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The Freedom Convoy and the Ethics of Civil Disobedience

photograph of Freedom Convoy truck blockade

Stealing money seems wrong. Speeding in a car seems wrong. Even lying on your tax return seems wrong. But is it always wrong to break the law?

Activists for women’s suffrage illegally disrupted Parliament, broke windows, and slashed tires. Gandhi led tens of thousands to the Arabian Sea to illegally gather salt in protest of the heavy tax levied on salt by British law. Rosa Parks illegally sat in the section of the bus reserved for whites under segregation. Edward Snowden illegally handed thousands of classified documents to journalists, revealing the massive surveillance program the United States government was operating. In recent days, almost 2,000 Russians have been arrested for illegally assembling to protest the war in Ukraine.

These are all examples of civil disobedience — breaking the law to protest perceived injustice. And I suspect the chances are high that you think at least some of them were justified, moral acts.

Now that it is coming to a close, it’s a good time to ask: was the “Freedom Convoy” that grabbed headlines for so many weeks another example of civil disobedience? Or was it something else?

The philosopher John Rawls thought that civil disobedience was a public, non-violent, conscientious yet political act that was contrary to the law, aimed at bringing about a change in law, or fixing an existing injustice. There’s a lot in that characterization.

What did he mean that it is “public”? Civil disobedience is, fundamentally, an act of communication, “an expression of profound and conscientious political conviction.” The Freedom Convoy protesters were certainly seeking to communicate to the public and those in power that there is an injustice that needs to be rectified. The movement was ideologically diverse and perhaps unsavory in parts, but its core message was protesting vaccine mandates and vaccine passports for truckers crossing the U.S. border. The perspective of the protesters was that these laws were unjust — that the government had overreached and infringed on Canadians’ rightful liberties. They were trying to bring the attention of the public and pressure politicians to change the law. I’m not going to try to figure out if the protesters were right or wrong about these laws being unjust. Whatever the case, it seems clear that their protest was a public act. It also seems clear that it was aimed at bringing attention to a perceived breach of justice, and bringing about a change in the law to rectify the perceived injustice.

Rawls also claimed that civil disobedience is non-violent. This distinguishes it from more extreme forms of political action such as militant action and terrorism. The reason civil disobedience ought to be non-violent, Rawls thought, is connected to its function as an act of public communication. If violence occurs, it is likely to distract from the intended message and discredit the movement.

These ideas are echoes of Martin Luther King Jr.’s moving “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” in which the civil rights leader responds to the condemnation of his non-violent but illegal marches against racism and segregation. It is clear that King, like Rawls, sees non-violence as vital to civil disobedience’s power to rectify injustice. The civil rights protestors had workshops on non-violence, and asked themselves, before marching “Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?” “Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?” Only those who answered affirmatively were permitted to march.

Finally, Rawls thought civil disobedience was contrary to the law, but still “in fidelity” to the law, still conscientious. This might sound paradoxical, and it’s a tension MLK Jr. confronted. He wrote,

Isn’t negotiation a better path? [Civil disobedience] seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth.

Those who commit civil disobedience intentionally break the law, but they do so purely to draw attention to the cause of pursuing justice. They peacefully accept being arrested and enduring whatever legal punishments they receive. This demonstration of respect for the legal system is also crucial to the communicative function of civil disobedience. The protestors, in order to change it, must show that they accept the existence of the legal and political system. They want to improve it, not to overthrow it. For this reason, Howard Zinn suggests that “Protest beyond the law is not a departure from democracy; It is absolutely essential to it.”

Once again, the Freedom Convoy seems to have largely demonstrated fidelity to the law, even while acting contrary to the law. While illegally blocking the bridge linking the U.S. and Canada, at least 100 Freedom Convoy protestors were peacefully arrested without resistance.

All in all, the Freedom Convoy does qualify as civil disobedience, at least according to Rawls’ characterization. But not all civil disobedience is morally acceptable. So the next question to ask is this: was the civil disobedience of the Freedom Convoy moral?

Once again, we can get some help with this question from Rawls. He provides three criteria that need to be met for civil disobedience to be moral.

The first is that it is sincere. Those who are breaking the law must truly believe that the policies or laws they are seeking to change are unjust. They cannot be using the cause as an excuse to break the law, or the cause as a cudgel to beat their political opponents. It’s much harder to say whether this standard was met by the Freedom Convoy as a whole. Many protestors appear to have been sincere, while others arguably used the movement as a partisan opportunity to push conspiracy theories or put political pressure on the politicians they already opposed.

