Posts Tagged ‘Morality’

Why the Golden Rule Isn’t So Original

The ‘Golden Rule’ is much older than any monotheism, and…no human society would have been possible or even thinkable without elementary solidarity (which also allows for self-interest) between its members. – Christopher Hitchens, “Is Christianity Good For The World”, Christianity Today, May 8, 2007

The golden rule is something you don’t have to teach a child. There is no need to say, “And if you don’t follow this rule, you’ll burn in hell.” – Christopher Hitchens, “Hitchens, Sharpton and Faith”, The New York Times, May 7, 2007

The first thing to get clear about Christian morality between man and man is that in this department Christ did not come to preach any brand new morality. The Golden Rule of the New Testament (Do as you would be done by) is a summing up of what everyone, at bottom, had always known to be right. Really great moral teachers never do introduce new moralities: it is quacks and cranks who do that…The real job of every moral teacher is to keep on bringing us back, time after time, to the old simple principles which we are all so anxious not to see; like bringing a horse back and back to the fence it has refused to jump or bringing a child back and back to the bit in its lesson that it wants to shirk. – C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Google Morality

Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 10.47.51 AM

A while ago, I did a podcast test segment the point of which was to discuss the problem with trying to “be good for goodness sake.” That is, ethics without God, ethics based on a general notion of “good.” I said that it wouldn’t lead us into a time of great human flourishing, rather, it will lead to a new breed of Pharisee.

It appears that the moral relativism born in ’60s, nurtured in ’70s, and come to blossom in ’80s has given birth to what I call “Google Morality”. Whatever social media buzzes about now defines what is right and what is wrong (though buzz tends heavily toward what is wrong) and there are social warriors who will enforce it with very little sympathy, empathy, or consideration of other viewpoints.

Think I’m just making this up? Though it has been my unvoiced opinion for a while, no less than The Atlantic has written on this phenomena. And I quote:

The subjective morality of yesterday has been replaced by an ethical code that, if violated, results in unmerciful moral crusades on social media.

A culture of shame cannot be a culture of total relativism. One must have some moral criteria for which to decide if someone is worth shaming…

This new code has created a paradoxical moment in which all is tolerated except the intolerant and all included except the exclusive.

See? It isn’t just me and The Atlantic is no bastion of conservative, Judeo-Christian ethics. I hate that the article ends on Trump but up to the point where his name appears, the article is pretty good.

Edit: I should have noted that this was part b to this part a.

Google Morals

Can you be good without God? There is a Humanist movement that claims you can. And as you can see from the comic above, some think that this is a contradiction of what Christianity teaches. But that’s only true in comics. I’m not aware of any part of Christianity that says that only believers are capable of good deeds. Even the Bible asserts that unbelievers can do good things:

For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts… – Romans 2:14-15

So, despite the cross in the comic, the Humanists aren’t fighting a Christian doctrine. The Calvinistic doctrine of “total depravity” does not mean that people are as rotten as they possibly can be at all times. It means that there is not one part of man that isn’t corrupted by the fall. Man’s emotions, desires, reason, etc. are all impacted by the fall. So from the Christian point of view, people can do good and can sin whether they believe or not. For the Christian, we don’t trust in those smatterings of good things we do, our evil far outweighs it. The Christian believer trusts that Jesus’ righteousness on his or her behalf is what makes them commendable to God.

I hope I’m clear on that. Now, the real point I wanted to raise is this, “You’re good without God? So what?” If you don’t believe in God and therefore dismiss the Bible and the Koran and any other religious document, how do you define “good”? If there is no external standard, ethics are nothing more than a matter of public opinion. Consider this:

[Marshall McLuhan] says there is coming a time in the global village (not far ahead, in the area of electronics) when we will be able to wire everyone up to a giant computer, and what the computer strikes as the average at that given moment will be what is right and wrong…We have come to this place in our Western culture because man sees himself as beginning from the impersonal, from the energy particle and nothing else. We are left with only statistical ethics, and in that setting, there is simply no such thing as morals. – Francis A. Schaffer, He Is There and He Is Not Silent, 23

Schaffer wrote this in the ’70s when there was no concept of the networked computers we have today. But aside from the “giant computer”, he pretty much identified the internet right there. 1Schaffer was extremely insightful, to the point where he sometimes startled himself. In a lecture at Wheaton sometime in the late ’60s he said “I must say at times I frighten myself in my projections, because I’m no prophet, I just know something about our generation and I know these truths of the gospel. But I’ve been overwhelmed at times, scared myself to death at how many times I’ve made projections and they’ve turned out right about what will come next.” The audio is available here. We collectively decide what is right and wrong, good or bad and all we’re left with is popularity and opinion.

So the Humanist says he can be good with no concept of a transcendent God. So you can go along with the median of what is appropriate behavior as defined by the opinion of your peers? That’s almost impressive. Falling in the middle of bell curve ethics is no real achievement, it just means you’re normal. But perhaps they’re talking about people who do really good stuff. Okay, so you fall into a slightly higher percentile. Again, no huge achievement there.

The question is not whether Humanists can be good without God, for a Christian, that’s pretty much a given. The issue is, so what? What do you expect to gain by being “good”? At some point your heart will stop beating and the neurons in your brain will stop firing and you’ll disappear into the black. Your corpse may be celebrated by your friends and admirers but then it will be burned or buried and then… what? Within a few generations no one will remember the “good” you did or even who you were. Or possibly, they will have changed the definition of “good” and what you did will be thought of as evil. And even if they did remember you positively, what does that benefit you? The problem isn’t if you can be good without God. The problem is what is “good” and why be it?

Now, lest you think this is nothing more than Christian presuppositional apologetics 2http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Presuppositional_apologetics (and it is at least that), you need to read the book of Ecclesiastes. Solomon asks all of these same questions as he observed life “under the sun” and wondered why bother.

I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. – Ecclesiastes 2:18-19

See? Same thing and this is the Bible speaking. Solomon works hard to build beautiful things and the person who comes after him is an idiot and squanders it. What did that benefit Solomon after his body temperature drops to room temperature? Nothing. His work was for nothing.

If there is no God, then “good” doesn’t exist. You can be nice. You can be approved. You can be liked. You can run with the crowd but you can’t be truly good. You can be normal.

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1. Schaffer was extremely insightful, to the point where he sometimes startled himself. In a lecture at Wheaton sometime in the late ’60s he said “I must say at times I frighten myself in my projections, because I’m no prophet, I just know something about our generation and I know these truths of the gospel. But I’ve been overwhelmed at times, scared myself to death at how many times I’ve made projections and they’ve turned out right about what will come next.” The audio is available here.
2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Presuppositional_apologetics