Israel Folau's warning to certain sinner is for him an act of love, not hate. So how important is intent when it comes to calling something 'hate speech'?

The other Sunday evening, a few of us at church were talking about Israel Folau’s recent post warning drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolators that they are hell-bound if they don’t repent and get themselves saved. 

We are a conservative outfit.  We largely agree with Folau, though we may differ from his emphasis on hell (seeing it as an unlikely outcome) and would prefer to draw a list of actions rather than a list of people.  On the latter point, we rely on the old motto “Hate the sin, not the sinner”, which is similar to the atheists’ “We attack ideas, not people” and to the more everyday “Play the ball, not the player”. 

We don’t think Folau makes his moral point in a very helpful way because Hell is so dramatic and such a can of worms in terms of Christian doctrine. However, if his post boils down to a moral assertion, we believe the actions implied in his list – adultery, fornication (eg pre-marital sex), same-sex physical intimacy, lying etc – are morally wrong. 

This is essentially what Folau is saying and much of it aligns with mainstream Christian thinking.  And, if it matters, with much mainstream Muslim thinking. I can’t make such a confident statement about secular thinking because it hasn’t settled sufficiently:  a secularist might agree with some items and not with others. 

To say that an action is wrong is not to express hatred of the actor. It’s a pity that I must bother to say so, as the distinction is painfully obvious, but nowadays it does appear necessary. This is just a moral judgement of actions. It may be, in part, an unpopular moral judgement in some circles, but that’s all it is. 

People who believe in an objective morality (as some atheists, like Sam Harris, are trying to stitch together) can argue against theistic moral doctrines. People who believe morality is subjective or relative can’t sensibly contribute much at all to this discussion:  as soon as they say some action is “okay”, they depart from their own position. 

In any case, I cannot discern any hatred of people in Folau’s post. On the contrary, he’s throwing all these “sinners” what he sees as a lifeline (a lifeline that is perfectly real to him), which is not something you do to someone you hate. 

His position is like that of someone who sees a bus driving headlong towards the edge of a cliff that the driver and passengers can’t see. If he hated the people in the bus, he’d enjoy the spectacle of it going over the edge: instead, he issues a warning. 

His post is even headed “Warning”. 

Whatever we decide to call “hate speech”, it does need to include an element of hatred, doesn’t it?

Comments (54)

by barry on April 22, 2019
barry

For a young man (perhaps a rugby player) struggling with sexuality, how can it not be an act of hate to tell him that he is headed for hell.  As an atheist I don't care, and if hell is the place to go to avoid people like Folau then I will be happier there.

You can't justify your thoughts based on a book or religion, you are responsible for them.  If you truly believe that certain expressions of love doom the people concerned to hell then I feel sorry for you. (hate the belief not the person).  perhaps you should take this comment as a warning.

by Andin on April 22, 2019
Andin

"People who believe in an objective morality (as some atheists, like Sam Harris, are trying to stitch together)" 

Well some people believe morality could only be objective if it was handed down to us mortals by a higher consciousness i.e. god That would be the people who call themselves religious. Im wondering if you count yourself among them? and believe that the morality you adhere was given to some human in a past epoch by such an entity of a higher consciousness, and now follow and expect/wish others to follow as well for their own good, of course.

So any exhortation by any other follower of said morality, handed down from a past epoch, can only be generated by their concern for their fellow humans and in some way is objective and out of the realm of human consideration for others? So is your concern objective or subjective? Or should I just content myself with laughing myself silly at your idoicy.

And just so you get this right next time Sam Harris has the hypothesis that facts about us and our surrounding can inform us about how we should shape our morals. As we have for too long relied on morals that have no factual basis just someone else's say so based on divine revelation and tradition, which just gets sillier and sillier everyday.

Folau and you being prime examples.

by Frank Macskasy on April 23, 2019
Frank Macskasy

To say that an action is wrong is not to express hatred of the actor. It’s a pity that I must bother to say so, as the distinction is painfully obvious, but nowadays it does appear necessary. This is just a moral judgement of actions.

That is assuming you can divorce a person's sexual orientation from the person.

One of the ten commandments is not to covet thy neighbour's ass (even if his/her ass is extremely covet-worthy). So even the mere act of coveting (or, in the same of same-sex orientation; sexually desiring) another person breaks one of those commandments.

Next stop: The Twilight Zone. Or Hell. Whichever.

 

But seriously, a person's sexuality is part of their very identity. To try to separate them out is like hacking of a limb for some reason only an invisible deity can fathom.

So in reality, by attacking the "act" of homosexuality, Folau was denigrating gays.

My question becxomes: who gave him the right to determine whether or not gays are "sinners"? His god?

My god - Thor - is silent on the issue.

So why is Folau's god better than mine? And why does a bigot have to invoke a supernatural deity to justify his bigotry? Can't his bigotry stand on it's own "merits"?!

So many questions...

