Tuesday, September 21, 2010

on so-called ethics

before it goes cold, must give vent to my annoyance with the insufferable peter jensen - who presumably gets trotted out by the abc because his very insufferability is such a goad to the liberal spirit - on the subject of ethics classes in nsw schools. according to the piece i saw - i think on the abc 24 hour program - these classes are run by the st james ethics centre, the manager of which, not surprisingly with a title like that, is a christian. but let that interesting if slightly worrisome fact pass.
these ethics classes, which i'd read about some time ago, were highlighted on the compass program on abc 1 a few days before. i rarely watch the program, which is devoted to religious issues, because watching religious programs presented from a religious perspective generally makes me feel queazy, but on this occasion i had to keep watching because the contrast between the 'religious instruction' class and the ethics class was so striking. The kids involved looked to be about nine or ten years old, and they apparently had a choice between ethics and ri, and it seems the vast majority were choosing ethics. even the parents seemed to be encouraging this [even in faith-based schools]. it was no wonder, as the ethics classes encouraged debate and negotiation between students, who clearly relished the opportunity to express their own views and have them tested against others. the ri class on the other hand featured kids reading from the bible, after which the teacher told them what it was all about - the usual sermonizing.
enter peter jensen, who in this abc interview complained about how these 'so-called ethics' classes - his term -  threatened to undermine or replace religious instruction. he was never probed as to why he used this term, but he did 'clarify' it later himself. these classes weren't really about ethics, they were about philosophy and argument. they didn't really teach right and wrong. so, according to jensen, it was the teacher's job to tell kids about right and wrong, something they wouldn't be able to work out for themselves. and the clear implication was that religious instruction is the class that provides the answers vis-a-vis right and wrong.
so how does this come about? are all the answers in the bible? the ten commandments, the sermon on the mount? let's take a gander. thou shalt not kill, god says, through his intermediary [and there are always intermediaries - unless we assume that, on this occasion, god himself got out his hammer and chisel to carve his edicts on stone tablets]. unfortunately, god doesn't obey this commandment himself, committing mass-murder quite regularly throughout the old testament. and you can't argue that god is different, he's above the law, because he encourages humans to commit mass-murder too, and rewards them for doing so, as in the slaughter of the midianites, and elsewhere. So forget that particular commandment, it wasn't worth the stone it was chiseled out of. How about keep the sabbath day holy? eh? oh, that's about people necessarily resting on the seventh day because this god made the universe in six days and rested on the seventh, so we should rest too to commemorate the god's work. yeah right. fact is, none of the commandments stand up to the scrutiny of modern philosophical ethics.
As to the sermon on the mount, love your enemies, great, but don't imagine jesus ever did - just ask the worthy townsfolk of capernaum, bethsaida and chorazin. In any case, loving your enemies is a questionable tactic - love loses its meaning if we apply it universally, just as friends mean nothing if we don't have enemies to contrast them with. This 'philosophy' is quite impracticable, and it's apparently the best the new testament has to offer.
so where then do we get our right and wrong from, mista jensen? if not from the bible, maybe from your god, by some other means? well, your god doesn't seem to say much - or does he speak to you and your reverendy brethren, perhaps? i mean, you're closer to him than the rest of us, aren't you? we await your instruction.

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