The next standard that Rawls claims needs to be met for civil disobedience to be moral is that the challenge must be well-founded. The injustice that is being protested must be a genuine, serious breach of justice, of security, social welfare, rights, democracy, and so on. It must be a cause worth breaking the law for. Were the vaccine mandates and passports a breach of basic rights or a sensible health measure? This is a hard question, and a lot of ink has already been spilled (or keyboards hammered) answering it. I am sure you have your own views.

Rawls’ final criterion that must be met for civil disobedience to be moral is that it must have good enough consequences. It cannot, for example, be justified to commit murder in an attempt to condemn or change overly harsh legal penalties for murder. There must be a good balance between the benefit of rectifying injustice and any harm generated by the law being broken in protest. The disruption to ordinary citizens’ lives in Ottawa was fairly profound, and this can only be justified if the protest achieves something even more valuable than that which is destroyed.

This last criterion means that, in many cases, legal forms of protest should be favored over civil disobedience, as the former tends to generate smaller costs for both the protestors and society at large. Even so, civil disobedience can still be justified as a last resort. MLK Jr. found it important that his own civil disobedience was the last resort. “It is unfortunate that [illegal] demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham,” he wrote, “but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure led the Negro community with no alternative.”

Was the Freedom Convoy’s law-breaking a last resort? It’s a difficult question. There had been rising dissent against the coronavirus restrictions since the first lockdown of 2020 but few reductions in restrictions, which might suggest to some that the legal avenues for change had been exhausted and failed. But to others, this only shows that these legal avenues had never been fully explored and that the Freedom Convoy caused needless disruption and suffering and was never the last resort.

If you are left feeling frustrated that philosophy refuses to deliver any clear answers, I acknowledge the point. But philosophy can at least give us the tools to think about things more clearly; Rawls’s framework for evaluating civil disobedience may not be able to tell us if the Freedom Convoy was right or moral, but it does at least help us to focus on the right questions in trying to find an answer.

On Patriotism

photograph of a patchwork ofnational flags sewn together

As a child, I savored July weekends at the carnival in my grandparents’ town of Wamego, KS. Nowhere on earth was Independence Day, and the lingering celebration of American freedom, taken more seriously and celebrated with more enthusiasm. But today, these holidays and traditions draw as much criticism as they do excitement. Recent events, crises, national shames and national triumphs, make it difficult to know what to do or how to feel during the summer holidays when most Americans spend their weekends in flag-adorned swimming trunks, celebrating the land of the free and the home of the brave. A new question confronts us during the summer holiday season: is it wrong to participate in celebrating a nation so rife with inequality, racial and gender injustice, and environmental degradation? Are these celebrations and traditions merely an attempt to put an optimistic gloss on a nation that we ought to feel anything but optimistic about? And more cynically, does participating in these activities serve to normalize the harsh and unjust conditions that many Americans still face?

G.K. Chesterton, a philosopher, theologian, and fiction writer from the early 20th century, considered similar questions regarding whether we should love the world — for, after all, the world contains many deeply terrible and unlovable things! Should we be optimists about the world, he asks, because it contains so many things of deep value? Or ought we to be pessimists about the world because there is so much suffering, and evil, and injustice, with seemingly no end? Chesterton ends up endorsing a third view in his book Orthodoxy:

[There] is a deep mistake in this alternative of the optimist and the pessimist. The assumption of it is that a man criticises this world as if he were house-hunting, as if he were being shown over a new suite of apartments. […] A man belongs to this world before he begins to ask if it is nice to belong to it. He has fought for the flag, and often won heroic victories for the flag long before he has ever enlisted. To put shortly what seems the essential matter, he has a loyalty long before he has any admiration.

Chesterton suggests here that loyalty is not something we choose to exhibit based on likeable features, but rather is something that we automatically display whenever we do work to make things better. Through this work, Chesterton argues, we show love and loyalty to a world that, yes, is probably quite bad. Conversely, by refusing to participate in this kind of labor of love, we resign the world to a quickly-worsening fate. So, loving a bad world can actually be a good thing, if Chesterton is right, because this sort of love leads to loving improvement.

