When I was in college I had a suitemate named Paul who was not known for his subtlety but certainly for his undying loyalty to the Green Bay Packers, even referring to Green Bay as the “Holy Land.” One day Paul and I were discussing a friend of ours when I commented that this friend was a fan of those detested Chicago Bears. Paul responded by saying “that’s okay, we have all sin in our lives.”
Of course, Paul was joking…at least I think he was joking. Yet, Paul’s comment reveals a human tendency to treat our individual amoral opinions, attitudes, and loyalties as moral issues. We address rather mundane concerns such as which athletic team we cheer for, what restaurant or drink we prefer, and the like as if those selections are intrinsically moral. And while that may simply lead to comical responses like Paul’s, this tendency often causes us to view those with different viewpoints and outlooks as immoral. As we demonize others’ dissimilarities, we justify our negative treatment and slander of their diversity of thought by placing ourselves upon a moral pedestal above the immoral riffraff beneath us.
This is not to say that morality fails to impact our opinion of amoral topics. For instance, I detest particular professional athletic teams because of my perception that those teams in question are more likely to cheat and break the rules of the game in order to get ahead, no matter the cost. I have boycotted brands because of my knowledge of the way they treat their workers, their involvement in sweatshops, or because of the immoral views of the parent company. This is how our understanding of morality should be applied to the world around us. But to assume that a team like the Green Bay Packers is the one I should cheer for, not because I live in Wisconsin or because I appreciate a city-owned team, but because it is moral to do so is simply plain foolish.
Sadly, nowhere does this seem to be more common than in the realm of politics. An individual’s basis for morality should impact their vote and their political views. But it has become common in this heated election year to claim one’s own positions to be the moral view and to demonize the other parties’ viewpoints as immoral. Within in the last month I stood in my kitchen listening to a friend of mine attempt to make the political argument that inefficiency is immoral. Perhaps efficiency is economically valuable, good for individual growth and flourishing, but it certainly cannot be viewed as either moral or immoral. There are efficient ways to help the poor but also efficient ways to kill them!
Efficiency and a wide range of other political views are claimed to be moral or immoral while not having an intrinsic morality. Consider that both major Presidential candidates have attacked the other’s view of economics using the word “immoral,” which is ironic considering the morality of manipulating the truth is not addressed. Yet these various economic positions have little to do with the realm of morality. Sure, it would be immoral to say “As President, I promise to take everyone’s money for myself.” That’s stealing, which is immoral. There are some political positions in our nation that I would claim are immoral. But to claim that someone’s economic viewpoint is immoral because it is different is quite baffling. It appears to be an attempt to gain an appearance of moral superiority and demonize alternative options.
As one who works daily within the field of “morality,” I cringe whenever I hear someone claim that a differing political viewpoint on an amoral topic is ‘immoral.’ Here at Hang Together our underlying goal is to build ‘moral consensus for a united America.’ This is an incredibly arduous undertaking, a task made even more difficult if we attempt to gain a ‘moral consensus’ on amoral issues! Such an effort would be impossible, and quite frankly, a waste of time. Our attempts here are not to gain a uniformity of application and action but a consensus on ‘morality.’ We will be united even with in our diversity. Is that not what it means to be American? E Pluribus Unum…Out of the many, one…unity in diversity?
Within this election year, I have greatly enjoyed the way I have been challenged by people of many different political stripes to think about a plethora of issues from new perspectives. I hope that this continues throughout the year and I hope it can occur on a national level as well. Yet, nothing will staunch this flow of ideas and interaction of viewpoints like attempting to label our opinions as moral and the opposition as immoral. To do such would is foolish, slanderous, and simply wrong. Kind of like being a Chicago Bears fan.