MoralityNow! It matters, but only if defended
by Melvyn L. Fein
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March 04, 2013 01:09 AM | 827 views | 3 3 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The last presidential election nearly broke my heart. But more than that; it saddened me very deeply. How could we, as a nation, have descended to such mean-spirited bickering? How could we tolerate so many lies and so much character assassination?

For several days I moped around, but then I had an idea. Someone had to fight for the moral renewal that our country desperately needed — and why shouldn’t that person be me? First, however, I had to do some investigating. I had to find out how other people felt.

While I was not surprised by the dismay most conservatives expressed, I was amazed by the consternation of my liberal friends. They too were appalled by the lies and the meanness. They might not agree as to the source, but they too hated the moral tenor.

All of this convinced me that there was indeed a widespread longing for moral renewal. The question was how to get the ball rolling. The starting point was easy. I had to create a nonprofit foundation dedicated to this cause. But what to call it? After many dead-ends, I, and my collaborators, settled on Morality Now! Inc.

It was also clear that the moral values we sought to restore must cross party lines. They had to be standards upon which most Americans, whether liberal or conservative, could agree. It was also clear that they had to be few in number and easy to grasp.

And so it was that the core values of MoralityNow! came into focus. They were to be honesty, responsibility, fairness, family and liberty. Of these, only the meaning of fairness was really controversial; hence, for us, it would stand for “the same rules being applied to everyone.”

The next step, after incorporation, was to create a website. As of today, it is almost complete and can found at www.moralitynow.net. We still haven’t finalized our tax-free status so as to obtain donations, but most of the rest of the pieces are in place.

One of our ideas was to permit ordinary citizens to expose significant moral breeches. To this end, we have established two “files.” One is the “dishonesty file” and the other the “irresponsibility file.” Here contributions vetted for their interest, and legality, will be posted to keep track of what is going wrong.

We are also working to create workshops to teach the ground rules of self-knowledge and strong relationships. Indeed, I am currently in discussions with the administrators of Kennesaw State University to determine if this can be done in conjunction with the school.

Added to this, I hope to write a book to argue for moral renewal, as well as to give talks to community groups so as to spread the word. No doubt other opportunities will arise if this idea catches on — but we will have to wait and see.

One more thing must also be noted. It is that this foundation is to be profoundly secular. Many people, especially on the right, have come to the conclusion that moral commitments flow only from religious commitments. This is wrong, and would doom our country if it were true.

Like it or not, ours has become a secular nation, with even religious people less likely to attend church than they once did. As a consequence, we need to establish a non-spiritual foundation for morality that is in tune with the needs of our techno-commercial society.

This is possible, but its outlines must be clarified. I hope to begin this process in subsequent columns where I will discuss each of MoralityNow!’s core values. If people are to agree on what needs to be done, they have to know what they are agreeing to.

Such clarity is especially important for the young who have grown up in an era of moral relativity and non-judgmentalism. Morality matters and can continue to exist only if we together stand up to defend it.

Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D., is a professor of sociology at Kennesaw State University.
Comments
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Kevin Foley
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March 07, 2013
I just wonder what the measuring stick is here? I mean, who serves as the judge and what's the criteria?

In this pardigm, how are things like "family," "justice," and "fairness" defined and who decides what is "dishonest" or "irresponsible."

Is a loving gay married couple raising two adopted children considered a "family." If not, is that just and fair?

Did the parents who gave those children up for adoption do the moral thing?

Is a minister who tells congregants they will go to hell if they don't practice the Ten Commandments "dishonest" because he or she doesn't really know if hell exists?

If I hire a starving undocumented immigrant to cut my lawn so he can earn some money to feed himself, am I "irresponsible"?

Dr. Fein is embarking on a slippery crusade in 21st Century America. He says this is a secular endeavor but I suspect traditional Judeo-Christian "values" will be used to decide what is moral, just and fair.

So is Dr. Fein being dishonest when he says this is secular?



Tamela Nevins
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March 05, 2013
Dr. Fein. Your idea is jus what our society needs right now ... Ii will continue to monitor the site you are working on regarding this idea. I hope to be of some assistance in spreading the word.
EMBuckner
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March 05, 2013
I was pleasantly surprised and well pleased, with some trepidation, about Melvyn Fein's new project as announced in his column--"MoralityNow! It Matters, But Only if Defended," Marietta Daily Journal, 4 March 2013.

I predict he gets some uneasy, unpleasant pushback from some of his fellow conservatives, especially regarding his accurate assessment that "Many people, especially on the right, have come to the conclusion that moral commitments flow only from religious commitments. This is wrong, and would doom our country if it were true." Dr. Fein had already declared that his new organization would be "profoundly secular." Since I know there is widespread confusion about the term, let me say in his defense that "secular" does not mean anti-religious, only non-religious. Our government, for example, is and must be secular--not based on religious principles but not anti-religious, either.

I mentioned trepidation, but I think the new organization's stated moral principles--honesty, responsibility, fairness, family, and liberty--are all admirable and worthy of support and advocacy. I fear, however, that fairness will not be the only one to evoke honest disagreement. Must a family be defined as mother, father, and children--or does a single parent family deserve encouragement, too? What of a family headed by two men or two women? And does what some see as a moral problem and others do not--such as vulgarity in the media--create dissonance within the group? And, though I don't think it should be controversial, does liberty include the right to speak and believe and behave in ways another doesn't think moral or acceptable? Can one be an open atheist and be moral, as I would strongly argue? And fairness will not avoid controversy by defining it as having "the same rules apply to everyone," since true justice sometimes requires different rules to fit different roles or situations. A physically handicapped person probably should get a parking advantage; a parent may well deserve advantages over a non parent; etc.

May MoralityNow! succeed. A reduction in personal political attacks, character assassination, irresponsibility among citizens and leaders, undeserved privilege, mean-spirited bickering, and dishonesty everywhere would be most welcome.

Regards,

ED BUCKNER

Lead Author, In Freedom We Trust: An Atheist Guide to Religious Liberty (Prometheus Books, 2012)

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