Where Does All That Moral Outrage Come From?

These days, we hear a great deal about being non-judgmental. Everyone’s views are valid. No one has a right to tell others what they should believe or do. Just live and let live.

There’s just one problem with all of this: no one actually seems to believe it.

To see what I mean, make a mental note over the next few days every time you hear someone make a moral judgment, i.e., characterize an idea or action as wrong or something similar (reprehensible, regrettable, objectionable, unacceptable, etc.), or alternatively, pronounce something as good or otherwise approve of it.

I took a while to think of situations like this I’ve run across in the last several days. The following are all topics about which people expressed moral judgments, often quite strongly (and in many cases both for and against):

  • College athletes unionizing/getting paid.
  • The Washington Redskins’ nickname. 
  • The Comedy Central show The Colbert Report making a joke on Twitter about Asians in response to the controversy surrounding the Washington Redskins. 
  • The remains of aborted and miscarried babies being burned to heat hospitals in the U.K.  
  • A Duke undergraduate student paying for her education by being a porn actress.
  • A student organization at a prominent university promoting traditional marriage. 
  • A gay man expressing the view that other factors beyond the genetic might affect sexual orientation in some cases. 
  • Members of an ethic group criticizing others in the same group for differing political views.
  • Russia’s annexation of Crimea and other threatening moves toward Ukraine. 
  • A congressman’s comments regarding cultural and economic conditions in America’s cities.
  • A handful of religious freedom issues, including the Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby case recently argued before the Supreme Court. 
  • The activism of very wealthy individuals on both sides of the political spectrum.

And this is just a partial list. Among other things, it doesn’t include all the less noticeable moral evaluations that I, along with the people I’m around regularly, make every day.

But here’s my question. If we’re all supposed to live and let live, recognizing that nobody has a right to sit in judgment on anyone else, then where does all of our allegedly moral outrage come from.

Are these things just our personal preferences with nothing else behind them? If so, then why does anyone bother with them at all? You like chocolate, I like vanilla. Who cares?

Except that’s not the way we treat them at all. But here’s the catch. If our moral judgments are worth anything, if they’re to have any kind of meaning to them, they have to coincide with a real moral standard, something above us that we didn’t make up, that doesn’t yield to what we might want it to be, but instead demands that we yield to it.

Could it be, then, that human beings all reflexively make moral judgments because (a) something like the standard I just mentioned really exists and (b) we’re all hardwired to have some kind of an appreciation for it? 

If that’s true then it raises a whole bunch of other questions. But can we at least dispense with the idea that anyone actually lives as if everyone’s beliefs and actions are equally valid?

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