Tag Archive: morality


Imposing Values

The “Christian Right” is often accused of wanting to push their moral view on society. While there are some Christians who feel they should force Christian laws on those who don’t want them (I’m not one of them), I’m wondering if it has occurred to anyone that progressives are doing exactly the same thing. They have their own ideas and since the Enlightenment have been promoting them with an evangelistic passion.

“We’re not pushing our values on anyone” they may protest. “People just need to be free to choose”. But their supposedly value-neutral stance is a truth claim no more or less than any other, and the moral relativism it entails carries social consequences as real as those that flow from any other worldview. To insist are no absolutes is (ironically enough) itself an absolute statement, a truth claim that would please the most rigid fundamentalist.

Both sides are convinced they are right, and opponents to Christian belief are often as holier-than-thou as those they accuse; perhaps more so because at least informed Christian belief insists that believers are saved not by how good they are but by God’s naked grace. In fact, Christianity raises this issue to the point of doctrine, an understanding prerequisite to any meaningful conversion. I see no such corrective in liberal thought.

There is no truly neutral ground. No matter how you look at it, someone is trying to impose their values on someone else, and this affects everything from families to the law of the land. To accuse only Christians of this misses the true state of things.

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The Great Contradiction

Present conventional wisdom holds to values of tolerance; all cultures are held to be equal. Live and let live.

But what about when one culture would deliberately prevent members of their society from participating in that society as equals?

If we don’t challenge such views, we are not standing up for the marginalized within those societies. Is this just? Yet we are told we must not criticize such cultures.

My point here is not to bash another culture but to point out a double standard inherent in “progressive” thought: deeming all cultures equal, they prohibit criticism of societies that enslave and marginalize their own members. In doing so the progressives are not demonstrating tolerance: they are actually accomplices to injustice.

What’s more, they are quite intolerant towards those who would shine a light on these issues, branding them bigots and cultural imperialists. But can any of them answer the contradiction instead of just name calling? I don’t think they can.

You can’t sit on the fence. At the end of the day, there has to be a set of values that are absolute and binding on humanity if ideas of justice are to have any meaning.

Review: The Abolition of Man

I read The Abolition of Man for the first time about 30 years ago and consider it amongst the most important books I have ever read. It’s a tough little book, but worth the time.

It was a tremendous relief for me as a young Christian to discover that Christianity not only made sense, but could be approached critically throughout. Lewis’ particular gift was to expose the facile nature of much of what passes for modern intellectualism, and demonstrated for me that informed Christian belief is intellectually rigorous. If we take into account all we experience in life, it gives a sounder explanation of our world than anything else on the market.

The Abolition of Man begins by examining a book on English grammar in which Lewis notes a disturbing trend; not in how grammar is taught, but in the philosophy of its authors.

Morality is based on the idea that creation is inherently good; that it possesses real value. It is only by dismissing half of what we experience as mere sentiment that modern thinkers can pass a materialistic reductionism off as the whole truth. This is the view Lewis warns us against in Lecture One; the authors of the Green Book would inculcate not better grammar in young minds, but a skeptical outlook that brushes off value statements as emotional, subjective fluff. In debunking experiences that better men considered profitable, humane and generous, they undercut even concepts of justice and truth, cutting out the heart of all it means to be human. They would make us “men without chests”.

And where does that lead? In Lecture Three the author takes this worldview to its logical conclusion, examining its inconsistencies and the danger it poses.

Lewis sensibly points out that we cannot go on seeing through everything; there has to be some sort of objective truth at the bottom of things for anything to make sense. Yet the true skeptic must (if he is to be consistent) discredit all value statements; they are to be viewed only as natural phenomena to be managed with no overarching morality – the “Tao”, as Lewis calls it – to inform them. Such a world would be incapable of any sensible or actually moral action. The debunker has become the blindest of all, for he sees through everything – and gazes into a void.

And should a group of skeptical Conditioners arise with the power to determine the course of subsequent generations, what motives could they have? Having denied value – and hence moral thought – as objective, all that is left is raw utilitarianism and their own fallible desires: both dangerous grounds for any program of conditioning. We may (for instance) consider how the discredited science of eugenics worked in the value-free world of the Third Reich. Having decided that certain races and types of people were a drag on humanity, Hitler’s government set about – albeit in very modern, scientific ways – to eliminate them. By deeming justice a mere sentiment, they became in practical fact the embodiment of evil.

