Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time (Col 4:5).
Lesson 2: WHY MORALITY MATTERS
Read Jeremiah 6:1-30.
Are we discarding our values in the name of tolerance? How can we know which values are cultural and which ones are universal?
Distinguishing Between Relative and Absolute Morality
According to research led by Notre Dame professor Christian Smith, we live in a world of increasing moral relativism. Behavior might be right for some people, but not for others. So, we can’t judge anyone. While we embrace empathy and acceptance for all people, many make the mistake of discarding values in the name of tolerance.
Every society must agree upon a set of values or morals by which they will live. The secret is to insure they’re fair and just for everyone, and that people agree upon those values. These might just be relative morals — ones that may not be true for everyone on earth — but they become the guidelines for life in that society. I believe, however, there are a handful of timeless morals that all humans must agree to live by if we have any hope to survive and thrive. In the same way there are relative truths and absolute truths, morals fit into one of these two categories. For example:
Relative Truth: It is proper to drive on the right-hand side of the road.
(This is relative because it’s true in America, but not in Britain and other nations.)
Absolute Truth: If you jump off a hundred-foot cliff, you will drop a hundred feet.
(This is absolute because the law of gravity works regardless of where you live.)
I believe it’s essential to help others think more deeply about morality and ethics. Most of the students Dr. Smith and his colleagues interviewed had a superficial view of life and had not considered the ramifications of their morals. In short, they had not critically reflected on what the world would look like if everyone adopted their morals. This is one of the reasons our world finds itself in its current chaotic state.
There are thousands of perspectives on what’s right and wrong, and conflict arises when one group feels “judged” by another based on their particular view. So for many, it’s not politically correct to judge anything or anyone. Incidentally, I agree we all need a push toward empathy and to embrace a variety of people who, until now, had felt marginalized by society.
This doesn’t mean we throw all judgment out (consider John 7:24). While the list isn’t likely long, we must maintain a universal set of values, ethics and morals among all humanity. But as the pendulum of history swung from black and white to gray, we’ve become afraid to do so. Have you noticed the drift away from any judgment or evaluation of behavior for fear it’s improper? In the name of tolerance, our ability to possess wise judgment evaporates.
Amoral Leads To Apathy
To live by ethics and values means you are a “moral” person. When you have no set of ethics or values, you become “amoral.” You are neither for, nor against any values (Lk 11:23 ). Many in our society today are amoral. They won’t judge anyone or anything. Sadly, however, this apparent progress actually leads to “apathy,” which means without pathos. “Pathos” means to feel emotion, pity or passion. When one is apathetic, they have no passion (Isa 32:9-14).
In our fight for tolerance and against judgment of others, we sadly become people afraid to feel strongly about anything. We’ve moved toward apathy. We have no pathos left for things we should, like faith, our country or neighbors. We become self-absorbed and fail to experience lasting marriages, families, companies or friendships. We have no firm convictions about anything outside. We would die for nothing. We merely care about ourselves.
The Plumb Line
“Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Behold, I am bringing upon Jerusalem and Judah such disaster that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle. And I will stretch over Jerusalem the measuring line of Samaria, and the plumb line of the house of Ahab, and I will wipe Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down.” - 2 Kgs 21:12-13.
“And I will make justice the line, and righteousness the plumb line; and hail will sweep away the refuge of lies, and waters will overwhelm the shelter.” -Isa 28:17.
Do you know what a plumb line is? People used a plumb line to determine reality. It’s a long string or cable fishermen would toss into the ocean to discover how deep the water was. Builders also used it to discover if a wall was crooked. They could hold the line next to a structure and gravity would pull it straight down, enabling them to see precisely how straight the building was.
At the risk of oversimplifying, we need a plumb line for our morals today — an outside source that helps us evaluate our shifting morals, so they aren’t merely reflections of what gives us pleasure, what others think or feel, or even what gets us where we want to go. That source is God’s word, and adherence to it. With this, history could have avoided the holocaust that Adolf Hitler led against the ethnic races he chose to exterminate, or the later ethnic cleansings in Rwanda and Serbia. For that matter, we might have avoided the corruption of Joseph Stalin or Saddam Hussein. How strange to see modern people committing such atrocities. It would have been good to have a plumb line for all to see their morals were crooked.
