Posts tagged ‘LA Times’

Christianity ≠ Morality

One of the topics I address often on this blog is that of morality.  With a collapsing cultural consensus on what morality looks like around issues like human sexuality, childbearing, childrearing, gender, justice, and political discourse – to name only a few examples – offering a Christian perspective on what it means to be moral is, I believe, important and needed.

There is an implicit danger, however, in spending all of one’s energy arguing for a Christian morality in a secular society.  Far too often, when we, as Christians, do nothing more than argue for a Christian morality in the public square, it can begin to appear that Christianity itself is nothing more than a set of moral propositions on controversial questions.  Like in the 1980s, during the height of the Christian Moral Majority, Christianity can be perceived to be conterminous with a particular system of morality.

A couple of years ago, an op-ed piece appeared in the LA Times titled, “How secular family values stack up.”  In it, Phil Zuckerman, a professor of sociology and secular studies at Pitzer College, argues that godless parents do a better job raising their children than do godly parents.  He writes:

Studies have found that secular teenagers are far less likely to care what the “cool kids” think, or express a need to fit in with them, than their religious peers. When these teens mature into “godless” adults, they exhibit less racism than their religious counterparts, according to a 2010 Duke University study. Many psychological studies show that secular grownups tend to be less vengeful, less nationalistic, less militaristic, less authoritarian and more tolerant, on average, than religious adults.

Much of what these kids raised in secular homes grow up to be is good.  A resistance to peer pressure, an eschewing of racism, a willingness to forgive, a measured sobriety about the positives and negatives of one’s country, a desire to avoid violence, a willingness to serve instead of to command, and a charitable tolerance toward all people are certainly all noble traits.  Professor Zuckerman argues that since secular parenting has a statistically higher probability than does Christian parenting of producing children who act morally in these categories, Christian parenting serves no real purpose.  But it is here that he misunderstands the goal of Christian parenting.  The goal of Christian parenting is not to make your kids moral.  It is to share with your kids faith in Christ.  Morality is wonderful, but, in Christianity, faith comes first.

James, the brother of Jesus, describes the proper relationship between Christian morality and Christian faith when he writes:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.  (James 2:14-18)

James here explains the absurdity of claiming to have faith apart from any sort of moral deeds.  He says that if someone claims to have faith and no moral deeds, he really has no faith at all.  He even goes so far as to challenge his readers to show him someone who has faith, but no moral deeds.  This, in James’ mind, is an impossibility.  Why?  Because James knows that faith inevitably produces some sort of moral action.  The real danger is not so much that someone will have faith and no moral action, but that someone will have plenty of moral action and no faith!  Indeed, this is the problem Jesus has with the religious leaders when He says of them, “These people honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me” (Matthew 15:8).  The religious leaders were supremely moral.  But they did not have faith in Christ.

In our crusade to argue for a Christian morality in the midst of a morally relativistic secular society, let us be careful not to spend so much time trying to make people moral that we forget to share with them faith in Christ.  For a Christianity that only makes people moral, ultimately, leads them the to same place that a secular moral relativism does – it leads to death.  Morality, no matter what type of morality it is, cannot offer life.  Only Christ can do that.

We are not here just to try to make people good.  We are here to show people the One who is perfectly good.  Let’s not forget what our real mission really is.

June 26, 2017 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

The Endurance of Ethics

Judge G. Todd Baugh Credit:

Judge G. Todd Baugh

I’m not quite sure if she really believes what she wrote, or if she is just trying to make a name for herself.

When a Montana high school teacher was found guilty of raping one of his 14-year-old students who, two years later, committed suicide, the judge in the case shocked the victim’s family and all those following the trial when he handed down a sentence of a paltry thirty days in prison.  The outrage was quick and hot.  “I don’t believe in justice anymore,” the victim’s mother said in a statement. “She wasn’t even old enough to get a driver’s license.”  A protest organizer against the judge’s verdict noted, “Judges should be protecting our most vulnerable children … not enabling rapists by placing blame on victims.”[1]  It seemed the public disdain for what had transpired – both in the relationship between the teacher and his student and in the sentence that was passed down – was universal.

