Moral Credit Score

What’s your credit score like? As a graduate with mounds of debt still left to pay off, I don’t even want to look in that direction. Credit? Money? I have neither. My net worth is probably in the negative at this point. I’m sure there are plenty of people who feel the same way.

What if there was a credit score for morality? Would you look at it? Would you be morally bankrupt? Or would you be rolling in moral dough?

Morality, unlike money, isn’t a commodity. The idea of a moral credit score is somewhat ludicrous because it implies a way to quantify the value of something immaterial. How do you put a price on a good deed? Maybe it’s the price you paid to do the deed (transportation + donation + time value, perhaps) multiplied by the number of people helped by your action. I’ll leave the scientific notation of the problem to mathematicians (English majors don’t do numbers unless they’re page numbers). It should be pretty obvious, though, that an equation like this is pretty difficult to make. There’s just no way to create a number out of morality.

Right?

This morning I listened to a conservative commentator in the States talk about the “moral capital” of marriage and how gays are trying to steal that capital from straight people. In reference to a comment by one of the judges in the Supreme Court talking about “ennobling” and “conferring dignity” on gay marriage by legalizing it everywhere, conservative radio personality Robert Knight said this:

“I was thinking about that and I thought, the way you’re doing that [legalizing gay marriage] is by stealing the moral capital of marriage and conveying it to other relationships that aren’t anything like it. That is not ennobling them; that is transferring moral capital.”

With the Supreme Court set to rule on gay marriage in the near future, discussions like these have become more prevalent. Everyone seems to be discussing what will happen, what could happen, what it means, etc. The idea of treating marriage as some kind of commodity, however, was a new one to me.

The idea of moral capital isn’t exactly new, I have to admit. Theologically, it stems from the history of the Christian church, its splits, schisms, and discussions. “Moral capital” is connected to the idea of being saved by good works. EWTN, a Catholic radio station in the U.S., offers this discussion of the faith and works controversy that once split the church.

During the Protestant Reformation in the early 1500s, a familiar term regarding salvation was “sola fide,” Latin for “by faith alone.” The reformers, at that time, accused the Catholic Church of departing from the “simple purity of the Gospel” of Jesus Christ. They stated it was faith alone, without works of any kind, that brought a believer to eternal life. They defined this faith as “the confidence of man, associated with the certainty of salvation, because the merciful Father will forgive sins because of Christ’s sake.”

This was a big issue back then, though it is generally considered more settled today. It’s faith and works, as the article explains.

But there is still this concept of moral worth associated with works, as we can see in the discussion of moral capital regarding gay marriage. Except in this instance, the moral worth of one act is being decreased by another. This is a relatively new concept in religious thinking, though it is one that has been used to argue against gay marriage for some time. Unlike the inherent value of good works, there is no antecedent in religious history to account for this idea of decreasing value.

In fact, just the opposite has been the case. The misdeeds of others can be endured and in some way used to good effect by a concept of redemptive suffering. Any kind of suffering can be offered up to God as a redemptive act, akin to the example of the crucifixion in which Jesus died to redeem the world. It is also called “offering up” sometimes, like when people say, “Just offer it up to God.” Essentially, these acts take sin and suffering and turn the act of solidarity with Christ into a valuable moral action. It’s moral capital is increased because of the misdoings or sufferings.

This is the quintessential instance of making the best of a bad situation, honestly, and it applies to more than just suffering. Almost anything can be “offered up to God” for a benefit. So why is there a sudden change? Why does the “bad situation” of gay marriage suddenly reduce the moral capital of straight marriage? Has there been a shift in theology that I haven’t heard about?

Arguing like Knight does that legalizing gay marriage destroys the value of straight marriage is a rejection of thousands of years of religious history and is a revision of the concept of morality itself. Morality does not derive its worth in comparison to something else. It is, by definition, a constant. Murder is always immoral. And, at least in the Christian argument, gay marriage is always immoral. There is not a sliding scale for morality.

But say, for a second, that there was. Say that you could confer the moral capital of straight marriage on gay marriage by a simple court case. Once that was done, morality would have changed and Knight and others like him would literally have to change their stance to be in line with the new morality. Since they are currently arguing that that is what is going to happen, perhaps they should change their stance now.

Look, while I do not agree with the argument that gay marriage is immoral, I am compelled to point out that no matter what the legal decision is, the moral issue cannot be changed. Morality is not what is being debated here; legality is. And despite what some people would have you believe, law and morality have been distinct forever, though they often overlap. Knight and others need to stop arguing that a law court deals in morality. If it did, then they would need to change their religious affiliations.

But Knight is not the only person to get it wrong here. The judge he is responding to also made a mistake at the outset. The court case under consideration now is not about “ennobling” or “conferring dignity” on gay marriage at all. It is about offering legal protections to people vulnerable to discrimination and mistreatment. A judge cannot ennoble me or my relationship. It has a dignity all its own, whether or not the law says it is okay.

The issue of same-sex marriage is not an issue of moral capital. We’re not asking for a moral credit score for ourselves or our relationships. The LGBT community is asking for legal protection and rights. Look, Mr. Knight, your moral capital is safe. Frankly, I want nothing to do with it. Anything that turns a relationship into a commodity is not for me. It stinks.

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