There are many people who feel that the morality of the world today is worse than ever before. I’m not too sure if that is true or if the constant news streams make it more noticeable. All anyone has to do is pick up a history book to see that there were plenty of immoral behaviors in this country since it was founded. I do, however, feel that there is a fear of suffering, or perceived suffering, that has caused a great deal of acceptance of immoral behavior. I think the shift has gone from “we know this is wrong behavior but we are pretending it isn’t happening” to “We know it’s wrong, but we don’t care because what’s wrong for some people may not be wrong for others” AKA moral relativism. Anything is justifiable, as long as it’s being done in the name of eliminating suffering.
There is a huge misunderstanding of Christian history and theology in society today, even among Christians. There has been a slow increase of hostility towards Christian moral tradition in the last few decades, and a lot of it has to do because of society misunderstanding the truth of the Christian faith along with the idea that somehow we can cure suffering of every kind. Not only can we cure suffering, but we should and it is the number one priority of everyone to do so at all costs; even if it means sanctioning the death of others.
It seems to me that in modern philosophy there is a sense that Religion is the enemy, particularly, Christianity. I can see from Bentham who wanted nothing to do with anything the resembled religious traditions to Nietzsche who while trying to talk against religious tradition sounds more like Catholicism than he even knew.
I think that it is interesting how anyone can speak on religious beliefs except those who hold them. Once we do speak up we are automatically told that it is not a part of the argument to bring in our belief in God. But others, who know nothing about what I believe, can. Rachels spoke about how morals and laws are based on Christian morality and then pulled out teachings, quotes from the Bible, writings of Aquinas and then grossly took them out of context. Taking scriptures out of context without understanding what one is reading is like reading Stuart Mills writings without an Intro to Ethics class. It makes no sense and can be completely misconstrued. It is hard for those of us who do believe in God, the Bible and the Catholic Church to understand all of these things. It is almost impossible for someone who doesn’t believe in God to understand them. I can’t really refute all of the misconceptions Rachels and so many others have or this paper would be a book, but I will try to explain what I feel is at the root of the problem people have with Christianity and why I feel that we are going morally bankrupt.
We have to begin with the difference between Catholicism and Fundamentalist Protestant Christianity. I don’t think very many people really understand the difference. For the sake of unity and supporting each other politically both Fundamentalists and Catholics have some together on some platforms and have caused even more confusion about our differences. Before I go on, let me just say that I am not a theologian or priest. I’m just a lay Catholic, so I speak with no authority of any kind. I’m just explaining what I have learned in the last two years since becoming Catholic, I am far from understanding everything there is to understand. The biggest difference between Fundamentalists and Catholics is that Fundamentalists believe in Sola Scriptura, which means Bible alone. If it isn’t in the Bible they do not believe it to be true, for the most part. Most of their pastors and reverends don’t have any formal learning and those that do rarely ever take any philosophy classes. They don’t believe in Philosophy because, well it’s not in the Bible. Catholics on the other hand study Philosophy just by being Catholic. The writings of the Saints, Church Fathers, and Popes are among some of the deepest Philosophical writings in history. Two of the most prominent Catholic Philosophers are Dr. Edward Feser and Dr. Peter Kreeft. Both are devout Catholics, both are converts to the Catholic Faith and both have doctorates in Philosophy. Many people do not understand how much Catholicism embraces philosophy, logic and reason. As Catholics we believe that theology is built on philosophy and both are a part of each other.
I don’t blame people like Bentham and Mills from wanting to get away from the legalism of Fundamentalism. Fundamentalism requires no use of reason. It is very much the herd mentality that you just do what you are told and if you step out of line you go to Hell. There is nothing reasonable about it and it has to do with fear of punishment rather than love. During Bentham’s life, Puritanism came into existence. To me that explains his hedonistic views of morality. He lived during a time in history where the Christian religion was not having its best time. Up until the 1600’s the Christian Church had been one; that was before the Reformation. That was like a huge divorce and Bentham lived in the aftermath. For both him and Mills the Christianity that they saw was all about suffering. There was no fun, fun equaled sin and sin got you banished to hell. There are still some who think this way. Like I said earlier they are legalists and come in both Catholic and non-Catholic shapes and sizes. The problem is that whenever anyone says Christian or Catholic that is the picture they get in their mind. A group of people telling other weaker people what to do, and that couldn’t be further from the truth. The images of the pope saying “if you have fun, you are sinning” come into their mind.
I can’t speak for non-Catholics, because I am not one, but I can speak for Catholics and what the Catholic Church teaches as I understand it. I don’t think people have to be Catholic to have good morals. I do believe that people, who don’t understand what Catholics truly believe and why we believe it, will see us as the enemy and throw all morality out the window, because of that they think we believe. That is what is happening in the world around us every day. That’s when the fight against conforming to the morals of “the herd “begins, which then turns into moral relativism at its finest. Everyone then becomes concerned with themselves and others are only important according to how useful they are to us. There are many examples of this; birth control being one of them. Birth control was sold as women taking control of their bodies. But really it was pushed by people who wanted to make using women for pleasure without consequences. Birth control makes it easy for men to use women as toys and then toss them aside, along with women turning around and doing the same to men. All of it was sold to women under the label of “women’s rights”. As a blogger for the website http://www.catholicsistas.com, Misty Mealy, writes, “ In 1968 Pope Paul VI warned people several negative consequences for individuals and society if contraception use were to become widespread: 1) men would lose respect for women and treat them as mere instruments to help them gain personal pleasure; 2) marital infidelity and promiscuity would become rampant because the disincentive of pregnancy would no longer deter people; 3) human beings would lose respect for the process of begetting new life and attempt to claim for ourselves the right to create it; and 4) coercive governments would force their citizens to contracept, thus violating their human rights and dignity.” I don’t think it is much of a stretch to see that the Pope was right.
