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Diverse Diversity and Christian Ethics

Diverse Diversity is not specifically Christian because Christians have no monopoly interest in issues of freedom or justice, and Diversity by definition must encompass more than a single moral viewpoint. Indeed, that is its criticism of Pseudo-liberalism, that whilst claiming to represent Diversity it sees it in only one way. However, since I am actually a Christian myself, it is not surprising I should recognise any resonances between the two insights into the human condition.

It struck me recently there is a particular parallel between Diverse Diversity and Christ’s approach to ethical goodness or righteousness, particularly as demonstrated by his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chs 5-7). My apologies to readers who are not Christian, but please stick with me because it won’t hurt to understand how these ideas link up. To understand the parallel we need to consider how Jesus’s words fit into his cultural context.

Jesus was a broad contemporary of the scholars compiling the Talmud, the great Jewish commentary on the Law. As Jesus appears to have seen it, their aim was to produce a comprehensive Situational Ethics guide to the Jewish Law which would enable anyone to know the right action to take in any possible circumstance in order to be a righteous person. It is clear from many passages in the Gospels that Jesus saw their approach as ridiculous and frequently mocked their efforts, pointing out the inconsistent effects of many of their conclusions.

The Sermon on the Mount begins with the “Beatitudes”, a series of blessings on people with certain attitudes culminating in a blessing on those persecuted on his behalf. It then moves through a barbed metaphorical comment about those who have lost their purpose and the need to fulfil our purpose, to a consideration of the Law. Jesus affirms the Law and commends it but then ends with another barbed comment that we cannot enter his kingdom (or rule) unless our righteousness exceeds that of the scholars. He then illustrates this with a series of examples of how it is possible to obey the strict requirements of the Law while still harbouring harmful attitudes, having negative outcomes, and clearly not being morally improved by the exercise. The Law is not enough; it cannot provide enough righteousness to make a person right or genuinely submitted to God’s rule over us. More righteousness is needed than that. By implication, that has to come from somewhere else, since it cannot come from mere obedience to a set of Laws.

This should not surprise us. However comprehensively a law based on a set of rules is applied to a range of circumstances, it is impossible to specify them all. There will always be situations the ethicists have not anticipated. There will always be circumstances the Law does not cover. It is not possible to write, read, or learn a Law covering an infinite number of possibilities, just as it is not possible to write an infinite number of rules. The idea that an exhaustive guide to becoming righteous could be written is absurd because “exhaustive” implies infinity. That is one reason it is impossible to become morally good just by obeying rules.

A second reason is the limitation of human ability to deal with the huge complexity of the world around us and of our own internal make-up. Our motives are often confused and mixed and our surroundings form a complex web of relationships not all under our own control. We are a complex mix of motivations and desires living in a complex world of moral confusion where the good and ill are often bound together and difficult to separate. Christians use words like Sin and Fallen to describe this complex moral ambiguity within and around us.

If we cannot achieve righteousness by obeying the Law, we can only be righteous from some other source and then that righteousness makes us more likely to do what the Law expects and more besides. Righteousness is internal and motivates obedience rather than external derived from obedience. This is not the place to discuss the mechanics of how we get it or how it operates. Christians still argue over that.

My point is that Christ took a different approach to moral goodness from the other systems on offer at the time. He transformed the idea of seeking righteousness in a complex application of rules, from the outside in, to understanding righteousness must operate as a single principle from the inside out.

In the same way, Diverse Diversity rejects the idea equality and social justice can be achieved simply by identifying groups or characteristics which could become the basis of unfair treatment and then providing special protections or privileges for those groups. Human variability is not group-based but infinite and however many groups one seeks to protect there will be others who receive no protection on that basis. Having singled out groups for protection, it also becomes impossible to apply that protection in a blanket way without creating anomalies where there are good reasons for waiving such protection in the Public Interest or for the protection of others. The result is a confusing law such as the Equality Act 2010 which defines a group of “protected categories” and then consists mostly of a list of exceptions.

Instead, Diverse Diversity calls for principles of equality and justice based on evidence rather than emotions and seeks to control dialogue to prevent intimidation, collective defamation, and misinformation. Rather it would promote Truth, Freedom, justice, and safety for all. Laws to enforce Diverse Diversity would forbid the use of threats and require debate to be based on demonstrable facts and carried out in a calm, rational way. Unproven accusations against people individually or collectively would be unacceptable. Any discrimination would have to be on demonstrably relevant grounds and similarly disciplinary action would have to be based on conduct relevant to an employee’s duties rather than mere disapproval of some aspect of the person involved. Employers, landlords, and others providing services or taking commercial decisions would be expected to demonstrate the relevance of the criteria on which choices were made and evidence, where disputed, of the accurate basis of those criteria.

Thus, instead of a set of piecemeal attempts at identifying those requiring protection or assistance, Diverse Diversity would aim for a society of universal justice based on universal entitlement to be treated properly before the law and would outlaw arbitrary discrimination of any kind, promoting peace, equality and truth in a genuinely free and fair atmosphere for all. In this way it protects all minorities from unfair treatment irrespective of whether they have been or can be identified, by building the fairness into the system so it is expressed automatically without the need for conscious effort.

That must be a far better way than the present Identity-based and arbitrary approach of the current Act.

K.J. Petrie