March 29, 2015: What is morality? Whatever it is, can it change, evolve, adapt, or is it fixed and unmoving?
As a Christian, I look first to the Bible for answers. The word "morality" doesn't occur in the Bible. "Moral" appears once, in James 1:21: "Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you." (NIV)
Dictionary.com defines morality as "conformity to the rules of right conduct". That gives us something to work with!
Since the word "conformity" occurs first, let's examine it first. If you had demanded that I define it without first referring to an outside resource, I would have said "alignment". I did, however, check Dictionary.com, and found that their closest definition to mine, "obedience", is their THIRD definition! "Action in accord with..." comes first, followed by "correspondence in form".
Right off the bat, we're dealing with ambiguity -- yes, I'll conform, but how closely must I conform? Let's put this one into the real world. I have a boss at the office, and sometimes he tells me things he'd like me to do. How closely does he expect that I will conform to what he has asked of me. Just a little bit? Only as much as I agree with? Or does he expect me to conform all the way?
This wasn't ambiguous in the home in which I was raised. My kind, loving, ever-caring mother had a very narrow view of conformity. The standing rule was to do it her way, and if I did as I was told to do, I might thereafter have an opportunity to debate an alternative point of view.
When does less-than-complete conformity become non-conformity? In many areas of life, it's a well-defined line. At this time of year, for example, the IRS comes to mind. Either your tax return is postmarked on-or-before April 15th, or it isn't. There's no grey area in which to debate. I've met a few traffic enforcement officers who held the same view regarding speed limits; either your at-or-under 35, or you're not.
It seems to me that God takes a similar view of conformity. I John 3:4 says "sin is lawlessness". Isaiah 59:2 says "But your iniquities have separated you from your God". Can we obey enough (i.e., be good enough) to expunge a few minor mis-steps? Romans 3:20 tells us the purpose of our failed attempts to obey all of God's law: "Therefore no one will be declared righteous in His sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin."
Feel free to debate me on this if you will, but I believe the final word on conformity is that we don't get to choose how closely we must conform -- the enforcer of the rules is the one who makes that choice.
The second part of the definition refers to "rules of right conduct". Morality involves rules which have to do with our behavior, and which draw a dividing line between "right" and "not-right". The question is, who makes the rules? The humanist would say that each person makes his/her own rules, and that morality is conformity to ones own set of rules of conduct.
Sounds like anarchy to me. If everyone makes up his or her own rules, how can we ever agree on anything? MY moral code says that you shouldn't steal my car, but YOUR moral code says that if you want it, take it. When you do so, have you done an immoral thing? From my view, yes, but not from yours. There MUST be a higher authority than the individual setting the rules of conduct, so that there will be a measure of consistency among a group of people in what the rules are.
Perhaps the government should be the arbiter of moral rules? Hmmmm..... have you read the news lately? There are few less-moral human institutions than the government. OK, maybe some governments are better or worse than others, but overall, the moral authority of most governments comes up short in the view of (I believe) most people. That's why Edward Snowden is such a folk hero to so many people; he pointed out where the government -- OUR government -- transgressed what most decent people feel is the limit of privacy, and declared themselves righteous by the authority to make laws.
Sadly, many churches don't seem to fare much better. Perhaps they should, but churches are made up of flawed, sinful people who can't even live within the bounds of what they themselves believe to be moral conduct. Often the rhetoric of church people on morality is more about bringing you down to their level than lifting you up to a higher spiritual plane.
I believe that the only final authority for making rules of conduct is God, and that He has done so through the Bible. It sets a standard for human conduct for all people world-wide, through all time. God's standards are the same for you and I, and they are the same as they will be next year and next decade. God doesn't change, his inspired Word doesn't change, and his rules for my life and conduct don't change.
Now you might not agree with that point of view, and that's OK with me. I have no authority, only the priviledge of speaking up to share what I've learned in life (most of it the hard way!). God cares about you agreeing with Him, because He wants to be reconciled with you, but your non-acceptance of His rule-setting authority doesn't diminish His authority -- it simply separates you from the Creator of the universe, and the ultimate judge of mankind.
Since God is the rule-setting authority, His standard is absolute conformity, and He doesn't change, I'm going to step out on a shaky limb here with the opinion that morality -- REAL morality -- doesn't change, evolve or adapt.
Let me end with a few words on "Christian morality", a term usually used with derision, calling up images of judgemental, narrow-minded people calling down fire and brimstone upon the heads of those who don't conform to their own understandings and interpretations of God's laws, and particularly of those laws which THEY deem to be most important.
I belive such people are speaking for themselves, but not necessarily speaking for God. TRUE Christian morality calls Christians to love others, while calling them to step up to a higher standard, and to leave the judging to God. "Do not judge, or you too will be judged." (Matthew 7:1) TRUE Christian morality drives Christian people to share the gifts they've received from God, and to bless and serve people around them without judgement.
I grieve for those who've been hurt by Christians trying to pound morality into them, and who've had a wall of mistrust between them and God, built by those self-serving Christians. I pray that they will find a way to see past the hurts and judgements heaped upon them by flawed, broken Christians and will find their way back into relationship with their loving God. God loves them just as they are, just where they are in life now -- He just loves them too much to leave them there.