Garth George and the art of polluting reasonable discussions about society and ethics

New Zealand Herald columnist Garth George is at his vitriolic worst again. His witch hunt this time – the Green party and their “dangerous” agenda [insert gut laugh here].

It is fair to say Garth George is on a personal crusade to change New Zealand society, which he sees as sick and depraved. An outspoken critic of abortion rights (or as George puts it “murdering babies”) he has clearly left the path of sanity in his latest rant against the Green party here in New Zealand.

One commenter to this article stated that the his entire piece could have been summarised by: “I don’t like the Greens because they are anti-fundamentalist Christian”.

I would say that is true and Garth George’s diatribe highlights why some religious perspectives on morality are deeply flawed, bigoted and therefore relegated to the scrapheap of bad ideas. Take it away George:

The Greens are dangerous. They are more than a polite group of tree-huggers, slug-savers and water samplers but you rarely, if ever, hear of the more sinister planks of their policy, which are frightening to say the least to those of us who care about what really matters.

“… Frightening to say the least to those of us who care about what really matters”. Aside from noticing the extreme condescension dolled out against opponents of his views, the question is, what exactly is it that “really matters”?

George wastes no time telling us exactly what issues are most important: abortion (sanctity of life); same-sex marriage, same-sex adoption (sanctity of marriage); “an education system which teaches that homosexuality is normal”; euthanasia (right to life of every person from conception to natural death).

Where have I heard that list before? Straight out of the religious fundamentalists handbook of intolerance and bigotry.

Not even moral

As is often the case with religious intrusion into moral debate, many of the arguments Garth George advances aren’t even moral in nature. Religious moral claims tend to come with the appeal to God, which means they are arbitrary and not necessarily based on any real effects in the world.

In reality, how do we evaluate what is moral? I submit that a civil and humane society in the 21st century bases its morality on innate, hard wired concern for the suffering and welfare of sentient beings.

A moral argument, therefore, has nothing to do with morality or is immoral if:

  • It is based on an appeal to authority. This is by definition a bad argument. Authorities that are the arbiters of morality can and do make immoral pronouncements. In this case morality is arbitrary and solely dependent on the wishes of the authority in question, be that God, the Bible or a national dictator.
  • It is based on “thought crime”. A distinction must be made between thought (no harm to others) and actions (actual harm to others). Religious morality, based on a totalitarian impulse to control, often condemns the mere thinking of something (e.g. sex, anger).
  • It condemns actions that reduce suffering or do no intrinsic harm to others. Such condemnations are immoral.
  • It condemns people for who they are and not what they do. For instance, homosexuals are persecuted for being who they are. This too is without moral foundation.

The humanistic tenet that George seems incensed by is the idea that human morality ought be centered around reducing harm and suffering and maximising wellbeing.

Homosexuality
Given this, it is clear that homosexuality is not a moral issue. Sure there are people who find it repulsive but repulsion is not a sound basis for a moral argument. I find eating cat repulsive but that is not a reason for me to denounce cat eating as immoral.

Homosexuality is “normal” in the sense that there is a clear biological and neurological basis for homosexual preferences and homosexual behaviour is witnessed throughout the animal kingdom.

Gay marriage
Gay marriage is also not immoral and does not affect the “sanctity” of marriage. Again, religion poisons the argument by saying that marriage has been somehow ordained by God as the union of one women and one man. Have they not read their Bibles? The Bible contains countless examples of men with multiple wives.

From a sacred covenant to a purley a legal arrangement for tax and property purposes… The definition of a marriage has changed constantly over the ages. The modern definition of marriage that has been “sanctified” by Christians is merely the latest incarnation. Opposition to civil unions of same sex couples amounts to denying some people rights that the rest of us have purely because of who they are. Bigotry anyone?

Euthanasia
Euthanasia or physician assisted suicide is an issue that is often polluted by the Garth George and his ilk by making unjustified slippery slope arguments such as : “But if we allow voluntary euthanasia then that will lead to voluntary euthanasia and murder.” Cased closed they say. But not only is the preceeding assertion false it also denies the fact that there are certain situations where euthanasia would reduce months and possibly years of needless suffering.

Allowing horrendous suffering to continue despite no hope of improvement could be argued as positively immoral.

Polluting a legitimate ethical debate about abortion

There is an ethical debate that can be had around the issue of abortion. However, denouncing abortion as “murdering babies” is poisoning the well. No rational discussion be had thereafter, even though there are legitimate reasons for an abortion (the birth will likely result in the death of the mother, the baby or both for example).

The argument goes that even an early term foetus is a potential human being. But so is an unfertilised egg and a sperm cell. If we are concerned about potential human beings then it seems obvious we should mourn the loss of billions of sperm cells and millions of eggs.

Where personhood is granted is not a scientific question and is the subject of debate (although science can inform the debate).

I do agree, however, that abortion should be avoided where possible but it is not my place to dictate to a women what she can and can’t do with her body.

Further, Christians generally and the Catholic Church specifically increase the number of abortions by also condemning the use of contraceptives and actively discouraging sex education.

The control of sex is one area the church as had to regress from because a person’s sexual practices is none of their business. 

Overpopulation and concern for the environment

Interestingly, George is quoting a pro-life “mate” in making these comments instead of point blank making these himself. In any case, he clearly agrees with the claims of his buddy, including this doozy:

“We should recognise that the long-term objective of the Greens is to reduce the world’s population, creating a world in which nature is the dominant ‘right’ with humanity subservient to that ‘deity’.”

Here, George could well have been quoting someone from the 15th century. The concern for overpopulation and the ensuing environmental decay, pollution and pushing other species to extinction is hardly raising nature to the status of ‘deity’.

The notion that “God gave humans dominion of the Earth” is an extension of human self-importance and vanity and it has had dire consequences on our planet. Is it not morally reprehensible to act in ways that solely suits us at the expense of other forms of life?

Besides, if we accept his premise that concern for overpopulation is deifying nature we can at least say our deity actually exists.

Green supporters are guilty of labelling others as dangerous and evil (dogmatic opposition to genetic modification springs to mind) but I would hardly call their humanisitic agenda “dangerous” in the sense Garth George has. Abolishing oppression and prejudice is a sign of healthy progress in moral reasoning.

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2 responses to “Garth George and the art of polluting reasonable discussions about society and ethics

  1. “A moral argument, therefore, has nothing to do with morality or is immoral if:

    It is based on an appeal to authority. This is by definition a bad argument. Authorities that are the arbiters of morality can and do make immoral pronouncements. In this case morality is arbitrary and solely dependent on the wishes of the authority in question, be that God, the Bible or a national dictator.
    It is based on “thought crime”. A distinction must be made between thought (no harm to others) and actions (actual harm to others). Religious morality, based on a totalitarian impulse to control, often condemns the mere thinking of something (e.g. sex, anger).
    It condemns actions that reduce suffering or do no intrinsic harm to others. Such condemnations are immoral.
    It condemns people for who they are and not what they do. For instance, homosexuals are persecuted for being who they are. This too is without moral foundation.”

    This was money. Great summation.

    I actually stumbled on this blog accidentally right now looking for something related to Dream Theater! Haha.

    I love it already.

    – Colin

    • viewfromreality

      Cheers Colin! I have tried to keep my posts memorable so I’m glad you appreciate that summation. Oh, and you like Dream Theater – A man of good taste I see!

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