Did Ed Snowden do the right thing?

Daniel C. dcrookston at gmail.com
Mon Jun 10 13:56:04 MDT 2013


On Mon, Jun 10, 2013 at 3:41 PM, keith smith <klsmith2020 at yahoo.com> wrote:
> Can someone list the "ethical source[s]" - because I think God through His scripture is the only source.

There's a thought experiment to demonstrate that the deity you worship
is not the source of ethics.  Imagine that God commanded you to do
something you consider morally wrong.  You can take your pick of
atrocities - genocide, the murder of a single innocent child, rape,
what have you.  God appears and tells you to do it.  Does God telling
you to do it make it right?

There are two ways you can go with this.  One way is to just say "Yes,
if God says I should do it, then it's the right thing to do."  But
watch your thoughts carefully, because most people at this juncture
have a backup plan: most people are thinking, in the back of their
mind, "If God commands me to rape this child, there must be some
greater good that will come of it."  In other words, committing this
heinous act isn't *really* wrong, because God (with his infinite
perspective) knows that more good will come, in the end, than bad.
Well, I'm sorry but I'm going to take that away from you because it
defeats the purpose of the thought experiment.  There is no greater
good being served.  It's just this, right here, right now - this act
must stand on its own, in this moment, as either right or wrong.  No
cheating.

The other way to go is to say "Well, God wouldn't command me to do
something that's wrong."  Which acknowledges that God does not create
right and wrong on his own, but rather serves as a sort of
illumination, allowing us to see the independent principles of right
and wrong.  (This, incidentally, is what Mormons believe.  A close
reading of the Doctrine and Covenants makes that pretty clear, what
with all the talk of "I the Lord am bound" and the laws and principles
being set before the foundations of the earth were laid, etc.)

If you choose to go the first route (which most people don't) then you
have to accept that everything abhorrent in the Bible was actually a
direct commandment of God, and that God is both cruel, inhumane and
very, very changeable.  If you go the second route (which most people
do) you're better off in the end, but you lose your convenient ability
to defer ethical decisions to a divine command.  You have to actually
think for yourself about what's right and what's wrong, and then make
a decision based on your own very fallible mind.  (Incidentally, this
is also what Mormons believe - albeit with the caveat / safeguard of
divine confirmation.  You're supposed to study things out for yourself
before praying about them.)

As for what the source of ethics is - I don't really know.  But I
don't have to define the source in order to demonstrate that God is
not it.

The reason this applies to our discussion is because the decision of
whether to blow the whistle on one's employer is an ethical decision,
and the source of a person's ethics matters.  I don't believe that the
law is a sufficient source of ethical or moral authority, and I don't
think that scriptures are either.  I'm not exactly a moral relativist,
but I do think that each person needs to wrestle with these things
honestly and come to their own decision.

-Dan


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