Posts Tagged ‘Morality’

20140621-122649-44809928.jpgImage title Playing Safe by Brett Jordan through a CC 2.0 Attribution License

“Although morality is arguably just as murky for the religious, at least there is some bedrock belief that gives a reason to believe that morality is real and will prevail. In an atheist universe, morality can be rejected without external sanction at any point, and without a clear, compelling reason to believe in its reality, that’s exactly what will sometimes happen.”

Read that last section carefully, because Baggini is arguing, as we have argued here many times, that atheists have a hard time grounding morality, much harder than the religious do.  Speaking to his atheists friends, he says, “Anyone who thinks it’s easy to ground ethics either hasn’t done much moral philosophy or wasn’t concentrating when they did.”

Baggini also admits that “in an atheist universe, morality can be rejected without external sanction at any point, and without a clear, compelling reason to believe in its reality, that’s exactly what will sometimes happen.”  In other words, on atheism, the ability to rationally reject morality is built into the system.  There is nothing that ultimately guarantees that morality can be grounded, and so an atheist who decides that morality is simply optional is within their rational rights to do so.  And, according to Baggini, that is exactly what sometimes happens.” — Bill Pratt

via Can Atheism Lead to Nihilism? | Tough Questions Answered.

simul iustus et peccator,

Eric Adams

20140329-112003.jpg This image was created by Dauster, under this Creative Commons license .

My wife Lisa loves to watch HGTV on Saturday mornings. However, I have discovered that whenever it’s on, I am in danger of breaking several of the Ten Commandments, like:

No. 3- You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, because I get angry when people complain about how terrible their already-beautiful home is, and I want to cuss.

No. 6- You shall not murder, because I want to kill the home-improvement gurus for spending way too much time and money on a stupid side project that is pretty much useless.

No. 9- You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor, because I want to call people bad names for never choosing the new home instead of their remodeled current home…every single time.

And No. 10- You shall not covet your neighbor’s house…’cause it’s always better than my own…even when they’re purposely showing a bad one to contrast the makeover or the alternative house.

These are the musings of a frustrated armchair carpenter.

simul iustus et peccator,

Eric Adams.

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Bioethics from a Christian Perspective

In my previous post, I wrote about my purpose for starting this series. Today, I want to begin to explore bio-ethics from a Christian perspective. 

Most discussions about any type of bio-ethics begins by covering autonomy. I’m no bioethicist, but I’ll do my best.

The way normal secular medical ethics proceeds is on the principles of:

  1. Autonomy,
  2. Beneficence,
  3. non-maleficence,
  4. and Justice

These aren’t magical formulas, as the current debates demonstrate. Not everyone agrees on each of these principles. It takes a unifying moral theory, or philosophy, or theological perspective to make the parts weave together into a coherent whole.

“In medical ethics, the principle of autonomy is viewed as essential to patients rights. Flowing from it are the right to informed consent, the right to self-determination, the right to refuse medical treatment, and so on. These rights are grounded in the principle that human beings deserve respect. Autonomy is crucial to the doctor-patient relationship.”1

That’s all fine and good, but, as the struggle to recognize the rights of the unborn show, deciding exactly who is a person is not that clear-cut to some.

Imago Dei

Of course, for Christians, that’s a no-brainer. After God’s creative acts in the Genesis creation accounts, man becomes the crowning jewel of creation. Although man has many attributes in common with animals, there is one thing that is unique about him. God breaks the pattern of creating things after their own kind.

Genesis 1:24-26

New American Standard Bible (NASB)

24 Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures after their kind: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth after their kind”; and it was so. 25 God made the beasts of the earth after their kind, and the cattle after their kind, and everything that creeps on the ground after its kind; and God saw that it was good.

26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

Man is made in the image of God. The Latin phrase for that is Imago Dei. 

Man, like God, is a personal being. God Himself, as the Bible later reveals, is three persons all sharing one divine essence. Human persons are created beings, and in that regard (as in others) they are similar to and share characteristics with other created beings. But what is most important about human persons is their likeness to God. This likeness is so very special that it sets them apart from all the other creatures God made. Man is not made according to their kinds; he is made according to God’s “kind.” In other words, man is made as the image and likeness of God.’ 2 

From Ligonier Ministries and R.C. Sproul. © Tabletalk magazine. Website: http://www.ligonier.org/tabletalk. Email: tabletalk@ligonier.org. Toll free: 1-800-435-4343

Even though man and woman fell from their lofty position, and that Imago Dei was marred, it wasn’t entirely destroyed. Part of the Noahide Laws prohibit murder on the basis of the Imago Dei.