For many people the idea that the Pope is against birth control was mistaken as “the Catholic Church is against people having sex”. I was one of those people who believed that two years ago, and I can assure anyone that that is simply not true. To Catholics Sacraments are what brings us into the presence of God Himself, and sex between couples in a valid marriage is a Sacrament. To sum that up in a sentence, the Catholic Church teaches that a husband and wife in a valid marriage come into the presence of God when they have sex. That is the simplest way to put it, but it is a very deep teaching. From 1979 to 1984 Pope John Paul II wrote 129 encyclicals which are now called “Theology of the Body” where he lays out the Church’s Teaching on sexual relationships. I don’t know anyone who can read it and say that there is no philosophy required to be Catholic, or that the Catholic Church is prude in any way. They are all available online. He also wrote a book while he was a cardinal called “Love and Responsibility” that was the beginning of his philosophy on human relationships, both sexual and non-sexual.
Another misconception is that the Catholic Church makes all decisions for Catholics, from what toothpaste to use to what to wear and then some. There are certain absolute truths of the Catholic Church that are not debatable, and those can all be explained to anyone who is open to hearing why they are true. There is a difference between dogma, doctrines, disciplines, and devotions. Dogma is unchangeable, and is rarely ever declared. Doctrines can progress and therefore make it seem as though they are changing, kind of like the American legal system. The Constitution is a living document. It never changes but it does progress. Disciplines can change i.e.: fasting on Fridays all year and not just during Lent. Then, there are devotions which are like tools one can use to help them pray, all of them are optional. Nobody is expected to know or understand all of these teachings. We first believe in God and therefore believe in the Catholic Church and Her teachings, and spend the rest of our lives learning about them and getting to understand them. The depth of this, the fact that it is a faith that is over 2,000 years old and the fact that it involves philosophy makes it very hard for just anyone who is not open to learning it to understand any of it. So as with anything else when people don’t understand something, they reject it.
Again, I don’t believe that you have to be Catholic to have morals, but I do believe you have to at least be open to understanding why Catholics believe things or else it will seem like all we do is say “Oh God said so, and that’s why x is immoral”, which isn’t how it works. That would be the Fundamentalists.
Now you add to the misconception of Christian moral teaching to the fear of suffering and you get rationalizing of immoral behavior. Then something that is clearly immoral becomes “ending someone’s suffering”. Again I could write a book on this, but the basic point of it is that we mask saving others from what we perceive as suffering for selfish purposes. We aren’t sparing them from suffering; we are sparing ourselves from suffering. We have redefined suffering to mean anything that is uncomfortable, and again goes into moral relativism along with hedonistic utilitarian tendencies. If someone is not useful to us by contributing to our overall pleasure and happiness it is morally justifiable to kill them because they are “suffering” or causing the suffering of others. Which is the case with justifying abortion as I laid out in my last paper. How Catholics view suffering is counter cultural, and so like everything else, it is misunderstood and it makes people uncomfortable. It is much easier to believe people who tell you there is a way to not suffer than to believe those that tell you to embrace your sufferings.
People still believe that it is taboo to do things that are considered immoral to Christians and that Christians are the majority in this country. I would strongly disagree. There may be more people who identify themselves as Christians, but most of them will be ok with birth control, sex outside of marriage, homosexual marriage, and many other behaviors that Christians find to be immoral. As a devout Catholic who lives in this society, where there are no absolute truths, I will say that it is much harder to live this way than it was to live as hedonistic drunk. I was much more accepted back then that I am now. When I say that I believe marriage is between a man and a woman, I get told I am homophobic. When I say that abortion is immoral, I am told that I am oppressed by the pope and my husband to be a baby making machine. When I say I go to Mass every Sunday and sometimes twice during the week, I get laughed at and called a holy roller. It is ok to believe in God as long as you don’t bring it up in public or in any part of your life except while you are at church. If you even mention it in public you are frowned upon. Anyone who doesn’t think that to be true should read some of the comments made about Tim Tebow. So the “herd” these days is full of those who don’t believe in any absolute and objective truth. It takes courage, strength and grace to live against the grain, and live out our faith in every aspect of our life.
In conclusion, our society is going morally bankrupt because people are becoming self-centered and have justified immoral behavior to avoid their perception of suffering all because they are fighting against what they think is Christian morality. People feel that in order to be free to be themselves they have to be allowed to do as they please. Most people do not care to learn what morality is or think about what is right and what is wrong and why. They just go along with the crowd. By doing so they believe that they are breaking out of the slave morality, but the truth is they are now part of the herd that accepts immoral behaviors to fit in with the crowd. They end up becoming exactly what they were fighting to not be.