The best of Fred Hutchison
Restoration of moral sanity: Turning away from the weird moral obsessions of the Left
February 7, 2013
Fred Hutchison, RenewAmerica analyst

Originally published January 4, 2006

The traditional definition of a sociopath is one who is "morally insane." When a culture becomes morally insane, it descends into barbarism, and the civilization moves towards collapse. The sudden collapse of the Soviet Empire is an example of how a system can eventually fall apart after the culture sinks into depravity.

Is the West becoming morally insane? Well, it is safe to say that it is morally weird. The fear of saying "Merry Christmas" in a society in which 95% of the people celebrate Christmas in some form is an irrational, if not a paranoid fear. Even among the 5% who do not observe the holiday, only hypersensitive souls or politically-correct diehards are offended by the cheerful greeting of "Merry Christmas." The idea that such individuals ought to be pandered to, no matter how damaging it is to the culture, is about as weird an idea as can enter the human mind.

The preposterous war on Christmas that occurred in 2005 is still a useful example of the moral weirdness of the left. I presume that the resultant weirdness is the halfway mark in the journey toward the moral insanity of the culture. If we are at the halfway mark, there still may be time to turn the tide and restore moral sanity.

Blind guides and their peccadilloes

Jesus described a special kind of moral derangement that resembles the madness of modern political correctness. He called the Pharisees "blind guides, who chafe at a gnat, and swallow a camel" (Matthew 23: 24). Jesus condemned the Pharisees' tidy-minded fetish with petty scruples and peccadilloes while ignoring profound issues of justice and mercy. The Pharisees were the letter-strict legal perfectionists of Judaism.

The modern politically-correct commissars of the Left are just as strict about their weird obsessions as the Pharisees were about their moral fetishes and peccadilloes. Some liberals are worried sick that someone, somewhere, will be offended by the greeting "Merry Christmas." They have mounted a moral crusade to push Christmas into hiding and turn the proudest holiday of our culture into an embarrassing underground movement. They have fired a cannon to kill a gnat, while blowing a gaping hole in the culture. Are these people stupid? Not at all. They are morally insane, like the Pharisees.

The left-wing cultural elite feels perversely proud of their imagined moral superiority and their politically correct perfectionism, while they are ashamed of Christmas. Such moral perversity reeks of demented obsessions, fetishes, and peccadilloes. Let us take a closer look at moral fetishes to discover their nature and cause.

The tolerance fetish

Tolerance can be a virtue when it is carefully balanced against mindless bigotry at one extreme, and pandering to human weakness on the other. In contrast, when tolerance is transformed from a "golden mean" into a moral absolute, however, it changes from a virtue to a vice.

When tolerance becomes a moral absolute, people become obsessed with not offending anyone. Even the people who get offended by trifles must be appeased, according to the tolerance freaks. What is worse, when tolerance is absolute, evil is excused and falsehood is shrugged off. In the end, the tolerance crusade is a fight against the superiority of good over evil and of truth over falsehood. Therefore, when tolerance is taken to its logical extreme, it is the very essence of moral insanity.

When everything is tolerated, then nothing is sacred and evil is unrestrained. Moral criticism is banished in a world of absolute tolerance, and many lose their ability to tell right from wrong. Reason evaporates in a world of hyper-tolerance, because no one is allowed to claim that one idea is better than another, and no idea can be condemned as worthless or harmful. Hyper-tolerance in a society can lead to irrationality and unrestrained evil.

The privacy fetish

Liberal judges have obsessed about privacy and are rapidly turning it into a legal absolute. The fetish of absolute privacy has led to the morally insane legal decision that the privacy of a woman is more important than the life of her baby in the womb. Interestingly, the judges have not been especially interested in a woman's right to choose, per se, but are merely eager to protect the privacy of woman as an absolute right.

It is to be expected that one would be ashamed of a violent or perverse act and would want that act concealed in privacy, lest one be publicly shamed. However, a morally sane society will seek to expose and condemn such acts through legal punishment, rather than use the law to shelter such acts. Jesus said the light He brought into the world exposes evil, but that evil men seek to hide and shelter evil. (See John 3:19-21 and John 15:22-24.)

Now that the privacy fetish has been imaginatively written into the Constitution by liberal judges, two shameful things, abortion and sodomy, are legally protected under the cloak of privacy. What other vile things are due to be protected by privacy? Liberal judges are attempting to shelter child pornography. Will the privacy defense be raised to protect child molesters?

The crusade of liberal judges for absolute privacy has led them to find "emanations" and "penumbras" in the Bill of Rights to conjure up newly fabricated rights of privacy. The emanations and penumbras were invented by Justice William O. Douglas in his opinion for the case of Griswold vs. Connecticut, 1965. Intellectual decadence? Yes. Moral insanity sometimes stupefies both reason and moral discernment.