Thor, what say you?

by Liam Hehir on April 23, 2019
Liam Hehir

Whenevere Jehovah’s Witnesses or LDS missiononaries come knocking on my door, I have often reminded myself that they are performing what, in their view, is an act of kindness. I do not subscribe to their religion and have no interest in adopting it. If I did, however, and also believed that conversion was necessary for salvation, what kind of person would I be if I didn’t try to inform others of that?

by Fentex on April 23, 2019
Fentex

Forgive me if I'm misinformed but does not a person have to Sign Up for Twitter and subscribe to Foleau to receive his tweets?

Making whatever he sent requested and not an imposition by him?

I only heard of this 'opinion' because someone took a thing he said to people, who asked for his opinion, and published it in a newspaper.

That is not his fault. That is not him speaking anything let alone hate, to people who don't want and did not seek his, opinion - if anyone 'spoke' hate with that tweet it was the newspaper which took his speech and published it where he did not, was it not?

by Fentex on April 23, 2019
Fentex

While I'm on the subject...

Whatever we decide to call “hate speech”, it does need to include an element of hatred, doesn’t it?

If I were to call something "Hateful speech" I would not require hate to be present - it could be a consequence of ignorance or carelessness.

But hateful speech is not "Hate speech" - hate speech is a political title coined for political purposes which may be well intentioned but often is not.

I don't need the title "Hate Speech" to write of hateful speech I oppose, and at the moment I oppose the hateful act of taking the reasonably private speech of a person and broadcasting it out of context to attack them more than I do silly religious people speaking nonsense to their friends.

by Andin on April 23, 2019
Andin

" and also believed that conversion was necessary for salvation, what kind of person would I be if I didn’t try to inform others of that?"

Just another twit living in a fantasy world, thats what kind of person you would be.


by Charlie on April 24, 2019
Charlie

I note that nobody in the mdia circus had the wit or the balls to interview Sonny Bill on what his faith instructs him to believe...

 

by Lee Churchman on April 24, 2019
Lee Churchman

An appropriate response to Folau's comments is to call him a dick. If he were advocating violence, it would be different, but we live in a liberal society, the whole point of which is to get people with wildly different views on life to co-habit and co-operate peacefully. 

I can't be the only atheist who thinks it's odious to give any employer that much power over what an employee says and does in their own time (and spare me the comparison of Folau's views with racism: I don't have time right now to explain why that's misguided). 

We're always told that liberalism requires tolerance of difference, but you wonder how many people actually mean it. Do they realise that the alternative is much worse?

by Simon Connell on April 24, 2019
Simon Connell
I can't be the only atheist who thinks it's odious to give any employer that much power over what an employee says and does in their own time

No - this is a concerning development.

We're always told that liberalism requires tolerance of difference, but you wonder how many people actually mean it. Do they realise that the alternative is much worse?

I think the alternative people have in mind often has the starting point of "people with similar views to me are in power and are the ones getting to make decisions on what speech is OK".

 

by Bruce Carruthers on April 24, 2019
Bruce Carruthers

In terms of society there is a valid concern about the power of corporate money to impose rules (and hire investigators to spy on their critics and blacklist left wing unionists from jobs).

Rugby Australia is under pressure from its sponsors to manage the social media plartforms of its players to accord with the values of these corporations - this can include opinion about behaviour of others (morality judgements) and political creed  (such as criticism of corporate greed and private capitalism itself). In this instance its  about two behaviours, liars and homosexuals. One of the former has attacked homosexuals because of their sexuality - which as it arises from their sexual ideneity is called by some hate speech. 

The irony is that ultimately the problem for Folau is not his exercise of free speech but himself. He told his church colleagues he would sacrifice career and money for his faith. He now seems reluctant. He said last year if his social media platform use caused problems for Rugby Australia he would walk away from his contract. He seems reluctant. It's now a matter of trust. 

by Gavan O'Farrell on April 24, 2019
Gavan O'Farrell

@barry:  Thanks for commenting. 

There is no reason why I, and other believers, can’t justify our views by reference to divine authority.  Apart from the fact that the vast majority of human beings do so, and have always done so, the alternative is just to make up rules – either on your own (try to impress with that) or in a community that is subject to majority rule.  Majorities can be wrong, and often are.  That’s why the Sam Harris exercise is important for secularism.  I think he’s wasting his time, but at least he’s giving it a shot.

by Gavan O'Farrell on April 24, 2019
Gavan O'Farrell

@Andin:  Thanks for commenting. 

Of course I’m religious, I said I was discussing the topic at church.  And yes, I believe everyone should follow God’s rules, though there’s nothing I can do but say so. 

Haven’t you noticed that that’s what secular people do, too?  See how dogmatic and insistent the new moral orthodoxy is.  More dogmatic than me:  if I see them foul up, I don’t set up a hue and cry against them and try to have their livelihood taken from them. 

Harris thinks he’s made the leap from fact to value.  It can’t be done.  He’s just assuming that certain things have value because he can’t imagine them not having value and because, in God's absence, he's just got to make that leap somehow on his own.  Heroic, no doubt, but pointless. 

Religious belief has plenty of “factual basis”, just not “factual basis proved by the scientific method”.  The scientific method is authoritative in the natural world but it can’t help us beyond that and it can’t help us determine whether or not there is anything beyond.  Your "factual basis" relies on an unproved assumption that reality consists solely of the natural world.

by Gavan O'Farrell on April 24, 2019
Gavan O'Farrell

@Frank Macskasy:  Thanks for commenting. 