It is not Lewis’ purpose to defend Christian belief in particular with this book, but to rather demonstrate the nature of moral thought, its reality in our lives, and the terrible danger of trying to get around it. Morality is necessarily transcendent, and Lewis cites a number of sources to demonstrate that most religions and cultures share, and always have had this understanding. Morality must, if it is objective fact, be something that originates outside ourselves if it is to make any genuine claims on our lives; and in this we may allow that no religion is entirely wrong – though some are closer to the truth than others.

But it is the modern materialist who strays the furthest, with his truncated, wilfully ignorant worldview denying at least half of the reality he encounters. This is the position Lewis shows untenable: by trying to interpret reality on his own terms, the skeptic winds up with exactly nothing – at least nothing of value. In their quest to be their own masters, they would emasculate humanity. To borrow from the book’s title, they seek nothing less than the abolition of man.

Let’s Get Creative

A few years back, I was at an investing seminar. The speaker pointed out that we are creatures of habit; and that if you don’t deliberately form good habits, you will unconsciously form bad ones. This came as a bit of an epiphany, for it holds some real spiritual truth.

 

I’ve noticed two things about nature. First, that its basically reactive: something happens because something else caused it: cause and effect. In society, people react with hate when abused, they jump when startled. Secondly, there is a tendency towards a running down, a wearing out. A deck of cards won’t deal itself, a house won’t build itself, and my lawn (regrettably) will not mow itself. Untended, it will soon be a mass of weeds.  Disease and age take their toll, things wear out, decay, and fall apart. The universe itself is in fact running down.

 

Like the weeds in my lawn, bad habits form all by themselves. They are part of nature and don’t really take any effort on my part. They just happen.

 

Good habits are different. Every time you do something against your natural inclinations, you rebel against the natural way of things. You have become proactive, rather than reactive. When we don’t clean our house, mow the grass, or even brush our teeth, the natural course is one of decline, decay, and disorder; we have to be constantly adding energy to the system to maintain it.

 

In a very real sense, the spiritual disciplines – like all good habits – are creative acts, the invasion of a supernatural, rational, and moral reality on nature. They are a demonstration of our being more than just biological machines. They are a demonstration of will and choice entering the universe.

 

I think this is one of the ways we are “made in God’s image”. We are to be sons and daughters of God, something of the same type of being – that is, spirits in essence. We have biological life because we live in the natural world; but we have a supernatural life contained in these bodies, because we also inhabit the realm of spirit. I think that is what Jesus meant when He told us to be “perfect”, even as our Father in Heaven is; in effect saying, “You are the same sort of being as your Father in Heaven (i.e., a spirit, and therefore moral and rational): now act like it”. A spiritual being reasons and makes moral choices; in fact, the Author of morality is a Spirit.

 

Christians, especially those of the more charismatic type, are often accused of being emotional. Mature faith involves putting our emotions in their place and determining to trust – and obey – regardless of our emotional state. It’s the most natural thing in the world to love those who love us. It is the path of least resistance – the easy path, the natural, reactive way. Hating those who hate us also comes pretty easy. God calls us to something higher; he tells us to love the unlovely, to bless and not curse, to pray for those who persecute us, to share with the world the same grace He has shown us. He wants us to help Him maintain His world by inputting love and grace into it, even as He Himself does. This is a long, long way from being “so heavenly minded they’re no earthly good”.  It’s immensely practical and (no pun intended) down to earth.

 

He wants us to develop good habits of the heart. The deeds of the body in its natural state are primarily emotional and therefore reactive. The disciple is one who rises above these through faith. He chooses to trust – often in spite of his feelings. Romans 12:13 talks about putting to death the deeds of the body by faith. Discipline is an indicator of our faith: do we trust, do we think it’s worth doing? If we take the trouble to put down our natural inclinations, it must be because we expect a benefit, a better knowing of God. The  word disciple derives from the word discipline; the disciple submits to the discipline of seeking God through developing these good habits of the heart, habits of trust, learning what pleases God, and obedience. The undisciplined one lacks faith, or at least isn’t putting it into action; he is an “un-disciple”.