Genesis 9:6

New American Standard Bible (NASB)

6 “Whoever sheds man’s blood,
By man his blood shall be shed,
For in the image of God
He made man.

Autonomy

Because he images God, man has the ability to be self-determined, or has autonomy. Autonomy literally means “self-law” in the Greek. It was the philosopher Immanuel Kant who coined the phrase “autonomy”, but it was a Biblical principle long before he came on the scene. 

“If morality is to be derived from freedom (autonomy), and if morality must be valid for all rational beings, it looks as if we must prove that the will of a rational being is necessarily free. From a practical point of view every rational agent must presuppose his will to be free. Freedom is a necessary presupposition of all action as well as all thinking.” 3

Autonomy is basic to Western society and thought. In fact, autonomy has become so enshrined in American thought that it frequently turns  into crass individualism. As Christians, we should always balance the rights of the individual with the responsibility of a vocation in community as spouse, parent, family, church, and citizen. None of us are autonomous beyond the natural boundaries of the physical and moral laws set by our Creator. 

“Autonomy is a function that arises only for a rational, moral agent capable of understanding that there are actions he or she is not free to choose.”4

It’s only as rational moral creatures that our autonomy is at best, limited. Unfortunately, there exists today a form of Liberalism that seeks to throw off all community restraint, in favor of a morally groundless, amorphous, vague concept of unprovable “rights”. Trust me, if a state can “give” you rights, it can take them away, as well.

There is tension between the autonomy of the patient, and the autonomy of the doctor. Learning where to draw the line is the difficult part.

Bioethics and the Ten Commandments

As creatures made in the image of God, humanity is to be treated with respect. Because of the Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation motifs found in the Christian worldview, Christians have the unique moral foundation to rationally discuss the meaning of “personhood” and “human dignity”. The Ten Commandments serves as an excellent grid to address morality in light of fallen humanity.

Exodus 20:1-17

New American Standard Bible (NASB)

20 Then God spoke all these words, saying,

2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

3 “You shall have no other gods before Me.

4 “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6 but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.

7 “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.

8 “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you.11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.

12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you.

13 “You shall not murder.

14 “You shall not commit adultery.

15 “You shall not steal.

16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

Please don’t waste your time and mine complaining that this is Old Testament. Jesus reaffirmed each of these commandments Himself, even the Sabbath commandment, which we interpret as applying to Sunday, or some other day of rest.

Luther’s Three Uses of the Law

I appreciate the way the Lutherans view the Ten Commandments. The Second Table of the Law particularly interests me in dealing with ethical problems. It’s always helpful to remember the three uses of the Law as found in Martin Luther’s writings: 

  1. “A curb to keep society in order”
  2. “A mirror to show us our sin”
  3. “And a guide for Christian service to our neighbor”.
The Curb of the Law

I will be quoting from an interesting webpage entitled The Curb of the Law: A Voter’s Guide to the Ten Commandments. It looks at that first use of the Law in relation to voting, but its discussion fits in well with our discussion of bioethics.

We remember, first of all, that the Ten Commandments are given to protect God’s gifts. He created all things good. The Lord want for us good things. We see in the commandments both the gifts that God gives as well as His desire to protect them.”
Understanding the gifts that God gives clarity to the role of government: law and the rule of law serves to protect the gifts of God. And, those serving in government love their neighbor by protecting these same gifts and making and enforcing laws that do the same. “

The fourth commandment is the source of all human government. Before there was the state, and even before there was the church, there was the family: Adam and Eve. It is from the family, then, that authority comes.

In the Large Catechism, Martin Luther says, “For all authority flows and is propagated from the authority of parents.” (I.141) In this way we understand the commandment to honor our father and mother to include all the authorities in creation, including the government. On the other hand, this commandment puts all government in its proper place: serving and protecting families.”5

Authority Flows From the Family to Government, not Vice Versa

All authority flows from the family. This is especially important when confronted with doctors pressure you to do something you’re not ready to do. I have experienced this firsthand. The decision of life or death belongs in the hands of the family. Period. The governments place is to serve and protect families.

