Stepping into the world of Social Work

Tag Archives: Religion

Morality without God?

Lawrence Kohlberg's stages of moral development

Lawrence Kohlberg’s stages of moral development (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I often encounter the statement from devout Christians that it is not possible to be moral without a supreme being and some eternal reward or punishment hanging over our heads. Such a view of agnosticism or atheism includes the expectation that no deity equals permission to do anything you please – such as the chaos that ensued when your second grade teacher left the room for a moment.

As an agnostic who considers myself an ethical/moral individual, I strongly disagree with that belief. I also believe I have pretty good psychological theory to back my statement up. While non-theists might not share every bit of the “moral” code in a particular religion, there is no reason to expect that an individual who does not expect heaven or hell would not be as ethical as his religious neighbor.

First of all, looking at Christian doctrine specifically, it stresses that everyone sins, and the importance of faith in Jesus is for his forgiveness. Different denominations place different values on faith vs. works, but the primary message that Jesus died for “our” forgiveness remains constant among most, if not all Christian sects.

This was always a bit confusing to me, growing up in a Christian household. I was pretty comfortable that God would forgive my childish errors, or minor “sins” as an adult, but I also know that there are some rather nasty acts committed in this world, some by professing Christians at the time of the act, others are converted to Christianity in prison. Will God forgive assault? Rape? Murder?  Where is the line? And most importantly, if I know I’m forgiven, does that really help me avoid sin? If I know, for example, that my husband does not want me to spend money on a particular item, I also know that the item is small and he will forgive me. I might use the principle that it is easier to ask forgiveness than permission and buy it anyway.

Psychological theorists, particularly Kohlberg, have also illustrated stages of moral development. Toddlers care only about avoiding punishment, while slightly older children might also start caring about rewards. To me, this is clearly the level of moral thinking expected by those who assume atheists/agnostics cannot act as moral/ethical individuals.

Later, children begin caring about how they are perceived and how their actions affect their relationships. This would be demonstrated by how different children would respond to their teacher leaving the room – some would begin acting out and others would not. Children who had progressed morally would care about their relationship with their teacher and how s/he would feel on coming back to a chaotic classroom.

Developing beyond that, we grow into understanding that rules and laws, even if not visibly enforced, are necessary for people to live together. Most of us will not intentionally run a red light, for example, not because we might get caught, but because we know that the cars coming the other direction are relying on our observance of the rules.

While an enforcer (a parent) has been an integral part of teaching all of us morality and ethics, we move beyond responsibility to an enforcer and towards responsibility to our community and others. This same process happens whether we go to church and are taught about heaven and hell or not.

Recently, in a parking lot, I misjudged a turn and slightly damaged the car I was parking next to. I didn’t believe anyone had seen it, and could have left without doing anything. But this agnostic, despite the lack of punishment, left a note on the other car and provided insurance information. Why? Because that is how I want my community, my world to be. To have slipped away would have been to diminish my community by some small amount.

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Even more evidence!

I just came across this from the Family Research Council.

Logo of the Family Research Council.

Logo of the Family Research Council. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

According to the information on the event:

On March 22nd, 1972, the Supreme Court undermined the boundaries and benefits of marriage. In the decision Eisenstadt v. Baird, the Court struck down a Massachusetts law prohibiting the distribution of contraceptives to unmarried people, and implicitly sanctioned unmarried non-procreative sexual intimacy.

Does this really sound like freedom?

A free society, in my opinion, permits individuals and doctors to make medical decisions based on science and the individual’s moral, ethical, and religious beliefs, not that of the state. I’ll even give the doctor an out from prescribing what he doesn’t approve of, so long as s/he is willing to provide a referral to another doctor, though I would be personally very uncomfortable with the idea of an OB/GYN who refused to prescribe birth control medication.

The “logic” appears to be that the availability of birth control somehow discourages marriage. While I consider marriage a great choice. I don’t see how people are going to decide to get married simply because they can’t get birth control without a marriage license.

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Contraception is not about women?

I’m personally outraged by some of the rhetoric I hear about the contraception debate, not only from Catholic groups but also at least one of the presidential candidates. THEY are trying to reframe the debate to their taste while not realizing that they are demanding the “right” to trample the health of millions of women.

First, there is no way this can be about anything but women. It is the woman who would decide to obtain that prescription, fill it, and take it each day. It is the woman who would bear the consequence if she was unable to obtain affordable contraception and became pregnant.

An individual accepting a position at a Catholic church or diocese – at any level – would almost certainly be an adherent of the faith, and the small number of exceptions would be people who are willing to accept special strictures. I have absolutely no problem with this, and I doubt anybody else does either. Churches are exempt from a number of employment laws, and may choose employees based on faith affiliation.

