Scott Hardie | August 3, 2001
This is an informal essay (rant) in response to the "Good or Bad?" from July 30th about stem cell research, since Anna asked for discussion about it. If you want to comment, please do so, or start a new entry if you have a particular lot to say.

I have, for my entire life, been three things that shaped my morality: An atheist, an only child mostly left alone by my parents, and a bottom-line rational thinker. I'm no Mr. Spock, but I have rightly been accused of being cold and realistic when it comes to decision making. That applies to morals, too.

Honestly, I don't understand how some things are considered moral or immoral. For instance, let's look at the big one, sex. How is homosexuality immoral? God implied (not said) so, but if two homosexuals want to have sex in the privacy of their own bedroom, especially if they are not Christian, then how can it be called evil? It's just sex. If you are from a particularly strict Christian religion, then almost all forms of sex are evil. Lustful thoughts are evil. This doesn't make sense to me. Lustful thoughts are negative, perhaps, and possibly unhealthy. But evil?

Let's choose something that seems more arbitary, since Christianity and its values are so dominant in this country. Jews don't eat pork. According to the more strict kosher laws, Jews aren't even allowed to eat food that was prepared or served in a building where pork has also been prepared or served. There is the consideration that pigs are unclean (recall the last scene in "Pulp Fiction"), though this is a) untrue, since they only roll in the mud because they lack sweat glands, and b) irrelevant, because we have such things as running water to clean the pigs. Anyway, Jews are not allowed to eat pork for religious reasons, fine. But Christians and atheists look at that as strange. How could pork be considered evil? How could eating it be considered sinful? It's just pork; it's harmless.

Religion defines morality. Religion gives us a set of rules that say that such things are good and such things are bad and all unmentioned things are neutral. The more strict or complex the religion, the more it imposes its morality on its followers. The problem with following a religious morality is that the rules don't always make sense in the "real" world, by which I mean a world viewed rationally and realistically.

How would you define evil? Seriously. Evil, to me, is the will to cause harm. This harm can be mental or physical or spiritual against another person. It can be as simple as property damage like graffiti, or as complex as anti-institutional crime such as counterfeiting. Harming yourself is neutral, but harming others is bad and should be outlawed. Any law that prevents one person from causing unreasonable harm to another person is just. Any law that affects behavior not based on harm (or intention to harm) is unnecessary. Banning pork? That doesn't make sense, since it's just meat and doesn't harm anyone, least of all those who don't eat it. Banning certain kinds of sex, such as homosexuality? That doesn't make sense either, since they're just sex and also don't harm anyone.

Laws, as the enforcement of morals, should be focused exclusively on defending the people and the system from reasonable harm. Morals should not trespass beyond the realm of harm, either. What's the point? It's time we took a look at what is really good and what is really evil, and stopped letting religions tell us. Frankly speaking, they're wrong. They make no sense. They're fucking arbitrary. Think for yourself and decide what is right and wrong, good and evil. And don't assign morality to an activity or concept without a reason, or there's no point.

Stem cell research, the sparking point for this discussion, is the current hot topic in this country. On the plus side, it has great potential to save and improve lives by treating and curing many different diseases. On the minus side, it requires the destruction of a fertilized egg, aka a zygote. (I get tired of hearing the word embryo. An embryo is a three-week-old zygote that is developing inside the womb. While it's still in the cellular stage, before it has begun to resemble a person, it is still a fucking zygote, and the zygotes in these labs have no chance of entering wombs.)

Does stem cell research kill babies? No, it does not. It does not "stop a beating heart," like abortion does. Zygotes are not tiny babies, they are blobs on a tiny scale. They are simple multicellular structures, yet to develop into anything even remotely resembling a person. When you kill them, they feel no pain. They do not think, they do not feel, and except in the technical sense of the word, they do not live. Thus, stem cell research harms nothing, so there is no reason to ban it.

