Category Archives: Progressive Morality

Progressivism vs. Catholicism

Is progressivism* consistent with Catholicism? No! There are many inconsistencies; especially in moral theory. But here I focus on theology in order to show the necessity of the notion of moral harm for understanding redemptive suffering.

Moral harm is harm which ought to be for violation of a moral law. Catholicism holds holds that Christ suffered torture and crucifixion to fulfill the prescription for the moral harm required for human sinfulness. In paragraph 601 of The Catechism of the Catholic Church, Christ’s suffering is called “redemptive suffering” Progressivism rejects the notion of moral harm. Hence, progressivism rejects the notion of redemptive suffering.

Am I saying that someone who takes a progressive approach to morality cannot be a Catholic or Christian? No. I am writing about a moral theory I built up from a foundational idea that there ought to be no harm and intended it reflect popular progressive moral beliefs. I write of Catholicism as body of doctrines. I point out a contradiction between these two theories. Progressivism cannot be a consistent Catholicsm. Catholicism cannot be a consistent progressive morality.

People are not theories. What people think are at best bits and pieces of theories. People do not think, say or believe all the implications of what they say or believe. A Catholic who takes a progressive approach to moral issues need not ever think or say anything which contradicts fundamental Catholic teaching about redemptive suffering. A Catholic can say words such as “Jesus Christ is our saviour who died for our sins” without every trying to spell out what it means. He can regard them as holy words he is supposed to say or immediately accept it as all a mystery which we cannot even start to understand.

Or all that I know, people can be both morally progressive and Catholic. Indeed such people may be very good Catholic. I do not hesitate to judge another person’s character. But I do not judge a person’s character on the basis of the logical consistency of theories I develop from bits and pieces of what they say. For instance, I think Joe Biden might be a good Catholic despite the fact that his moral progressivism on abortion and homosexuality place him in contradiction to Catholic teaching. He might well be too busy thinking about other issues to draw out implications inconsistent with progressive morality from Catholic doctrines on redemption. Biden is not a good example for other Catholics. But he may have an innocent childlike faith in the words and ceremonies of Catholicism which is pleasing to God.

However, there are some of us for whom trying to understand is crucial for letting words guide our lives. So, if I were to say that what Jesus Christ accomplished by his suffering and death did far more for humanity than anything such as discovering a vaccine for Covid-19, I need to have some concepts or ideas which I can use appreciate why I would say something like that. If I cannot even start to make sense of it, I won’t believe it. But I want to believe it to avoid the nihilism of progressivism. Here then is a situation in which there is my faith seeking understanding. Faith seeking understanding is theology.

My faith is holding fast to the words of Catholicism. My theologizing is the constant effort to think of why I would say those words.

The notion of moral harm is a key to gaining at least a part of understanding. Hence, I will be using moral harm in theology exercises to gain some understanding of the Paschal mystery.

*Perhaps, I should use “moral progressivism” to distinguish it from “progressivism” which is used to label a variety of political views which are successors of what used to be called liberal views.

What is Progressive Morality?

“Progressive morality” is a term I recently introduced to refer to a type of moral theory contrary to the authoritarian morality I support. Progressive morality is an extension of a theory about sexual morality examined in my book* which I called Progressive Sexual Morality. The guiding thought of progressive sexual morality is the moral neutrality of sexuality. The morality neutrality of sexuality holds that in principle any sexual activity is morally permissible. The guiding thought of progressive morality is that no harm ought not be.

A good way to answer, “What is Progressive Morality?” is to show how progressive sexual morality can be made a progressive morality. In my book I implicitly connected progressive sexual morality with progressive morality’s thought that harm ought not be with the provision that coercive sexual acts are not permissible. Progressive sexual moralities are easily incorporated into progressive moralities if they would drop any absolute condemnation of coercive sex. It is remotely possible that a coercive sexual act produces less harm than any other act open to the rapist under the circumstances.

Do progressive moralities hold the moral neutrality of sexuality? Yes. Progressives hold the moral neutrality of every type of act. In principle, any act, even an act done to intentionally inflict harm, might be the act which produces the least harm in certain circumstances.

Act utilitarism is the fundamental method of moral evaluation for progressive morality. The basic good is satisfaction of human inclination and harm is frustration of inclination satisfaction. There cannot be any specification of any other condition such as development of talents as a good. Such a specification would characterize it as something we ought to pursue. But if we ought to pursue it then there needs to be a sanction for failing to pursue it. But sanctions open up the prospect of harm that ought to be. Inclination satisfaction becomes the good by default. Everyone naturally has this goal and there is no need to command people to have it.

In effect, the guiding thought of progressive morality is that there ought to be no frustration of human desires. And the right act in any circumstances is the act, which after balancing satisfactions with frustrations, produces the highest amount of satisfactions.

