A friend of mine, Scott Ganyo (once upon a time a ComedySportz Indy troupe member), posted this link to his Facebook page today with a question.
Edited down to just posts of Scott’s and mine:
Scott: Moral Relativism or Consequentialism? Discuss.
Strange: Technically, Billy has not changed his mind on this. Billy felt that as a cult, Mormonism was closer to Billy’s version of Christianity (politically speaking) than whatever Billy believes Obama believes. (I am not trying to suggest that Billy Graham thinks that Obama is a Muslim; I don’t know for sure. But based on Graham’s history and the culture of evangelicalism, Graham believes that he has more in common with Mitt’s values than with Barack’s.) Billy still does not like Mormonism, but in an effort to show that one can compromise politically while not compromising personally, he has temporarily removed Mormonism from the list of cults in a misguided and incredibly ironic effort to PREVENT exactly what is happening now: a comparison of Graham’s flavor of Christianity to the beliefs of Mormonism that a majority of American Christians find to be radical and potentially dangerous. (I grew up as an evangelical, and I feel completely safe stating all of the above.) Evangelicals define cults to be any religious or spiritual organization that purports to be Christian, but embraces teachings that would cause people who believe them to be unfit for heaven. It’s also sort of assumed that it’s not widespread enough to be a mainstream religion such as Catholicism, which is also rejected by many evangelical Protestants. So, to answer your question, Scott: there is no question that Graham believes in DESCRIPTIVE moral relativism, but there is no way that has extended to meta-ethical moral relativism or, God forbid, normative moral relativism. This is absolutely, without a doubt, consequentialism at its most blatant. The ends justify the means. If Graham thought he could get an evangelical Christian elected, he’d throw in with that guy instead.
Scott: Thanks, Strange! Fantastic evaluation! I agree it is nothing more than opportunistic consequentialism… But if Billy has not really changed his mind, is he not compromising himself personally by retracting/hiding his true position? (Or is that what you meant by “ironically”?) Because yes, course Billy would throw in with an evangelical – that’s not in dispute, but it is pretty telling that he’d be willing to tacitly support someone that he would otherwise consider to be a cult member over an actual Christian.
Strange: I think it’s the matter of the lesser of two evils, in Billy’s mind. Many, many evangelicals do not believe that Obama is a Christian. This is not to suggest that they all think that he’s a Muslim. Many feel that he’s a CINO (Christian In Name Only) — that he says he’s a Christian but he’s probably an atheist or agnostic. As to whether ot not he’s compromising himself, I hesitate to make a judgment on that, if only because making assumptions about others’ beliefs and where they consider the line to be drawn can be a bit dangerous. Although I have clearly done so in my own statements here, even I find certain areas to be too difficult to discern. What one person considers to be a compromise, others would find to be unacceptable and even sinful. Do I personally think he has compromised his own integrity? Absolutely. But do I think he feels he has compromised his beliefs? Not for a moment. In his own way, I think Billy supports the idea of separation of church and state; he doesn’t want his government run by zealots of any stripe. Because of this, I think Billy believes that the specific religion of a candidate is secondary to his promises and actions supporting the beliefs of evangelicals. So the word “compromise” is tricky. (I still remember attending his “crusade” in Syracuse NY years and years ago. It was life-changing… in that it’s where I first started to question my adherence to evangelicalism.)
Scott: Excellent point on the distinction between compromising one’s beliefs and integrity. One can convince oneself of a great many things.
…So that’s my stance, obviously. But it does make me wonder — how often do we compromise on small things in favor of big things? And is that good, bad, or neutral? Neuroscience suggests that we regularly adjust our beliefs about the world in order to support our own image of ourselves; are we just fooling ourselves when we take a stand on some things? Would it be easier to have less adherence to strict standards and just admit that morality and integrity are fluid and conditional? That relativism is the only sensible approach? Or does the denial of absolute truth in some circumstances threaten the existence of it in others and jeopardize the entire concept of morality? (Plus, is altruism possible and what is art? I mean, as long as I’m asking the big philosophical questions, why not a few more of them?)
I clearly don’t have all the answers, but at the very least I feel like I’m asking better questions than I used to.