Saturday, February 28, 2009

Deconstructing Morality

But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully
has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

— Matthew 5:28 (TNIV)

In Attempted Murder, Steve Gimbel asks,

Why do we have a crime called attempted murder? Isn't the problem that you tried your best to kill someone — whether you succeeded or not?

The law, it seems, balances two things: intent and deed.

If you point a gun at someone and intend to shoot and kill them, and do shoot and kill them, then the punishment is higher than if you miss, or if you don't intend to kill them (just a "warning" shot?) but do, or you think it is really a blank loaded in the gun but there isn't, or you are just waving your gun around and shoot and kill your friend by pure "accident", or ...

(If one is in the film Minority Report [from a Philip K. Dick tale], then you could merely be lying in bed, thinking of getting your gun and shooting and killing someone, and the precogs would send the police over to arrest you. Your act of thinking is all that is needed for an arrest.)

Actual deed may be easy to assess, and actual intent is more difficult (by today's science), but to somehow remove the combination of the two (just deed, or just intent) from the law would just be too freaky to fathom.

This is the legal perspective. But what of the moral (which is what Jesus was getting at, perhaps). People all the time, it seems, want to make a distinction between what is legal and what is moral (although conceding some overlap of the two). This, in my view, is mistaken. I claim there is no distinction between what is moral and what is legal.

The law is the only reality, the only objective standard* there is: It is written down, in text, and can be found in books of law. Morality, based on any such objective standard, simply does not exist. There are also such things like laws of social etiquette, but they, like governmental laws, are generally written down. See Amy Vanderbilt and Emily Post, for example. (Even "the etiquette of the street" comes close to be a form of "written law".)

Legal is what is written into "law". Moral harkens to that higher, mystical Platonic realm of absolutes, atop Mount Olympus, Mount Sinai, and that mountain top from which Zarathustra down-went.

In short, in this case, Jesus was wrong.

* an objective standard that, obviously, changes over time