You seem to have missed the point of the very passage you quoted.  I’m saying that actions are susceptible to moral judgement.  All the people in Folau’s list make decisions to drink or lie or have sex etc.  Those decisions and actions have a moral quality that can be observed and described and commented on. 

Liars don’t “have to” lie.  Drinkers, if they’re not alcoholics, don’t “have to” drink.  Fornicators and gays don’t “have to” have sex, they choose every time.  Sexual orientation is just that, an orientation.  It’s not a mania, we make decisions.

by Lee Churchman on April 24, 2019
Lee Churchman

Harris thinks he’s made the leap from fact to value.  It can’t be done.

That would doom theistic morality then, if the fact of God's existence implied no particular set of values. 

by Bruce Carruthers on April 24, 2019
Bruce Carruthers

if the fact of God's existence implied no particular set of values. 

One could argue whenever man claims knowldege of God (theism), they have eaten of the apple and stolen the authority of any real God. And given this would be a threat to our free will human dominon on earth it would be counter to the intention of a God who kept hidden from man to allow this. 

 

 

by Ross on April 25, 2019
Ross

He said last year if his social media platform use caused problems for Rugby Australia he would walk away from his contract. He seems reluctant. It's now a matter of trust

I am unconvinced by that argument.The fact is, his employer has sacked him! There is no indication he wants to go back to playing for his employer. However, I imagine he wants to be treated fairly and, presumably, doesn't think he's been treated in a fair manner. Ironically, his possibe replacement in the test team, Kurtley Beale, has a rap sheet as long as your arm, including sending photos of naked fat women - with accompanying derogatory comments - to the team's former physio, who is a woman. It's weird what behaviour Rugby Australia will tolerate. 

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/rugbyunion/international/australia/111...

https://www.couriermail.com.au/sport/rugby/kurtley-beales-rap-sheet-wall...

 

by Ross on April 25, 2019
Ross

Di Patston, the former phyiso for the test team, said she felt suicidal after Beale sent her disgusting texts. She lost her career. He was fined but continues to play for Australia. On that basis, Folau should've received no more than a fine. Sacking him his disproportionate to his offence.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-10-27/kurtley-beale-played-me-for-a-foo...

by Ross on April 25, 2019
Ross

Sexual orientation is just that, an orientation.  It’s not a mania, we make decisions

I'm not sure what you're saying, Gavin. Are you saying you "choose" not to be gay? Why do you think so many gay men and women remain in the closet? Because they may feel ashamed and embarrassed. They could also be concerned for their safety given the opprobium they may face. Why would anyone willingly "choose" to put themselves through that? 

by Lynn Prentice on April 25, 2019
Lynn Prentice

And yet if I gently remind religious people of the historic and current harm that their faith and moralities is, in my view, how you create hell on earth, then I'm pretty sure that would be described by the author as being hate speech. 

However that is just a question of history. It shows anyone who studies it, that stupid bigots congregate, and by choice they tend to do it in religous assemblies. Then they can make their bigoties with the communion of group and with the sanctity of morality. Most of the worst systematic atrocities in history have been perpetuated in the name of religions, religious or political. 

Of course most religious individuals may not be like that. However the history of religion suggests that it should be assumed that religous bigots like Israel Folau talking from the hypocrisy of their religious beliefs need to be treated based on the worst case scenario. Because if not checked, the judgemental arseholes are likely to eventually start acting on their bigotries to the detriment of us all.

It is a much safer for the majority of us without faith to assume that.

by Lee Churchman on April 25, 2019
Lee Churchman

One could argue whenever man claims knowldege of God (theism), they have eaten of the apple and stolen the authority of any real God. And given this would be a threat to our free will human dominon on earth it would be counter to the intention of a God who kept hidden from man to allow this. 

That's been done.

It's also not hard to show a secular foundation for morality, at least once you get rid of the requirements illicitly smuggled in by theists. 

by Lee Churchman on April 25, 2019
Lee Churchman

However the history of religion suggests that it should be assumed that religous bigots like Israel Folau talking from the hypocrisy of their religious beliefs need to be treated based on the worst case scenario.

That's a patently ridiculous argument. 

by Lynn Prentice on April 25, 2019
Lynn Prentice

That's a patently ridiculous argument. 

Why? Denial isn't an argument - it is just method of simple avoidance.

by Lee Churchman on April 25, 2019
Lee Churchman

Why? Denial isn't an argument - it is just method of simple avoidance.

I thought it was obvious. Acting as if the worst case scenario will happen, no matter how improbable that is, just isn't reasonable. If we followed that logic, we would ban student communist parties, because they might end up like the Baader-Meinhof Gang. 

We should base our reaction on what is reasonably likely to happen, with some adjustment for the severity of potential consequences. The world has changed: that kind of religious bigotry is unlikely to gain much traction. 

by Bruce Carruthers on April 25, 2019
Bruce Carruthers

I am unconvinced by that argument.The fact is, his employer has sacked him! There is no indication he wants to go back to playing for his employer. However, I imagine he wants to be treated fairly and, presumably, doesn't think he's been treated in a fair manner. 

