Ls&Cs: Morality, Left and Right

Two items recently that dovetail nicely.

First, an essay by Phil Zuckerman (whose book Living the Secular Life I reviewed here some years ago), at Salon: Staunch atheists show higher morals than the proudly pious, from the pandemic to climate change, subtitled, “When it comes to the most pressing moral issues of the day, hard-core secularists exhibit much more empathy.”

Two recent events have shed an illuminating light on who is and who isn’t moral in today’s world.

First, Cardinal Raymond Burke, a leader in the U.S. Catholic Church and a staunch anti-masker/vaxxer, was put on a ventilator as a result of his suffering from COVID-19. Second, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change of the United Nations released its latest data-rich report, warning that “unless there are rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to close to 1.5 degrees Celsius or even 2 degrees Celsius will be beyond reach.”

The global pandemic and the rapidly warming of our planet — these dire phenomena are, above all, deeply moral matters in that they both entail care for the well-being of others and a desire to alleviate misery and suffering.

Now, while most people assume that such a morality is grounded in religious faith, and while it is certainly true that all religions contain plenty of moral ideals, in our nation today, it is actually the most secular among us who are exhibiting a greater moral orientation — in the face of deadly threats — than the most devout among us, who are exhibiting the least.

Because the “proudly pious” are more concerned about themselves, while the “hard-core secularists” are more concerned, or equally concerned, about society and the world as a whole. (Thus conservatives find reasons to dismiss these two issues in particular as hoaxes; they’re motivated not to have to take responsibility for them, not to have to change their lives in any way.)

Zuckerman goes on to discuss gun violence and abortion.

Admittedly, how morality plays out in the world is always complex, with numerous exceptions to the correlations above. … However, despite such complexities, the overall pattern remains clear: When it comes to the most pressing moral issues of the day, hard-core secularists exhibit much more empathy, compassion, and care for the well-being of others than the most ardently God-worshipping. Such a reality is necessary to expose, not simply in order to debunk the long-standing canard that religion is necessary for ethical living,

No, you don’t need God, or the Ten Commandments, to be moral. Rather the contrary.


A far broader list of how issues divide between the left and right, the liberals and the conservatives, is laid out in a Patheos essay by James A. Haught: Hurrah for Liberals: Clear Differences.

Annoyingly, this particular site has some kind of setting that prevents copying, even from the source html. So I can’t copy here selected paragraphs. The essay is a chapter from the author’s book of the same name.

Unable to copy from the webpage, I’ll summarize his points along several basic themes:

1. Economics: conservatives are big on inherited wealth, and feel less empathy for those not born into privilege or less-endowed with abilities for success.
2. Morality: Conservatives generally adhere to supernatural religion and its sexual taboos. They believe religious employers can control health options of their employees.
3. Militarism: Conservatives tends to be “hawks” suspicious of unfamiliar people, and quicker to use armed force to kill presumed enemies. In contrast, quotes from Martin Luther King Jr. and Dwight Eisenhower: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”
4. Equality: Conservatives endorse hierarchies that privilege whites like themselves; racial segregation and gated sanctuaries.
5. Justice: Conservatives usually support the death penalty and other harsh punishments. Laws and police enforcement frequently seem designed to prevent the rabble from bothering the elite.
6. Pollution: Conservatives tend to ignore industrial pollution, while liberals clamor for cleanups. …Many right-wing folks claim that [global warming] is a myth.
7. Guns: Conservatives are big on guns, and often block the laws and protections liberals seek.
8. Abortion: Conservatives are infuriated by Roe v. Wade; they think it homicide to halt pregnancy.
9. Gay rights: Ostracizing gay people is a long-running conservative theme, dating back to the Bible. Finally, in the 21st century, western liberals at last are securing safety and public acceptance of them.
10. Other issues: Liberals are more sympathetic to immigrants; conservatives want to deport them all. Conservatives think America is “exceptional” and favored by God; liberals see the US as a nation like other democracies. Liberals want separation of church and state; conservatives try to blur the line by imposing their beliefs on public education. And so on concerning affirmative action, assisted suicide, marijuana, health, free education.

Summary: “Bottom line: Conservatives want to make life better for themselves and their children. Liberals of course want the same, but they also strive to improve life for everyone.”

My comments: bottom line is this can be traced to social evolution and group selection. In the ancient past, individual groups or tribes of course favored their own members over those from rival groups. But in the past couple centuries the world population has grown to the extent, and transportation has enabled travel among all tribes/groups/nations, that it’s impossible to segregate one’s own group from all the others. The world’s nations are increasingly interdependent (which jingoistic conservatives who want to cancel international trade deals don’t appreciate). And dangerous to do so, now that the world faces issues that must be solved on a global level, like climate change and world-wide pandemics. (And it’s not even true that conservatives who ignore those dangers, or pretend they are fantasies, can confine their damage to themselves — pandemics and climate change affect everyone.)

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