On my way to work this morning, I listened to a radio program on which they debated stem cell research. Of course, you’re probably aware that President Bush recently vetoed a bill proposed by congress to publicly fund embryonic stem cell research. He did so on the moral grounds that destroying an embryo (for any reason) is killing a human being … or at the very least, a “potential” human being. Protesters went crazy, saying that he’s cow-towing to religious fanatics in doing so, and were outraged that Bush would bring to bear his faith as a Christian as some kind of moral authority to veto a bill that could help so many people.
Could stem cell research help a lot of people with very serious and horrible diseases / conditions? Yes.
Can stem cells be retrieved from something other than embryos? Maybe.
Is this question a complicated one? Absolutely.
But I don’t want to debate the issue at the moment. Instead, I want to focus on this question of “moral authority”. There are so many people upset about Bush’s use of the Bible / his Christian faith as a moral authority. They want to make sure that there’s a strict “separation of church and state” … between decisions made based on faith and decisions made based on … what?
That’s my question. If the Bible isn’t our souce of moral authority as Americans, then what is? I think the debate to this point has been somewhat fallacious and misleading, because the secular folks neither cite- nor in my opinion understand that they too are arguing from a source of moral authority. Is it the constitution? Is it “science”? Is it atheism? What is it? Because here’s the rub … it can’t be nothing.
There are only two kinds of decisions — preference decisions and moral decisions. It is not possible to argue anything significant from no source of moral authority. If it’s not choosing which shirt I’m going to wear today or what I want for dinner, then it’s a moral decision. Every decision, every judgment, every belief has to come from somewhere. And anyone who tells you that they are making decisions based solely on fact, they’re either lying or they just don’t get it. Were you there? Did you do all the research yourself? ‘Cause if you weren’t or if you didn’t, then you’re basing your decision on belief .. trust … etc. And that means that the belief you’re basing your decision on has to come from somewhere.
President Bush claims his belief comes from the Bible. I can’t speak for his beliefs, but mine absolutely come from the Bible. Of course, I know many others for whom this is also true. It could be Buddha, or Islam, or the constitution, or myself (that’s a big, very dangerous one — because it basically means I’m god — and the human nature loves to be god). But it has to be something.
Wherever you get your moral authority, that’s your right. That’s what pluralism is, and I support your right to believe whatever you want. But there are a couple things we need to be honest about…
- Not all authorities are equal. Sorry, but the Bible is a superior source of moral authority to the US constitution. I know many don’t want to hear that, but every single person who WROTE the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution would agree, so…..
- It’s dishonest to claim that having an opinion informed by the Bible is invalid in public discourse. If it’s not possible to have NO source of authority by which I make a statement in a debate, then honest debate seems to demand that we permit people to just have their opinions based on their beliefs. Very legitimate. But in the final analysis — and here’s the clincher — we lend more weight to the most credible sources for that moral authority. So, we return to rule #1.
So let’s stop pounding on Bush for being a Christian. Let’s stop saying that because someone openly admits their source for moral authority that it makes them a religious fanatic. If that’s true, then each of the people making that accusation are also religious fanatics — it’s just a different religion.