I am an adjunct professor of Theology, who specifically teaches a morality course at the undergraduate level. Given the recent shooting at a Republican baseball practice, and the ensuing remarks from Congressional representatives that “we are on one team,” I was encouraged by the willingness of both parties to place vitriol commentary into the history books; to reset, so to speak, and begin toning down the rhetoric. However strong this intention may be, the spirit is weak. It will take more than mere effort to be more civil to one another. There is an underlying concern that must be addressed to allow civility to flourish. As a society, we must face objective truth, together.
The belief in objective truth seems to have taken a back seat to such erroneous concepts of morality as situation ethics, proportionalism and consequentialism. But before I get ahead of myself here, by diving too deep into these topics, let’s first define objective truth, as it is my greatest concern. We, as a society, are not working together to understand, and abide by, objective truth.
Objective Truth: “…those essential and innate human and moral values which flow from the very truth of the human being and express and safeguard the dignity of the person: values which no individual, no majority, and no state can ever create, modify or destroy, but must only acknowledge, respect and promote.” 1
Saint Pope John Paul II was succinct in his point that objective truth can’t be slanted to suit your own opinions. He claims truth is truth, and we must come to grips with it. There is no such thing as “alternative facts.” Facts are undeniable truths. If our Congressional representatives will acknowledge, respect and promote objective truth, then the appropriate “tone” would naturally follow suit. Therefore, we must collectively address and identify objective truth, if we are to improve our discourse.
Filters That Deny Objective Truth
Now, because we are human, we tend to perceive truth differently. We implement “filters” to justify taking certain positions; where, if we were to view unadulterated truth, we might act otherwise. Here’s where the erroneous concepts of morality come into play.
Let’s use a recent situation as an example. Earlier this year, the state of Montana held a special election to fill a vacant Congressional seat. On the eve of the election, the Republican candidate responded to a reporter’s question by assaulting the reporter. Subsequently, on the evening of the election, after the votes had been counted, the Congressional candidate apologized publicly to the reporter for his actions. In addition, the now Congressman-Elect pleaded guilty to the charge of assault. These are the facts of the event.
How did people react to these facts? In an assortment of ways. Some people were appalled at the Congressman-Elect’s actions. Others were supportive of the Congressman-Elect. For those who supported the Congressman-Elect’s actions, it all came down to the applied “filters.” Now let’s define those “filters” of erroneous moral concepts.
Filter of Situation Ethics
Situation Ethics maintains that goodness or evil of a given action is determined by the particular situation. The circumstances of an individual, according to this opinion, form the prevailing criteria concerning the morality of the action. 2
So, in this situation (no pun intended), some people applied the filter of liberal versus conservative, in that the reporter represented a liberal news organization. The candidate was a Republican. Therefore, the liberal reporter “had it coming to him.” Failure to see the objective truth that no person deserves to be assaulted for whatever reason, because it diminishes the dignity of the victim (as well as the perpetrator), seemed to fall on some deaf ears.
Filter of Consequentialism
Consequentialists judge an action to be good or evil from the consequences that follow and not by whether or not the objectivity of the act reflects the natural law. 3
In our example, those who were more concerned about retaining the Congressional seat in Republican hands, were found to be “joking” about the incident, claiming that they must have “missed that class,” and were sorry that they had, thereby condoning the Congressman-Elect’s actions. On the day following the election, some Republican Congressmen were asked by reporters in Washington D.C. whether the Congressman-Elect would be welcomed, if found guilty of the charge. They responded that he would be welcomed. Had the consequence been that the perpetrator had been a Democrat, do you think the Republican response would have been the same? I seriously doubt it, as Consequentialists “allow objective morality to take a back seat to the subjective standards of end results and outcomes.” 4
Filter of Proportionalism
Proportionalism is an expression of moral relativism that measures the moral goodness of an action according to a comparison between the good and evil effects. 5
Proportionalists looked at the event and noted that the reporter wasn’t hurt too badly, and that it was more important to retain the seat in Republican hands. So, therefore, the win outweighed any harm suffered by the reporter. Proportionalists lose sight of what is basically right versus wrong. If the outcome is more to their favor, then it is a good act. In this example, they rationalized the Congressman-Elect’s behavior, especially when he was giving his public apology during his acceptance speech. People shouted from the crowd, “You’re forgiven.” As if to say, let’s move on because the good of his election outweighed the harm to the reporter.
Embracing Objective Truth
I am concerned for my country. I fear that we are losing our grip on common decency. Our consciences are dulled when we apply “filters,” to comply with what we want to see. I think it is time for us to face objective truth; to acknowledge, respect and promote it. For me, I take my first step toward doing so, by sharing with you what I have written today, so that you, too, can begin embracing objective truth. The next time you evaluate the moral equivalency of an act, check your “filters,” and seek to identify the objective truth. If you were to do so, you wouldn’t need to be concerned about whether your tone contained vitriolic speech.
In the example that I provided, one man assaulted another man. The perpetrator checked himself, knew he had done something wrong and apologized for his own behavior. He, personally, didn’t try to “spin” the truth. He pleaded guilty. His sentence: 40 hours of community service, 20 hours of anger management courses and a $385 fine. Now, if the rest of society, especially our elected representatives, could only evaluate moral acts with objective truth, we would be well on our way to building Peace.
1 John Paul II. Encyclical Letter: Evangelium Vitae. The Gospel of Life. Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic Conference, 1995. Print. (EV 71).
2 Armenio, Peter V. Our Moral Life in Christ: College Ed. 2nd Ed. Woodridge: Midwest Theological Forum. 2009. Print. p. 177
3 Ibid. p. 178
4 Ibid. p. 178
5 Ibid. p. 179
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