What are our society’s moral blind spots?

04Jan11

Amy K. Hall over at Evangel asks, “What are our Moral Blind Spots? I have often asked myself what future generations will condemn us for. She points to a Washington Post article written by Princeton professor of Philosophy Kwame Anthony Appiah that sets down three characteristics our past moral blind spots have had in common:

1. Proponents of the practice have already heard counterarguments and dismissed them.

2. Proponents of the practice do not provide moral counterarguments, but only argue from tradition, human nature, or necessity.

3. Proponents engage in willful ignorance of what Al Gore calls “inconvenient truths.”

Amy Hall herself points out a vital characteristic from a Christian perspective: past atrocities involve a denial of the intrinsic human value of a certain group of human beings.

Amy lists the four contenders Kwame listed in his WaPo article that meet his three criteria for potential blind spots: our prison system, factory farming, the isolation of the elderly, and the environment. She then asks us to list more possible blind spots.

Naturally, I would have to add:

abortion: sets the unborn as second-class human beings or as non-human. See William Brennan’s Dehumanizing the Vulnerable: When Word Games Take Lives for a brief history of dehumanizing speech and how it promotes atrocities. You’ll see a shocking set of parallels between the way people spoke of blacks, Jews, women, etc. and how some speak of the unborn today.

terrorism: self-explanatory.

war (especially nuclear): No threat is more terrifying than the capacity and implicit willingness to wipe out an entire population and leave the ground naught but a radioactive wasteland. Abortion looks at the lives of two and [usually] kills one to the perceived benefit of the other. A two-way war likewise ruins one side to the perceived benefit of the other. Both are, at best, 50% effective.

pornography: fuels sexual addictions and is itself a sexual addiction apart from satyriasis/nymphomania. Women are used up and thrown away; both men and women have their views of sex corrupted by porn.

abuse of women’s rights: lower wages for doing the same job just as well as men; sexual exploitation; discrimination in employment; exploitation by doctors — why get a radioactive mammogram yearly to check for breast cancer, when radioactivity can cause cancer?!

abuse of men’s rights: men have no say in whether their unborn children live or die; men get less than half custody in divorce but must still pay half the child’s upkeep; the rape case motto of “a woman never lies” trumps the golden rule of “innocent until proven guilty; nobody seems bothered that men live 5 years less on average and commit suicide 4 times as frequently; lack of “prostate cancer awareness month”; discrimination in employment; public reacts with less horror when men suffer violence or rape; men get heavier sentences for the same crime, thus are more vulnerable to prison rape since imprisoned more frequently

So, there’s the additions I’d make to the list and some brief reasons why. Are there any you’d add as possible moral blind spots? Any reasons on mine you’d elaborate? Anything on my list you wouldn’t put on yours?

Now that I experience the joy of WordPress, let’s have a discussion.

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3 Responses to “What are our society’s moral blind spots?”

  1. Gary, it’s an interesting–and very challenging–list. When you lump all of these things under “our society’s moral blind spots,” I think most people in our society can see one or more of them, but are blind to some. For example, people who support terrorism might not be blind to the evils of treating men worse than women.

    For much of America’s evangelical church, I think the list might also include…
    –Gluttony.
    –Substituting “low self-esteem” for “sin.”
    –Failure to see illegal immigrants as people.
    –Substituting entertainment for worship.
    –Focus on political action in place of making disciples.

    Most of my added short list don’t involve the obvious dehumanization of groups of people, but they all involve ignoring the Lord’s clear commands.

  2. Jim, it’s good to hear from you! Sorry I haven’t visited your blog in a while. I actually have been away from my own blog, and thus from blogspot, for several months.

    I think you’re right on. Many of the ones I listed are blind spots for, say at least 50% of people. But there are always some who see through it. Some people who move beyond the trappings of culture.

    Concerning the additions you make, specifically in regards to the Evangelical church, I’d have to agree. Since people who go to church together probably have many of the same values, they’ll be likely to join together in political causes. While this makes sense, it definitely can be something that detracts from disciple-making.
    We need to teach the power of prayer (and sometimes fasting), the joy of glorying in God’s sufficiency and sovereignty, the freedom we possess in Christ, careful reflection in moral judgments, and cultivating a love for God’s word. Perhaps there are other considerations in discipleship, but those come to mind off the top of my head.

    As for gluttony, that’s spot on, too. Fasting would be a good thing to emphasize as a spiritual discipline, though it’s not something everyone can do. Learning to give things up temporarily and just to be moderate all the time is a valuable spiritual discipline, whether it’s food or something else. Plus, of course, gluttony is just a flagrant disregard of how others live in need, and we should put our surplus resources towards those who don’t have their basic needs met.

    As for not treating illegal immigrants as people, right on again. I have nothing more to add on that one. As for entertainment in worship: well, I think worship should strive (sometimes, at least) to be artful and beautiful and just inherently enjoyable. I can’t stand special effects and smoke and stuff. That’s just going for *cheap* entertainment, but having songs that truly move the heart is something that should be a worthwhile entertainment in and of itself.

    And as to the other one: I was just talking with my old roommate last night. He’s working on his master’s in Psychology and we talked about capitalism and consumerism. Capitalism, as far as I see it, is the manufacturing and selling of products that meet people’s legitimate needs. Consumerism, on the other hand, is the manufacturing of felt needs, and then the selling of products that meet those felt needs. For psychology, this spilled over into the ridiculous idea of Restless Legs Syndrome and Oppositional Defiance Disorder. Practically every boy has it. Can’t we just say that, flawed as it is, it’s “normal?” Psychology is supposed to help curb the un-normal, not “fix” the flawed but normal. We have a pathological label for everything these days and it does create a victim mindset because we can’t be blamed for having a disorder. Disorders are amoral.

    I’m not sure if I’d consider low self-esteem to necessarily be sin, though. Why would you say that? Personally, it seems to be a result of demonic oppression, which may or may not be linked to sin. I wonder about the case of the boy in Mark 9. How’d the kid end up with such a strong demon?

    Anyway, thanks for getting the discussion rolling!

  3. Hi, Gary.

    What I meant concerning “low self esteem” is that the American Evangelical churches tend to think that Jesus came to deliver us from our low self esteem; that we need to learn how to love ourselves, and that almost all bad behavior is caused by not loving ourselves. That just doesn’t mesh well with sound theology, which sees pride as a sin instead of as a virtue.

    Thanks for causing me to think about our society’s blind spots, and about mine.

    Jim


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