 

Jesus was the first example of a new kind of Man: spiritually alive and in fellowship with the Father, yet inhabiting a human body. Through Him we can come alive to God again, and possess a reflection of that same sort of life in our human bodies. In fact, it stands to reason that we need to be thus connected if we are to really show God’s sort of grace, God’s sort of life to the world. We are to be conduits; “Out of your bellies shall flow rivers of living water”. Jesus meant it when He said, “Without Me you can do nothing”. Without that vital connection to Christ what flows out of us is more reaction; and in the scale of eternity, of no value.

Belief and Everyday Living

I remember seeing an amusing skit on Monty Python’s Flying Circus about a football match of some sort between philosophers. They would wander around, chin in hand, until one was ready with a platitude or postulate of some sort – then (and only then) could they play the ball. Of course it was voiced over by a commentator: “It looks like… yes… Archimedes has had an idea!” and the ball goes into play.

The musings of academics and philosophers may seem anal, but these lines of thought have a way of finding their way to the ordinary person. The other day I made a statement concerning someone famous for his polemic against faith in God.  When someone countered that this was “just my opinion”, I was taken aback. I might be wrong, but there is no relative truth here. Either he or I are wrong: either it’s “just my opinion”  or I’m right.

Is not the business of life to search after truth, and order our lives accordingly? Is it “just my opinion” that a bridge around the corner is washed out? Of course not. Either it is, or is not. And in our hearts I think we believe that concrete issues can be either true or false; but that matters of morality and spiritual truth are somewhat softer; that mere opinion informs us, and no particular person is right. But can this really be so?

Ideas matter. If we believe morality is relative, for instance, we may have less scruples about cheating, or even about speaking out against injustice: who are we to judge the perpetrator, or even ourselves? But if we believe in real morality based on truths considered self-existent and self evident, then we have a basis to judge situations and to act.

We can’t tell someone they need Christ if morality is a relative issue. We can’t even (in all honesty) disapprove of some heinous act we witness if everything’s relative. Who, after all, are we to judge?

But the falseness of this position is obvious.  Do any of us think we should not condemn the act of rape, of child abuse or genocide? Of even bullying, and ordinary selfishness? If we are to be thoroughgoing relativists, we’d better keep our mouths shut. Nearly everyone is better than that, and we’re horrified at such acts, but nobody stops to consider the apparent contradiction.

Regrettably, this sort of  moral relativism is rampant in society today, and has had dire consequences for society and for eternity. Such accommodation seems open, more pluralistic, more democratic; but if we are looking for truth, it’s less than useless.

Without some sort of overarching moral consensus, we become essentially competitive. We may say thing are all relative, a matter of opinion, but that’s easy to say in a society where there’s plenty to eat and the rule of law is enforced. When food is scarce, and it’s someone’s “opinion” that they want the food I have, if they are the stronger they will simply take it. I can’t complain about the wrongness of the act, because they are just acting according to their own particular reality. There is no moral restraint on the other party to leave me alone, or even to share what they have taken.


Being Yourself

Who are you?

What determines how you live your life? Many just sort of let life happen, taking things as they come, a series of reactions to what life deals them. But is that the best way to live? I think we can determine our life’s path by the choices we make.

Reason and Morality are siblings; or perhaps it might be better illustrated by saying that morality is a reasoned response, and therefore you can’t be moral without being a reasoning being. They hint at something uncreated, not a result of chaotic, senseless processes, but of a higher, rational and moral source, because they are not an effect of some cause. In fact moral choice (for instance, to love an enemy or forgive someone who has hurt us) often run exactly opposite to our natural reactions.

Some Christian apologists have written strong arguments supporting the existence of God based on these realities, and it really does make sense – the best kind of sense. I am a believer largely because the concept of a rational, moral God simply scratches the most itches. The universe makes sense. And of course these are things that set us apart from the animal kingdom. Whereas animals simply react, people can reason and make moral choices. We can be proactive; nature is exclusively reactive.

If we do away with reason and moral truth, we are left with our emotions.  Emotions are something we share with the animal kingdom, and are reactive rather than proactive in essence. We don’t make feelings; they happen to us.  We feel a certain way because of what is happening around us; but as a motivator, emotions are dangerous: they are variable, unpredictable, and can be manipulated.