The privacy fetish can hamstring the police and military in their efforts to protect us. This fetish destroys the wholesome balance between freedom and order. On the one hand, the Bill of Rights protects us from "unreasonable searches and seizures." However, reasonable searches and seizures with a court order are allowed by the Constitution because they are indispensable to law enforcement. To the extent that judges have inflated the right to privacy to ever greater emanations and penumbras, they have become more and more strict about what constitutes a reasonable search. If the day comes when all judges think that privacy is an absolute right, then no judge will regard any search or seizure as reasonable. Law enforcement will become impossible, and anarchy will prevail on the streets, along with unchecked terrorism.

In times of war and peril to the nation, the balance between freedom and order can be reasonably shifted a notch or two in the direction of order, if the shift is temporary. For a temporary period, the citizenry may be called upon to endure minor curtailments of privacy, in the interest of the identification and capture of terrorists, for example. The government has tapped into e-mails and phone calls between terrorists in America and al-Qaida operatives abroad, and has used the information to apprehend terrorists who were planning to bomb shopping malls in Columbus, Ohio, where I live. The price I pay for this reassuring protection is that the CIA can monitor my international e-mails. It seems a small and reasonable price for me to pay so that I will not be blown to bits as I shop in my local mall. The Left would rather see me blown to bits in the mall than to allow CIA snoops to read my international e-mails. This is one reason I think the Left is morally insane.

I believe a reasonable measure of privacy is necessary for freedom, but privacy must never become absolute. Privacy must be balanced against public safety.

The genesis of false moral absolutes

Paradoxically, the rise of false absolutes, like tolerance and privacy, begins with the denial of moral absolutes. When a person rejects the universal moral law, the natural presumption is that he will be a moral relativist in every area of his life. Surprisingly, this almost never happens. In almost every case, the person who rejects true moral absolutes will replace them with false moral absolutes like tolerance or privacy. What he once regarded as a moral absolute will be reduced to a relative value. Just as the rejection of God almost always is followed by the adoption of a disguised false god, the rejection of moral absolutes is invariably followed by the camouflaged adoption of substitute moral absolutes. Therefore, moral relativism is usually a false pose and a study in hypocrisy.

Man is designed to have a God and to follow a limited number of moral absolutes. Few people can live a life that is consistently contrary to that design. One can change his gods and his absolutes, but few can live with a vacuum in the part of the soul set apart for God, or a vacuum in the part of the soul made for moral absolutes. Some of those who have tried to live with these vacuums have become depressed, turned to alcohol and drugs, gone insane, or committed suicide. To avoid despair, most people of unbelief will try to fill their inner emptiness with false gods and false moral absolutes. That is where the weird moral obsessions of the modern Left come from.

False gods and secret agendas

The powerful attraction of Marxism comes from the false god of a promised utopia and false moral obsessions about economic class. The same kind of attraction draws many to postmodern cultural determinism and identity politics. Try to argue with a feminist about gender-correct language, and whether God is a "He" or a "She," and you will quickly discover how paranoid and weird a moral fetish can be. Crazy obsessions give purpose to the lives of our kooky lefties and keep them from despairing over their inner emptiness. Unfortunately, these lost souls find purpose in life by forcing their demented agendas upon the rest of us.

The secret agenda of liberal judges who are at war with public display of the Ten Commandments is that the true moral absolutes that Moses chiseled into stone contradict the false moral absolutes of the liberal judge. That is why it is a good idea to nominate Evangelicals, devout Catholics, and conservative Jews to the court, people who have true moral absolutes. They will not use false moral absolutes to fabricate morally insane laws or to use law to fight true moral absolutes.

The universal moral law

Moral insanity is the fruit of false moral absolutes. Moral soundness, on the other hand, requires adherence to true moral absolutes – that is to say, the universal moral law that applies to all people at all times and is written upon every human heart. Adherence to the transcendent moral law protects one from false scruples and weird peccadilloes. Adherence to true moral absolutes gives one eyes to see the spurious and preposterous nature of false moral absolutes. Such adherence also helps one to identify those things like tolerance and privacy that should follow the golden mean and not be turned into absolutes.

How does one identify the universal moral law? The moral laws that are taught in both the Old and the New Testament are universal. The laws taught in the Old Testament, but not taught in the New Testament, are not universal. Dietary laws, laws of the clean and unclean, ritual purification, animal sacrifices, the Hebrew priesthood, religious festivals, the Sabbath, the tithe, circumcision, the stoning of witches, and many other laws of Moses are not taught in the New Testament. These discontinued laws were part of the "Mosaic Covenant," a special arrangement between God and the nation of Israel. Therefore, they are special laws and not universal laws. In contrast, adultery, fornication, homosexuality, murder, theft, false witness, disrespect for parents, disrespect for God, and coveting things owned by one's neighbor are forbidden in both the Old and New Testaments – and are often more fiercely condemned in the New Testament. These are authentic universal moral laws.

