Friday, February 28, 2014

Smörgåsbord Morality

For those of you unfamiliar with the term “Smörgåsbord,” it’s what my folks called a buffet (it’s a Scandinavian term, though we’re German-Irish.  Go figure).  And this isn’t about how to behave at a buffet (though some folks could use a primer).  It’s what I call the type of morality, or ethics, that most people have.  Even me.

It’s a “pick and choose” morality, as one selects the ethical items they want and discards and ignores others.  It’s not limited to morality, either, as rules and laws can also be selected as if at a buffet line.  And like the buffet, you can take an item on the first go around, then not take it the next time.  Lack of consistency is another key to this type of morality.

Like I said earlier, most people live their lives this way.  Some only dabble in the buffet line, while others feast.  A good many people have standards, and keep them, only diverging a little from time to time.  Upstanding, decent folks, they perhaps only cheat at tax time and maybe they steal a few office pens from time to time.  Maybe they speed on the interstate or toss litter from the car.  Some folks are a bit less ethical, as cheating comes as natural to them as walking.  They cheat their kids, their spouse, their boss, the government…pretty much everyone they come in contact with.

Then there are those who are just confused about their morality.  They think they are the untainted ones, the ones who are closest to perfection, and it’s everyone else who needs to get it line.  They know they are pure in heart and deed, and have the strictest moral code there can be.  Except they just don’t follow it.  Smörgåsbord morality.

Smörgåsbord morality was on full display this week in Arizona.  The now-vetoed SB 1062, a bill passed by the legislature previously that would have allowed private businesses to cite religious beliefs as a defense against lawsuits over discriminatory treatment (author’s note – I copied this line directly from The Economist), was flawed from the start.  No, not because it discriminated, and let’s stop there for a moment and discuss this word – discrimination – as few understand it.

You WANT to be able to discriminate.  That is, you want to have the ability to tell one thing apart from another, to recognize a distinction.  You want to pick a good beer from a bad one, a stylish shirt from a unstylish one, a good haircut from a bad one, a good woman…go get the idea.  Discrimination is a talent, and in a poker game you want the ability to discriminate a good starting hand from a lousy one.

What you DON’T want to do is mass discrimination, which in reality isn’t very discriminate at all.  If you lump in all people of one type (gays, Latinos, women, Evangelicals, short guys with bad shirts and lousy haircuts), you aren’t discriminating – you’re classifying.  Piss-poorly, I might add.  You’re basing your “discrimination” on a bias that only differentiates the other class from you on one factor.   Color.  Nationality.  Heritage.  Sexual preference.  Etc.

So back to SB 1062 – to me, here’s the key portion of the bill (under Provisions):  This bill…

Stipulates that a person that asserts a violation of this Act must establish the following:
Ø The person’s action or refusal to act is motivated by a religious belief;
Ø The person’s religious belief is sincerely held; and
Ø The state action substantially burdens the exercise of the person’s religious beliefs.  

Got that?  Action (or inaction) motivated by a sincerely held religious belief.   And this is where the bill fails for me. If a baker wants to refuse to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple, because of a sincerely held religious belief (and here I am assuming we’re talking Christian, because the next few examples all come from the same “book” of ethics where the anti-gay thingy comes from), then he should also not bake a cake for:
  • A couple where one (or both) have tattoos
  • A couple wearing clothing from two different fabrics
  • A couple who have committed adultery (good luck with that one)
  • A couple who have pork or shellfish on the catering list
  • And, of course, if the couple is clean and pure, he can’t bake the cake on Sunday.
Of course, most of this comes from Leviticus, but if I wasn’t so lazy I could find some other stuff in the New Testament (I remember Paul admonished long hair, so my wedding cake would’ve had to have been baked elsewhere, too).  Many Christians don’t MEAN to pick and choose their Biblical morality, but…they do.  We all do.

In the smorgasbord of life, there is much to enjoy and much to choose from.  When we discriminate unfairly, we ruin the meal for everyone.

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