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Feb 06 2013

Catholic School Teaches Moral Relativism

One of the most irritating arguments I hear from Christians all the time is that if you don’t believe that morality is defined solely by God in His allegedly infinite wisdom, you’re a “moral relativist,” presumably a bad thing. But a New Jersey Catholic School is demonstrating that quality themselves rather plainly:

Female students at the Queen of Peace High School in North Arlington, N.J., stood up during homeroom Friday, raised their right hands, and recited a pledge in unison.

“I do solemnly promise not to use profanities of any kind within the walls and properties of Queen of Peace High School. In other words, I swear not to swear. So help me God,” they said.

Meanwhile, boys at the school were free to use whatever language they wanted.

So it’s wrong for girls to curse, because they are such delicate flowers, but okay for the boys. Of course, I don’t much care if anyone curses. But how is this not the very “moral relativism” that the Pope screams about all the time? We see the same behavior from many Christians when you bring up the atrocities in the Old Testament. All of a sudden genocide will be excusable, even the dashing of children against the rocks. It’s totally different when God does it. Moral relativism, indeed.

28 comments

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  1. 1
    glodson

    Ha, I saw this on the day we had to have a talk with my 3 year old daughter. She picked up the phrase “damn it.” Probably from me. I’m just lucky she hasn’t picked up on the next word I often use with that phrase: motherfucker. Anyway, my wife and I told her that she shouldn’t say that at school, because some might think it is rude. But it was okay to say at the house.

    She paused and looked at us. Then asked “Can I say it in the car?” We said yes and were rewarded with a stream of a damnits.

    It is a bit of sexism too. There’s this stupid idea that the girls at the school are to be demur and not use that kind of language. It isn’t “lady-like.” And the idea is that the boys should be saying those words around the girls, as it isn’t gentlemanly to curse in front of ladies.

    Fuck that shit. The only reason I don’t want my little girl cursing is that I really don’t want to have to take a trip to the principal’s office when she tells another kid that they are full of shit.

    Okay, I kind of do want to take that trip.

  2. 2
    d.c.wilson

    What? The church that spent decades covering up child rape is full of moral relativists?

    Surely you’re joking!

  3. 3
    tbp1

    Not to mention “I swear not to swear.”

  4. 4
    Raging Bee

    Yeah, nothing screams “moral relativism” like the idea that morals can only come from a God, whose existence and precise nature can never be agreed on, and never from any kind of reasoning based on repeatable observation of objective reality.

    I don’t think this Pope even cares what he’s talking about, if he ever did. All he’s doing is parroting whatever buzzwords or talking-points sound convincing. “Moral relativism,” “neopaganism,” “materialism,” whatever sounds good and seems to work.

  5. 5
    Michael Heath

    Ed writes:

    One of the most irritating arguments I hear from Christians all the time is that if you don’t believe that morality is defined solely by God in His allegedly infinite wisdom, you’re a “moral relativist,” presumably a bad thing.

    As a moral objectivist, I do tend to perceive moral relativism as an inferior standard though my opposition is qualified and nuanced. I largely object because I think moral relativism is what religion effectively promotes; where religionists have also failed miserably to establish standards which minimizes suffering and instead better promotes people and life in general flourishing. In fact they frequently promote policies and behavior in exact opposition to these objectives – while frequently having to deny reality to falsely claim otherwise.

    Pedantically religionists often claim adherence to an objective moral standard, but which large sub-population is better at opposing their own standards than American Christians when it comes to the behavior and policies they most stridently promote? I don’t know of a close second. Often by pointing to the contradictory, repugnant, and often evil behavior of the biblical god or other biblical heroes as justification for violating their self-proclaimed fealty to principles like love, justice, forgiveness, grace, pacifism, and altruism.

  6. 6
    Chaos Engineer

    Well, to be fair, “It is always wrong for women to swear” is phrased as a moral absolute.

    The corresponding non-absolute moral would be: “In some cultures, it’s considered rude for women to swear, and for men to swear when women are listening. If you’re among people from that kind of culture, then this tradition should be respected for the sake of social harmony unless there’s a compelling reason for breaking it, like if you hit your thumb with a hammer or something.”

    The thing I don’t understand is why moral absolutes are supposed to be so great. The one up above gives women an excuse to not use hammers, which just creates even more work for men.

  7. 7
    magistramarla

    Glodson,
    You brought back a great memory for me.
    My late mother-in-law had four boys. In kindergarten, B learned the word “shit”.
    He said it to Mom, who immediately cleaned his mouth out with soap.
    B ran off to tell my hubby, J and biggest brother, K.
    Later, Mom saw the three-year-old E being shoved into the kitchen by three pairs of hands.
    He danced his way across the kitchen, singing the word.
    To be fair, Mom took E to the bathroom and cleaned his mouth out with soap.
    E went sniffling up the stairs, saying “You guys – you guys”.
    This was one of Mom’s favorite stories about the trials and tribulations of raising four boys.

  8. 8
    dantalion

    The catholic church has always practiced and preached moral relativism.

