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What is "morality," anyway?

Discussion in 'Ethics & Morality' started by Evan Jellicoe, May 23, 2020 at 3:43 PM.

  1. Evan Jellicoe

    Evan Jellicoe Well-Known Member

    United States
    For many Christians, moral laws are just that: they are laws, and they must be followed exactly, no questions asked. The reason for the law is unimportant to us; it is God’s will, and He does not have to explain Himself to us. Our duty is simply to obey.

    Ironically, this mindset is exactly the opposite of what the Apostle Paul teaches. He says we are not saved—and we do not live—by law, but by grace, through faith. The just shall live by faith, not by the keeping of laws. Further, the primary goal that all Christians are to aim for in this life (as we look forward to the life to come) is to love. Love God, and love our neighbor [Matthew 22:36-40]. For the person who believes in and follows Jesus, love takes priority over everything else. Therefore, love is the foundation of morality. There are so many Scripture passages that say this that I won’t even try to list them all. But here are a few key ones:

    A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. [John 13:34]

    By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. [John 13:35]

    If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. [I Corinthians 13:2]

    If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar. [I John 4:20]

    So, morality is not about following arbitrary rules to show what good soldiers of Christ we are; morality consists of a set of actions by which we demonstrate love. And what is love? Stated in the simplest possible terms, it is doing things which bring good to others, and refraining from actions which bring evil.

    But what, exactly, is good, and what is evil? One could say that obeying God is good, and disobeying Him is evil, and that would not be wrong. . .but it is possible, through studying Scripture, to get a fair idea of what it is that God Himself considers good, just as when a child grows older, he or she will gradually learn not to just obey Mommy and Daddy without question, but will come to understand why Mommy and Daddy had those rules. Good parents know that the goal of good upbringing is to help children reason out for themselves how to make good choices even when there is no exact rule to follow.Growing to maturity in Christ is very much like growing to maturity from childhood.

    So, what is the good that God wants us to understand?

    To lay it out in basic form, it is good when:

    -life itself is preserved, and death is avoided.

    -peace prevails, and conflict is avoided.

    -material well-being is maintained, and suffering is avoided.

    To the convinced Christian, then, every moral law or principle has been given in order to:

    -establish and strengthen the bond between a person and God, and

    -preserve life and peace and maintain material well-being

    Now, it is true that believers in other gods, or in no god at all, can teach and live by these same principles, and therefore live in this world with life, material well-being, and peace. They are doing well in this world, and if they believe that this world is all there is, then they will think everything is good for them. Reality will set in when this life ends for them and they enter into the next, but for now they can be content.

    But it is also possible for non-Christians to advance different ultimate foundations for morality. Some may reason out the principle that “survival of the fittest” is a good reason for “looking out for Number One.”

    Others may reason out that suffering is actually a good thing, and therefore will seek it out.

    Others believe that the main goal is to win conflicts, not avoid them. To conquer.

    Still others may conclude that since there is no ultimate reality beyond the material world, there are also no real moral rules, so it is OK to do absolutely anything one wishes to do, regardless of whether it brings happiness or unhappiness to oneself or to other people.

    But the Christian who is familiar with the Bible, and who realizes that love of God and love of people is our primary aim in this life, will understand that every rule that is given by God is simply a way to fulfill the ultimate law of love. It is not the following of rules which is important, it is the love we show.
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  2. Tolworth John

    Tolworth John Well-Known Member Supporter

    United Kingdom
    Morality is a reflection of the goodness of God.
    If one is unsure or unclear or confused then following the ten commandments means you are doing what God wants.

