Before I continue, let me briefly disambiguate between ritual and ethical morality. Ritual morality is a meme of ceremonial observance that is shared by a community. The ritual can be based on any number or combination of sources: long-standing tradition, a scripture, an authority figure, etc. Examples of ritual morality include fasting on Yom Kippur for Jews, making saalat five times a day for Muslims, Sunday partaking of the Eucharist for Catholics, daily devotions for pietist Evangelicals, and innumerable others both in and outside of explicitly religious contexts.
There can be little question that memes of ritual morality can become the cement of deep-seated cohesiveness for a community. This cohesiveness, though morally neutral, can incite the participant into acts of kindness and other “good works” while just as likely engendering hostilities, prejudices, fear, and hatred toward those outside the ceremonial circle.
Ritual morality contrasts with ethical or social morality. Social morality is found in the memes and standards that govern interpersonal behaviors between members of an in-group. It should be noted that social morality is expressly exhibited in social vertebrates such as non-human primates, dolphins, naked mole rats, canines, and prairie dogs—it is not a uniquely human phenomenon.
Arbitrary [Ethical] Morality: A Defining Aspect of Fundamentalism
All ritual morality contains components of arbitrariness and is hence a form of arbitrary morality. However, the arbitrary morality that is present in fundamentalism is not that which is ritual or ceremonial; instead, arbitrary morality is what happens when ethical or social morality has lost a real-world anchor in reason, culture, or experience and is instead compromised by other influences including, but not limited to ritual morality or “voices of authority.”
Yesterday’s Question as a Litmus of Fundamentalism
Yesterday I used the following question as a test, a sample of arbitrary morality:
If the Bible was silent on the matter of homosexuality, would you consider
it intrinsically sinful?
The responses received were interesting. Seth’s reply, in particular, displays an extreme, puritanical fundamentalism that is willing to assert that even such heinous acts as rape and pedophilia would be deemed morality acceptable or neutral without presumed biblical prohibitions against them. Never mind, as Fizlowski points out, the Bible does not explicitly prohibit pedophilia. It is also worth nothing that institutionalized rape is legislated in Deuteronomy 21:10ff in which the female captive of war is forced of her Hebrew captor’s will into a marriage that she has no authority to refuse. Of course believers in biblical inerrancy will go about rationalizing the obvious injustice of this word from God—a process which itself is an act of moral injustice.
Though Seth was able to concede that he would be able to accept homosexuality apart from the Bible and despite his insulting and hateful association between consensual homosexuality and the crime rape, Tandi did not appear to be able to even address this question apart from an arbitrary authority structure. Tandi, though, does attempt to work in the modern and post-modern concepts of pluralism, but seems herself to be unable to reason apart from it.
Tandi’s apparent inability to think apart from arbitrary morality, Seth’s immature, from a moral development standpoint, inability to segregate rape from sexual orientation, and Seth’s apparent inability to see the wrongfulness of rape and pedophilia are examples of one of the harms done by arbitrary morality. Just like creationism and ID attempt to wedge doubts and gaps into the methodological naturalism of the scientific method in order to create regions where human learning and ingenuity must come to a screeching stop, so arbitrary morality arrests the human mind from thinking beyond the boundaries of arbitrary social standards and so compromises moral reasoning.
Compromised Moral Reasoning
Arrested moral reasoning and the inability to question arbitrary standards, even when they engender injustice, are what makes arbitrary morality so dangerous. Arbitrary morality is what drives the terrorist and the crusader. It is dangerous and is part of what makes fundamentalism so dangerous in the world today. It exempts morality from standards of justice, truth, and compassion.
In addition to the previous qualities which I delineated to define and identify fundamentalists, I now add arbitrary morality.