Lessons in morality, ethics and values

Published 10:37 am Thursday, May 12, 2016

We whine and complain about wars, taxes, healthcare, wages, education, and all the rest, but most folks won’t even take 15 minutes out of one or two days per year to cast a vote. Heck, even a protest vote sends a message. Look at Trump.

Since I’m a liberal, some of you will disagree when I say I am for values, for morality, and for ethics, which used to have me scratching my head in befuddlement.

But now I understand how Republicans can look at a good, honorable person and say he or she has no “values.” I’ve been making the same mistake most Americans have made when it comes to Republican “values,” which, of course, they call “American Values”.

The mistake is in thinking that ethics, morality, and values are interchangeable terms. And the mistake is in buying into the notion that because someone says they hold “American Values,” they are the values that founded this nation, defeated fascism and communism, and has managed to liberate more people than even the visionaries who signed the Constitution envisioned.

As an old philosophy major, I made personal distinctions between ethics and morality. For me, ethics was doing the right thing because you think doing the right thing is good for you, society and humanity. Morality was doing the right thing because of religious belief – either the promise of punishment or reward from a supernatural being.

I thought “values” was simply the manifestation of ethical thinking or moral beliefs. (A universal “value” stemming from moral and ethical systems, for example, is that murder is wrong.)

But I came to realize that the term “values” is the elevation of a group’s beliefs to the status of morality or ethics. “Values” is not a rational system for defining right from wrong (ethics) and it is not a well-tested set of beliefs defining good and evil that encompasses generations of adherents.

Values, as it is used by people like the Republicans, is simply taking their political views and making them indistinguishable from religion. Republican values, in other words, is not a struggle to regain something that has been lost, but is, rather, an attempt to use religion as a basis for political ideology – an attempt to universalize the beliefs of a minority to attain power over the majority.

This explains things I’ve found puzzling. For example, when I wrote once that it didn’t make sense for Christians to complain about being oppressed because more than 80 percent of people are Christians, including judges and lawmakers, someone wrote a letter saying something to the effect that only a few people are actually Christian.

You either ascribe to the Republican values, both religious and political because they are so intertwined as to be indistinguishable one from the other, or you are godless, unprincipled and without ethics or morality.

If you think the Constitution is right to separate church and state, no matter how fervently you believe in Christ, you are not a Christian, according to the Republicans.

For the Republicans, the flag is more important to this nation than the Constitution. That’s another of those things that has befuddled me over the years. For me, the Constitution is the basis for all our freedoms, liberties and rights – setting forth important principles that allow democracy to exist. The flag, for me, was a symbol of those freedoms – made possible because of the Constitution and free people who made it a living document.

To the Republicans, however, the flag is a sacred symbol because they don’t differentiate between their religious beliefs and their political beliefs.


Keith Hoggard is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at keith.hoggard@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7206.