Justin Skolnick lives and works in Portland.

What moral values?

Originally posted to justin.revision8.com on in Crystal Lake, Illinois

Pardon my levity. I take these matters quite seriously, and don’t want to imply they’re cause for laughter. Though humor is an effective means of diffusing tension.

In a future post, I intend (yes, good intentions, the road to hell…) to address Osama Bin Laden’s recent message. I begin with an appeal to reason, and sincere questions.

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The media report “moral values” were more decisive than the war in Iraq in this now past election. Without a precise definition of “moral values,” one is safe to place the issue within the context of American Christian morality, specifically the issues of abortion, gay marriage, and to some extent stem-cell research.

Most who, for example, seek the abolition of abortion seek it absolutely, on biblical grounds: The bible forbids killing (Exodus 20:13 primarily); abortion involves killing a developing life; thus abortion should be forbidden.

If we are to proceed with logic that renders this particular biblical commandment just as literally binding today as it was in ancient Israel, such that it inspires subsequent legislation, we should consider others. This statement alone may put off some readers, since faith is not logic, but I appeal to the notion that governance requires reason.

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said,

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44 NKJV).

Besides the sixth commandment, the most commonly cited bible verses against abortion (e.g. Jeremiah 1:5) require some interpretive skill to apply them to abortion. That is, they’re not typically as explicit as Jesus’ admonition here. Yet from conservative American Christians I am more likely to hear arguments against abortion than for loving Islamic terrorists.

In my view, Matthew 5:43-44 prescribes not passivity but a set of actions (imperative verbs: love, bless, do) designed to subdue those who intend harm. The conquering acts run contrary to the convention. When someone punches me, my first response is to punch back. Towards the goal of abating my adversary’s violent advance, Matthew 5:43-44 directs me not to return his blows or to let him punch, but to love, bless, and do him good. At least I might distract him from his agenda.

How this applies to the War on Terror should be clear. The United States returns bomb for bomb, bullet for bullet. The nation’s first response to the September 11 attacks was war. I’m not alone to think this unimaginative and contrary to the message of the Gospels. But my opinion is not the American zeitgeist.

More voters attribute their vote for George W. Bush to “moral values,” based on biblical law, than to any other issue, including war. I have questions for these voters.

  1. If it’s a matter of conduct, why do the prohibitions of Moses and Paul take priority over the instructions of Jesus?
  2. If you agree that voting for “moral values” means voting against abortion and gay marriage, are you aware of and comfortable with the negativity implicit in your choice?
  3. Hypothetically, if the Democratic candidate in this election shared the President’s “moral values” but opposed the war, would you still have voted for Bush?

I am a Protestant Christian. I read the bible, currently working front-to-back with my bookmark at 1 Kings 21. I support neither gay marriage nor abortion, nor a legislative ban on either act. I consider myself politically moderate, slightly left of center. I voted for John Kerry. My questions are sincere and I appreciate your responses.