Lies, lies, lies

It is human nature to look at the past through rose coloured glasses. Things were always better when you were younger, and morals are always deteriorating. Once upon a time, when somebody said something you knew it was a fact; people simply didn’t lie. People are so much more violent these days, too.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Take it from a history student. The more I study, the more I see that human nature really has not changed significantly in at least the last 3,000 years. Ancient Romans even used to make the same complaints about how much better things used to be!

In the year 41, Seneca the Younger was exiled. When the emperor Claudius’ wife wanted her sister-in-law out of the way, she accused her of adultery, implicating Seneca. The charge was completely false, and yet he was banished to Corsica for it. There’s some nice morality for you, from 1,972 years ago!

Going even further back, to 133 BCE, we can find the death of Tiberius Gracchus. He was a Roman politician who had proposed a new law concerning the use and distribution of agricultural lands for the benefit of the poor. The law threatened the land holdings of the very rich, including many other prominent politicians. It ended when members of the Roman Senate brutally murdered Tiberius and 300 of his followers and threw the bodies into the river.

As for sexual assaults and the subjugation of women, I find it hard to track down specific ancient cases. However I do know that in countless societies around the world, female inferiority arose alongside the advent of agriculture. That means that women have been looked down on for at least 10,000 years, and I see no reason to suppose that brutal rapes have not occurred with some regularity from that point onwards.

So no, things didn’t use to be better. People were not magically nicer. The world was not more peaceful or loving. The sun didn’t always shine, and the grass wasn’t always green. People have always been people, just like us, moved to act by essentially selfish motives – to gain something, or to get away with something.

If you want something different from the world, don’t look to the past. Work on it for the future.

Morals vs. Religion

I’ve been told a couple of times recently that I shouldn’t be so anti-religion because religion serves a purpose. An example often given is the Christian prohibition of sex before marriage: isn’t it for the best, they ask rhetorically, that we don’t end up with a bunch of single mums with kids they can’t handle or didn’t want, kids that may end up being neglected or abused?

Obviously my first response to that is that if the church promoted contraception that wouldn’t be a problem!

However the more in-depth response is that I do believe morals serve a purpose. I think society – the world – needs morality, a code of behaviour, a set of rules. However, morality is just the set of rules that suits us best and allows us to best get along. As our societies change, so should our morals. The world and humanity are in a constant state of flux, nothing is ‘normal’, and ‘tradition’ depends on the time and place you value the most.

Turning your morals into a religion causes them to stagnate. It denies the change necessary to keep up with a changing society. It eventually makes them counter-productive and divisive.

To a follower of such a religion, life must seem like a tortuous exercise in Orwell’s double-think: sex before marriage is totally unacceptable, yet it is done all the time by decent people, even people who adhere to this religion, so it can’t be that bad, so maybe I’ll do it, so I did it and now I feel horribly guilty for being immoral… 

Once upon a time, it was probably a good idea not to have sex before marriage. There were limited contraceptive options, and having a child was difficult and dangerous. The risks and hardships were very real and very severe. But now we have a myriad of cheap and simple contraceptive options, and in the event of their failure we have ways of safely aborting a foetus. If you don’t want an abortion, there are systems in place to care for a child or help you do so: adoptions, orphanages, and so on. Now, with these changes and choices, the prohibition on sex before marriage makes much less sense. We don’t need that rule anymore, but religion clings to it.

I really think that religion has no place in the world. Be moral, be ethical, but allow for flexibility.

Calling it wrong just isn’t right!

I’m beginning to get a bit annoyed at people presenting ‘It’s wrong’ as a valid argument or reason not to do something. I could cope with ‘It’s illegal,’ or ‘It goes against my moral code.’ But saying ‘wrong’ is just wrong!

Morals, ideas of right and wrong, are subjective. We tend to take our ethics from the people around us: family, school, church, wider society. We do not all have the same beliefs about what constitutes acceptable behaviour.

Sometimes when I say this, people think I am trying to excuse certain behaviour, sympathising with a perpetrator of a crime or questionable act. That is not the case at all. I do have my ideas of wrong and right, and they are generally in line with the majority: one shouldn’t steal, lie, kill, and so on. But I do not think it is a bad thing to acknowledge that different people feel differently. I don’t have to like it, or agree with it, but I’ve got to admit it.