Fri | Sep 21, 2018

There is ethics without religion

Published:Friday | April 24, 2015 | 12:06 AM

Unlike with bird-shooting, in contemporary Jamaica there's no closed season on lambasting the Church. I suppose in a free society everyone is at liberty to criticise religion, politics, gambling on horse racing, or whatever.

And everyone is free to put forward ridiculous arguments in support of their position. Last Tuesday, Gordon Robinson proves this in his column 'A virtuous vocation. Or maybe he is trying out for a new career in comedy.

On one level, it really is quite funny. "There are real tensions," he begins, "in Jamaican society between strict Christian dogma and life's realities." He chooses adultery as his example (possibly as an entree for quoting Doris Duke's 1970 hit 'To the Other Woman'), but he could have used any of a multitude of common sins: rape, homosexuality, graft, murder.

"It's time churches recognise 21st-century realities," he admonishes, as if wrongdoing is an invention of his generation. "The first reality is that adultery happens." He wants Christianity to offer persons of his generation a cure for the "adultery-vs-reality dilemma"; after all, "other faiths have cured the adultery-vs-reality dilemma with polygamy. After all, if the other woman is also wife, it isn't adultery."

I might help his argument by reminding him that King Solomon, reputedly the wisest man, had 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3). No Jamaican man can equal the wisdom of Solomon: Jamaican law does not allow the former, and not even the most faithful customer of Viagra or Red Bull has the stamina for the latter! And anyway, there just aren't enough nights in the year to keep them all satisfied.


remove adultery from sin list


And so the cure for the dilemma is to remove adultery from the list of sins. The argument is familiar: since every society has homosexuals, let's accept buggery as normal; and since there will always be unwanted pregnancies, let's make abortion widely available; and since there are always people who want to kill other people, let's make murder acceptable ... ? Whoa! The argument is absurd, as is shown when taken to its logical extreme; the logicians call it argumentum ad absurdum.

Standards are still worth having, even though you know there will always be those who will not adhere to them. It is important for society to define its ideals, and to give them prominence; and some ideals require the reinforcement of law.

If every law that was commonly broken was abolished (during a reality check), we would have almost none left (maybe the Road Code would remain); lawyers like Gordon Robinson would be put out of business. That's how I know Brother Gordon was trying to compete with Michael Abrahams!

"The second reality the Church won't acknowledge is that, in Jamaica, voluntary man-sharing is endemic." About this one, Brother Gordon is right on the money! "Female tertiary graduates triple male counterparts so, for them, sharing is necessity. Remember 'necessity'? It knows no law."

We see it in the Church. There are five Catholic all-girls high schools in Jamaica, and only one all-boys school; there used to be a second all-male Catholic high school (the one both Gordon and I attended), but they have since admitted girls, from which the school has not yet recovered. It would be true to say that, whether intended or not, the Catholic Church in Jamaica promotes the breakdown in married life, as many educated Catholic girls will not be able to find good educated Catholic boys as husbands.


is this unfair to women?


Among traditional high schools in Jamaica, there are 14 all-girls schools and only seven all-boys schools; and most of the co-ed schools have 60-70 per cent girls. And this ratio is carried forward to university education. Our Jamaican education system marginalised males by design!

And so, Brother Gordon argues that for many Jamaican women, sharing men is a necessity (otherwise they would have to do without, or turn to one another). And the Church is unfair to Jamaican women to restrict them to monogamous marriages; "This is cruelty to modern women whose choices are already limited by many men's irresponsibility or lack of ambition".

"Unlike the Church, educated women understand society. They reject loneliness, unhappiness or self-denial as salvation. When prospecting for soulmates, they don't restrict themselves to endangered species like single men. Why should they? Why should women feel guilty for accepting reality and seeking comfort and happiness wherever possible?"

And so pragmatism and expediency become the new morality. Everyone is guided by some ethic or the other, and even abandoning standards is an ethic. The great Greek philosopher Aristotle expounded on ethics three centuries before Christianity began, and he advocated virtue, which included the correct regulation of one's bodily appetites. The difference between animals and humans is that we can think and reason.

Let us not reduce right and wrong to the demands of our animal, physical urges.

- Peter Espeut is a sociologist. Email feedback to