Progressivism is a humanism with its restriction to human desires. And with human desires ultimately determining what is right or wrong, “man is the measure of all things.”

The most interesting aspect of progressive morality comes out in explaining the status of the norm “Harm ought not be” which we just interpreted as “there ought to be no frustration of human desires.” Progressives are not naïve. They realize that at the present time there are kinds of desires whose satisfaction produces harm as well as kinds of people whose system of desires aim at what is harmful.

The explanation brings out why they can be called “progressive.”

Obviously, they cannot take “harm ought not be” as an imperative with sanctions. Progressivism makes assumptions about human nature. Some of the most important assumptions are as follows.
1. Moral language is part of human thinking and use of moral language actually modifies human desires and guide human behavior. It is not for telling the truth or somehow indicating the way things are.
2.Humans have some desires, such as occasionally desiring that others satisfy their desires, which could be called moral desires. (It’s simply not a sociological fact that people are totally selfish.)
3. What people desire can be modified. In particular, with development of technology people can be educated to care more for the satisfaction of other’s desires.
4. Technical progress will continue to provide resources for desire satisfaction so that, amongst other things, there will be less conflict over scarce resources.

So, progressives who bother to think about the foundations of their moral stance look at their guiding thought that there be no harm as a normative principle pervasive in human thought which their inclinations for human satisfaction leads them to take it very seriously. They might admit that they are higher on the compassion inclination scale than most other people. After noting that they are simply following amoral nature in their moral endeavors they look to technical advances and education, which may use moral language, to develop schemes for maximum desire satisfaction in the future. This future, which they most certainly will not see, most likely will require somewhat different kind of people with somewhat different desires. But such a future is possible. To be working on a scheme which leads to this right kind of future is being on the right side of history.

* My book Confronting Sexual Nihilism: Traditional Sexual Morality as an Antidote to Nihilism was released by Tate Publishing on March 11, 2014. See Book Web Page for information about the book. See Ch. IV for my justification see pp. 72ff. for discussion of moral harm. Free copies can be obtained here by credit card by paying $3.75 for shipping and handling.





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Moral Harm as An Intrinsic Evil

Authoritarian moral theories recognize some acts as intrinsically evil. For instance, my Authoritarian moral theory regards masturbation as intrinsically evil. Such a condemnation of masturbation means that under no circumstances and regardless of the intention or consequences is masturbation morally permissible. However, moral harm is not an intrinsic evil for Authoritarian moral theories. Here “moral harm” stands for the intentional infliction of harm to satisfy the sanctions for violation of a moral law. Intentional tolerance of harm as harm suffered for violation of a moral law would also be moral harm as I am using “moral harm” for this post. So interpreting AIDs as punishment for homosexual acts is interpreting it as moral harm.

For example, if a young boy were masturbating, he would be performing an intrinsically evil act. If his father caught him in the act, grabbed him, shook him while yelling at him about being a pervert, the mental pain and slight physical pain are harms that the father not only was permitted to inflict on his son but might well have been his obligation to inflict on his son simply as punishment for what his son did.

The term “Progressive moral theory” is a term I invented. Progressive moral theories hold that in principle the morality of every act depends upon the circumstances of its performance, the intention with which it is performed and the consequences of its performance. So, it seems that Progressive moral theories classify no act as intrinsically evil.

However, Progressive theories also resolve the basic contradiction in moral thought by specifying that no harm ought to be. This does not mean that Progressive theories condemn infliction of harm as intrinsically evil. Under certain circumstances with an intention to produce good and the production of good is likely, harm may be inflicted. What they absolutely condemn is the intentional infliction of harm to satisfy the sanctions for violation of a moral law . This is moral harm. Inflicting harm for retribution. There is not a contradiction with the denial that no act is intrinsically evil. It says at most that an act connected with a special intention to punish is intrinsically evil.

But what is the moral significance of holding moral harm as intrinsically evil if there are no sanctions for performing acts of this type? In Progressive morality what is analogous to intrinsically evil act in Authoritarian morality is a condition or situation which ought not be.

In Authoritarian morality there are acts which ought never be done.

In Progressive morality there are conditions or situations which ought never be.

In Progressive morality harm is what ought never be. So in Progressive morality moral harm is simply harm which ought not be. So inflicting harm or tolerating harm as retributive punishment for violation of moral laws is something which ought not be.

Moral harm still exists, of course. But it exists because humanity has not progressed far enough to realize that Authoritarian morality is really superstitious belief in an enchanted reality with super human authority. As humanity progresses to eliminate erroneous beliefs about reality and moral theory it will realize that the point of morality is to eliminate harm; not to promote harm under any conditions.