There are problems with applying this view straightforwardly to our attitude on national pride — namely, while we cannot choose loyalty toward some other planet, we could choose loyalty toward another country. One obvious response to this objection is that there are no perfect countries! As we have seen in the past couple years, other nations have followed the U.S. in forming Black Lives Matter groups and holding demonstrations protesting local instances of racially motivated police brutality. Additionally, following Chesterton, we may wonder what the world would look like if everyone poured their loyalties and efforts into the very “best” countries (whatever they take them to be): without a people willing to love a place despite its deep flaws, is there any hope of improving conditions from within?

Chesterton suggests that the love we feel for the place we live need not lead to negative effects. But not everybody agrees that there is no harm in showing such naive loyalty. The philosopher David Benatar, in his book Better to Never Have Been, argues that, given the insufferable nature of human existence, humankind ought not to participate in perpetuating the cycle of life. His position, called “anti-natalism,” argues against the permissibility of procreation and in favor of working to reduce suffering for those who are already born. In support of this conclusion, he emphasizes two supporting points: 1) even in a very good life, the pain and suffering one must endure will always outweigh the pleasure and happiness they enjoy, and 2) there is no greater meaning or purpose to give a life of suffering any value.

Benatar echoes strains of French existentialist philosopher Albert Camus’s “The Myth of Sisyphus” and The Plague in his description of human life as “absurd” — short and full of meaningless labor on the way to ultimate annihilation. If life in the world truly is this bad, even for people for whom it is “best,” then why allow it to continue? Ultimately, Benatar does not endorse hastening death for oneself or others — while life is overall a negative experience in virtue of the pain and suffering overwhelming the happy points, death (especially the process of dying) is even worse than life. But we should allow humanity to die out by refusing to procreate. This, then, is the opposite of what Chesterton calls an attitude of “loyalty” toward life on earth. Benatar sees this loyalty as blind faith and a cruel refusal to try to halt the long chain of suffering that human existence has wrought.

This perspective on earthly existence can help shed light on the position of those who choose not to participate in celebrations and traditions of national pride. Analogous to the anti-natalist, those against participation in such celebrations may see this kind of unconditional national pride as a mechanism for the continuation of the sufferings, injustices, and inequalities that mar the current state of the nation. Understandably, many may see this as an unacceptable price to pay for showing even the kind of self-sacrificial patriotic love that Chesterton discusses. Perhaps patriotic celebrations of national love or pride are themselves cruel refusals to fully grieve the ways in which citizens continue to face severe hardships and injustices.

So, what should we do? Should we join in the celebrations, ensuring that we include voices of criticism alongside voices of praise as equally important aspects of patriotic love? Or should we opt out of the celebrations, allowing our silence to send a message to others that the pain of discrimination, poverty, brutality, and other injustices, make our nation one that is not worth fighting for? Regardless of whether we choose to participate in specific forms of national traditions and celebrations, it may be worth taking to heart part an insight from Chesterton and an insight from Benatar. Chesterton brings our attention to the fact that things are rarely made better without people willing to love them despite terrible flaws. We might remember President Joe Biden’s response earlier this year when asked by reporters about his son’s struggles with drug and alcohol addictions, stating simply, “I’m proud of my son.”

Benatar, on the other hand, shows us that it is important to be discerning about who and what are worth loving and improving. While Benatar thinks that human life on earth is not worth furthering, loving and improving the lives of those humans who already exist is of supreme importance. And he argues it is perfectly consistent to reject loving “human life” while continuing to love individual living humans. Likewise, perhaps it is perfectly consistent to reject pride in a nation while loving and serving the individual people of that nation.

Both of these thinkers draw our attention to the fact that “pride” is more complex than we, or our national celebrations, have tended to realize. Is it possible to see the value both in participation and in abstention from celebrations of national pride? Alternatively, how can these celebrations incorporate a deep awareness of the ways in which we still struggle with discrimination, poverty, brutality, and injustice? Is our love for our country strong enough to weather the acknowledgment of these criticisms? Is our love for our fellow citizens deep enough to inspire us to take up a kind of love for our country, if that love could be transformative?

Strategic Nonviolence: An Alternative to Moral Pacifism

photograph of protest in front of police station

Protest and civil resistance is quickly becoming one of the defining characteristics of the new century, from the early gains of the Arab Spring, the protest movements throughout Latin America, the Hong Kong democracy movement to Greta Thunberg’s School Strikes for Climate and the Extinction Rebellion movement in response to the climate and ecological emergency.

