN Fake News Update. The arrogance of CNN in the wake of its misreporting of a story to make it appear as incriminating as possible for the Trump campaign is signature significance, and would be enlightening for the public if any mainstream media sources reported it. How ironic!

  • Behold!

That’s right. President Trump is lying again. CNN isn’t sorry it falsely told the nation that there was what sure seemed like smoking gun evidence of his collusion with the Russians, and CNN didn’t apologize. Is it fair to say ABC’s Brian Ross, who sparked a Dow Jones panic by another anti-Trump false report, should have been fired, rather than banned from reporting on anything Trump related? Gee, tough question. Should a senior reporter who can’t be trusted to report accurately and fairly on the President of the United States continue to be employed by major news organization? That’s a real puzzler!

  • And recall this, from yesterday..

Stelter’s CNN show, by the by, is called “Reliable Sources.” That Brian, the media ethics watchdog! Such a kidder!

  • The Federalist’s Molly Hemingway has “some questions for CNN to answer to restore trust between the reporters on the story, editors on the story, the news organization itself, and viewers and readers.”  If CNN was a responsible and ethical news organization, it would answer them. It won’t, of course. In fact, if CNN were ethical, it would have answered Hemingway’s questions already.

1. Did CNN ever see the email before running the story on it?

2. Does CNN believe it’s ethical to write about a document and not let readers and viewers know up front that reporters and editors haven’t seen the document?

3. If CNN didn’t see the email, who told CNN about it?

4. Why did CNN believe these sources?

5. Were they Democratic Members of Congress on the House Select Committee on Intelligence leaking information from this week’s testimony?

6. Were they staff of these members?

7. Are these sources independent or in the same office or otherwise related to each other?

8. What other stories have these individuals sourced for CNN and what dates were they published?

9. What is being done to check these stories out for inaccuracies?

10. How many of these stories related to the Russia investigation?

11. How many other stories has CNN reported where it never actually saw the documents it reported as fact?

12. Can CNN point to another big story anchored to documents that its journalists haven’t authenticated?

13. Will the reporters on this story continue to cover this beat? If so, why?

14. Which editors worked on and approved this story?

15. How will editorial processes on Russia conspiracy stories change going forward to avoid similar errors?

16. Given that the story is meaningless, as corrected, why hasn’t the story been retracted in its entirety?

17. Will CNN use these sources in the future? If so, why? If not, how can readers be sure they are not used as future sources?

18. Given the seriousness of their error and the damage they caused to the reputation of the news outlet, will CNN out the sources? If not, why not?

6. Not joking, unfortunately...On the other hand, if none of the above troubles you as a fair and patriotic American, this company will sell you this charming and inspirational ornament to crown your Christmas tree…

Each purchase comes with a priority admission to a mental heath facility.

Or should.

_________________

Pointer: Instapundit

 

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Comment Of The Day #1: “Back To The Bigoted Baker: It’s Complicated…More Than I Thought”

There were so many thoughtful and diverse comments on the post about the Great Cake Controversy that I could have justified four or five Comments of the Day. I chose two. This is the first, by the indefatigable Michael Ejercito. Here is his Comment of the Day on the post Back To The Bigoted Baker: It’s Complicated…More Than I Thought:

“Art is notoriously difficult to define. To that list, I could argue for the addition of gardeners, landscapers, bathroom floor tilers, interior designers, architects, website designers, marketing consultants, and on and on. Is a sign-maker an artist? A printer?”

This is a feature, not a fault, of the First Amendment. Courts must make findings of fact based on evidence and testimony. Courts did in fact do just that in Hurley v. Irish American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Group of Boston, 515 U.S. 557 91995) and Rumsfeld v. Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights, Inc., 547 U.S. 47 (2006).

In its amicus brief, the Department of Justice spent a total of six paragraphs detailing how public accommodations laws do not ordinarily implicate freedom of expression.

