Chapter 5
Right or Wrong?

Once again, we’ll start with a true-or-false question. Please consider whether the following statement is True (T) or False (F), based on your personal beliefs:

9. ____   “I believe it is okay for a person to torture a baby by any means whatsoever, if doing so is part of that person’s religion.”

It is my understanding that some people would answer that question “True.” However, I don’t think I have ever met anyone who would admit that directly to me. If you happen to be such a person, then please consider a slightly different statement:

10. ____   “I believe it is okay for anyone to torture me in any manner whatsoever, if doing so is part of that person’s religion. I would allow them to torture me without resisting them, since resisting them would inhibit their religious freedom.”

If you are being honest, and are not insane, then I think you probably agree with me that the answer to the second statement is “False.” Presuming that you answered at least one of those statements “False,” then this exposes a fallacy about “freedom of religion.” Few people really believe in freedom of religion with no limits. Why not? Is there something inherently wrong about torturing people for religious purposes? Of course there is. This is self-evident.

What if such things were done for pleasure, rather than religious purposes? Would that make such things right? Of course not.

On the other hand, is there something right about opposing such practices? Of course there is. This also is self-evident. This brings us to two more self-evident truths:

Some things are morally right,
and some things are morally wrong.

Right things should normally be embraced;
wrong things should normally be rejected.

Note that this concept of “right or wrong” is different than the “good or bad” principle discussed in the previous chapter. In this chapter the words “right” and “wrong” involve morality, while in the previous chapter the words “good” and “bad” did not involve morality.

This brings us to the problem of semantics. Many words have multiple meanings, or shades of meaning, and using such words can cause confusion. Unfortunately, there are few words that don’t have this problem to some degree, so we are stuck with this problem. For example, in the English language, the words “good” and “bad” may be used regarding moral activity (such as whether we treat other people in a good manner or a bad manner), as well as regarding non-moral things (such as whether bread is good or bad, or whether a musician’s performance was good or bad). The words “right” and “wrong” may also be used to clarify issues of morality, or be used to merely clarify the correctness of something, such as whether the spelling of a word is right or rong. However, we would not normally call fresh bread “right” or moldy bread “wrong.” Usually the intended meaning of a word is evident from the context it is being used in.

For Further Reflection:

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