Philosophers began to theorize about social change in terms of methods of nonviolent social intervention in the Nineteenth Century. Henry David Thoreau, in the essay Civil Disobedience, defends the validity of conscientious objection to unjust laws, which he claims ought to be transgressed. He writes “all men recognize the right of revolution; that is, the right to refuse allegiance to and to resist the government, when its tyranny or its inefficiency are great and unendurable.”

Early social movements, such as the campaign led by Mohandas Gandhi against the British colonial occupiers of India, connected non-violence with pacifism and cemented that as a deontological moral principle. In the early years of the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King wrote:

“non-violence in the truest sense is not a strategy that one uses simply because it is expedient in the moment,  [but as something] men live by because of the sheer morality of its claim.”

For Gandhi and King the practice of nonviolence is grounded in the timeless and universal values of love, compassion, and cooperation. This view is closely related to the philosophy of pacifism, which holds that all violence is immoral. Pacifism is principled, moral opposition to war, militarism or violence. As such, it arises not out of a discipline or practice, so to speak, but out of a strongly held philosophical and spiritual belief.

Conditional pacifism, which is a version of pacifism with some possibility for compromise, is utilitarian in nature, such that the bad consequences are what make it wrong to resort to war or violence. However, based on utilitarian principles, there could be a situation where violence of some magnitude is morally permissible if it prevents violence of a greater magnitude. That is, according to conditional pacifism, there could be situations where violence is necessary to prevent worse outcomes.

The idea of pacifism, and of seeking non-violent solutions to disputes between and within nations, plays a significant part in international politics, particularly through the work of the United Nations. But there is, within this structure, a recognition that sometimes (in theory at least, though this has been notoriously difficult in practice) a need for ‘humanitarian intervention.’

An anti-pacifist view would not exactly advocate war as a good in itself, but would hold the view that sovereign states have a duty to protect their citizens, and that duty may in some circumstances extend to the waging of just war – and furthermore that in this case, citizens have a duty to carry out certain tasks. The critical, anti-pacifist view holds that pacifists’ refusal to participate in war means that they fail to carry out an important moral obligation, and that the respect for human life that motivates them is an idealistic but counterproductive position.

On the other hand, there is a different alternative to pacifism, which does not sanction violence but does differentiate itself from the pacifist’s principled, moral position. This is known variously as ‘strategic non-violence’ or ‘nonviolent direct action.’

Gene Sharp, theorist and author of seminal works on the dynamics nonviolent conflict, sought to redefine it outside the context of pacifism and outside the sphere of the moral question of violence. Sharp contends that nonviolence can be employed strategically, as something that social movements can choose because it provides an effective avenue for leveraging change. For example, in overcoming a dictatorial or repressive regime, such as the popular uprisings which ended Milošević’s reign in Serbia in 2000, or in effecting social change within a broader social context, such as the civil rights movement in the United States in the 1960’s.

Maintaining a strict nonviolent discipline for strategic reasons has, according to Sharp, several important strategic advantages over armed civil resistance, as does using strategic nonviolence as a method of waging conflict rather than as a moral position. Strategic nonviolence is active as a form of conflict, therefore much more likely to be effective in creating or forcing social and political change, and nonviolence maintained as a strict discipline makes a movement vastly more inclusive, allowing for widely participatory campaigns of direct action.

Maintaining nonviolent discipline is necessary against a state that has a well-developed arsenal. The state has a monopoly on violence: a group of citizens taking up arms against a regime is usually vastly outgunned. But, importantly, armed struggle legitimizes the state’s use of force against the citizens.

This is not to say that those using strategic nonviolence will not be harmed. In the conflicts mentioned above, and many more around the world, the state may turn on demonstrators or strikers. This often backfires as it creates negative public response and shows the state’s apparatus to be reacting disproportionately, which can create sympathy for a cause and can sometimes greatly strengthen it, but at a large cost.

Strategic nonviolence is therefore an effective alternative to armed struggle, conceived of as a form of resistance and, perhaps perversely, as an effective form of waging war.

A common feature of pacifism is the belief that winning adversaries over to one’s cause is necessary, effecting a change of heart, and being able to love one’s enemies. Sharp rejects this position, arguing that expecting people to love those who have wronged them or treated them cruelly is not only unreasonable, but unwise as it might lead people to turn towards violence.

