With all the political hot topics being bandied about regarding things like abortion, religious freedom, same-sex marriage and health care, as well as recent SCOTUS decisions, I thought this would be a good time to write a new post. Although I have not prepared a lot of material to keep things going, this seemed like something which needed to be addressed.
I have heard a lot of talk on both sides of the issues listed above and have noticed how these conversations have a tendency to degenerate and lead to quarrels, threats and even physical violence! This has gotten me thinking about not only the topics, but the way they are engaged.
It has led me to ask this question: Do beliefs have moral qualities?
While I think beliefs can have truth qualities (they can be true or false), I don't see how a belief, itself, has any intrinsic moral quality. Beliefs can lead to moral or immoral behaviors or attitudes, certainly. But the belief itself seems to be neither moral nor immoral. A belief can simply be true or false.
What is a belief? A belief is nothing more than that which one holds to be true. It simply means you take some proposition to be consistent with reality. When it comes to beliefs about morality, things tend to get confusing. We often conflate the position with the person. We tend to think someone is a bad person if they incorrectly believe that an immoral action is moral, or vice versa.
If I believe slavery is immoral, I am simply holding it to be true that a person ought not be own another person as property. The actions I take as a result of this belief may be moral or immoral. As to the proposition “slavery is immoral,” that is either true or false. Either is truly is morally wrong to own a
person as property or it is not.
It is at this level, I think, we should be engaging in many of the difficult, divisive, emotionally charged topics that currently dominate the political landscape. When discussing these sorts of topics, we should avoid thinking in terms that put the moral people on one side and the immoral people on the other. Rather, we should recognize that certain beliefs are true and others are false.
Most people do not want to be immoral. Most people do not want to be seen as immoral. When we view a person's belief as being immoral, we usually end up seeing the person as immoral which often leads to defensiveness and counter-attacks which render any discussion futile as both sides only become more entrenched. If, however, we view their beliefs as either correct or incorrect, we can work with each other to determine which, if either, belief is true and which is false.
Perhaps the most difficult part of this is keeping in mind that it may be our own belief that is found to be false. Beliefs tend to build upon one another. One belief is based on some other belief which may be based on yet another belief. If we are addressing a belief upon which other beliefs are grounded, this automatically puts us into a position to resist a change of that foundational belief because it will impact so many other beliefs we hold.
If we do find that we hold a belief that is false, regardless of how that may affect other beliefs, we must be prepared to reject a false belief in favor of a belief that is more likely true. Failure to reject a belief that is found to be false can ultimately lead us to places we do not want to go....plus...that would be immoral.