    When the catholic church complains about “moral relativism” they mean that not everyone recognizes them as the ultimate infallible moral authority “people think they can just ignore our edicts and do what they want, they’ve given in to moral relativism”).

    The church has always taken the view that the absolute morality they espouse is subject to being made up or changed whenever they feel like it. What is declared moral is based on political convenience.

  9. 9
    laurentweppe

    A funny trivia for all of you: the french word for “Moral Relativism” is Jésuitisme (or if you really want to sound smart and well learned Escobarderie, which, yes comes from the Jesuit Antonio Escobar y Mendoza)

  10. 10
    busterggi

    I think the girls should just have told their authoritarian teachers to go piss on a wall.

    Its very biblical.

  11. 11
    billdaniels

    Being a gentleman of a certain age, I try not to swear around men and women who are older than I am. Or around conservative xians They tend to dislike swear words, so I don’t use them, unless I inted to upset them.
    I have no scruples about swearing around people my age or younger.
    My younger son broke his elbow when he was 2 1/2. He had to spend the night in the hospital before they could put a cast on his arm. Every time he tried to move his injured arm it would hurt and he would yell, “Goddamn it!” Most of the nurses thought it was funny; a few did not. We sat him down and said that there were certain words that adults use but some people get upset when a child uses them. He replied, “Oh, you mean like fuck, shit, piss, damn, and dick?” I’m not sure where he picked them up; we lived with my mother-in-law who didn’t like swearing, so we didn’t swear at home. We told him those were the words we were talking about and asked him not to use them. He said okay.
    When my sons were 9 and 11, their mother and their grandmother both died. I decided that a little swearing now and then wouldn’t hurt them, so I allowed it. They still don’t swear al lot, but wnen it’s called for, they let loose.

  12. 12
    Marcus Ranum

    But how is this not the very “moral relativism” that the Pope screams about all the time?

    Yes, it is. Brought on by gay marriage!

  13. 13
    eric

    @6 got it right. This is not moral relativism if they always and consistently treat women worse than men according to some clear rule. It would be relativism if they said: its sometimes okay for women to swear in school, and sometimes its not.

  14. 14
    Christoph Burschka

    I swear not to swear

    …seriously?

    Maybe they should look up James 5:12 or Matthew 5:34. :-P

  15. 15
    Ichthyic

    As a moral objectivist

    we used to call people like that conservatives.

    On a side note, I’m curious… how does one go about determine the objectivity of a moral?

  16. 16
    nakarti

    There is only one objective moral, and from it all morality is derived: Freedom.
    Changes in the amount of freedom based on your actions determines whether those actions are good (add freedom,) or evil (take freedom away,) overall. Your personal evaluation of those freedoms (is what I can buy with this dollar worth more than the meal it could buy for someone who can’t, etc) is what makes most moral choices subjective. The more accurate your prediction of the soft freedoms (same example; how much more could you do with that dollar feeding poor children in Africa, how will such now-fed people improve the world, in what ways could you improve the world by keeping the dollar for some greater activity like building homes, ad infinitesimal…) the closer your choices get to being objectively moral.
    A moral objectivist is just a person who tries to reach that objective morality with more of their choices*.

    (*Free choice being an illusion based on our lack of knowledge of all the things which cause us to make the choices we do. Truly objective morality may be only attainable by determinists who understand that they’re not really making their decisions; their experiences and knowledge are. The irony of this is making my head numb.)

  17. 17
    Dr X

    If I’m reading the article correctly, it didn’t sound like it was about morality, but civility. The question of why do it with the girls but not the boys matters, but I don’t think this was a case of moral relativism as much as it was about differing social expectations for girls and boys. My own experience with Catholic high school teachers (I’ve known many) is that they don’t regard “cursing” as a moral matter as much as they regard it as a manners issue–a matter of time and place. And lots of priests I know curse judiciously.

  18. 18
    democommie

    When I was a child, the RCC said that you could not receive the eucharist if you ate after midnitght of the day it was on offer.

    They backed that off to three hours, then one; I think that it’s now okay to stop at Dunkin’ Donuts on the way to church. It’s just like meat on fridays. It’s all fucking RWA bullshit.

    I’ve struggled since childhood with impulse control. I tend to curse loudly and prolifically when I’m working alone on something. With others, not so much, but still much more than I like. I don’t see it a BAD thing to do; I see it as a lack of patience and inability to accept, gracefully, the unpleasantness that life gives all of us in some measure So, I’m not Job, I wouldn’t want to be.

  19. 19
    WMDKitty -- Survivor

    Ummmm…. NO. Fuck that. Why should my language be restricted based on someone else’s idea of what is “ladylike”? Especially if being a “lady” means I hafta be a “delicate little flower” an’ shit, yanno? It just isn’t me. I’d feel totally fake.

  20. 20
    monimonika

    One thing that made me smile a bit when I read the article is that at least some of the boys recognized the double standard and insisted that they be allowed to take part alongside the girls.

    Flynn said. “And I guess it made the boys feel a little slighted.”

    On the downside, the teacher is still an idiot.

  21. 21
    johnhodges

    All religious morality is inherently subjective and relative, because it depends crucially on faith. Nothing that you have to take on faith is “objective”.

