We’re repeatedly told by the far, far-right that without religion, and the guidance and incentive structures it offers, there can be no morality, and no hope of a controlled, steady society. We should hope they’re wrong — and, still more, note that the strongest proponents of this theory are also the best counterexamples.
By this point it’s almost tacky (and boring) to laugh at fallen fundamentalist politicians, so for the latest example, Mark Souder, save for that short note, we’ll skip past that and get into something more interesting. Concerned Women for America, a hilariously misnamed anti-abortion group, rushes to Souder’s defense, thusly:
Those of us who have worked with Mark over the years know him to be a kind and thoughtful legislator. If Mark Souder is capable of sexual misconduct, it could happen to anyone. The frat house environment on Capitol Hill does nothing to encourage accountability. Most Members do not live with their families while they are working in D.C. during the week and have even ditched common rules of etiquette that even major corporations follow such as office doors with windows or careful examination of employee/boss interaction.
I remain thoroughly unimpressed with a morality that depends for its vindication on a lack of alternatives. Virtue never tested is no virtue at all — the socialist Billy Bragg has something on straight-laced Souder, here — and if the best defense that can be mustered for Souder is that no-one’s watching in D.C., not only is he weak, but the expectations imposed by an external, rule-based morality are far, far too low. Here, the “liberal” alternative — a morality predicated on the duties we owe each other by virtue of sharing a society, a civilization, and a common destiny — might be preferable, as more visibly continuous, and less escapable. A man can atone for a sin against his God, and privately, too, thus forestalling any real accountability to real victims; but where forgiveness comes from the community, it’s harder, if not impossible, to attain, a difficulty that’s likely to make you think twice ex ante. Just a thought.