If we fail to embrace these universal moral laws, we shall find ourselves chasing after false moral absolutes and becoming morally weird, like the folks in my town who are crusading against smoking while defending homosexuality.

Prerequisites of moral sanity

There are three prerequisites for moral sanity: (1) a transcendent source of authority, such as the Old and New Testament; (2) a transcendent God who is distinct from man (note that if the boundaries between God and man are blurred, then the authority of God as lawgiver is undermined); and (3) acceptance of the fact one must be fully human.

Isn't every person fully human? Well, yes and no. Certain false beliefs about man can hinder one from living according to the full measure of his humanity. Let us consider two of the most dangerous false beliefs of this kind – namely self-invention and determinism.

The delusion of self-invention

If one thinks that he is self-invented, then he will not be able to see himself as subject to a moral law that comes from an authority outside of himself. He will view each situation involving a moral question as unique to himself and his program of self-actualization. The person who thinks he is self-invented will respond to every moral challenge by defining it as an exceptional case relating to himself. He will evolve into a moral relativist as every moral restraint is walled off by new exceptions. False moral absolutes such as "autonomy," "self-discovery," or "self-actualization" will begin to take the place of the universal moral laws. The end of this road is moral insanity.

The delusion of self-invention does not help one to find his true personhood. It actually blocks the way. However, if one discovers God's design for his life and follows a developmental process to fulfill that design, he will not be sidetracked by the delusion of self-invention. He will have the opportunity to discover his full-orbed humanity in all its powers and faculties, including his moral conscience. He will be able to believe that the universal moral law exists and applies to him.

The determinist trap

Determinism is one of the greatest modern threats to full personhood. If what we are is determined by influences like evolution, genetics, biology, environment, economics, or culture, then we are the construct of impersonal forces and our personhood is an illusion. Edward O. Wilson, who is an evolutionary and biological determinist, asserts that reason, free will, and consciousness are "epiphenomena" of the brain – that is to say, they are illusions. The powerful, but illusory sense of the self comes from "sensations" in the brain resulting from sensory messages from the body to the brain, according to Wilson's highly speculative thought. Wilson is not a crank, but a leader of mainstream science, and his followers call him the "father of sociobiology" and the "grandfather of evolutionary psychology."

Unfortunately, strict evolutionists who are also philosophical materialists must, of logical necessity, also be determinists. Determinists must believe that the self, the mind, and the will are illusions. Otherwise, human nature could not have been determined by impersonal forces. Wilson is not irrational. He has carried his determinist presuppositions to their logical conclusions with great intellectual integrity. Tragically, Wilson is morally insane, or on the road to becoming morally insane. Those who consistently follow Wilson's theory as a way of life are doomed to become moral insane, themselves. "There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death" (Proverbs 16: 25).

But why, you may ask, does determinism necessarily lead to moral insanity? If one believes that the self is an illusionary construct of evolutionary biology, it will be impossible for him to believe that the self is subject to a universal moral law. If one thinks his personhood is an illusion, he will also think that moral laws are an illusion.

If the will and the mind are mere phenomena, as Wilson claims, and not objective realities, how can one ever be faulted for evil thoughts or immoral actions? After all, are we not all victims of evolutionary biology and therefore free from moral responsibility? A philosophical materialist must believe this moral insanity to avoid self-contradiction, or else must abandon materialism and random evolution – which would make him unpopular in academia.

The purging of moral absolutes by one who thinks the self and the will are illusions must lead to the adoption of false moral absolutes in order to avoid psychological dysfunction. The newly installed false absolutes will lead to weird moral fetishes. While being hyper-moral over trifles, such a person can commit heinous crimes without conscience as a sociopath and attribute his violent acts to evolutionary biology. "I killed that man because he stepped upon a rare species of butterfly. As an enemy of nature, he did not deserve to live. Besides, I could not help killing him because my thalamus secreted powerful hormones and my primordial lizard brain took over. After all, the rule of tooth and claw is nature's way." The return to nature, which has been championed by the Left since the time of Rousseau, can be a one-way ticket to moral insanity for those who are morally confused, as were the stranded English boys in the classic novel Lord of the Flies.

