Fig. 1. “Dilbert Classics,” by Scott Adams, for September 25, 2022, via GoComics newsletter, fair use.
The obvious interpretation of Scott Adams’ cartoon (figure 1) is that it refers to the ubiquitous terms of service and license agreements that, each and every single one of them, all say we should read them and which we don’t read because life is short and it’s all mumbo-jumbo anyway. The warning, of course, is that we might be agreeing to things, like Dilbert’s unicorn horn (figure 1), we might not intend.
Yawn. You’ve seen this lecture before and so have I.
But there’s a deeper point I’ve alluded to before when I’ve written that justice does not reduce to law. Here, it would be that what is moral does not reduce to what is legal. Dilbert signed a form which may have made it “legal” to mess with his deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) (figure 1), but certainly did not make it moral.
It’s a particularly salient point now as white Christian nationalist politicians move to ban or restrict abortion despite growing evidence of public support for abortion rights, at least in the first trimester of pregnancy.
Legality derives from the legitimacy of a governing authority, which itself derives from popular acquiescence. This is inherently in tension with human rights, generally needed not to protect the rights of the majority, but rather those of a minority or the otherwise disempowered.
For religious conservatives, morality derives generally from a selective reading of a text of dubious provenance, for example, the Bible, or from tradition, such as Sharia law. This is not about popular opinion and it does not rely on philosophically considered ethics. This morality is foundational, a presumption which is beyond challenge. Christian conservatives forbid any challenge to (their selective reading of) the Bible. Muslim conservatives forbid any challenge to Sharia law.
While much morality, as with abortion, is directed at controlling the behavior of women and especially at essentializing them as child-bearers, there is also the Jewish ritual of circumcision.
The arguments for male circumcision amount to hygiene and a covenant with the Jewish god. It seems an awfully strange thing for a god to endow boys with foreskins that should then, by agreement with that god, be cut away. It’s not much more rational to suspect that cleaning under a foreskin might lead to (the sin of) masturbation, invoking feelings endowed by a creator, but which we are to suppress.
The Sharia law arguments for female genital mutilation seem intended to suppress the same feelings in women for much the same reason.
Why does a good god require us to endure the pain of circumcision (of both the male and female varieties)? Why does a good god command that we suppress feelings that same god endowed us with? If sex is such an awful thing and indeed procreation is such an imperative, why did not this allegedly all-powerful god provide humans some other means of procreation, as they seem to have done with some nonhuman species?
There is no sense to be found in conservative religious views toward sex whatsoever. Such views indeed invoke the question of theodicy: Why does a good god allow or impose suffering? And for this, our only answer is that this god “works in mysterious ways” or has some grand plan beyond human comprehension in which all this somehow makes sense.
I would have to argue that the entirety of the Old Testament refutes any notion of a divine “grand plan” and that a mystery is not an answer. Which is to say that the argument for conservative religiosity (really any faith in an allegedly morally superior divine being) amounts to a tautology: It is, even absent evidence, because it is.
Or more precisely, it is because “we” say it is. “We” being powerful males who need “you” subalterns, especially women, to believe in “us” to preserve “our” power. “We” being powerful males whose vows of “poverty” and “chastity,” when taken, are so often a sham. “We” being powerful males who control ablution (holy water, baptism, confession) for transgression, even for the “original sin” of being born, but also for any transgressions “you” might commit with “us,” including as the result of “our” own pedophilia. “We” being powerful males who need serfs, and lots of them, to serve “us” and “our” friends, to enrich “us” and “our” friends. “We” being powerful males who need
cannon fodder soldiers, and lots of it them, to combat our competitor elites.
And no, “we” have a caste system, whether formal or informal, to ensure that “you” cannot be “our” friend.
Oh yeah, and it’s all “moral” because “we” say it is.
And “we” are the ones telling “you” abortion is a sin, that sex is a sin. And if “you” don’t believe “us” on religious grounds, well, “we” have the “law,” which “we” enact against “you.”
I would not claim that all who claim spirituality in fact speak and act from such base motives. But that’s one perverse conflict of interest.
- David Benfell, “Juries and injustice: The fools call me in again,” Not Housebroken, April 28, 2015, https://disunitedstates.org/2015/04/27/juries-and-injustice-the-fools-call-me-in-again/↩
- Jonathan Allen, Marc Caputo, and Scott Wong, “‘Bad idea’: Republicans pan Lindsey Graham’s 15-week abortion ban,” NBC News, September 13, 2022, https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/congress/sen-graham-introduces-bill-ban-abortion-nationwide-15-weeks-rcna47530; Christopher Cadelago and Jonathan Lemire, “Lindsey Graham saves Biden’s big day,” Politico, September 13, 2022, https://www.politico.com/news/2022/09/13/lindsey-graham-joe-biden-abortion-00056505; Moira Donegan, “Republicans won’t stop until abortion is banned across America. And it could be,” Guardian, September 15, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/sep/15/republicans-wont-stop-until-abortion-is-banned-across-america-and-it-could-be; Caroline Kitchener et al., “Abortion is now banned in these states. See where laws have changed,” Washington Post, September 13, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/06/24/abortion-state-laws-criminalization-roe/; Amy B. Wang and Caroline Kitchener, “Graham introduces bill to ban abortions nationwide after 15 weeks,” Washington Post, September 13, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/09/13/abortion-graham-republicans-nationwide-ban/↩
- Jonathan Allen, Marc Caputo, and Scott Wong, “‘Bad idea’: Republicans pan Lindsey Graham’s 15-week abortion ban,” NBC News, September 13, 2022, https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/congress/sen-graham-introduces-bill-ban-abortion-nationwide-15-weeks-rcna47530; Aaron Blake, “Buyer’s remorse could be creeping in for GOP on abortion,” Washington Post, August 25, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/08/25/republicans-abortion-politics/; Christopher Cadelago and Jonathan Lemire, “Lindsey Graham saves Biden’s big day,” Politico, September 13, 2022, https://www.politico.com/news/2022/09/13/lindsey-graham-joe-biden-abortion-00056505; Annie Gowen and Colby Itkowitz, “Kansans resoundingly reject amendment aimed at restricting abortion rights,” Washington Post, August 3, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2022/08/02/kansas-abortion-referendum/; Jonathan Tamari, “What the Kansas abortion vote might mean for Pennsylvania’s key 2022 races,” Philadelphia Inquirer, August 3, 2022, https://www.inquirer.com/politics/election/kansas-abortion-vote-pennsylvania-2022-midterm-elections-20220803.html; Julia Terruso and Jonathan Lai, “Women are registering to vote in Pa. in numbers far exceeding men since the Supreme Court abortion decision,” Philadelphia Inquirer, August 22, 2022, https://www.inquirer.com/politics/election/pennsylvania-women-voter-registration-dobbs-20220822.html↩
- Gerhard Lenski, Power and Privilege: A Theory of Social Stratification (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966).↩
- Cornel West, Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud (Carlsbad, CA: SmileyBooks, 2009).↩
- David Benfell, “The connection between ‘original sin,’ misogyny, and white supremacism,” Not Housebroken, November 25, 2018, https://disunitedstates.org/2018/11/25/the-connection-between-original-sin-misogyny-and-white-supremacism/↩
- David Benfell, “On the pretense of ‘law and order,’” Not Housebroken, September 11, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/09/11/on-the-pretense-of-law-and-order/↩