The Catholic Church, in addition to their houses of worship and official church structure has also chosen to run some community service agencies, such as hospitals, adoption agencies and universities. (I won’t discuss elementary and high schools, as many elementary schools are certainly directly connected with a specific parish, and high schools may or may not be.)

While these are wonderful contributions to the community, they are separate from the Church in many ways. First, their primary purposes are NOT religious, they are agencies which have the purposes of aiding some specific aspect of their community (health, child welfare, higher education). While some connection to the church might remain, most of the work of the agency is secular.

Hospitals are also large employers, with the only employees absolutely needing to be Catholic reporting to the department of the chaplain. Those who mop the floors, cook and serve food, administer blood tests, take x-rays, handle administrative tasks, and even the nurses are hired on merit, not religion. Their jobs are identical to their peers at any other hospital. The same thing goes for universities – thousands of employees doing secular jobs that are identical to what they would be doing at any other university.

Nobody’s religious freedom is being harmed. The Catholic church is only being required to accept that since their hospitals and universities are not part of their religious mission, they fall subject to a number of secular regulations. One of them is the new definition of what a comprehensive health insurance plan looks like. If they do not wish to offer comprehensive health plans, there are consequences.

Particularly after the compromise, this really starts to look ridiculous. Since health insurance companies typically consider contraception to be a pretty standard prescription to cover, they weren’t giving discounts for plans that didn’t cover it. So covering it free isn’t a big deal for insurance companies. But some bigwig Catholic males are still throwing a tantrum because some food service worker, administrative assistant, nurse, or  English professor might obtain contraceptive medication on the insurance policy they receive as part of their compensation. This is as silly as trying to dictate what an employee might buy with their salary.

The real violation of religious liberty is this: that food service worker and English professor aren’t Catholic. They don’t have to be Catholic simply because they took positions with a Catholic hospital or university.  The nurse does happen to be Catholic, but has a medical condition that is best treated with the same pills. Each of them has the right to decide, with her doctor, what her health requires and what her beliefs are in terms of artificial birth control. In all of these cases (and even if the employee is Catholic but chooses not to follow church teachings in this regard) it is an unacceptable violation of THEIR rights to have their employer exclude an important aspect of women’s health from coverage.

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An excellent decision on birth control and religious employers

English: Picture Of Ortho Tri-Cyclen oral cont...

Image via Wikipedia

In the news this week is a decision to celebrate – many religious employers will be required (in 2013) to cover birth control even if the particular faith opposes it.

While some feel this violates religious liberty, it is actually an excellent decision in support of individual liberty vs employer overreach. My employer, no matter what its views, has no business interfering with my medical decisions.

Most of the individuals employed by such employers are in purely secular positions. Catholic hospitals, for example, have many many positions which are not religious in nature, such as clerical, janitorial, technical, food service. I don’t even imagine all the medical staff (doctors and nurses) are expected to belong to the church. For that reason, their employer has no right to impose its views on their private life (and there is very little more private than medication).

An important factor such employers should also remember is that birth control pills have purposes other than contraception. A well-known example is that they can help solve menstrual bleeding, pain, and irregularity problems. For my employer to limit my doctor’s decision on that score is excessive. Would they also forbid my having a hysterectomy? What if my employer believes that epilepsy is caused by demonic possession – can they forbid the insurance company to cover anti-epileptic medication? Can they deny medical care related to pregnancy if I am not married?

You might say that I accepted such terms if I accepted a hypothetical position with a Catholic employer. I disagree. If I take a position delivering meal trays, billing, or mopping floors at Providence St. Joseph, I am not obligating myself to live as a Catholic.

I tend to be fairly moderate when it comes to employer expectations of employee personal lives. As a former teacher and current social work student,  I can see how working for a religious employer would require great care in personal deportment while at work and in situations where you could be connected with your employer. But nobody other than my husband sees me take my medication every morning, and nobody other than my doctor and I get to decide what that medication is. While my employer has indeed contributed to the insurance plan which pays a portion of my medications, they do not have the right to make medical decisions on my behalf by excluding whole categories.

Perhaps those who are claiming their religious rights are violated can be comforted by seeing insurance more accurately. They are not buying their employees medication – they are paying for a particular level of coverage (usually shared between the employer and employee) and the EMPLOYEE is buying the medication. The assumption that the church is somehow buying birth control because a benefit plan covers them is absurd. It is equivalent to assuming that because my employer paid me my salary, any purchase I might make with it is still subject to their beliefs.

This has some personal interest to me, as I am seriously considering medical social work as my concentration, with the hope of working in a hospital once I am finished. An otherwise excellent Catholic hospital chain is dominant in this area, and I might have found myself applying there. I would not want to affiliate myself with any employer that would attempt to control my life and private medical decisions in such a manner.

A final question to which I do not know the answer: do these same policies that exclude birth control cover Viagra and Cialis?

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