    Religion does not provide any such “objective basis” for goodness or morality. Religion offers a hearsay account of some guy claiming to have had the subjective experience of meeting a really big ghost who claimed to be the Creator of the Universe, demanded obedience, and offered promises and threats. We have to take on faith that the account is correct, that the “prophet” was telling the truth about his subjective experience, that he was not hallucinating or dreaming, AND that the ghost he encountered was telling the truth, was not some local shade playing a practical joke, or a demon who feeds off worship and sacrifices. Nothing that you have to take on faith is an “objective basis” for anything.

    For an “objective basis” for ethics, look at the consequences of actions for real people in this world. Because we are social animals evolved by natural selection, who survive by cooperating in groups, the great majority of people are going to value the health (survival-ability) of their families and the peace of their communities. A “good person” is a desirable neighbor, desirable from the point of view of people who wish to live in peace and raise families. If you want to maintain peaceful and cooperative relations with your neighbors, don’t kill, steal, lie, or break agreements. This is objective. As Shakespeare wrote, “It needs no ghost, Milord, come from the grave, to tell us this.”

  22. 22
    lofgren

    I have to agree with the others who have pointed out that this isn’t really what moral relativism means. This is good old fashioned sexism.

  23. 23
    =8)-DX

    My only rules about “naughty words” for my daughter have been:
    1) don’t say it to hurt people (calling others stupid, evil, horrible).
    2) don’t say it if you don’t know what the word means (most of the sex words).

    I also explain that certain words aren’t for school (shit, arse) and others aren’t for her grandparents (Jesus and Mary).

  24. 24
    dugglebogey

    The Bible and Church were strong advocates of slavery until they weren’t. Now they are morally opposed to it.

    If that’s not moral relativism, I don’t know what is.

  25. 25
    Bronze Dog

    For an “objective basis” for ethics, look at the consequences of actions for real people in this world. Because we are social animals evolved by natural selection, who survive by cooperating in groups, the great majority of people are going to value the health (survival-ability) of their families and the peace of their communities.

    The terms vary quite a lot in my blog circles, but it’s my understanding that this is what makes morality relative: Every moral rule is based on how it relates to moral actors and how they relate to one another. Because of that, “objective” morality comes across as laws floating in the ether for no reason, while relative morality actually deals with the world and provides reasons why things are moral or immoral.

  26. 26
    Michael Heath

    Bronze Dog writes:

    . . . “objective” morality comes across as laws floating in the ether for no reason.

    Objective morality standards exist, so the scare quotes are misleading. For example, my moral standard is the following:
    1) Minimize human suffering
    2) Maximize human happiness
    3) Optimize the long-term health and viability of the earth’s environment.
    4) I’m still working out a standard for how to treat other sentient life-forms beyond humans, though #3 goes a long way towards protecting their rights – where I acknowledge other life forms also possess inalienable rights just as I assert humans do.

    The criteria used to establish whether an act is moral and immoral is science.

    Part my reluctance on establishing a standard on #4 is how little we know regarding how other life forms experience life though for those we do know. That’s coupled to our current dependence on exploiting non-human lives. However I’m a strong proponent of protecting those populations where we do something about their experiences regarding joy and suffering. E.g., I currently oppose putting Michigan’s tiny wolf population up for a hunting season in the Upper Peninsula. That’s because we understand how harmful it is for wolfpacks to lose their leaders, we don’t hunt them for food, and I’m skeptical they’re causing the degree of harm towards livestock that hunting proponents claim they are. Where those proponents make arguments which rival the quality of Sarah Palin and Ted Nugent’s.

    I recall a survey a couple of years back that noted that over 50% of atheist philosophers who participated in the survey noted they were not relativists but supported some sort of objective moral standard. IIRC the population was academics. I do not recall if the survey was statistically significant; but that’s irrelevant here because I’m not promoting the popularity of objective moral standards but instead acknowledging its existence.

    Sam Harris’ The Moral Landscape promotes his own objective moral standard, which is similar though not equivalent to my own.

  27. 27
    Bronze Dog

    I’m also kind of reluctant to call my similar form of morality “objective” because there’s some association I have with that and the idea of absolutes, and I favor some wiggle room from circumstances. It does produce irony, though, since these “relative” morals are generally more firm and more universal than those of fundies who argue that morality is absolutely objective, but wildly change their stance on genocide and slavery when we move from the modern world to Bible stories.

    And yeah, I’d avoid limiting it to humans, since sentience/sapience/consciousness is what we’re really interested in. There may very well be aliens who qualify somewhere out there in the universe (though there’s a lot of hurdles to overcome to make them relevant beyond generational phone tag). Someday we might develop conscious AIs, and I really hope we treat them with respect, rather than declare their consciousness doesn’t count just because they don’t have the right carbon molecules.

  28. 28
    maddog1129

    the vaunted “objective” or “absolute” moral rules do little to nothing to help resolve moral dilemmas in any way that is different from the bogeyman “relativistic” values. Arguing over whether a rule is or should be “objective” or “absolute” or “unchanging” is of little use if it provides no better guidance in difficult situations.

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