Posts tagged ‘The New York Times’

Why I Agree With Tim Cook

Credit:  ABC News

Credit: ABC News

I agree with Tim Cook.

When the CEO of Apple writes, “Discrimination, in all its forms, is bad for business,” I agree. Discrimination in its civil rights sense of, ironically, indiscriminately hating a whole group of people simply because of a particular characteristic, practice, or belief is unacceptable. When Cook says, “This is about how we treat each other as human beings,” I agree.[1]  Treating each other without so much as a modicum of dignity and understanding is inexcusable.

I agree with Tim Cook. But I don’t think Tim Cook agrees with me.

In what has become the latest kerfuffle over religious rights and gay rights, Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed into law Senate Bill 568, stating:

A state or local government action may not substantially burden a person’s right to the exercise of religion unless it is demonstrated that applying the burden to the person’s exercise of religion is: (1) essential to further a compelling governmental interest; and (2) the least restrictive means of furthering the compelling governmental interest.

Almost immediately, a furor erupted. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Calls to boycott Indiana dominated Twitter on Friday. Tourism officials in Indianapolis fielded an onslaught of questions from convention planners … Even the NCAA, which is based in Indianapolis and is planning to host more than 100,000 basketball fans next weekend, expressed concerns about what the law means.[2]

At the root of this riot is a concern that this bill’s protection against government actions that “substantially burden a person right to the exercise of religion” could lead to public accommodations refusing to serve LGBT people because their owners may have ethical convictions that conflict with the convictions of many in the LGBT community. One thinks of the Oregon baker who refused to make a cake for a same-sex couple for their wedding and the Washington florist who refused to sell flower arrangements to another same-sex couple for their wedding.

The New York Times pulled no punches in its disdain for Indiana’s bill, publishing and op-ed piece by its editorial board titled, “In Indiana, Using Religion as a Cover for Bigotry.” And, as with Tim Cook, I can say that I agree with the editorial board of The New York Times insofar as I abhor the thought of religion being used to mask bigotry.

But at the same time I agree with them, I still don’t think they agree with me. Here’s why.

Tim Cook and The New York Times editorial board have taken up a moral crusade against bigotry. And I am happy to join them. Bigotry is wrong. But where they have one moral concern, I have two. Because at the same time I despise bigotry, I am also heartbroken by shifting social mores on human sexuality. Like bigotry, for me, the twisting of human sexuality is a moral issue that is tearing at the fabric of both our society and our souls. Lust is hurting us. Pornography is hurting us. Affairs are hurting us. Domineering husbands who demand sex from their wives are hurting us. And yes, sex outside of the context of marriages between husbands and wives is hurting us.

But to operate – even when I’m doing business – under such Christian conviction does not automatically equate to discrimination. And to say that I think something is wrong in a loving, thoughtful, and gentle way does not ineluctably constitute bigotry.  In many ways, Christian conviction has proven itself an an indispensable blessing to business.  Christian commitments to faithfulness, honesty, integrity, graciousness, and generosity can have amazingly positive impacts in cutthroat corporate cultures.  Why would we not surmise that a loving commitment to some sort of sexual morality might not have a similar impact?  This is where I think Tim Cook and the editorial board of The New York Times get things wrong – not in their moral repulsion at discrimination and bigotry, but in their use of the terms.

It is true that Christian conviction has sometimes been twisted toward bigoted ends. I think of the man in Colorado who marched into a bakery and ordered cakes with slogans like “God hates gays” written on them. When the bakery refused to make the cakes, he filed a lawsuit. That is not living by Christian conviction. That’s being a jerk. But that is not what I’m talking about. I’m simply trying to make the case that at the same time the likes of Tim Cook, The New York Times editorial board, and, for that matter, many Christians around the world believe that bigotry is a moral issue that needs to be addressed and confronted, many Christians around the world also believe that shifting ethics on human sexuality is a moral issue that needs to be addressed. I think it’s only fair and right to hear them out – and to refrain from labeling them as bigots. I also think it’s only decent to respect their consciences – especially when their consciences express themselves in love – even when they’re running public accommodations.

So let’s make a deal: let’s stand against bigotry together while respecting each others’ differences in conscience.  Who knows? The result might just be a deeper understanding of each other and a deeper love for each other. And I hope those are two morals on which we can all agree.


[1] Tim Cook, “Tim Cook: Pro-discrimination ‘religious freedom’ laws are dangerous,” The Washington Post (3.9.2015).

[2] Mark Peters and Jack Nicas, “Indiana Religious Freedom Law Sparks Fury,” The Wall Street Journal (3.27.2015).

April 6, 2015 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

It’s All Relative

Right and wrong are relative.  At least, we treat them like they are.  This is the thesis of an op-ed piece for The New York Times by David Brooks.  In “The Moral Diet,”[1] Brooks explains:

Nearly everybody cheats, but usually only a little…That’s because most of us think we are pretty wonderful.  We can cheat a little and still keep that “good person” identity.  Most people won’t cheat so much that it makes it harder to feel good about themselves.