The fifth commandment sets government to protect the Lord’s gift of life.

I often hear people talking about quality of life. The Bible knows of no such thing. The Lord has not given to mankind the authority to judge if life is worth living. Life is life, no matter how good or bad it is. Let me be clear, discussions about the quality of life are idolatrous, it assumes that life is here for us to take, measure, judge and even end.

The right to life is the most fundamental human right. Our blatant disregard for human life will mark this as one of the darkest ages of human history. The blood of millions of babies will certainly reach the ears of our heavenly Father. The Lord’s church continues to pray for an end to this mindless slaughter, and to use every opportunity she is given to help save the lives of babies in the womb. Voting is one of those opportunities to love our neighbor, especially our unborn neighbors.”6

My exhausted brother-in-law waiting for a visit with his wife in the CCU

My exhausted brother-in-law waiting for a visit with his wife in the CCU

If you notice the conversations of knowledgeable Christians, they always bookend beginning-of-life ethics (abortion) with end-of-life ethics (euthanasia). It is a gut reaction based on our understanding of the Sanctity of Life, which flows from the Ten Commandments and the Imago Dei. 

All of this discussion may seem stale and academic, until you face the emotional turmoil of trying to make an ethical decision about someone’s life that is important to you. Chances are, you either have had to do this, you will have to do this, or someone will have to make the decision on your own life. Working through these issues will strengthen your faith, and give you godly guidance in a nightmare scenario. This is as real as it gets. With the life expectancy on the rise, and with new technologies pushing the boundaries of medical ethics, we had better do our homework.

*Just a note: I usually don’t have too many original thoughts, which is probably a good thing. This is no exception. Besides the footnotes, I would like to acknowledge the group Life Matters Worldwide, which is sponsored by Baptists For Life. You can visit their site here. Their material has been a godsend to me. Support them if you can.

  1. Mark B. Blocher, Christian Worldview and Medical Ethics: Part 3, Biblical Bioethics Advisor, Vol. 8, Issue 3, Fall 2004
  2. Ross, Mark. “Imago Dei.” Ligonier.org. Ligonier Ministries, 1 Apr. 2013. Web. 14 Jan. 2014. <http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/imago-dei/&gt;.
  3. Kant, Immanuel, and Mary J. Gregor. Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge UP, 1998. Print.
  4. Blocher, ibid.
  5. Wolfmueller, Rev. Bryan. “The Curb of the Law: A Voter’s Guide to the Ten Commandments.”NewVotersGuide. Hope Lutheran Church- Aurora, 2014. Web. 14 Jan. 2014. .
  6. ibid.

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Moral relativism offers no standard, no authority, and no respect.

The only options available to the secular humanist where a standard and authority are concerned are: (1) the natural universe; (2) culture; (3) the individual.

The natural universe isn’t an option as amoral matter cannot produce moral beings nor prescribe moral behavior.

Culture cannot be appealed to as there are many cultures throughout the world, all with different moral standards and practices; there is no way to ascertain which culture is ‘correct’. Culture merely displays what “is” with respect to morality, and even the famous skeptic and antagonist of religion David Hume stated that humanity cannot derive an “ought” from an “is” where morals are concerned.

Lastly, if each individual is used as a standard/authority for morals, the problem seen in using cultures as a moral compass is suddenly compounded exponentially.

Seeing this dilemma, some moral relativists try to say that science can be used to dictate ethics, but even secular scientists admit that science is a descriptive discipline and not a prescriptive one. In addition, its empirical methods are impotent to answer such moral questions such as if the Nazi’s were evil. Einstein sums up the correct position in this matter when he said, “You are right in speaking of the moral foundations of science, but you cannot turn round and speak of the scientific foundations of morality.”[3]

In the end, the moral relativist has no satisfying answer in his/her attempt to respond to the question of if there is anything wrong with anything, and why. There is no standard to turn to and no authority to recognize and respect.”

— Robin Schumacher

via The Problems with Moral Relativism.

simul iustus et peccator,  

Eric Adams 
Rossville, GA 
godsguy12@comcast.net 
christianreasons@gmail.com