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City of Banjul
Monday, January 25, 2021

Does morality in any significant sense exist anymore?

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When we speak about moral values, we construct a framework we want everyone to observe. Those who do not consent to the moral values the majority of a community manifestly believe are kept as social unfits. Through human interactions, we construct moral values that establish what the majority in a community believes is permissible. Attributes such as trustworthiness, respect, kindness, among many, are often characterise to be good moral values. Moral values whether religious or not, are concepts that are based on our notions of right and wrong, good or bad, ugly or beautiful. They are inherently thoughts supposed to be convenient for all in making a better society. But, morality has undergone a speedy evolution with humanity and most of its ugly faces are already shown. We can no more claim what morals a sovereign people or society should upheld since morality has become more personal than ever before. Moral disintegration has long since begun and human rights and democracy have rapidly shaped that view. To be moral is to be civil and responsible for one’s own actions while not making harm to others. After all, we have millions of religions, cultures and traditions contrasting and competing for acceptance in a completely secular society we speak of as humanity.

Human evolution has left morality completely naked and now pleading for salvage. From our births to the unknown destination, we are tied and chockfull in box of moral codes. We are taught to eat and drink in a manner our closest people deemed preferable. Gradually morality moves from family to the outside world struggling for acceptance. We share moral values the majority of the society would love to maintain and rubbish manners the minority would love to live. We have a cloud of moralities from Voltaire to Dostoevsky to Nietzsche to Marx and others. We cannot claim a single morality because that would mean to live outside the complex whole of humanity. The origins of morality have never been explicit.  Speaking against a behaviour and contextualizing it under one’s own perception of reality and what a good life is, can be a great insult to someone’s personality. After all moral values shape an individual’s integrity.

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Morality is shaped by the community one lives in, but the modifications are done at personal levels. We would not have had religions, traditions and cultures in the absent of moral codes. It would render them useless therefore, religious reorganisation comes with the objective to close up the society. Revelation becomes legislation and haven/hell becomes the ultimate goal of religion. These objective and subjective values have become the constitution we each own in various versions. Some are static and unwilling to debate while others are stampeding in unrecognized formulas. In Dostoevsky’s words: if God did not exist, all would be permitted. Centuries of cannibalism, rape and sacrifices still exist but in modified forms. We still have child labour, teenage pregnancy, unnecessary polygamy, murder, extreme poverty and diseases. After many centuries of moral thinking, arrangement from marriage, leadership and status, radically become a personal affair. Abortion has become the right of a woman over her body. Sex and other relations have all joined the march of transformation beyond religion and society. The rich could do whatever with their possessions. They’ve all become a matter of personal preference. By the 19th century, morality has effectively relocated itself from compliance to an external authority to that of what one sees within oneself. And by the time people understand the phrase in Genesis 1:27, man has become his own supervisor through trial and error. We built prisons for those judged to be immoral and so on.

When do we last meet to condemn unanimously what actually is bad for all? Even a religious leader who does that will nowadays be regarded a fundamentalist. Whether or not we are religious, “we inhabit a culture in which religious teachings are becoming marginal in many people’s moral choices”, J. Sacks. The secular world we live in has secularised our moral imaginations and different beliefs meet to share the good. And if religious morality has not been a malady, how would we know? Our moral language is under attack and continuous transformation to meet our needs. It has changed into a market where buyers and sellers meet to make permanent and temporary contracts. Even marriage and family life are no more influenced by society. Everyone has become his own judge of what a good life is. Rather than being command from God or an external authority, moral philosophy is now marked by three things: autonomy, rights and equality.

We’ve all become strangers in the world of moralities conforming nearly to nothingness. We haven’t moved the sun from its real course. Like the sun, morality also rose from the East to the West unknowingly and most often we do not share the same intensity. Morality was very aggressive but as it takes its course to claim universality, it became moderated and refined by education, promoted by religion and guaranteed by conventional laws and defeated by technology.

We do not have a moral crisis. We have a problem of tolerance and coexistence that we can solve by sharpening our horizons of understanding. We cannot catch up with the past but we can shape the future. Even our constitutions that create a social order often lose their moral foundations. There are compromises all through the major religions with rationalities many are now questioning. Our problem is not that we have lost hope of human existence but because we have a galaxies of truth –people have become individuals reading things according to their tastes, freely negotiating their terms of existence with a society of diverse cultures and beliefs. Yet, the sun effectively runs its true course moderately accompanying and shaping a liberal society.

Morality can be said to have become independent. Neither revelations nor philosophy can abort it. It’s a matter of personal identity each individual doing what is right in his own eyes. But, to put it this manner, would mean a total disconnection of a person from his/her own community. Morality only survives within a community of fellow believers. To be moral does not necessarily mean to be good or religious. Rather, it is an emphasis on the core values for coexistence. To define someone immoral is to be judgemental and weak in sensitivity. In Kant’s phrase: We are evolving from dependence to independence, harmoniously within a community of fellow believers. Through a language, we subconsciously pass on and on inexplicit codes of morality. But, by now, tolerance and knowledge have bounced back to defend its course. Unbelief between consenting intellectuals has taken its progression but they would not tell their disciples. We can now be moral without being religious. To be moral is to stay in a community of people who speak and act in harmony. Yet, we do believe morality as what the majority of a particular society has survived interchangeably. No matter how inconvenient it might be, in many societies, the way a person wants to live his/her life is shaped by the community we live in.

A person’s moral values can come from a variety of sources, including religion, cultural traditions, individual experiences and even laws or rules. For example, people who were mistreated as children and have decided to donate time and money to combat child abuse likely developed the moral values of generosity and protectiveness from their own personal experiences. We have reached the end of any form of untouched out-of-date moral world. Modernity and post-modernity will shape which morals we want to keep and which we would have to eliminate subjectively or otherwise, but, given the complexity of human desire, everyone is freely drawing their own lines –maximizing their utilities according to their struggles.

By Alagie Jinkang

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