I’m going to be up-front here, and confess that I don’t really care about marriage. I mean, it’s great that people who are committed to each other have an outlet by which to express that, but the legal institution is (in America anyway) clearly just the last, mutated outgrowth of an old Christian custom, and one that is not really benefitting society as far as I can tell. Let it die.
Now, polygamy/polyamory. (Another caveat: lifestyle-wise, polyamory isn’t really on my RADAR, so forgive me for not having highly developed views. What two… or three… or four… responsible adults do in the privacy of their home is nobody’s business.) Obviously polyamory is fine, except inasmuch as it’s hurtful to the individuals involved. But this is not something any authority can regulate. Why not? Because how is an abstract moral/legal authority going to be capable of peering into everyone’s emotional history and needs and tell people who to do what with? This seems like sufficient reason for the state not to be involved.
I’m afraid since I’m taking a minimalist approach that it will seem like I’ve left the burden of proof too much on the other side. But the simple fact is that the burden of proof IS on their side, inasmuch as what we’re dealing with here is an arbitrary social convention totemized over the course of centuries by a religious culture, the last devotees of which are now fighting to the death to protect it, as if it were the lynchpin of civilization. The flood walls have been breeched, my friends, and the tide of “unnaturalness” now pouring in is merely the restoration of a reasonable order on the ground you have so fiercely and pointlessly defended these many years.
I’m not sure that anything is ever strictly obligatory. I’m not a deontologist, and I’m not a consequentialist either. (Forgive the digression, but…) If the aliens are going to blow up planet earth unless I slit my own throat, I am not morally obliged to slit my own throat (for reasons of utility), nor am I obliged not to slit my own throat (out of respect for rational nature). This goes back to a theme from the marriage response: most of ethics tacitly presumes the authority of a deity. I get a little fed up with trendy atheist apologists who pretend that bourgeois Christian morality is the atheist thing to do. If I don’t believe in a deity, it doesn’t make sense for me to talk absolutely about what we “ought” to do, or what is “ok”. All of that either falls back on some divine authority, or a sense of social acceptableness, neither of which can reasonably “bind” us without subscribing to an ontotheology. (I’m fighting myself not to rant on the stupidity of Kant and Mill.) OK by whose standards, according to what norm? This is always an important question in moral reasoning, and often the determining question.
There was a flip side to this — whether it’s okay to keep pumping drugs (or oxygen) into someone to keep them alive. I think it’s ok. I think people in a vegetative state should probably be kept alive as long as a relative or living will stipulates. This judgment doesn’t have an absolute character, because there could probably be some case where for good reasons one of these people’s lives had to be terminated, and in abstract I have no issue with that. If there’s no brain functioning, then the person is, for all practical purposes, just a memento of a lost life. If the former person wanted their body to persist in that state as a memorial, then it would be good to respect them. (And, in some cases, not to respect them.)
And then the third aspect: the difference between intervening to kill and failing to treat. Yes, there is very clearly a difference. Obviously someone can want another person to die and choose either means to kill them, but it seems that the ability for us to reference the two kinds of activity and expect their non-identity to be broadly understood indicates that most people find a difference, and I think this general instinctive agreement that there is a difference is enough to color the moral significance of an action either way. “There’s nothing either good or bad…” but truly, thinking does make it so. Again, not that any resulting judgments have absolute validity, but I think it would be wrong to deny a moral significance to the difference, though it might swing either way, and the line between the two categories is clearly not absolute. (E.g. failing to treat might cause a wrongful death where one had agreed to terminate a life.)
You can vote on whether you think these answers were written by a Christian or an Atheist here. Comments are open to discuss the substance of the post and for speculation about the true beliefs of the author, so please vote before looking at the comments.