Souls for the Soulfather: Nadine Dorries and Religious Morality
August 30, 2011
If there’s one thing I despise, it’s religious morality. Not religion; I have no problem with people believing in whatever macro-scale pixy they wish. However, any conception of morality that provides a ready-made package of quick answers to complex issues is not simply incorrect, it’s positively dehumanising.
The most fundamental freedom imaginable is the freedom to understand the world on your own terms; to make judgements about the best course of action using your own reason and the advice of those you have chosen to respect. Anything that tries to short-circuit this process – as religious morality does, by providing a set of answers divorced from all human experience – necessarily diminishes that freedom. This does not encompass those religions, like Sufi Islam, Buddhism and gnostic versions of Christianity, which steer towards promoting an ethical system rather than a prescriptive set of moral rules. ‘Always act with compassion’ provides a lot more for scope for determining your own principles (not in the least, whatever compassion is) than ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery’. The approach adopted by Nadine Dorries and her ilk leaves little room for wisdom.
More than that, as a conception of morality it is positively perverse. The twin notions of heaven and hell appear to be positively designed to subvert an understanding of the Good based on the Good-in-and-of-itself; rather, acts are to be judged in terms of their impact upon your afterlife prospects. This eliminates any prospect of their adherents living good lives – if at the back of your head is a little voice calculating the impact of a particular act on the state of your immortal soul, you will never be able to act without one eye on your self-interest.
This brings us to the issue of the day. Nadine Dorries wants to restrict the right of abortion providers to also provide counselling services to those women considering having abortions, on the grounds of a conflict of interest. This, at the outset, nearly seems reasonable if one is willing to forget the regulatory framework governing these matters and the professional integrity of those delivering the counselling.
But, in seeking this outcome, does Dorries not have one eye upon her immortal soul? If one looks at the Biblical scripture used by anti-abortionists to justify their stance, it seems to proclaim that opposing abortion is something God wants them to do. There’s a logical gap between that and using the machinery of the State to enforce what they think God wants them to do, but that is incidental: this is about the status of their soul in the eyes of God.
I want to introduce a new notion into our legislative lexicon: that of eschatological advantage. This is advantage that an individual expects to accrue to them with regard to their afterlife as a consequence of a particular action. I propose that this advantage is taken into account in exactly the same way as Dorries proposes we take the financial interest of abortion-providers into account when determining who can provide counselling to women considering abortion. After all, we accept that someone who expects to see an improvement in their standard of living from another person making a particular choice is not funded by the State to advise that person on that choice. Why do we not think the same about someone who expects to see an improvement in their standard of afterliving?