It seems a little inconsistent to say he would walk away from his contract if Rugby Australia considered his social media comments had caused them problems (Qantas for example) and then to contest being sacked. Unless of course he always intended to get paid out if this happened. Not so much puting faith before money but getting a pay out and then moving on to another profesional contract, so he gains financially. 

by Ross on April 25, 2019
Ross

It seems a little inconsistent to say he would walk away from his contract if Rugby Australia considered his social media comments had caused them problems (Qantas for example) and then to contest being sacked.

I don't think there's any inconsistency there - he was signed to a four year contract and his employer may have breached that contract by terminating it early and by not paying him out. But you're missing the point that Rugby Australia are being hypocritical. They have not banned Kurtley Beale depite his repeated indiscretions including his appalling behaviour towards the then team physio, Di Patston. Beale, remarkably, may replace Folau in the Wallabies. What does Beale have to do to get sacked?

There's two other important points. Last year Rugby Australia (RA) signed Folau to a four year deal after he stated that gays would go to hell if they didn't repent. He could've been forgiven for thinking that he was entitled to speak about his faith given that he was rewarded with a new four year deal the last time he spoke about his faith. Second, RA's main sponsor is Qantas. As journalist Mark Reason says:

"It seems very peculiar that RA can partner with Qantas, whose sister airline is Emirates, the flagship of a state where homosexuality is a jailable offence, and yet cast Folau out into the wilderness. In Islam homosexuality is an incontrovertible sin. Yet I have not noticed Australia boycotting the Dubai Sevens."

https://www.stuff.co.nz/sport/opinion/112159882/mark-reason-israel-folau...

by Bruce Carruthers on April 25, 2019
Bruce Carruthers

He could've been forgiven for thinking that he was entitled to speak about his faith given that he was rewarded with a new four year deal the last time he spoke about his faith

 

It was more a case of him making reassurances that he would walk away from his contract if his social media comments caused Rugby Australia problems that allowed the new contract to be signed after his employer informed him of their concerns about his past  social media comments and that recurrence could/would be seen as a breach of the said contract. 

 


by Gavan O'Farrell on April 25, 2019
Gavan O'Farrell

@Lee.  No, because God (or, if we’re deluded, the concept of God) incorporates authority.  So far as I can tell, secularist efforts to conjure an objective morality always end up lacking this.  They don’t really get any further than majority rule or the assumed value of the survival of the species.  It can be argued, as I expect you know, that our species actually shouldn’t survive because of the harm we’ve done.

by Gavan O'Farrell on April 25, 2019
Gavan O'Farrell

@Lynn Prentice.  Your understanding of history is distorted.  Even if were true, it is not relevant to the present discussion, which is about whether or not Israel Folau hates heterosexual fornicators, gays, liars, atheists etc.   

You actually seem to be arguing from prejudice:  because it’s a prejudice against religion, it will be popular and well-received, but it’s a weak argument.

by Gavan O'Farrell on April 25, 2019
Gavan O'Farrell

@Ross.  Thank you for responding (you even used my name, which is very civil).  I’m not saying anything about choosing or not choosing to be gay.  I believe it isn’t relevant to the moral question, which concerns specific decisions and actions from moment to moment.

I’m saying that we all have desires (or “orientations”) to do all sorts of things (sexual and otherwise) and we have to manage them so that we do no wrong.  Unmarried heterosexuals are oriented towards pre-marital sex, gays are oriented towards same-sex physical intimacy.  Both are prohibited, according to almost all traditional morality.  Heterosexuals must (morally) be patient and wait until they’re married.  The consequence for gays is tragic because they can’t look forward to acting on their orientation in marriage.  I’m very mindful of the burden this morality imposes on gays if they decide to adhere to it (which some do, of course):  they are truly heroic.

If it matters, I’m not saying these moral rules should be enforced by the law:  we’re in a secular society, and I’m glad we are.  Not all morality should be legislated.

by Bruce Carruthers on April 25, 2019
Bruce Carruthers

No, because God (or, if we’re deluded, the concept of God) incorporates authority


There are those who claim to have authoritative knowledge of what is right and wrong by citing some God agency and or effectively being in place of God to claim the said authority.  Fortunately secular society now determines law otherwise, albeit that same society appreciates that ethics are a higher standard than law.  

In this instance, what legal rights Folau has under his contract are in contrast with his word (both to Rugby Australia and to others) and whether what he says is hate speech is probably predicated around making the distinction between sexual identity and sexual behaviour.  

by Gavan O'Farrell on April 25, 2019
Gavan O'Farrell

@Bruce.  I agree that the distinction between a person's identity (perhaps any characteristic) and a person's decisions/actions is critical.  One can be remarked on morally, the other can't (wouldn't make sense).  

Ordinarily, Christians stick as close as they can (it's extremely easy to stray) to "Hate the sin, not the sinner" - as you might hope we do.  I don't see Folau's list as a list of identities or characteristics, but a list of habitual behaviours - each instance supported by a decision to act.  That would be the normal Christian approach.