    For Christians it is made confusing as we are not being judged by how we obey Gods laws.
    But our obedience to them is merely a mark of our love.
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  3. BobRyan

    BobRyan Junior Member

    United States

    The Baptist Confession of Faith, and the Westminster Confession of Faith refer to "the TEN" as being included in what is called the "moral law" - that is written on the heart under the NEW Covenant of Jer 31:31-34

    That which is immoral is sin.. and the NT says "Sin IS transgression of the LAW" 1 John 3:4
  4. zippy2006

    zippy2006 Dragonsworn

    United States
    This is a nice post, though I think you could flesh out what the Christian good is in more detail. Unlike the other parts of your post, you gave no scriptural support for that, and your explanation of the good didn't strike me as characteristically Christian (life, peace, material well-being, etc.). Christians do seek those things, but so does everyone else.

    Thanks for your thoughts!
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  5. public hermit

    public hermit social troglodyte Supporter

    United States
    Great post. I agree. I would sum up "the good" as that which leads to/works in favor of life, which is what I think you are saying. "I came so that they may have life and have it in abundance" John 10.10. All of those things you mentioned are examples of that which works in favor of life (i.e. not just mere existence but meaningful life).
  6. Evan Jellicoe

    Evan Jellicoe Well-Known Member

    United States
    I thought the first post was rather long as it was.
    What I am actually trying to do is show how if you take a list of generally-agreed-upon "good" things, each of those can be categorized as either life, or peace, or material well-being. If you "flesh out" each category a little bit, so that love and joy and every other spiritual good thing are listed together with peace (which I could have called "contentment" or "happiness"), while health would be part of material well-being, you can see where each individual fruit of the Spirit would harmonize with peace, while each of the Ten Commandments results in one or another of those goals being met. In other words, there is a reason why "Thou shalt not steal" is a good thing. It leads to material well-being for everybody, and contributes to peace. "Thou shalt not commit adultery" most certainly leads to peace. "Honor thy father and they mother" is expressly said to lead to long life. And so on. And that comes back to my point that general moral commands are not just arbitrary tests of obedience. Specific commands given to a person, such as Abraham being commanded to offer up Isaac, may be tests of faith and obedience, but the general moral commands are not arbitrary; they are intended to produce a good result, and this is all about what qualifies as "good" and what is "bad" or "evil." "Moral" behavior always leads toward something that is good.
  7. Ken-1122

    Ken-1122 Newbie

    A friend of mine had parents who were racist. When my friend became an adult, he did not honor his parents by becoming a racist himself, he rejected racism and began loving everybody equally regardless of race. Eventually his parents changed and became more tolerant as well. Honoring your father and mother does not always lead to peace, and well-being.

    What about
    *Remember the Sabbath and keeping it holy?
    *Thou shalt not make Idols
    *Don’t use God’s name in vain
    *Thou shalt have no other Gods before me
    It seems at least half of the commandments are more about religious dogma than peace and well-being.
    I think if the commandments were about peace and well-being, they would include commandments like

    *Thou shalt not use my name to justify war
    *Thou shalt not use my name to justify hatred
    *Thou shalt not use my name to justify harming another.
  8. Evan Jellicoe

    Evan Jellicoe Well-Known Member

    United States
    "Long life" in return for honoring parents is a general principle, not a firm, money-back guarantee in every case. The point was that life is held out as a reward, implying that long life is a good thing in and of itself.

    Half of the Commandments are about "religious dogma." Well, four of them, which is almost half. It is commonly believed (and I agree), that when Moses brought the Commandments down from the mountain written on two stone tablets, one of the tablets had the commandments related to "Love God with all your heart" and the other had the ones related to "Love your neighbor as yourself." This of course refers back to Jesus' statement that the "great commandment" was to love God (quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 rather than any one of the Ten), and that there is another like it, "Love your neighbor as yourself," which is a quote from Leviticus 19:18. Whether or not Commandments 1-4 were literally on one tablet and 5-10 on the other, it is still common to refer to "the two tables (tablets) of the Law" as referring to those that involve loving God, and those that involve loving one's neighbor.

    I don't disagree with your final suggestions at all, but remember that the point I am making is simply that moral laws are not arbitrary hoops to jump through, but actually have a purpose, which is to lead people toward actions that bring good rather than evil.