Badge of Dishonour: Boy Scouts Ban Gays

Boy Scouts Ban Gays: Have They Lost Their Moral Compass?

When I think about the Boy Scouts, I think about an organization that teaches boys and young men important values such as kindness, fairness, and ethical behaviour. Boys learning to tie knots, whittle sticks and light campfires under the careful supervision of trustworthy role models paints a picture of continuity and time-honoured traditions.  In fact, the Boy Scout tradition dates back as far as 1910, when General Robert Baden-Powell founded the organization in Great Britain. Since that time, the Boy Scouts have developed into worldwide organization. According to the World Organization of the Scouting Movement, there are over 30 million scouts in 161 countries. The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) by itself has over 2.7 million youth members, making it one of the most influential youth-focused groups in America. However, Boy Scouts of American have come under heavy fire because of their controversial decision to ban gay men and boys from their organization – a move that undermines the very values they claim to uphold. This leads me to wonder: have the Boy Scouts lost their moral compass?

The decision to exclude gays came after a two-year evaluation conducted by a committee of “volunteers and professional leaders.” Bob Mazzuca, Boy Scouts of America’s chief scout executive defended the decision by pointing to strong internal support from the parents: “The vast majority of the parents of youth we serve value their right to address issues of same-sex orientation within their family, with spiritual advisers, and at the appropriate time and in the right setting.”

A campaign to lift the ban on gays has been going on for years, ever since the US Supreme Court upheld the organization’s right to exclude gays from membership on the grounds that gay conduct “violated the organization’s values and beliefs.”

Although the Boy Scout’s of America’s decision to ban gays has been upheld by the Supreme Court, the decision has not faired as well in the court of public opinion. Much criticism was stirred up when Eric Jones, a 19-year-old Missouri Eagle Scout, was dismissed after admitting to the camp director that he was gay.

Eric Jones, who has been a member of the Boy Scouts for nearly 10 years, said he felt discriminated against, but did not regret his decision to be open about his sexuality. Jones credited the organization for instilling values that aided his decision to come out, saying: “I have to thank BSA for making [me] the person I am … [a] person who stands up for what I believe in.”

Eric Jones is right when he says he is being discriminated against. The Boy Scouts of America are sending a message loud and clear: if you are gay, you are not welcome. This form of bigotry and close-mindedness has no place in modern society and flies in the face of the organization’s own mission, which aims to “…prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes…” If anything, BSA is teaching children how to discriminate, exclude and treat people unfairly based on prejudicial attitudes. There’s nothing moral or ethical about that.

Thankfully, there is hope for change. Two high-profile BSA board members — Randall Stephenson, CEO of AT&T and James Turley, CEO of Ernst & Young — have stated their intention to end BSA’s ban on gays. In addition, Jennifer Tyrrell, a gay mom from Ohio started a petition calling for an end to the Boy Scouts’ ban on gays. The petition has already attracted more than 300,000 signatures.

If you’d like to lend your support, tell the Boy Scouts of America what they are doing is wrong. Sign the online petition to end the ban on gay scouts and leaders.

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Divine Command Theory vs. Ethical Relativism

The following is a paper written by Jesse Yardley. It is by no means a comprehensive comparison, and should only be considered a cursory view of the two philosophies. Any errors should be reported in the comment field, and I will attempt to revise the paper as necessary.

Introduction
Philosophers have been arguing for centuries about the nature of morality. In the field of ethics, philosophers have focused their attention on answering important questions such as: What is right and wrong? What is good and bad? By what process should we make moral decisions? The answers to these questions have been – and may always be – hotly debated. Philosophers have posited answers through a range of moral theories. Unfortunately, no theory is perfect. Not surprisingly then, no theory has gained universal acceptance. Does that mean that all moral theories are equal? No. Through critical analysis philosophers may evaluate the merits of a theory, thereby determining the relative strengths and weaknesses of each. In this essay, we will evaluate and compare two competing moral theories: Divine Command Theory and Ethical Relativism. Although each theory has its proponents and detractors, it is argued here that Ethical Relativism is the stronger theory. In order to support this argument, we must first examine the basic premises of each theory. Then we will address the key criticisms of each theory as well as the corresponding counter arguments. Next, we will examine the similarities and differences by comparing the two theories. Finally, we will demonstrate how Ethical Relativism is preferable to Divine Command Theory.

Divine Command Theory
Divine Command Theory (DCT) is the view that ethical principles are derived from the commands of God. DCT proposes that an action is obligatory if, and only if (and because) God commands it. An action is forbidden (wrong) if, and only if (and because) God prohibits it. Mortimer argued for the correctness of the DCT as follows:

  1. God is the creator of everything, including humans.
  2. Therefore, everything that we use is held in trust from God.
  3. Therefore, we are required to use them as God wills.
  4. Therefore, we are required to act as God commands.
  5. Therefore, the DCT is correct.