Regarding secular society, I see the law as a construct - vote it in, vote it out ....  I see morality as something to which a society (any society) is subject, not something the society generates (by tacit agreement or otherwise).  I think Sam Harris sees it this way, too.  People like him and people like me (I don't claim parity with him) disagree about the source of this transcendent morality.

by Bruce Carruthers on April 25, 2019
Bruce Carruthers

I don't see Folau's list as a list of identities or characteristics, but a list of habitual behaviours - each instance supported by a decision to act. 


The issue is that he did list homosexuals - which is an identity, not a behaviour. As is being an atheist, agnostic or deist. And as for what is idolatry even fellow Christians will disagree, and some would argue that nothing in creation can be God. Then there is fornication - if it was any sex without prospect of procreation -  it's practiced on most marriage beds (contraception, oral sex etc). 

by Lee Churchman on April 25, 2019
Lee Churchman

No, because God (or, if we’re deluded, the concept of God) incorporates authority. 

That just seems to be defining your way out of the problem. I find the notion of a being incorporating authority to be obscure and no more reasonable in the case of God than it is of a worldly king. Unless you just mean that God can use threats to get us to do what he wants. 

So far as I can tell, secularist efforts to conjure an objective morality always end up lacking this.  They don’t really get any further than majority rule or the assumed value of the survival of the species. 

Morality is like storytelling. It’s a characteristic human practice, not a reflection of a metaphysical truth. Once you strip away cryptoreligious requirements, it’s reasonably easy to give an account of morality.

To take one example of a cryptoreligious requirement, Christianity requires that everyone can be redeemed, that everyone has the chance to become good, ergo that true moral reasons must in some sense give reasons to everyone. Pre-christian moral thinkers, such as Aristotle, would think this was insane, and they’re probably right: there are just some irretrievably amoral people.

If we believe that moral reasons must appeal to everyone, then of course it's really hard to find anything that will do the job–hence the fruitless search for objective moral facts. But we don't need to make that assumption to have a useful morality. I don't have time, nor do I see any point trying to persuade the Ted Bundy's of this world that raping and murdering is wrong–they're beyond persuasion. 

by Gavan O'Farrell on April 26, 2019
Gavan O'Farrell

@Bruce, I think I see the difference you’re pointing out, though I’m not sure I agree that “homosexual” is an identity in any comprehensive sense.  I mean, it is a characteristic, though certainly a significant one.  I’d say an identity is the aggregate of a very large number of characteristics.  In fact, it may be even more than that:  the “who” of a human being may be something utterly unique in addition to the aggregate of all the persons’ “whats”.  

I think people who choose one of their many characteristics and say “That’s who I am” are selling themselves way short.  And it’s a shame that politics has led a lot of people to underestimate themselves in this way. 

Meanwhile, I’m just trying to shed light on Folau’s probable meaning, based on my experience as a Christian.  Like secular morality, the Bible doesn’t condemn orientations but actions, and so I'd say that's what Folau is doing (despite the labels he's chosen).

by Gavan O'Farrell on April 26, 2019
Gavan O'Farrell

@Lee. 

I would say a King (if ruling alone, without a Parliament etc) does has authority, though just legal authority. 

Similarly, I see nothing odd about understanding God to have authority because of His place as Creator (of the Cosmos and me) and because of His characteristics of power (omni-this and omni-that) and love.  I don’t see this as “defining my way” out of anything, this is just what people like me believe to be true, as a fact.  Faced with that fact (which I’m not trying to prove, of course), the authority is quite manifest.  

I don’t agree that morality can be satisfactorily accounted for without God.  Biological and social evolution might account for the development of ideas that we describe as morality, though even then God (I mean, the evolved belief in God) is likely to be involved.  Our thoughts and conversations can transcend evolution, though, and I find that a purely evolved morality has no clout:  I can look at the rules, recognise that they’ve evolved and ask “So what?  How do those rules bind me, other than by power?  Anyway, some of those rules are wrong, etc.”  That morality is just a phenomenon, not a real value, and it definitely lacks authority. 

I don’t think people who believe in an objective morality (including Christians and atheists like Sam Harris) believe that “moral reasons must appeal to everyone”.  We believe moral reasons exist.  The ability of various people to apprehend them and their willingness to adhere to them are separate issues. 

by Lee Churchman on April 26, 2019
Lee Churchman

Similarly, I see nothing odd about understanding God to have authority because of His place as Creator (of the Cosmos and me) and because of His characteristics of power (omni-this and omni-that) and love. 

I honestly don't see how this follows. My wife and I created our children, but we don't have that kind of authority over them. The other characteristics are subject to well known logical puzzles, but I don't really think it matters (for reasons I won't go into here). 

I don’t agree that morality can be satisfactorily accounted for without God. 

Let me show you how it works. 

Our best guess is that conscious states are physical states (or closely correlated to them). Conscious states are what physical states “feel like from the inside”. Similarly, our sense of value is a product of our physiology and our experiences of value are what this “feels like from the inside”. Our capacity to experience value, like our physiology, is the product of millions of years of evolution. It’s no different from our innate food preferences–people generally don’t like blue food, for example.