Instead, our goals may need to be different. As civil rights leader James Farmer writes: “where we cannot influence the heart of the evildoer we can force an end to the evil practice.”

It is in this sense that strategic nonviolence has an overarching ethic – because King is right that there is ‘a sheer morality in its claim.’ I am not sure Sharp would make the argument this way, but you could say that the ethical rewards are the social and political improvements in principles of justice and freedom won by the more effective strategies of nonviolent resistance; that nonviolence is better, morally, is an effect, not a cause of the principle of nonviolent resistance.

Climate Emergency and the Case for Civil Disobedience

photograph of "to exist is to resist" mural

In Plato’s Republic, during a sustained dialogue on the nature of justice and the structure of a just society, Socrates remarks that we are talking of no small matter, but of how we should live. If that question remains central to moral philosophy, any contemporary answer the question of ‘how we should live’ must acknowledge that to ask it in ‘our’ time is fundamentally different from asking it in any other time in history. The question of what a good human life is in an age of environmental crisis cannot be answered without considering our individual and collective responsibility to mitigate the damage which no longer lies ahead of us, but which is happening now.

Governments, policy makers, corporate institutions, et al, have failed to respond to decades long warnings from scientists that CO2 emissions from industrial and domestic activities pose serious risks to human life and human society, to the world’s ecosystems and perhaps ultimately to much of life on Earth. Those scientists, conservationists and activists who have understood this, have nevertheless failed to effect the change necessary to prevent an ecological and climate emergency. There are complex reasons for these failures, and though it is vitally important that we try to fully understand them, I will not speak to them here.

I want to focus on the urgent question ‘what do we do now?’ by considering the response emerging from the new and quickly growing environmental mobilizations such as Extinction Rebellion in which people are beginning to resort to techniques of disruption and civil disobedience in the face of governmental and systemic inaction. Are these measures necessary, are they are morally justified, and are they perhaps even morally required?

Civil disobedience (which I shall assume is necessarily non-violent) has historically played an important part in effecting change, as for instance in the suffragette and the civil rights movements. In one of the most famous endorsements of civil disobedience, Henry David Thoreau (in 1849, after refusing to pay taxes to a government which legally sanctioned slavery) wrote:

“All men recognize the right of revolution; that is, the right to refuse allegiance to and to resist the government, when its tyranny or its inefficiency are great and unendurable.”

Thoreau’s point is simple and obvious: morality or justice does not necessarily line up with the law.  Are we reaching a point now at which the inefficiency of governments and the tyranny of corporate interests have become unendurable; where the refusal to adequately address the climate emergency can no longer be tolerated?

A brief (and incomplete) survey of where we are paints a sobering picture: The latest report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that countries must triple their emissions reductions targets to limit global heating to below 2C. Even a 2C increase is not safe, but on the current trajectory heating is likely to result in an increase of between 2.9C and 3.4C by 2100. This will bring about catastrophic climate change globally. The social and geopolitical outcomes of such a scenario are deeply frightening. Rising seas will displace billions of people. Not only will costal habitations be inundated, arable land will be poisoned by salinity and made barren by drought. The effect will be devastating, widespread famine, which, along with water scarcity, will almost certainly cause political instability and conflict. It is likely that humans cannot adapt to an increase of 4C.

Clearly, urgent and serious action is needed. Two of the things that most threaten the possibility for action lie at opposite ends of the spectrum of responses to these predictions. The first is climate denialism  – including the views that climate change is not real, is not caused by human activity or that the likely effects are being wildly exaggerated. The other is climate defeatism – the view, (espoused by Jonathan Franzen in a recent article) that we are already too late. However, many argue that there is still a cause for hope because there is still a window in which to act to keep warming below 2C. Scientists and activists including Tim Flannery and Naomi Klein, are calling for radical action because that window is small, and vanishing quickly.

The question of what kinds of radical action we need brings us back to the question of what role acts of disruption and civil disobedience can play, and how those actions are to be morally reckoned with, given the situation we face.

Civil disobedience can be defined as “a public, non-violent and conscientious breach of law undertaken with the aim of bringing about change in laws or government policies.” The main objection to engaging in civil disobedience is that in a stable, functioning democracy there are effective and non-disruptive pathways to change through campaigning and electoral process. Indeed, the democratic system itself is based on the principle that citizens hold a type of sovereign power in that governments receive their legitimacy through ‘the will of the people.’