In a democracy, the direction of government is determined by the will of the people. But what happens when those people are ill-informed (and it’s impossible to be adequately informed about all the issues we face these days) or worse yet, are subjected to the spin doctors? Politicians and their hirelings play on our fears and hopes to get us to vote them into power. Advertising agencies spend millions of dollars trying to make us feel we must have the latest toy. We become more the product of our environment and influences than ourselves; what I consider my “tastes” are often the result of somebody else telling me what is cool and fashionable.

The best defense against such ploys is to have a solid belief in a moral framework that determines how all these other inputs are evaluated.  When you hold high values, you can’t be spun or manipulated as easily. And this moral construct has an Author, One who yearns for relationship with us. As we give ourselves to Him, we become more truly ourselves.

We live in the world of Enron, of the Subprime crisis and banking scandals, of spin doctors and opinion polls. If more folks approached politics and finance on the basis of ethics instead of the zeitgeist, the spirit of the present day, I think we’d be in a lot better shape.

Who are you?

What determines how you live your life? Many just sort of let life happen, taking things as they come, a series of reactions to what life deals them. But is that the best way to live? I think we determine our life’s path by the choices we make.

Reason and Morality are siblings; or perhaps it might be better illustrated by saying that morality is a reasoned response, and therefore you can’t be moral without being a reasoning being. Reason and moral truth hint at something uncreated: not a result of chaotic, senseless processes, but of a higher, rational and moral source, because they are not an result of some cause but exist all by themselves. These reasoned moral choices (for instance, to love an enemy or forgive someone who has hurt us) often run exactly opposite to our natural reactions.

Some Christian apologists have based arguments supporting the existence of God on these realities, and it really does make sense – the best kind of sense. I am a believer largely because the concept of a rational, moral God simply scratches the most itches. The universe makes sense. And of course these are things that set us apart from the animal kingdom. Whereas animals simply react, people can reason and make moral choices. We can be proactive; nature is exclusively reactive.

If we do away with reason and moral truth, we are left alone with our emotions. Emotions are something we share with the animal kingdom, and are reactive rather than proactive in essence. We don’t make feelings; they happen to us. We feel a certain way because of what is happening around us or within our own bodies.

But as a motivator, emotions are dangerous: they are variable, unpredictable, and can be manipulated.
In a democracy, the direction of government is determined by the will of the people. But what happens when those people are ill-informed (and it’s impossible to be adequately informed about all the issues we face these days) or worse yet, are subjected to the spin doctors? Politicians and their hirelings play on our fears and hopes to get us to vote them into power. Advertising agencies spend millions of dollars trying to make us feel we must have the latest toy. We become more the product of our environment and influences than ourselves; what I consider my “tastes” are often the result of somebody else telling me what is cool and fashionable.

The best defense against such ploys is to have a solid belief in a moral framework that determines how all these other inputs are evaluated. When you hold high values, you can’t be spun or manipulated as easily. And if this moral construct is really true – absolute reality- it must have an Author, One whi cares about right actions and who yearns for relationship with us. As we give ourselves to Him, we become more truly ourselves.

We live in the world of Enron, of the Subprime crisis and banking scandals, of spin doctors and opinion polls. If more folks approached politics and finance on the basis of a transcendent ethical truth instead of the zeitgeist, the spirit of the present day, I think we’d be in a lot better shape.

And that’s just for starters.

Why Do You Matter?

There’s a great little video on the Onion News Network. A satirical sportscast has the captain of an NFL team having an “existentialist epiphany” during the coin toss; his angst over the perceived randomness of life snowballs to the point where the team just can’t play anymore and the game is forfeited.

It’s a hoot, but it actually raises an important point. If it’s all meaningless, why carry on? If, as the video says, we are all just “random blades of grass tossed to the uncaring wind”, what hope is there for us?

We lose ourselves in busyness, hoping the noise will drown out the dark thoughts that hover around the fringes of our consciousness. “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die”. We push the big questions to the back burner; we’ll deal with them later. And if you and I don’t matter, that’s just fine.