We are also quasi-realists: that is, we typically experience our values as if they were objective properties of the world, even though they are not. That’s not to say that our food preferences or our morals cannot be changed by acculturation, our environment, or problems we encounter: of course they can. Even so, there are limits to what we will accept in both cases, which is why there is such widespread agreement in morals among human beings, despite our differences. 

Our sense of morals and fairness helps us get along in the world: it is deeply ingrained in us, or at least most of us–enough of us, at any rate, to make it useful. 

But it’s crucial to understand that our moral judgements are fallible [NB: this is the point that critics of secular morality miss every time]. It’s always possible for people to show me new information that changes my mind and, more importantly, people expect a person’s moral judgements to be consistent, and that’s how morality is subject to the domain of reason. In fact, pretty much everyone does this. Even people with wildly different moral values detest hypocrisy. So when it comes to morality I can be mistaken, be shown to be mistaken, and show others that they are mistaken. 

Consequently, it’s irrational to be a moral dogmatist, just as it’s irrational to be a scientific dogmatist. As rational beings, we must be open to the possibility of improvement in our moral beliefs, where this is making them more consistent, according with new things we learn, contexts, etc. This has nothing to do with making those beliefs correspond to objective moral entities, but the practice of moral argumentation is still subordinate to reason as shown in the previous paragraph. As quasi-realists, we treat moral inconsistency the same way we treat epistemic inconsistency. 

From this we can draw the conclusion that morality is not about "doing what you feel", nor is it "the tastes of the majority". There will always be people like the Reverend Martin Luther King jr, who spring up to point out gross inconistencies in society's moral beliefs. 

As for why we should be moral: we’re moral ultimately because we want to be. As individuals we might be tempted to act immorally, but understand and fear the condemnation of others as we know they will band together to enforce widely accepted rules. We also understand moral rules and are capable of feeling shame or guilt when we break them. 

You don't really need to persuade most people that torture is wrong–they already think it is. Similarly, you don't need to persuade most teenage boys that girls are attractive: they already know that. You already accept moral reasons, and you would still do so even if you became an agnostic or atheist. You can doubt your morals in principle, but it is impossible to do so for any length of time in practice (Hume was basically right about this). 

If you come across someone who doesn't think torture is bad you can try to expose inconsistencies in their moral beliefs. If they don't have any, then they are beyond persuasion (although few people are like this). 

Lastly, because we’re quasi-realists, we tend to treat arguments about morals as if they were arguments about facts–that’s fine, it really makes no practical difference. Nor does cultural or individual moral relativism–you just use the Socratic method to argue with those people–they can't complain when they are held to their own standards. 

There you go: morality explained without God. I've addressed the worries about why we should be moral, where value comes from, how it is subject to reason, and how it's not the same as the will of the majority.

As for universal appeal, outside of a religious context, there's no need for moral reasons to appeal to every person, just as there's no need for them to appeal to cats and dogs. It's working fine. You can go out in the world, and most people will behave decently most of the time, not out of fear but because they feel it is right. 

by Simon Connell on April 26, 2019
Simon Connell

I don’t agree that morality can be satisfactorily accounted for without God. 

Let me show you how it works. 

@Lee

I'm pretty Gavan's statement is about objective morality. I think you're in agreement that, without God, a search for objective morality is fruitless.

 

by Gavan O'Farrell on April 26, 2019
Gavan O'Farrell

@Lee.  Thanks very much for such a detailed analysis.

We're still by no means on the same page, though, and this post (pointing out outstanding differences between us) might have to be my last, unless something new comes up.  

We disagree about this:

We are also quasi-realists: that is, we typically experience our values as if they were objective properties of the world, even though they are not

I would say there are objective values (and other properties), regardless of what I experience.  Perhaps you and I disagree about whether or not there is any reality at all, apart from our consciousness or experience?

The expressions "get along", "useful" and "fallible" suggest reliance on an objective value - eg that getting along is not just a pleasant experience but a good idea - against which individual moral views can be measured (and found valid or fallible).

People like me actually do try to avoid moral dogmatism to a degree - usually by trying to be less that perfectly certain that we have understood God's views on a given subject.  Biblical scholarship and Christian theology is a large and busy field:  we are still learning.  Anyhow, I distinguish between the belief that there is an objective and authoritative moral standard (or answer to specific questions) and the belief or confidence that I have successfully apprehended it at any given time.

To my mind, your "doing what you feel" and being moral because you "want to be" are hardly different - just different kinds of feeling or different depths of feeling.  I don't see that as being of any use at all in supporting an objective morality.  Even if "want to be" were more interesting, I'd need a rule/value/principle stating that "doing what you 'really' want" is good".  Just wanting is purely phenomenal.

I agree that most people discern that torture is wrong, but I see that as them discerning a moral truth.  I've never doubted the capacity of non-believers to do this.

Thanks for the discussion.

 

by Gavan O'Farrell on April 26, 2019
Gavan O'Farrell

@Lee, I believe parents do have authority over their children.  Just not absolute authority, because parents are themselves subject to moral standards.  I'd say, though, that the same is not true of God:  there is nothing to which He can be subject.

by Lee Churchman on April 27, 2019
Lee Churchman

@Simon

I'm pretty Gavan's statement is about objective morality. I think you're in agreement that, without God, a search for objective morality is fruitless.