To some, it seems meaningless to bring up "old", "stale", "traditional values". Today, adults are often afraid to bring up traditional values to students because they appear “old-fashioned.” I simply propose that old doesn’t equal irrelevant. Isn’t it possible that “old” could mean timeless? Even though our world population now contains over seven billion people, could we say (for instance) that love, honesty and empathy are timeless and universal for all people?
Discerning The Timeless vs. The Cultural
Mature Christians can separate which values are cultural and which are timeless. Mature Christians are able to communicate to others which values come and go with the times and which don’t change regardless of what the norm is in popular culture
Morality Among Young People (Psa 119:9)
Dr. Smith and his team outline five patterns in their study with college students. The patterns demonstrate an evolution in the source of their morality:
1) Morals are determined by results or consequences. A growing percentage of students possess very fuzzy morals, and when pressed to explain them, the morals developed purely from the results they produced. In other words, it is right to do something if it got you where you wanted to go. The end justifies the means. If you don’t get caught, it’s okay. It’s why 75 percent of college students cheat on tests to get the grade they want, but when caught, generally agree it was wrong. It was right for them only if they got away with it. It’s situational morality.
2) Morals are determined by pleasure or happiness. Approximately 40 percent of students had developed a morality based upon how it made others feel around them. Something is judged as right or wrong if your boyfriend agreed with it, or if your BFFs felt good about it. In short, it’s right if the people around you believe it’s right at the time. This might be expressed in words like, “If it makes everyone happy, then it must be right.” Happiness is the gauge. This, too, is situational morality–just consider how much feelings fluctuate among adolescents. What’s more, there are times when standing for what’s right is hard, not pleasurable.
3) Morals are determined by reputation or appearance. The majority of emerging adults professed to believe in right and wrong morals, but have no objective source with which to reference it. Instead, morality is defined by what other people would think of them if they behaved in a certain manner. How would it look if I stole something? How would it appear if I hooked up with her? It’s the Facebook Rule, where appearances and reputation govern what we do. This, quite frankly, is a slippery slope, where morality fluctuates with public opinion.
4) Morals are determined by context or environment. Some students (34 percent) reported they do believe in specific moral truths, but realize they do so because they were raised in a particular culture that teaches right and wrong. They could not project those morals on all human beings. While I applaud their cultural sensitivity, when we view life this way, we cannot expect terrorists to do anything but continue their mass killings on other nations, nor can we judge them for it, as they developed different values than the rest of the world.
5) Morals are determined by affect or influence. More than 53 percent of students say they can determine if something is moral or right if it doesn’t hurt someone else. I hear this all the time: “Yes, I had sex with her. Even though she’s engaged, but it didn’t hurt anyone.” Or, “yes, I took some petty cash from the organization, but they’re rich. They’ll never miss it.” It’s a subjective compass that allows for immorality solely based on how it affects or doesn’t affect others. Again, this is a slippery slope, where opinion dictates what’s right or wrong.
The truth is, as culture becomes filled with new realities–including technology, innovations and lifestyles — it becomes difficult for adolescents to distinguish between what is cultural and what is timeless. It has always been “cool” for young adults to be progressive, but today, teens and twenty-something's are failing to be able to judge anything as absolutely “right” and “wrong.” There is, in fact, a moral relativism residing in millions of them.
We must remember that God alone sets the ultimate standards of right and wrong, for all people, "I the LORD speak the truth, I declare what is right." -Isa 45:19.
Walking In Godly Wisdom, Lesson 2 Questions
1) According to research done by Dr. Smith, into what moral direction is the world headed?
2) What grave mistake do some people make in their efforts to be tolerant and empathetic towards others? Give examples.
3) What does "Amoral" mean? What are its dangers? Provide at least one Biblical Scripture which speaks against amoralism.
4) Should all people fall under one concept of morality? If so, why and how? (see Acts 17:30-31; Titus 2:11-12).
5) Why do you think the topic of morality so important for our young people?