Topic: Professions & Institutions

God’s Professional Ethics

Meeting one’s duty to others is a core tenet of ethics. When you have a duty to perform, the fact that those to whom the duty is owed happen to annoy you, disagree with you, or even behave badly toward you doesn’t relieve you of the obligation to do it. Nor is it ethical to withhold performance of your duty out of spite, anger or revenge.

Somehow this rather basic ethical principle has eluded two of more excitable commentators on the Right side of the political spectrum, the Reverend Pat Robertson and Fox talking head Bill O’Reilly. O’Reilly, upset that San Francisco voters passed a proposition that urged high schools and colleges to bar military recruiters on campus, declared that the vote would justify the military in henceforth refusing to protect San Francisco. “If Al-Qaida comes in here and blows you up, we’re not going to do anything about it!” O’Reilly urged the Pentagon to announce. “We’re going to say [to the terrorists], look, every other place in America is off limits to you, except San Francisco. You want to blow up the Coit Tower? Go ahead.”

Oh…and also, “Nyaa, nyaa, nyaaa!” All right, he didn’t say that last part, but it would have fit. Granted, the Armed Forces phobia of some Americans and some 1960’s besotted communities is galling, illogical and tinged with ingratitude. It doesn’t matter. Ingratitude doesn’t justify withholding basic services and defaulting on core duties. O’Reilly was surely exaggerating (“O’Reilly? Exaggerating? Naw!“), but he was also advocating an unethical concept. It doesn’t help make his argument sound any more reasonable that the Coit Tower was built to honor fallen firemen who perished during the great San Francisco earthquake and fire, which is why there may be an apology coming soon from the “No Spin Zone.” But even putting his firemen faux pas aside, O’Reilly’s warped ethical sense shows a lack of comprehension of what the concept of professional ethics is all about. The military, like doctors, lawyers and public officials, must put its duties before personal pique. As professionals, military personnel are obligated to treat friends and critics alike when duty calls. Journalists, who claim to be professionals but seldom behave like them, increasingly seem unable or unwilling to adopt this standard.

Then again, they may have an impressive role model in this, at least according to televangelist Pat Robertson. He says God himself is a fan of the O’Reilly approach.

Robertson announced that because Dover, Pennsylvania’s voters threw out the Creationists on the local school board who were trying to cram “intelligent design” into the local science curriculum, God was no longer on call. “I’d like to say to the good citizens of Dover: If there is a disaster in your area, don’t turn to God. You just rejected him from your city,” Robertson said on the Christian Broadcasting Network’s “700 Club.” Now, there’s no denying that God plays a little rough sometimes, but He has to be more ethical than that, don’t you think? Or was Jesus going off message with all that “Do unto others stuff?” Pat tried to reconcile this seeming inconsistency by pointing out that “God is tolerant and loving, but we can’t keep sticking our finger in his eye forever.” [Actually, the defeated members of the school board had advocated textbooks that claimed some “designer” must have come up with the blueprint for the ever so complex eye, which means either God designed his own eye (If He could design it, why would he need it?), or God’s eye was designed by some other intelligent designer (if He had one, why would He have had to design it?), which really opens up a can or worms. No wonder they lost.] Robertson’s concept of God’s professional ethics is still unethical. And if we can’t count on God’s ethics, whose can we count on?

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