An argument could be made for the potential of life being destroyed, but isn't that rather silly? I mean, every day that a man and woman in a loving relationship do not procreate, the potential for life is destroyed. Hell, every time that a man asks a woman out at a bar and she says no, the potential for many lives is destroyed. What are you going to do, enforce procreation in some kind of bizarre reversal of China's strict policy against it? I know I'm being rather silly here, but that's how I see the "potential of life" issue. Sure, the zygote could grow into a person, but it's not going to do so. It's going to go into the garbage, or be aborted, or most likely if it were indeed in a womb, miscarried. Hell, the egg wouldn't even be fertilized if that didn't happen in the lab! There is no "potential for life" issue.

We owe it to the tens (hundreds?) of millions of Americans who are suffering and dying from these diseases to continue stem cell research. Even if the potential for cures were much lower, it would be worthwhile. The quality of life for people who are living and breathing and walking the earth today could be so much better. I've lost family members to diseases that stem cell research is likely to eventually treat or cure, and believe me, I wish the research could have happened a decade or two ago. Twenty years from now, when I'm dead or dying from diabetes, my kids are going to want the same thing.

If harm represents evil in a rational morality (one not based on arbitrary religious mores), then isn't the prevention of harm thus good? If a blind man is crossing the street, isn't it a good deed to offer to assist him? Stem cell research holds amazing potential for the prevention of harm. Other than demilitarizing the world and ending global hunger, both of which are highly unrealistic, I can think of nothing that can directly save as many lives as the fruits borne of stem cell research. From a rational, atheistic standpoint, there is no reason to stop it, and every reason to continue it.

Scott Hardie | August 3, 2001
P.S. Though I said pretty much all I want to say about stem cell research, I really only scratched the surface of my feelings on morality. Rather than get into another long essay about it, and since I don't think it was clear in my disorganized essay above, let me state my idea of morality right now, once and for all:

Every individual should decide his or her own morals after careful consideration. Morals should follow a structured system only if that system makes sense. (My system involves the intent to cause harm as the fundamental principle.) Religious morality tends to be arbitary and meaningless, especially when considered rationally, and makes a poor foundation for laws. Laws should start with a clear, consistently applied definition of good and evil, and their purpose should be to enforce good and prevent evil. Morals should work the same way.

Scott Hardie | August 4, 2001
Today I thought of two more examples of arbitrary morality imposed on neutral things.

Rock and roll music is the devil's music. It is evil. How? It's just music. Just guitars and drums and a singer, maybe with a synthesizer or a turntable. I don't know how by strumming "Kumbaya" I'm serving Jesus but by strumming "Patience" I'm serving the devil. Arbitrary morality imposed by religion.

Kelly and I live together and are unmarried. We haven't told most of her family because they are old-fashioned and won't like it. The phrase "living in sin" applies. How? We increase our chances of becoming pregnant, but with the whole sanctity of life issue, that's a good thing. We harm nothing by cohabiting. It has no good value and no evil value. But Christian values dictate that unmarried couples who cohabitate live in sin. Arbitrary morality imposed by religion.

Kelly Hardie | August 6, 2001
How you rant on!

I do see the Jewish thing about pork. I'm taking a wild guess in saying that when this particular relgious practice first occured the widespread use of Fridgidare refridgerators was not in common practice. Hell, I bet they didn't even have Amana. And there is one thing about meat-it doesn't keep very well unless you want to eat it when it has the same toughness of say, bootleather. And pork carried disease...so to keep people from dieing in the streets of mad pig disease some Jewish people got together and said, "Hey, lets make it part of our religion that our people can't eat pork....are you going to finish that boot? I'm hungry." So like all relgious practices this became part of the religous practices...and just never stoppped, despite the fact that the "New Fridgiare defrosts meat in half the time." I wonder if baptisms stemmed from the fact that a lot of people didn't take baths back then, and they figured they needed at least one a lifetime.

btw, i'm joking. please don't hit me.


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