Monday, June 27, 2016

The Stoning of Soraya M

I just saw The Stoning of Soraya M. last night. I know it is old but it got me thinking. It is definitely a film that stirs up your emotions. The fact that this woman was stoned is outrageous and should make you angry. I was certainly angry. It can make you passionate about some moral cause. But which cause? I could think of many that could use this film.
  1. The death penalty is always wrong
  2. If you are going to use the death penalty stoning is a particularly cruel way to do it
  3. The death penalty should not be used for the crime of adultery
  4. The death penalty should not be used unless there is real certainty about someone's guilt
  5. People accused of crimes should have access to a lawyer to present a proper defence
  6. People should just stop believing in God
The list could go on. Some of these principles I agree with and some I don't. That is always true with sentimental arguments. There is a real sense of moral outrage we feel from a situation. We can sense that something is wrong. Yet it is not obvious exactly what that something is. Yet when somebody connects the story with their particular cause then all the other possible causes are typically forgotten about. One moral principle is put on trial and typically found wanting. It is ironic that this movie is about an unfair trial because the sentimental argument is often an unfair trial and execution of a moral principle.

What happens when moral principles lose out to sentimental stories? Morality goes backwards a few thousand years. Really with the 10 commandments and a few other ancient moral codes we saw a move of humanity beyond moral feelings and advance towards the notion of moral principles. 

That really was an advance because principles allow us to apply morality more evenly to ourselves and other groups. We feel moral wrong more acutely when we are the victim but morality only really helps us when we can see wrongs that we inflict on others. Principles help us do that. 

The trouble with principles is you need to believe, first of all, that they exist and, secondly, that we can know them. That means you need to believe in something supernatural and in some trustworthy revelation about the supernatural. Modern society is sceptical of both. That is why the attacks of sentimentalism are so effective. 

My reaction to the movie was more along the lines of why it is important to get your religion right. People had a very detailed understanding about what God's will was. Not only was adultery a stoning offence but even the standards of evidence came from their religion. The testimony of two witnesses was enough. The burden of proof was lower when the accused was a woman. All that came from Islam. 

The problem is not that they were religious but that they believed the wrong religion. The solution is not atheism. Atheism is just another wrong religion. OK, you can argue that it is technically not a religion so call it a wrong world and life view. It is not immune from leading us to do terrible things. Just look at Hitler or Stalin. The solution is to examine all world and life views and find the truth.

Anyway, if we don't have any moral principles that we trust then everything will fall to sentimentalist reasoning. That is a very bad thing. What happens then? A government that controls the narrative can justify anything at all. What stands in their way? Only God. God and those who are sure they have heard His voice and are willing to be a light in the darkness. The good new is God is real and we can be sure of what His will is. 

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