Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Whatever happened to ethics in America?

Ethics deals with what is morally right and wrong. In all societies, ethics form the “yardstick” for the application of human life. They determine what is right and wrong. In short, they determine the morals by which people live. Without them, people fail to do what they really should. We can see this today throughout our society, especially with the most recent financial crisis. It seems that many of our financial leaders have lost their sense of ethics and as a result care more about how to get the most for themselves than doing what is right for society as a whole. So how did we get into this mess?

One of the major reasons there is a dampening understanding of ethics and morality in America today is because we have placed far too great an emphasis on society and culture as the ethical source. In order for humanity to have morals it must have an unchanging reference point upon which to base them. Otherwise morality, like humanity, will change and be applied based upon the self interest of the person or persons in power. Morals would be based on opinions. Any measurement of what is right or wrong would be just someone’s opinion and may or may not be acceptable to anyone else. This is much of the problem we face today. We are living a moral code based upon opinions. As we can see, this simply doesn't work.

I would like to offer you another option, one which I believe is far better. You see, since we are created in God’s image, we have a built in moral compass if we would only use it. It's called the Moral Law and it should really be the absolute reference point for all of humanity. Every culture has a sense that certain things are just morally wrong. For example, every culture believes murder is wrong although its understanding of what constitutes murder may be entirely different. Basically, the signpost that directs us to the Moral Law is the simple question, “How would I like to be treated in this situation?” We know how we should treat others because we know how we want to be treated. Even those who engage in torture know that they don't want to be tortured.

Former atheist turned Christian writer, C.S. Lewis, said it best when he said: “As an atheist my argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 45)

So how do we know there is a Moral Law? Here are a few things that point us to that conclusion:

1. We react to wrongs done to us. How do we know what was done was really wrong?
2. We wouldn’t know there was injustice unless justice existed.
3. Real moral disagreements wouldn’t be possible without the Moral Law. We couldn’t determine whether it was Mother Teresa or Hitler who represented the better person.
4. We must have something to relate to in order to have something relative.
5. If there is no Moral Law, then we wouldn't make excuses for breaking it.
6. If there is no moral absolute, then how would we know if the world was getting worse or better.

The truth is there is a moral code/law programmed into each of us. It may be flawed because of sin, but it is there none the less. It couldn’t come from humanity or else we could not ever know that there is such a thing as right or wrong. You see, there must be an absolute right that transcends humanity, or we would not have any way of knowing that anything is ever wrong! Therefore, this moral law/sense of right and wrong must come from an absolute lawgiver – God. If our nation, its leaders, and its people want to regain an ethical perspective towards life and live out moral principles, then we must learn to listen and follow God and that moral compass God has programmed within us. And we must make decisions and take actions towards others based upon how we would want them to act towards us. I think this is what Jesus had in mind in Luke 6:31 when He said, "Do to others as you would have them do to you."

Dr. Richard Tompkins

2 comments:

chandler said...

these are great points. i know a lot of people that believe that "what's true for me is true for me, and what's true for you is true for you," which is of course false.

i'll be sure to refer them to this post.

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