“Justice Kennedy became involved in some of this discussion about where to draw the lines — the ready-made/custom cake distinction, the speech/conduct distinction, and the distinction between selling a cake in a shop and supervising the cutting of a cake at a ceremony…”

It is a distinction that must be made.

It is a tenuous argument, at best, that the sale of sign-making supplies constitutes expression. Thus, Colorado’s laws properly apply to such, and it is unlawful to refuse to sell sign-making supplies because the purported customer is a Westboro Baptist or a militant Islamist. And religious discrimination laws must cover unpopular religions, or else it fails to achieve its own purpose. Continue reading

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Back To The Bigoted Baker: It’s Complicated…More Than I Thought

The last time (in July) I dealt with the apparently thornier-than-I-thought issue of the Colorado baker who refused to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple, I assumed that the Supreme Court would treat this as a pure public accommodations case, and side with Colorado and the couple. I was wrong. Now it is beginning to look like baker Jack Phillips may even prevail, based on the justices’ comments during oral argument.

Then I wrote, quoting my post when this case first surfaced…

“The court’s conclusion  is impossible to rebut. The cake the baker was asked to bake for the gay wedding differed not at all from one he would normally sell a straight couple. In truth, this had nothing to do with expression. He was just refusing to serve a gay couple because of their sexual orientation. Selling them a standard cake would neither constitute, nor would it be recognized as a “message” in support of gay marriage.

The Court agreed that a wedding cake with a customized message celebrating a same-sex marriage as such might implicate First Amendment speech issues, but “we need not reach this issue,” the court said. “We note, again, that Phillips denied Craig’s and Mullins’ request without any discussion regarding the wedding cake’s design or any possible written inscriptions.”

In other words, Phillips was gratuitously and unnecessarily being a cruel jerk. An alleged Christian who is unable to detect the basic Golden Rule application in treating fellow citizens with the minimal level of respect inherent in allowing them to buy a standard wedding cake requiring no “Yay Gay!” or “Charlie and David Forever!” messages in pink frosting deserves no sympathy or quarter from the law. Could the couple have just shrugged and found another bakery? Sure, they could have. Linda Brown could also have just shrugged and found an all-black school to attend, too.

The gay couple are not the villains here. Jack Phillips broke the social contract, as well as the law.”

Recent articles about the SCOTUS appeal have added some facts that I had missed, or not given sufficient weight. For example, Continue reading

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Your Boss Asks If You Have Prayed About A Work-Related Matter…What Is The Ethical Response?

This question was asked of the New York Times’ “Workologist” (It’s stuff like this that keeps me subscribed despite the paper’s disgraceful partisan bias and unocnscionable manipulation of the news):

I recently had a manager ask me if I have “prayed about” a particular situation at the office… this statement crossed a personal line with me. I am very private about my religious life. Do you have any recommendations on how I could handle this?

The question immediately reminded me of “Breach,” the film about the capture of spy Robert Hannsen (Chris Cooper), who was always urging his clerk (actually the undercover FBO agent recruited to unmask him) to pray. The “Workologist” (Rob Walker) begins by pointing out the obvious: a boss can’t demand that you pray, or fire you for refusing to. Then he adds,

Your manager can’t discriminate against you on the basis of religion, but your company can’t discriminate against him, either — by, say, forbidding him to ever mention prayer. In general, companies are supposed to make an effort to accommodate the religious practices of employees, although this can be weighed against the potential burden on the employer…Faith-related workplace conflicts and litigation have become more common in recent years. So it might be better to think about this incident in the broader context of personal expression and identity…

your best move is to make your own boundaries clear — yet also try to avoid an outright conflict. The fact that you already consider him your “worst manager” might make that difficult. But simply declaring his question inappropriate or offensive won’t help.

Instead, try something like “Well, I’ve thought about it,” and either leave it there or, if that doesn’t seem to connect, add something like “But I’m not comfortable talking about what I do or don’t pray about.” This should be delivered in a friendly-to-neutral tone. You’re not making any judgments — and neither should he.

I find that approach cowardly and dishonest. Continue reading

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