When Sally Met Ann

There are moral truths, or the word moral is an empty word.

In The Moral Landscape, Sam Harris asks the reader to abandon what has become a cliche in the philosophy of science; that science has nothing to say about morality.  We must first accept a premise: for something to be moral, it must foster well being in sentient creatures. To put it differently, if an action that runs counter to well being can be called moral, then morality ceases to have any purchase on the real world. To have any meaning whatsoever.

The secular world often bumps heads with the religious over this very point. If one gets their morality from God, then what is moral is mandated by the heavens, or more accurately, by an ancient semi-literate desert-dweller for whom a wheelbarrow is an emergent technology. Don’t be fooled, the marriage of morality and God is not limited to fringe elements, but is a mainstream belief held by millions of Christians and Muslims alike.

Take this utterly disgusting and disturbing piece of news brought to my attention just yesterday. The Salvation Army is threatening to withdraw its services as a charitable organization in NYC if benefits are offered to same sex employees. The Salvation Army may feed the hungry and heal the sick for their religious convictions, but will snatch it away just as quickly for same. Last March, Catholic Charities in Washington DC had a less extreme reaction to similar legislation for same sex benefits, and withdrew all employee benefits  lest they be forced into recognizing a same sex union.

The immorality of such actions threatened by the Salvation Army and perpetrated by the Catholics is obvious and extreme. To wield the downtrodden as a blunt and disposable political weapon against secular society is an unforgivable transgression of simple human values, and without justification – that is, unless one subscribes to a morality inspired by the heavens.

There exists a divide. There are those who seek practical solutions, and out of a sense of humanist solidarity, or for the simple notion that charity, welfare, and healthcare are in the best interests of everyone. Then there are those who also believe in good works, and yet require divine permission to carry them out. Those that believe what happens on this Earth is not as important as what happens in heaven. That those same good works are subordinate to the word of God.

A hypothesis: human suffering will increase if a publicly subsidized religious charity closes shop in NYC.

A yes or no question, testable, and falsifiable. Science.

Robin Lindsay


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9 Responses to “When Sally Met Ann”

  1. NotAScientist Says:

    “A hypothesis: human suffering will increase if a publicly subsidized religious charity closes shop in NYC.”

    A hypothesis: human suffering will increase if a religious charity closes shop in NYC merely because it is no longer publicly subsidized.

    • rockrobinoff Says:

      i am not sure if i am grasping your point.

      • timberwraith Says:

        Indeed, the article provides a good argument as to why the government should not fund religious charities at all. Why invest public funds to help build an institution that is likely to discriminate against others in the future and in the process, interrupt crucial services? Why fund an organization that thinks its philosophies place it above the law?

        Unless they can guarantee they will run the charitable branch of their religious organization in a way that obeys the law, as secular institutions are required to, then they should be cut off from government funding.

        I think that NYC should tell the Salvation Army that it will renew its contract for one more year, at most and in the interim, find a secular organization that is willing to provide these services and is also willing to obey the law while using public funds.

      • Ben Waymark Says:

        Having just came across this video:


        produced by the NSPCC, Britains largest ‘save the children’ charity and thinking of some of the weirdness that comes out of animal protection groups like RSPCA and the likes, I am tempted to think that the government should do more than take over the charities from religious groups but maybe find a better/more democratic way of protecting people who need it ….

      • rockrobinoff Says:

        it’s complicated no doubt. on one hand, a serious could perhaps be made for one large government pot of charity money, to be doled out in whatever ways deemed proportionate to need. that said, there are huge problems with red tape, and the even bigger problem with the simple fact that people like to volunteer and give to specific causes. the disproportionate amount of awareness that exists for breast cancer when contrasted with the far more deadly (and male) heart disease.

        is it fair? no, but then again, the result of handing over dedicated charities to the government may result in simply less overall awareness about both breast cancer and heart disease (for example).

      • Ben Waymark Says:

        It is an interesting thought, and probably one of the most socialistic thought I’ve ever had. I’ve never been a big fan of any government, and having lived in the UK and France has made me see a lot of the flaws in that western democratic ‘soft socialism’ that Europeans are so proud of (and Americans so disdainful), but then some of the Catholic charities in Africa, the Sally-Anne in NYC, the NSPCC, the RSPCA makes me wonder what a tidy solution is … I’d love to think that secular/liberal charities is the solution, but the RSPCA and the NSPCC are both those, and there are basic principles of power and its corrupting nature that cannot be overlooked!

  2. Ben Waymark Says:

    I’ve always been a bit fuzzy about the relationship between morals and religion. Religion first and foremost isn’t about morals or ethics, its about trying to understand God. Sometimes these leads to moral conclusions (as in holy laws etc) and sometimes not (pagan gods tend to have very little to say about being ethical). I’d like to read that book …

    On the point of ‘science’ determining morals, is that the same as saying ‘moral philosophy’ or is there a differentiation between science and philosophy for Sam Harris?

  3. rockrobinoff Says:

    i dont think Sam differentiates between science and philosophy. i don’t anyway. in fact, i think there are only very slight (if any) differences between, science, philosophy, math, and logic.

    Ill accept that religion is about trying to understand god. That said, if that understanding informs no action that someone might take on Earth, then I don’t think we can call that religion.

    • Ben Waymark Says:

      I’ve wondered about that differentiation. I’ve always thought of them always being the same, but sometimes the word ‘science’ is used as if it is something else. I suppose science is the practice of empirical philosophy, but empirical philosophy is so widespread and accepted that it THE defacto philosophy, but then maybe that is a dated view I can’t see I’ve kept up that well over the last decade or so… does post-modernism rely on empiricism?

      Religion will ultimately lead to actions and inform any decision we make, moral or otherwise, as it underpins the fundamental understanding of the universe for the religious person (although it isn’t necessarily the only underpinning element, especially for people whose God doesn’t give you all the answers). In the absence of religion, a philosophy (Buddhism or socialism for example) can also underpin the decisions we make, moral or otherwise. This is why I object to the view that religion somehow holds a monopoly on morality and that we are unable to make moral decision without religion.

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