Mortimer’s argument can be condensed to:

  1. God exists.
  2. Therefore, DCT is correct.

Although the DCT is predicated on God’s existence, a theist (who is not convinced by Mortimer’s argument) could continue to believe in God while rejecting the validity of DCT. By appealing to the Independence Thesis, which holds that morality is independent of God’s existence, a theist and an atheist may agree that DCT is wrong, while disagreeing on the existence of God.  Plato examined the relationship between God and moral values in a thought experiment known as the Euthyphro Dilemma. He asked, “Do the gods love piety because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?” For DCT to be correct, piety must be dependent on the God’s command. Therefore a proponent of DCT must answer: “It is pious because it is loved by the gods.” To answer otherwise would lead to values that are independent of God. But if DCT is true, God’s commands are arbitrary. Thus, if God commanded us to commit murder, than murder would be obligatory (and right) – because God commands it. A rebuttal to this problem has been posed: God’s goodness constrains His commands; God could not command anything immoral. But this rebuttal is unconvincing because it uses a redundant standard of goodness to constrain God’s actions. If it is meaningful to say that God is good, there must be a standard of goodness that is independent of God’s personification of goodness. Ultimately, DCT is unconvincing because it is arbitrary, redundant and lacks explanatory power.

Ethical Relativism
Ethical Relativism holds that there are no universal moral truths that apply to all people at all times. Instead, moral principles are thought to be local, conventional, subjective and self-justified. Based on Cultural Relativism, which highlights differences in societal norms, customs and practices, Ethical Relativism concludes that what is right or wrong is determined through cultural consensus. In other words, what is right or wrong is determined by what is considered normal within a specific society. It is only possible to judge the rightness or wrongness of an action by appeal to its cultural acceptance. The fact that moral beliefs and practices are often the product of cultural upbringing, rather than rational decision-making, provides Ethical Relativism with strong “external support” from the society or culture. In addition, Ethical Relativism also gains strong “internal support” from individuals. But Ethical Relativism has its disadvantages as well.

One major problem for Ethical Relativism is that it upholds the morality of such practices as slavery, sexism and racism so long as the cultures in which these acts occur accept them.  If a progressive, revolutionary agent claims that that slavery is wrong, and if he or she were in the moral minority, then the Ethical Relativist must admit that that person is wrong because they are going against the norms of their society. This system of morality makes moral reform impossible.

Another problem for the Ethical Relativist is the difficulty defining culture. Could a church be considered a subculture within a larger culture? A family? Indeed, an individual could constitute a culture of one. Following this logic, Ethical Relativism can be reduced to Subjectivism whereby individuals may claim singular moral authority.

Lastly, it is argued that the underlying principles governing all societies are not as disparate as they appear, even though practices and customs appear to be markedly different on the surface. When we consider these issues in combination, we see that Ethical Relativism undermines important universal values, fails to provide consistent results, and is indeterminate; it does not provide a reliable decision making procedure.

 

Comparing Divine Command Theory and Ethical Relativism
DCT and Ethical Relativism are similar in that they both appeal to authority to determine the rightness or wrongness of an action. For the Ethical Relativist, moral authority comes from cultural consensus; for the Divine Command Theorist, moral authority comes from God. DCT is also similar to Ethical Relativism by its culturally dependency: God’s commands differ in each society. Indeed, Christians, Jews and Muslims often disagree about what God commands, yet they all appeal to the same God for moral guidance. Each society interprets God’s commands to suit their society’s local needs.

DCT and Ethical Relativism have key differences. DCT is universal: what is good/bad, right/wrong is not relative, but absolute. By contrast Ethical Relativism is local and subjective.

Final Evaluation
By depending exclusively upon external moral authority to decide what is right/wrong, good/bad, we encounter serious difficulties in determinacy and consistency. In this regard, both DCT and Ethical Relativism are both problematic. However it can be argued that ceding moral authority to God (or his representatives on earth), presents a tremendous risk to society for a number of reasons. Firstly, humans who interpret God’s commands are notoriously fallible and prone to corruption. Historically, appealed to God’s authority was used to justify all manner of immorality. Indeed, holy wars, slavery, sexism, racism and infanticide are all condoned by the command of God via the Old Testament and Koran.

Further more, if we agree that both DCT and Ethical Relativism appeal to authority, we must conclude that authority derived from a tangible, earthly culture is preferable to authority derived from an intangible, heavenly God who may or may not even exist.

Finally, cultures that generally embrace relativistic ethics are typically more tolerant, more progressive and maintain higher standards of personal wellbeing than those that rely on divine commands.