But what if democracy is not functioning properly? What if politicians, rather than representing the views and interests of their constituents, seek to dictate those views and interests. And what if they do so to advance their own views and interests? For democracy to function properly, for a citizenry to be self-determinate, citizens need the opportunity to make informed choices about their own welfare. People can only make informed choices if they are in fact informed, and governments have a responsibility, which they are currently abrogating, to tell the truth.

The Australian government is not telling the truth about the climate emergency, and has absolutely no intention of addressing the problem. It is resisting and frustrating renewable energy investment while actively pursuing new fossil fuel projects, of which coal is a major part. In Australia (as elsewhere) the powerful vested interests of the fossil fuel lobby have direct lines to government. The country’s policies and laws under these circumstances do not represent the best interests of the people but rather, at their expense, advance the interests of the few. This triple whammy of government obfuscation, policy inaction, and active support of heavy carbon emission activities is creating intense anger and frustration for climate realists from across the political and social spectrum, and support for disruptive, direct action is rapidly growing.

There is, of course, the question of how creating disruption by, for example, blocking bridges, swarming intersections and surrounding government buildings or corporate offices, would achieve the desired results. On one hand it is unlikely that the government will cave to the demands of protestors. On the other hand, Extinction Rebellion’s sustained protests across London in October 2018 resulted in the UK government declaring a climate emergency. Some dismiss this as merely symbolic, as indeed without meaningful policy change it is – but nevertheless, it is not nothing, and it has given impetus and hope to the movement for solving the climate crisis.

Those engaging in acts of civil disobedience do not know with any certainty if these tactics can or will work, but they do know that ordinary, legal forms of protest can not now be effective enough quickly enough. In this sense civil disobedience is a resort taken by people to express their anger and frustration at a destructive and intransigent system. Disruptive action has a cost – to the individuals risking arrest by disobeying the law and also to society. Those taking such action recognize that the stakes are very high, and that the costs of inaction are far greater.

I do not think it is difficult to make a case that under these circumstances civil disobedience is morally justified. Can we, though, defend the stronger claim that it is morally required?

Ahead of the September 20 School Strike for Climate, an open letter was published from over one hundred Australian academics from a variety of disciplines and universities endorsing and supporting Extinction Rebellion and its activities. The letter concluded that:

“When a government willfully abrogates its responsibility to protect its citizens from harm and secure the future for generations to come, it has failed in its most essential duty of stewardship. The ‘social contract’ has been broken, and it is therefore not only our right, but our moral duty, to rebel to defend life itself.”

This statement clearly makes the move from acts of civil disobedience being justified to their being required – as a moral duty. Though I agree with the claim, its defense is trickier.

For example, exactly whose duty is it? Who is morally required to engage in civil disobedience? Even if someone feels that they, morally, have no choice – are they justified in making that demand of others? Our moral intuitions would suggest that there are reasons for rejecting that inference. And this appears to put it – as a moral duty – into conflict with one of the fundamental features of moral duties, which is that they are universal. If I recognize something as a moral duty for myself, then, all things being equal, I recognize it as such for others as well.

I do not see this as an insurmountable problem for the claim that we have a moral duty to rebel against a fundamentally unjust system in the face of looming existential catastrophe. Perhaps one way of fleshing out an answer would be to return to the ‘all things being equal’ clause. Perhaps also there is a way to acknowledge that while each person must freely choose – and be free not to choose – to take such action, there is still a collective responsibility governing the moral musts. These are difficult philosophical issues and they require further reflection.

I began by saying that at the core of ethics is the Socratic question of what it means to live a good human life. Humanity is at a crossroads, and how we understand Socrates’ question, and how we choose to respond to what it asks of us, needs to be reassessed in light of where we are. It seems clear that, given the current situation, living a good human life cannot mean going about one’s business as if the world might not be ending.

Kim Davis: Civil Activist or Criminal?

Kim Davis, a county clerk from Morehead, Kentucky, was jailed recently for refusing to issue marriage licenses to a homosexual couple and two heterosexual couples on religious grounds. “I never imagined a day like this would come –“ she says, “- where I would be asked to violate a central teaching of Scripture and of Jesus Himself regarding marriage. To issue a marriage license which conflicts with God’s definition of marriage, with my name affixed to the certificate, would violate my conscience.”  Continue reading “Kim Davis: Civil Activist or Criminal?”