Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Morality, Integrity, Legalism

Ambra Nykol is writing about morality. Its pretty good, but a little simplistic at times. Its not exactly a good thing for a Baptist to say that your are morally simplistic. She clarifies a lot in the comments though. A few thoughts I may have said before:

Absolute Morality

At some level, there must be absolutes. We live in the same world and the same reality. Being of the religious persuasion, I believe ultimately there is one God over us all. Although we can debate forever whether He is Jehovah, Allah, or Brahma and what form His character takes, fundamentally I believe absolute morals must be founding in the being of the Almighty.

However morality is also incredibly complex. While morals are absolute applications of them are very very relative. Moral judgments often take the form of tradeoffs and this creates the "grey area" phenomenon. Which action is "righter"? How do you judge? I guess I could go with Jimmy Cricket and say "always let your conscience be your guide." Except that Romans says your conscience can be subverted. So careful thought and prayer (since morality is grounded in God) would be a good idea.

Similarly you can't just say that "well when I was in this situation I did this so you should too". In case you didn't notice, you aren't me and that subtly changes things as well. I can morally go into a bar and have a drink. If you are an alcoholic or underage, you cannot. Who you are plays a big part in how you should decide some questions. What temptations are you personally susceptible to? How does that effect your judgment? Do I share those problems?

Similarly I may decide differently based on the other people involved. I can go into a bar with one friend and drink, but perhaps not with another who has issues with that. Think about Paul's prohibitions about the spiritually weak here.

While morality is deterministic and absolute, it is also complex and we don't know all the variables. Words like "usually" and "probably" do matter when we answer these questions, because our understanding of the situation is rarely complete. In a very real way God is the only one capable of making a complete judgement of our morals.


People can have a grand old time questioning people's integrity because of the above.

Integrity at its heart is one-ness. You are the same person at work, at church, at home, with that cute blonde in the corner, etc. It actually doesn't necessarily imply good ethics or morals. Someone can have integrity and still be a jackass, as long as he is a consistent jackass.

However the complexity of morality means you are allowed to decide differently in different cases and still be moral. "You forgave him, so you have to forgive me." "But he was repentant and you aren't." Am I being inconsistent or lacking integrity? No, the situations are different. Be careful throwing "lack of integrity" criticism around.

Legislating Morality

One of the most oft repeated phrases on the internet is Barry Goldwater's "You can't legislate morality." It is utter bullshit. Yeah I know, I just went from wishy washy to absolutist. But really, what are laws if not legislated morality? We legislate morality all the time when you think about it. This only comes up when people don't agree with specific morals you are legislating.

So what this phrase more often means is that you can't impose morality through legislation. This is incorrect as well of course. The civil rights legislation of the sixties and seventies has, by and large, resulted in the decline of racism in this country. It was imposed on a large part of the country from above and they didn't like it. Just like with the debate over slavery a century before, they have lost.

No comments: