A reply to this post by Bob.
The strange thing is, I agree wholeheartedly with many of the conclusions that a rejection of absolute morality lead you to, although you seem to think that they are somewhat ridiculous.
Slavery is a perfect example. I happen to think slavery is wrong, not because some ineffable higher power tells me so, but because it causes suffering to other human beings. However, I do not hold that that judgement is in any way absolute. If the prevailing opinion of society was that slavery was a positive thing, that the suffering of a mass of people for the benefit of another mass of people was acceptable, or even desirable, what good would appealing to absolutes or gods do me?
And there we have a hint of Christianity’s origins. At the time of Jesus, the Roman Empire was supported by a huge mass of slaves. Neither the Roman religion nor Judaism had anything in particular to say against this, as far as I know (I’m a little unsure of the details here). Now, I’m sure not all the jews were slaves, but they were an oppressed people, servile to the empire. Unfortunately for them, the morals that would have condemned slavery and their condition of oppression as wrong simply did not exist. Those “absolutes” were not yet absolute. Christian morality, then, is simply a set of ideas that evolved out of social and historical circumstance as a reaction against the dominant ideology of the time.
The question of historical right and wrong is largely a moot point in any case. The fact of the matter is that slavery, both in terms of the slave-based empires of antiquity and more recently on the American continent, were necessary stages in the evolution of civilization. Todays slavery is an unfortunate product of the capitalist system, another necessary step in that evolution. Socialism is the next step. Capitalism is not, and does not have to be absolutely wrong and socialism absolutely right for the next step to be taken. Is fascism wrong? I think so. Absolutely? No. Fascism arose as a reaction against the failed social revolutions that took place in Europe at the time. Until it became a threat to the capitalist classes in other countries, it was applauded by them. Look at US imperialism, where morality has become a tool to manipulate people. Zionism is actively supported by the US government. Baathist oppression and brutality in Iraq was ignored until it became clear that Saddam Hussein wasn’t going to play ball. They then embarked on a genocide campaign of their own by systematically bombing Iraqi water supplies, which couldn’t be repaired due to UN sanctions. Now they’re going all out to impose American “freedom” on part of the muslim world, a people with an entirely different set of “absolutes”. Many people support this. My opinion differs from theirs, but they aren’t wrong in an absolute sense.
But maybe I’m getting a little side-tracked. I’m not great at explaining what I think.
I agree that happiness isn’t a great basis for morality, but many people do judge right and wrong on this basis. So what? Why are you looking for some universal way for society to decide an absolute moral code? Isn’t that gods job? And what good would such a universal code do, god-given or not? Indeed, what good does the christian moral code do in our society? What was that figure, 87% i think, of the Irish population consider themselves catholics. So I would assume that it is the catholic moral code that would be taken as “absolute” in this particular corner of the world, despite the myriad of other moral codes represented by the other 13%. So who is responsible for our culture of materialism, violence and idol worship? These are all things deemed wrong by catholicism.
Anyway, it is the chaotic and uncertain mess that you suggest in your last paragraph. Hobo-bashing maybe be largely considered wrong, but allowing people to go without shelter seems to be perfectly acceptable. This is not because any higher power, individual or group, or society as a whole sat down and reasoned out that that was how it was going to be. It’s just the consensus. Yesterdays virtue is todays sin, and tomorrow there will be a new consensus. No god or overarching moral code is going to change that.