Embedded knowing

Michael Polanyi, a scientist and philosopher, sought to rescue our personhood from the determinism of science. He said that man is a "knowing" entity embedded in a body. Polanyi made a careful distinction between the person who knows and the physical body. Martin Moleski, Polanyi's biographer, mentioned in an interview with Ken Myers of Mars Hill Audio that Polanyi's epistemology leads to the view that the human body is sacramental. If the person who knows is incarnated in a body, then that body must be sacred. Hence, nothing morally unclean must be done with the body or to the body.

What is that part of human nature that "knows"? According to the theology of Watchman Nee, man has three parts: (1) body, (2) soul, or "psyche," and (3) spirit, or "pneuma." The mind, as part of the psyche, has links to both body and spirit. The spirit is an incorporeal (non-physical) entity in which true personhood has its source. The person lives in the spirit, but is expressed to the world through the mind, emotions, and body. This expression of one's personhood is recognized by others as one's "personality."

The spirit is the part of us that "knows" – that is to say, it has consciousness, conscience, and personal knowledge. The spirit can know God, and sense right and wrong. One's spirit is conscious of its own personhood, of the personhood of others, of the thoughts of one's mind, and of the sensations of one's body. However, the spirit is not a disconnected "knowing" following Descartes' error of dualism. The spirit can connect with the mind because the mind partially consists of spirit. The mind can connect with the body because the mind partially consists of the activity of the material brain.

Is the knowing of the spirit akin to the "embedded knowing" that Polanyi wrote about? I don't know. Whether or not Michael Polanyi and Watchman Nee came to the same conclusions about personhood, both men offer good solutions to the trap of determinism. When a person is liberated from this trap, it becomes possible for his human personhood to open like a flower. Such a person might know God, embrace the universal moral law, and live a life of moral sanity.

Summary and conclusion

The rejection of the universal moral law leads one to fill the resulting inner vacuum with false moral absolutes. This is the source of the weird moral fetishes of liberals. These weird fetishes result in the banning of Christmas and turning tolerance and privacy into moral absolutes that result in morally insane public policies. When tolerance is an absolute, ideas of good and evil, and right and wrong, are rejected. When privacy becomes an absolute, evil is shielded, and law enforcement and the war on terror become impossible.

Many lose their sense of humanity because of the delusion of self-invention and the trap of determinism. This makes it difficult to adhere to the universal moral law. The likely result is moral insanity. The cure for the delusions of self-creation and determinism is a theological view of man that differentiates between the self that knows and the physical body.

On the bright side, the morally-insane postmodern liberal movement no longer always gets its way. As they get progressively crazier, their maneuvers become purely partisan tactics without a shred of principle or logic. This, my friends, makes them politically weak.

I believe that we can turn around the bandwagon careening toward the precipice of collective moral insanity, because liberalism is in crisis and the wheels are coming off the liberal bandwagon. Why are liberals so angry, bitter, confused, and negative? I think they are starting to realize that liberalism as a moral force is exhausted, and their world view does not work in the real world. Crazy tactics like trying to ban Christmas reveal a deep confusion as they grope in the dark. In the mad-hatter world of liberalism, the conservative who talks sense and makes a stand for moral sanity stands out like light in the darkness.

At the end of the day, when every fallacy is refuted and the debates die down, and as we gaze into the dying embers of the fire, we must remember that the battle is the Lord's. In the end, every battle for reason and morality is a spiritual battle. "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places" (Ephesians 6: 12).

The arm of flesh and the wit of man cannot prevail against demonic enemies. Our participation in the Lord's battle is fought on our knees. General Washington was driven to his knees in the snow of Valley Forge, when the cause of the new Republic seemed hopeless. Every victory that has brought lasting good to the world was ultimately won in secret by God's people on their knees. When we pray, Almighty God, who raises up one kingdom and casts down another, sometimes allows us to miraculously participate in His battle against evil and in the building of His kingdom.

A message from Stephen Stone, President, RenewAmerica

I first became acquainted with Fred Hutchison in December 2003, when he contacted me about an article he was interested in writing for RenewAmerica about Alan Keyes. From that auspicious moment until God took him a little more than six years later, we published over 200 of Fred's incomparable essays — usually on some vital aspect of the modern "culture war," written with wit and disarming logic from Fred's brilliant perspective of history, philosophy, science, and scripture.

It was obvious to me from the beginning that Fred was in a class by himself among American conservative writers, and I was honored to feature his insights at RA.

I greatly miss Fred, who died of a brain tumor on August 10, 2010. What a gentle — yet profoundly powerful — voice of reason and godly truth! I'm delighted to see his remarkable essays on the history of conservatism brought together in a masterfully-edited volume by Julie Klusty. Restoring History is a wonderful tribute to a truly great man.

The book is available at Amazon.com.

© Fred Hutchison

 

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They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. —Isaiah 40:31