Tag Archives: conservative

Marriage equality, retribution and moral progress


The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” by Dürer

Colin Craig, leader of New Zealand’s Conservative party, is upset at last night’s parliamentary vote supporting marriage equality. On twitter (@ColinCraigNZ) he warned “The day of reckoning is still to come.” Some Catholic Bishops in Auckland issued a similar warning.

The religious connotations are obvious – war, pestilence, etc. But Craig’s press release hints at electoral consequences for parliament ignoring the expressed will of the people. He said: “Last night was not a vote of the people of New Zealand. If it had been, the answer would have been no.” (sic). And went on to claim: “Next year’s election will be the opportunity for New Zealanders to finally have their say. . . . . we expect our support to continue to increase.”

The Catholic Bishops also implied that the next election might see loss of support for those MPs who supported the law as an angry electorate took vengeance.

Craig and those bishops should get out more. Polling has shown majority support in New Zealand for marriage equality. And comments in the twitter stormduring the parliamentary debate last night indicated people were considering electorally supporting good speakers even though they represented political parties they hated.

The overwhelming assessment of the parliamentary debate on this legislation was that it was a high quality, reasoned and non-partisan approach made possible by the conscience vote. Bloody hell, the parliament TV channel must have had a huge following – patrons in bars and at parties were watching the debate. On this issue parliament TV was the best viewing of the night.

Watch Maurice Williamson’s speech on the legislation

Human rights the issue

The legislation was passed by an overwhelming majority (77 to 44). Members of parliament supporting the legislation impressed in their speeches because they were arguing in favour of human rights, and removal of discrimination. That resonated with viewers – and will do those speakers no harm in the next elections.

The few MPs speaking against the legislation instead argued for “tradition,” “authority” and conservative religious, even supernatural, morality.

I think this illustrates a clear difference in foundational values some moral psychologists describe as underlying human morality. I have written about this in reviewing Jonathan Haidt’s book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (see Morality and the “worship” of reason and Human morality is evolving).

Haidt lists six foundational values in human morality:

  1. Care/Harm
  2. Fairness/Cheating
  3. Loyalty/Betrayal
  4. Authority/Subversion
  5. Sanctity/Degradation
  6. Liberty/Oppression

I think this is a useful hypothesis (although I don’t agree with his conclusions about political values and the way he treats each foundational value as equal). We all have underlying intuitions and values driven by these sort of instincts.  However, I just don’t treat all these “foundational values” as equal. Or the resulting moral outlooks as always valid.

While these instincts evolved in humans, and some other animals, some, to me, seem more valid in today’s society. For example, foundational values related to survival, harm and care seem fundamental, arising naturally from the inherent biological value of survival. But those related to purity, sanctity authority, etc., while often relying on instincts developed for survival (eg purity of food), are actually hijacked to emotionally justify features of society and religion.

Foundational values of purity are important in considering unusual food, authority and loyalty in times of war, natural catastrophe, etc. But purity in considering beliefs, social arrangements like marriage and sexual relations? Authority and loyalty when considering behaviour in a democratic and pluralist, multi-belief and secular society? I think in the latter situations these foundational values are being misused and the moral conclusions are unjustified. They are relying on the hijacking of human instincts to give emotional support for outmoded social relations.

The moral drift?

Many people have commented that the marriage equality legislation is long overdue – others have commented  that “it is time.” Clearly it’s passing is possible now, and not 5 or 10 years ago, because of the change in our moral outlook. Conservatives may lament that – they may see this moral change as a decay or degradation. Others (the majority in this case) see it as progress.

But in terms of Haidt’s “foundational values” I see it as society giving more credence to foundational values related to survival, care, harm, fairness, liberty and human rights. And giving less credence to foundational values related to loyalty, authority, purity, sanctity and sacredness in human relations.

I think that is progress.

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Hypocritical gratitude?

It seems that some of the delusional god-bothers in the US are upset because there President omitted their god in the list of people he expressed gratitude to in his thanksgiving day speech. As PZ Myers put it – you would think that Obama was joining the New Atheists!

The Christian Post had a wee moan about the issue. It mentions Conservative columnist Ben Shapiro who said of Obama: “Militant atheist. To whom does he think we are giving thanks?”

What a pack of whiners!

I have always thought it rude not to express one’s gratitude to those who deserve it. And there are plenty (see Thanks, Thanking those who deserve thanks and Appropriate thanks). What’s with this rude habit of thanking a mythical being for one’s meal and ignoring the cook, serving staff, farmers, etc. Hell, I would even be thanking the agricultural scientists for their contribution to my meal.

Neil deGrasse Tyson

Yet astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson relates what could be a common experience. At a thanksgiving meal he attended everyone went around  the table expressing their thanks. Until he spoke they were all thanking their god.

He expressed his gratitude to agriculture – far more sensible and genuine. But he got booed!

How rude.

Sam Singleton presented quite a relevant atheist sermon on gratitude and religious hypocrisy at the recent US Skepticon conference. Have a look at the video below.

Atheist Revival, Sam Singleton Skepticon 4

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Spreading doubt on climate change

It’s interesting how we keep getting little snippets of ‘news’ circulating the internet that cast doubt on the scientific consensus around the likely anthropogenic contribution to climate change. They will often quote new scientific findings or statements from scientists or scientific organisations. I think we are all aware of what is going on here. We all tend to select the information which supports our arguments. Nevertheless, the apparent scientific credibility of some of these snippets can sow doubt in the minds of many of us.

I thought it would be interesting to follow up a comment made by Ross Dixon on a recent post (Climate change and New Zealand). This implied that the 46,000 members of the American Physical Society had changed their minds on the causes of climate change and had published a paper outlining this in their “journal.” The implication is that the paper had scientific credibility (implied by the peer review involved in publication by a scientific journal) and that the society had made a statement supporting the paper’s conclusions.

Well, the facts are a bit different!

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