The basis for Brooks’ thesis is a new book by Dan Ariely, a professor of psychology at Duke University, titled The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty.  Through a series of surprisingly creative studies, Ariely finds that people are disturbingly comfortable bending moral standards to suit their own purposes…as long as they don’t bend them too much.  For instance, for the purposes of his book, Ariely asked a blind and a sighted colleague to take several taxi rides.  The drivers happily cheated the sighted client by taking longer routes in order to rack up higher fares.  They did not, however, cheat the blind client nearly as often because of the stinging psychological guilt associated with cheating a blind person.

Brooks summarizes Ariely’s findings:

For the past several centuries, most Westerners would have identified themselves fundamentally as Depraved Sinners. In this construct, sin is something you fight like a recurring cancer – part of a daily battle against evil.

But these days, people are more likely to believe in their essential goodness. People who live by the Good Person Construct try to balance their virtuous self-image with their selfish desires. They try to manage the moral plusses and minuses and keep their overall record in positive territory. In this construct, moral life is more like dieting: I give myself permission to have a few cookies because I had salads for lunch and dinner. I give myself permission to cheat a little because, when I look at my overall life, I see that I’m still a good person.

The Good Person isn’t shooting for perfection any more than most dieters are following their diet 100 percent. It’s enough to be workably suboptimal, a tolerant, harmless sinner and a generally good guy.

Brooks and Ariely assert that when it comes to our modern moral reckonings, most people assume close is good enough.  But are Brooks and Ariely right in their analysis?

One of the bad habits I have is reading what commenters post at the bottom of online articles.  These comments range from the insightful to the mundane to the paranoid to the bellicose.  Nevertheless, the reason I read these commenters – as maddening as they can sometimes be – is because they give me a sense of our society’s zeitgeist.  It is with this in mind that I had to chuckle at the top comment, as chosen by The New York Times, on David Brooks’ piece:

Most people in the world today are just trying to survive. A billion people don’t have access to clean water. In America, we see people who destroyed the economy not prosecuted. We see soldiers fight in far off lands, many coming home damaged for life. We see corporations allowed to buy elections. Millions of dollars are thrown away on tawdry campaign commercials that only enrich the coffers of media companies.

There is so much angst in the world today, and Mr. Brooks thinks we should worry about stealing office supplies, or eating an extra cookie.

Thank you for proving Mr. Brooks’ point, kind commenter.  Notice how this commenter gauges morality.  There are big moral issues – things like dirty drinking water, crimes left unprosecuted, physically and emotionally wounded soldiers, and corporate corruption – and there are small moral issues – things like stealing office supplies or eating an extra cookie.  Who has time to sweat the small stuff when there are bigger fish to fry?

But notice the subversive self-aggrandizement that undergirds this commenter’s response.  For all of the immoral injustices this commenter identifies are “out there.”  Immorality resides in greedy politicians and corrupt corporations, not in people who casually comment on New York Times pieces.  This commenter intimates his own morality by decrying others’ immorality.  He implies his own relative goodness by opining about the macro-moral problems of our world while jettisoning the micro-moral failings of his life.  He seems to believe, to use Brooks’ language, in his own “essential goodness.”

All this is not to say our macro-moral problems are somehow unimportant.  They are vitally important.  But our micro-moral problems matter too.  Why?  Because there is no macro-immorality problem in our world that did not begin as a micro-immorality problem in a life.  Big injustices begin one person and one decision at a time.  Just ask Adam and Eve.

David Brooks concludes his column with a sage warning:  “We’re mostly unqualified to judge our own moral performances, so attach yourself to some exterior or social standards.”  Brooks is almost right.  An exterior standard is indeed necessary to gauge human morality in any sort of meaningful way.  But I would argue that this exterior standard should not be a social one.  For social standards, though they might be relatively external to us, are not absolutely external to us, because they are based on the collective consensus of human societies – you and me.  Thus, even morality guided by social standards ultimately collapses into an internal moral narcissism.  Only God is absolutely external.  Therefore, in the Christian view, only God can serve as humanity’s enduring moral compass.  Only God can judge our moral performances for what they truly are.  Is it any wonder the preacher of Hebrews declares of the Lord, “‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ and again, ‘The Lord will judge His people’” (Hebrews 10:30)?

Our modern moral mores decry judging other people’s morality.  Christianity decries this too (cf. Matthew 7:1-2).  But Christianity takes it a step further.  For Christianity not only prohibits judging other people’s morality, it also prohibits judging our own morality.  Christianity teaches that we are so morally depraved, we can do nothing less than judge ourselves with a foolhardy rose-colored ethical optimism.  In other words, we dupe ourselves into believing we are better than we really are.  This is why it is God’s job to adjudicate morality – all morality…our morality.  And we are called to listen, follow, and believe God’s verdict on morality – all morality…our morality.

[1] David Brooks, “The Moral Diet,” The New York Times (6.7.2012).

June 18, 2012 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

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