But if we are valuable, then a host of Big Questions comes flooding in. Is this all there is? What will happen when I die? Fifty years from now, who will care? Why shouldn’t I just look out for Number One?

Why do you matter?

A little while ago, my daughter wrote me a poem for Father’s Day. It’s just some ink on paper, but it’s precious to me; and the fact that I value it is what makes it important. Things are special because they are valued.

So who values you? Perhaps your wife or husband, your children or friends. Without them, will you still matter? Maybe your job defines you; your sense of usefulness. But all these things are transitory; relationships change, we retire from jobs or are laid off. If our sense of worth is tied to these things, then we’re in for some big changes. And in fact, many people don’t live that long after they retire; kids raised, and job gone, they feel they’ve outlived their usefulness – and just give up.

You are valuable because God made you; He values you, and He cares when someone hurts you. If this seems a little pat to you, that’s fine for now. But let’s examine it a bit further.

First of all, we have to examine morality. The moral Law common to most religions and belief systems, posits that things like theft, murder, lying and such are wrong; and the reason they are wrong (if you think about it) is that any wilful act done to another against their will constitutes a devaluation, a marginalizing of that person’s worth. My need, I have decided, is more important than yours. So I will gossip, or steal, or kill – whatever it takes to get what I want done. I will look out for myself first, and at your expense if you get in my way.

The moral law is an important indicator that people matter, and like it or not, we just can’t get that notion out of our heads. We rightly feel outrage when a child is abused, a spouse is betrayed, an innocent is wrongly killed. It doesn’t matter if the victim is a hero or a down-and-out drug addict; we feel the wrongness of it all when any person’s essential dignity as a human is violated.

Where does this dignity come from? Where does the morality that affirms our worth come from? Materialists will tell us it’s all just evolved instinct, developed because of its survival value for the species. But again, that says absolutely nothing about intrinsic worth, but merely its usefulness to us as a species.

And – I can’t stress this enough – if that’s the case, then it follows this moral sense could be jettisoned if it is not real truth. If and when we don’t need it anymore, we can dispense with it. Philosophers like Nietzsche believed this, and with it its corollary: God is Dead. Germany in the 1930’s was a modern, technological society with a government that likewise accepted this; and following Nietzsche’s dictum, all that mattered was the Will To Power. And it had (and has) some very worrisome consequences – some of which we are seeing in this very day.

If there is no real truth, than the only thing that matters is who’s the strongest. By removing the idea of a universal morality against which actions of people or nations can be judged, all that is left is brute strength. The mild mannered, politically correct are, at the heart of things, not that far removed from Hitler’s coarse regime. He/she has decided we “mustn’t impose our morality on others”, be they small-town bullies or governments given to military adventures. We say people are important, but won’t go far enough to judge an action when their dignity is abused. We’re too busy not judging the acts of the perpetrators.

Truth, we are told, is relative to individuals and cultures. How for this sort of thinking has filtered down to regular folks was illustrated to me a few months back. I was talking to the parent of one of my daughters’ acquaintances. This girl – a decent, loyal friend – was being bullied by some of her schoolmates. When I expressed dismay at this, the parent said it was indeed wrong – for her, at any rate. I pressed the issue further, and was surprised to hear her say that maybe it wasn’t wrong for the bullies, and (reading between the lines) we shouldn’t judge their reality.

I was aghast. How can there be any moral sense unless we accept that bullying is just wrong, will always be wrong, and that there was no excuse for these girls to have their cruel fun at her daughter’s expense?

With what standard are we to judge the behaviour of these bullies? If real value isn’t just something we made up in our heads, this moral sense had to come from somewhere. And this is where most religions concur; moral truth is essentially transcendent. It suggests another reality, one that is separate than the raw, physical world.

And this moral sense is unique to humans. We do not judge a bear when it mauls somebody, and if we kill it, we do so the same way we would fell a tree that was threatening a building. It’s not a question of justice, but of community safety.

Humans understand this; the observable fact is that we keep this imperative rather imperfectly. We know the moral law; we break it. As C.S. Lewis says, this is the basis for all clear thinking about the universe we live in.

The existence of a real morality is good evidence that everyone matters, because the One who made us values us and is not pleased when someone else makes light of this worth, be it by stealing a car, a spouse, or a life.