No. I wouldn't say that. There are non-theistic moral realists. Kant's moral theory is a good example of how there might be a universal morality without God.

My point is to show that a non-objective morality can do most of what most people want morality to do (resolve disputes, be non arbitrary, not just be doing what individuals feel). Theists often argue that atheists have no reason to be good. I think that is untrue. 

@Gavan

Cheers for the reply.

Perhaps you and I disagree about whether or not there is any reality at all, apart from our consciousness or experience?

No. I think there is a physical reality. However, things like colours are perceived by us as being part of objective reality, when they really aren't (they are "secondary qualities"). Morality is a little like this, as are aesthetic properties. In philosophy, this family of views is called "quasi-realism".

The expressions "get along", "useful" and "fallible" suggest reliance on an objective value - eg that getting along is not just a pleasant experience but a good idea.

No. I don't mean that. I just mean that these things are useful in achieving pre-existing individual human goals for which we need no additional, objective warrant. Examples would include avoiding being the subject of violence and enjoying the fruits of co-operation. These are ends that human beings already value, so we don't stand in need of persuasion regarding them.

To my mind, your "doing what you feel" and being moral because you "want to be" are hardly different - just different kinds of feeling or different depths of feeling.

I didn't explain myself very well. It's our demand for moral consistency that does the heavy lifting. I don't know why we demand that people's moral sentiments be consistent, but we just do. That makes our feelings subject to rationality, and once you do that, it's not just a matter of good being what you feel at time t. That's why moral relativism has no actual teeth–it's something philosophers should care about, but no-one else. 

Morality isn't reduced to our sentiments, but it is based on them. Moral reasoning is the job of trying to come up with a reflective equilibrium that reconciles and ranks them the best we can and allows us to get on with others (who are trying to do the same thing). 

Just wanting is purely phenomenal.

OK, but it still provides us with reasons for action. Consider desiring a donut. That provides me with a prima facie reason for buying a donut. But I have other desires, like being healthy, and I have to reconcile them to see whether I should buy a donut. The advice to refrain might even come from someone else. 

The same goes with desiring to end the practice of torturing people for fun. It provides me with a prima facie case for acting to end the practice of torture. In this case it is very hard to think of another desire that would trump this one. That's why it's hard to make a moral argument for torture for fun–people just won't believe you. 

The difference between the quasi-realist and the moral objectivist is that the latter seeks validation of the want in some external fact, whereas the quasi-realist seeks validation in rational arbitration between all our sentiments (again, this often comes in the form of moral dialogue with other people). The objectivist wants their moral theory to be true. The quasi-realist just wants theirs to be as consistent and account for as many cases as possible, where the rules of consistency are the rules of rationality that govern the consistency of any set of statements (such as a scientific theory).

This is of course a prolegomenon to the discussion of liberalism and how we should treat Israel Folau's statements. That adds a layer of complexity.

by Gavan O'Farrell on April 27, 2019
Gavan O'Farrell

@Lee.  I have only ever understood the categories of - 

i) subjectivist/relativist morality

ii) objective morality (with or without God).

The possible existence of a third category, or at least the possible deficiency of my categories, is news to me, so I'll have to ponder.

by Lee Churchman on April 28, 2019
Lee Churchman

No worries Gavan. Thanks for the article, which has generated lots of comments. FTR I think you were right in the initial post: the reaction to Folau's statements seems well over the top. I disagree with him, but as a drunken, atheist fornicator I'm not terribly worried. 

by barry on April 28, 2019
barry

@gavan.  Appeal to divinity is a bit much, you are actually appealing to a book, which was written nearly 2000 years ago and more, for a particular time.  The particular passage in Corinthians talks about a list of indulgences which stopped people from proper spiritual development.  A modern version would have a stricture against playing fortnite.

by Gavan O'Farrell on April 28, 2019
Gavan O'Farrell

@barry.  If "by a bit much", you mean there is no divinity, we'll have to disagree.  Is your reason the usual reason about lack of empirical evidence? 

For religious people, for many scientists (depending on the field) and for many people interested in human history and literature, 2000 years is not all that long, so I don't sweat the timeline.

For all I know, your spiritual development point may be correct:  after all, it is considered to be of critical importance in my part of the world.  (I don't understand your final point.)

by barry on April 28, 2019
barry

@gavan,  by too much - I mean that your experience of your god is personal to you and cannot be argued.  On the other hand your appeal to a book is arguable.

It is not the age of the book that I was concerned about, but the fact that it was written for a particular group of people at a particular time.  Their experience and customs were quite different from ours.  In Rome & Greece homosexuality was much more common and catamites were prized (until they grew up).

Corinthians is a letter from Paul to a church group in Corinth telling them how they should run their church and conduct themselves as Christians.  The Christian missionaries in NZ tailored their messages to what the maori would be receptive to, so did Paul write for his audience.

In that regard the list of sins are relevant the then and there.  If he was writing to a church in the 21st century he would be saying spend less time on your phones.  If Folau was telling people that hell awaits fortnite players it might not come across so arrogant and hateful.

