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The Loss of Moral Authority


Recently some have accused the church or politicians of losing "moral authority" in the same-sex marriage debate.

But what is moral authority, and what does it mean to lack it? I explored this in today's Canberra Times:

[M]oral authority is better understood, at least in its modern sense, as a sign of seriousness; of commitment to ethical life. We listen to someone with integrity, not because they give us foolproof answers but because we know they are genuine about the debate itself. They care enough about the issue to conduct themselves conscientiously. Despite their many blind spots or fumblings, they demonstrate goodwill.

The loss of moral authority, in this light, is not an automatic loss of facts or logic. It is a loss of social standing. Specifically, those identified as hypocrites suddenly seem cynical. They do not really care about the issues they purport to champion. They are game-players, realpolitik agents, paid performers. (The word "hypocrite" comes from the classical Greek for "actor".) They may have all kinds of knowledge at their disposal – but it seems empty, because their commitment to the conversation is bent.


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