Morality, Morality what for art thou Morality?
by vaughn ohlman 10/10/2008 / Christian Apologetics
I have watched with interest the various raging battles on Morality... and as that is one of my favorite topics I thought I would put in my 2 cents:
One of the frequent complaints from both sides of the aisle is that the other is begging the question... predefining the answer. I think that the definitions are exactly where the problem lies in this case. Morality implies some things "below the surface" and I think we need to dredge them up. First tho lets look at some actions related to morality..
1) Morality is frequently used by an individual to do "self-judging". An individual sits "in their closet" and meditates on the rightness/wrongness of their actions. The word "guilt" is usually associated with this action.
2) Morality is often associated with the violation of shared values..."rules" set up before hand. In this case however, there are really two layers... the rules and the "assumption" that one does not violate the rules. It is important to keep these separate. If we agree to change the rules of monopoly it is then "cheating" to follow the old rules.
3)Morality exists in the judgment over shared values. It is quite common for people to "judge" other cultures and even laws within their own cultures... such as the animal rights or unborn children's rights.
I am sure there are more actions than this, but I think I will stop here and propose a definition. I would argue that this definition gets at the core of these actions:
Morality: Morality consists of two parts, moral laws and moral understanding (as evidenced in several ways including actions). Moral Laws are those laws that are foundational to the nature of the universe and describe the "pros and cons" of various types of behavior by beings capable of those behaviors. Moral understanding is the knowledge/action/codification of those laws.
Morality by this definition parallels gravity. The gravitic law (stated simply as "things fall" :) applies throughout the universe (with its various permutations as to how fast, with what countervailing forces etc). Whereas gravitic "understanding" was present throughout history in instinctive fear of heights all the way down to Newton and then Einstein etc.
"Breaking" the moral law also parallels "breaking" the law of gravity. In one sense there is nothing capable of being "broken". One can jump off cliffs and one can commit adultery... and one will fall from the cliff (barring a good set of wings or convenient branch) and one will be morally "hurt" if one commits adultery... although forgiveness etc. can play the same role as the branch. The branch doesn't "stop" gravity... one is still pulled.
This, I would argue, is the only definition that makes sense of the actions described above. One can sit in the hospital and regret jumping out of the window... just as one can sit in ones room and feel guilty for having stolen or lied. In the case of gravity the results are usually more immediate and physical but any decent survey will show the results of immorality fairly easily.
Similarly from the beginning of time people have gotten together and done things that "took into account" the workings of morality and gravity. Baseball assumes both that people will not cheat and that the ball will eventually come down. One can change the rules of baseball....but the laws of Gravity are fixed. And no matter how much one changes the rules one needs to have non-cheating as a basic assumption.
It is the same when we look at and judge cultures. Scientists look out over the universe and predict the actions of stars based upon the universality of the laws of gravity. Historians similarly have recorded the effects of cultures lapsing into immorality.
So the modern definition of morality as 'what our genes want us to do" or "what I feel like doing" won't wash. If they want to merely say "morality doesn't exist" then fine... let them argue that (History would say otherwise). But a redefinition that in effect takes away the fundamental meaning (as expressed in the actions above) of the word is merely a trick, a sham. Better to merely say that the people above are tricked by their genes or their cultures. But remember when you do that you have then given up all possibility of saying to the vilest human... your actions are wrong...!
A former missionary to Africa, I am now an LVN and EMT with a wife, six kids, and small farm. I like to write about Theonomy, Betrothal, Fantasy, and Science Fiction, just for starters.