Thursday, April 30, 2009

Mr. Mackay on morality and society

I was dismayed, but not surprised, to read this in an opinion piece by Mr. Hugh Mackay in Saturday’s Sydney Morning Herald:

Perhaps we sense the fondly imagined community is under threat, and the consequences might be serious. The consequences could hardly be more serious: our moral sense is a social sense. Only by learning how to live in a community do we acquire our sense of right and wrong, and more subtle values such as tolerance, compassion and respect for others.
(my emphasis)

Nothing here, sadly, to suggest that the individual’s moral sense is a Divine imprint upon him or her; nothing here to suggest that it is by the individual’s rational examination of the objective natures of things that he or she tells good from evil, right from wrong. It’s a shame that Mr. Mackay embraces what sounds like a recipe for relativism, because he actually makes several good points in the first half of that article, offering observations on the rise of divorce, the rise of single-parent families, the role of children as what he calls a “social lubricant”, the fall in the number of housewives, information technology, population mobility and shrinking households.

Via a Google search I found out a bit more about Mr. Mackay’s ethics. Apparently he wrote a book, published in 2004, on the topic, and there is an Anglican review of it here. Mr. Mackay says in his book that

The moral sense is a social sense. Personal relationships are both the wellspring and the lifeblood of morality. Our moral sensitivity is heightened when we feel connected with the communities in which we exist. When communities fragment, shared values are the first casualty ...
The reviewer observes that
Mackay writes that the only purpose for the book is ‘to help you achieve greater clarity in your quest for an understanding of what’s right and wrong for you, in your own particular circumstances’.
For Mackay, ‘right’ equals what is ‘right for you’, and ‘wrong’ equals what is ‘wrong for you’.
And Mr. Mackay appears not to understand that religion comprises faith and morals, not just faith. He says that
… it can be dangerous to confuse religious faith with a moral code, as if you can’t have one without the other. Religion addresses the metaphysical question: ‘Why are we here?’ Morality tackles a more practical question: ‘How should we live together?’
For some people those two questions seem to merge; religious believers often claim that their moral code is directly linked to their religious faith. Yet religion and morality can be treated quite separately: one is about making sense of your very existence; the other is about how to live your life. Religion does its work in the interior, spiritual realm, whereas morality is an exterior, social construct.
Morality a ‘social construct’? It is a pity that Mr. Mackay subscribes to this kind of relativism, because, as in the Herald article, he sometimes has some surprisingly wise thoughts mixed in with the nonsense.

Reginaldvs Cantvar
Feast of St. Catherine of Siena, Virgin, A.D. 2009


Louise said...

Good grief! Obviously, there wouldn't be so much divorce etc if people were doing what is right, instead of "what's right for me."

Louise said...

I mean, really, do people genuinely not realise this?

Anonymous said...

They do, it's just that they're selfish pigs.

+ Thos. Wolsey,

Archiepiscopus Eboracensis