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.
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 ...
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’.
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.… 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.
Feast of St. Catherine of Siena, Virgin, A.D. 2009