The Trouble With Morality

Time magzine is wading into deep waters with its article What Makes Us Moral.  Christians automatically assume that morality is their objective, as opposed to those who would "abolish" it.  But the truth is more complicated than that.

Back in seventeenth century France, there were two very prominent preachers, the Jesuit Louis Bordaloue and the bishop Jaques-Bénigne Bossuet.  Bordaloue’s main emphasis was morality, while Bossuet’s was that of theology and doctrine.  In his time Bordaloue was the more popular preacher (especially with Louis XIV) but in the long run Bossuet has a more secure place in French culture and literature.  Bossuet’s preaching and writing is of such a calibre that the Huguenots he helped to exile into places such as the Netherlands still read his works!

The distinction between morality and doctrine is one that Christians seldom make.  When Christians in the US realised that the country had changed its bearings, didn’t they form the Moral Majority?  Isn’t the whole idea of Christianity to make people moral?  Aren’t we trying to bring back the morality we once knew?

Before we attempt to answer these questions, let’s look at the other side.  Until recently secularism in general and Marxism in particular posited that morality was one thing that would disappear with religion.  In the new world order, morality would vanish.  For many on the left, the morality that needed to go away the fastest was and is sexual morality, and that’s certainly the case today, as those who visited Boulder High School last spring reminded us.

But if you look at liberals in the US today, you will find some of the most moralistic and self-righteous rhetoric around.  It’s been that way for the last half century.  Liberals consistently use morally loaded terms such as "corruption," "hypocrisy," and the like.  Today people who are on the defensive about their behaviour come back with the inevitable "I’m not a bad person."  Really?  Wasn’t the purpose of all of the "advances" we were making to eliminate the separation of people into good and bad?

The simple truth is that neither side–for better or worse–is trying to abolish morality.  The difference comes when we consider the ideas as to where morality comes from.

Christians routinely think of morality as coming down from God.  How this actually plays out varies some, but the basic idea is there.  Christians thus consider what leftists and secularists come up with is a rejection of morality.  If you’re talking about a Marxist, this is true.  But there are very few Marxists out there these days.

On the other side, secularists reject morality coming from God but cannot bring themselves to dispense with it.  The key to the dilemma on the left is contained in the article: one source of what people think is moral or not comes from community standards.  This is correct; people are socialised in to thinking that certain behaviour is correct and others isn’t, and that distinction is usually posited in moral terms.  If you can get the legal system to sync with what people think is right and wrong, all the better.

That being the case, if your objective is to change society, a component of that is to change community standards, shared values, or whatever you would like to call these things.  In doing so you change what people think is moral or not, thus replacing one system of morality with another.  That’s the objective of much of what we see on the left, and if we end up with a bunch of pushy, self-righteous loudmouths to enforce this and make others miserable, so be it.

My challenge is directed in two ways:

To the Christians: Christians need to see that morality isn’t the objective; fidelity to the commandments of God, irrespective of what the community standards are, is.  Christians needs to also remember that it’s unrealistic to expect non-Christian people to exercise Christian morality.

To the secularists: What’s scientific about defining and enforcing behaviour with community standards, other than it works?  If we change community standards, where do they come from?  Why are they legitimate?  Community standards go hand in hand with the famous excuse, "We’ve always done it this way?"  What’s scientific about that?

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