I don't know why christians are so hung up on homosexuality, it seems so easy to ignore other things in the bible.  I guess that is where your appeal to divinity comes in - somehow you know what makes sense and what doesn't.  It all seems so convenient, and homosexuals seem to lose out anyway.

I do know that the Catholic attempts to get priests to be celebate has resulted in their problem with abuse from priests both homosexual and heterosexual.

Humans seem to have an inbuilt need (biological) to get together with others for comfort and companionship.  Sex is never just about procreation.  To deny it to some and not others is hateful. 

There is a high suicide rate among youing homosexual males, and a lot of that is because of bullying and judgemental attitudes from people such as Folau.

by Gavan O'Farrell on April 29, 2019
Gavan O'Farrell

@barry, thank you for being so frank and clear and for not venting your spleen (which, for all I know, you might feel like doing). 

I must ask you to grant my factual premises about God (temporarily), in order to understand my perspective.  The Bible is a rich source of understanding of what God is like, how He views us humans (and why He bothers with us) and what He requires of us.  It also tells of the status of our situation here on terra firma. 

I believe sex is the act of procreation and that it’s near miraculous (though perhaps routine from the evolutionary point-of-view) that it’s so enjoyable and so comfortably associated with the building of deep intimacy.  Still, it’s the procreative act:  that’s its nature and essential purpose. 

We Christians are “hung up” on the importance of this truth.  We regard any straying from this understanding as “false” – a misuse of sex, whether blatant or premised on a false view of what sex is.  Folau’s list includes a number of ways in which this truth is ignored or abused.  We regard this truth as global (not local) and timeless, like integrity and the sanctity of human life (which we’re also hung up about). 

Some Old Testament regulations are not global and timeless, but were designed for the people of Israel during a particular period.  Sometimes it requires considerable effort to distinguish between these “local” regulations and the more profound timeless ones.  With sex, it’s relatively easy because the point of sex (if it isn't self-evident) is explained in Genesis, long before the Israel exercise gets underway. 

If my thinking began with:  “Humans are free to do whatever they like, so long as they don’t do any immediate tangible harm to others”, I might be more supportive of sexual laissez faire, including the Rainbow.  My starting-point is entirely different.  I believe we have enormous freedom, but also that there is a purpose to serve in exercising that freedom.  I also believe we live under authority.  I don’t see this as “convenient”, btw:  my life would be easier if I could decide my own ethics and, more specifically, if I supported the Rainbow.

I don't see homosexuality as an especially religious or Christian preoccupation.  At different times of human history, it's been tolerated or more, but only in part, it's never been mainstream that I know of.  And evolution is a sufficient explanation for that:  like infertility, it goes nowhere.  That sounds ruthless, I realise, but I guess evolution is ruthless:  my intent is not to be ruthless, but to say it's not just a religious thing.

Mind you, I do realise that Christianity has failed gays.  I've only written analytically, but I would add that judgement is never enough even if it's correct judgement.  We have failed to love gays (eg by making sure they feel welcome), failed to distinguish between "the sin and the sinner" - a critical ethical point that is often lost.  So, we've earned a good deal of the anger that is now directed at us.

 

by Lee Churchman on April 29, 2019
Lee Churchman

@Gavan

I think I might have linked to this before, but you might like it anyway.

http://induecourse.ca/why-homophobia-must-be-tolerated-in-a-way-that-rac...

by Simon Connell on April 29, 2019
Simon Connell

@Gavan, re: 

I do realise that Christianity has failed gays.  I've only written analytically, but I would add that judgement is never enough even if it's correct judgement.  We have failed to love gays (eg by making sure they feel welcome), failed to distinguish between "the sin and the sinner" - a critical ethical point that is often lost.  So, we've earned a good deal of the anger that is now directed at us.

This connects up to the question you close on:

Whatever we decide to call “hate speech”, it does need to include an element of hatred, doesn’t it?

If the answer to this quesiton is "yes" (as in "yes hate speech needs an element of hatred"), then we don't necessarily have to judge the presence of hatred from the point of view of the speaker. That is, it's open to assess the presence of hatred from the point of view of an actual listener, or from the point of view of a hypothetical listener.

So, it's arguable that statements like Folau's coming across to a listener as statements of hate could justify the label "hate speech", even if they were not made with hateful intent.

Regarding failing to make gay people "feel welcome" - I suspect that, for at least some people, it's just not possible to make them "feel welcome" and put forward the sort of beliefs that Folau does, regardless of exactly how you finesse the wording.

by Andin on April 29, 2019
Andin

Arguing with god botherers really is a waste of time. If you have convinced yourself of one impossible thing (a god existing within a certain teaching from the past) anything else is possible.

"I don’t think people who believe in an objective morality (including Christians and atheists like Sam Harris) believe that “moral reasons must appeal to everyone”. "

FFS Sam Harris does not believe in an objective morality. All moralities are subjective including yours. What he is saying is maybe someone coud work out a subjective morality where facts about the real world play some part in its development.

"We believe moral reasons exist.  The ability of various people to apprehend them and their willingness to adhere to them are separate issues. "

Ah Yes the nifty get out of jail free card all religious write for themselves. Its called sanctimony

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