Saturday, April 9, 2011

Moral Equivalence

From the Episcopal Church:

“This year Earth Day falls within Holy Week, specifically on Good Friday, a profound coincidence,” said Mike Schut, a church spokesman. “To fully honor Earth Day, we need to reclaim the theology that knows Earth is ‘very good,’ is holy. When we fully recognize that, our actions just may begin to create a more sustainable, compassionate economy and way of life.”
Christians observe Good Friday, the day reserved to remember the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, on the Friday before Easter, which is not celebrated on a fixed date. First observed on April 22, 1970, Earth Day is celebrated to raise awareness about efforts to protect the environment.
Schut continued: “On Good Friday, the day we mark the crucifixion of Christ, God in the flesh, might we suggest that when Earth is degraded, when species go extinct, that another part of God’s body experiences yet another sort of crucifixion — that another way of seeing and experiencing God is diminished?”
From a Roman Maryknoll Priest:

  • For the past 20 years I have been speaking out and organizing against the injustice of the School of the Americas and U.S. foreign policy in Latin America. Over these years I discovered an injustice much closer to home – an injustice in my Church. Devout women in our Church believe God is calling them to be priests, but they are rejected because the Church teaches that only baptized men can become priests. As a Catholic priest for 38 years, I believe our Church’s teaching that excludes women from the priesthood defies both faith and reason and cannot stand up to scrutiny...

What do these two things have in common -- their fatal flaw or, should I say, the whole ground of their argument?  Moral equivalence!  Now I could have posted any number of similar things but wanted to show how one of the prime ways that we argue (when we have nothing else to stand on) is to falsely raise up a weak issue so that it stands shoulder to shoulder with a strong one.  We make them morally equal.  Usually one is fairly obvious or well accepted.  The other, the one that is being argued, less so.

Notice how in the first the crucifixion of our Lord on behalf of a fallen, sinful, and death marked humanity is equated with the loss of species or the "abuse" of the environment.  Now this actually came from the office of the Episcopal Church and not some individual crack pot.  My point here is how agendas skew thinking and distort the playing field of ideas when we debate.  There is no moral equivalence to the death of the Son of God for the sake of the fallen world and the loss of species due to the actions of man (either directly or indirectly).  The end result is not that the environmental cause is raised up but the death of Christ is diminished and even trivialized.

In the second a Roman Catholic Priest was asked to own up to the official Roman teaching on women and the priesthood -- something you would expect from any Roman priest as a matter of form.  But this priest rejects his church's teaching and in doing so justifies his "disobedience" by equating national injustice he supposes from the US foreign policy with the fact that ordination is not open to women.  Injustice is injustice and so he takes a "courageous" stand for the priesthood being opened to women just as he did when speaking against (presumedly) the rule of dictators and the oppression of people by repressive governments.  The only problem is that one is dealing with what the world recognizes as "human rights" and the other a privilege distinct to very few within the Roman Catholic Church.

We see a lot of this kind of argumentation and it is ridiculous.  It is stupid when it happens in political discourse, childish when it happens in the civil realm, and downright shameful when it detracts from Good Friday or the doctrinal teaching of a Church (and, I might add, the unbroken practice of the Church -- nearly universal -- since the time of Christ).

People might think this a clever argumentative tool but it is a ploy designed to mask the weakness and foolishness of the debater and the lack of strong points to use in defense of his or her position.  I just had to say it....


Anonymous said...

Pastor Peters:

Could you give some examples of
Moral Equivalence arguments in the
Lutheran Church Missouri Synod in
today's theological landscape?

Rev. Weinkauf said...

Rev. Peters, the ELCA has one-upped them. They have on their website a "Tenebrae for the Earth" and "Passion of the Earth" for Good Friday. The Liturgy suggests the "Environmental stations of the cross" Lord have mercy!

Rev. Weinkauf said...

And of course "the 7 candles represents the Earth."

Rev. Allen Bergstrazer said...

What they have in common is slavery to human reason. Earth day falling on Good Friday isn't a profound coincidence its a comical ironic one. That a holy day in the secular (read that pagan) calendar should become an emphasis or even hijack Good Friday is a disgrace. Of course in a sermon you could use Earth day as a perfect foil for the suffering and death of Christ. Sin brought the proverbial 'thorns of the earth' and corrupted all that God created and declared good. The moral equivalency is that Earth day is a time set aside to remember to clean up the planet through our own efforts. When our actual problem isn't that we need to clean our lives or the world up but that we are dead in our trespasses and sins.