Except that it wasn’t.

Leave it to Betsy Karasik of the Washington Post to outline – and incite outrage with – an alternative view:

As protesters decry the leniency of Rambold’s sentence – he will spend 30 days in prison after pleading guilty to raping 14-year-old Cherice Morales, who committed suicide at age 16 – I find myself troubled for the opposite reason. I don’t believe that all sexual conduct between underage students and teachers should necessarily be classified as rape, and I believe that absent extenuating circumstances, consensual sexual activity between teachers and students should not be criminalized … There is a vast and extremely nuanced continuum of sexual interactions involving teachers and students, ranging from flirtation to mutual lust to harassment to predatory behavior. Painting all of these behaviors with the same brush sends a damaging message to students and sets the stage for hypocrisy and distortion of the truth.[2]

As I noted at the beginning of this post, I’m not quite sure if Karasik really believes what she wrote, or if she is just trying to make a name for herself.  If it’s the latter, she has certainly succeeded.  Her words have caused a big stir, as a perusal of the Washington Post’s comments section will readily reveal.  Words like “disgusting,” “sick,” and “ridiculous” pepper the comments section of her article.

So why all the outrage over a woman who argues for the legality of teacher-student sexual relations?  The answer is traditional ethics.  And, more specifically, traditional sexual ethics.  In a culture that sanctions all sorts of sexual shenanigans, our ethical compass on statutory rape stands strong.  And this is good – not only for the victims of these crimes, but for society at large.  Though I do not always agree with the way in which some express outrage at immorality, it is nevertheless important to note how our society’s occasional bursts of ethical outrage indicate that, despite our culture’s best attempts at relativizing and minimizing all sorts of ethical standards, traditional ethical standards just won’t die.  They are here to stay.

The nihilist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche famously sought to replace traditional ethical standards with one ethical standard – that of power.  “What is good?” Nietzsche asked, “All that heightens the feeling of power in man, the will to power, power itself.  What is bad?  All that is born of weakness.  What is happiness?  The feeling that power is growing, that resistance is overcome.”[3]  For Nietzsche, traditional notions of good and evil, right and wrong, needed to be discarded in favor of whatever gained a person the most power.  This is why Nietzsche so vehemently railed against Christianity.  He regarded Christianity as the font and foundation of a fundamentally broken ethic that favored servility over supremacy.  Nietzsche wrote of Christianity:

I regard Christianity as the most fatal and seductive lie that has ever yet existed – as the greatest and most impious lie: I can discern the last sprouts and branches of its ideal beneath every form of disguise, I decline to enter into any compromise or false position in reference to it – I urge people to declare open war with it.[4]

According to Nietzsche, Christianity’s ethics had to be destroyed so an ethic of power might prevail.  But here’s the funny thing about Nietzsche’s quest to destroy Christian ethics:  in his quest to destroy Christian ethics, he appeals to a Christian ethic – that of truthfulness.  He calls Christianity a “fatal and seductive lie.”  Using Nietzsche’s own ethical standard, I am compelled to ask, “So what?  If this fatal and seductive lie has led to the ascendency of Christian power, and power is the ultimate good, what’s the problem?”

Yes, traditional ethics – even in a Nietzschean nihilist worldview – stubbornly rear their heads.  Yes, traditional ethics – even in our sexually saturated civilization – continue to inform our moral outrages.  Traditional ethics just won’t die.

But why won’t they die, despite our most valiant efforts to vanquish them?

Maybe, just maybe, it’s because traditional ethics are true.  And maybe, just maybe, truth has a pull on the human heart that can be clouded by lies of relativism and nihilism, but never eclipsed.  And for that, I thank God.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).

[1] Christine Mai-Duc, “Judge in rape case criticized for light sentence, remarks about victim,” Los Angeles Times (8.28.2013).

[2] Betsy Karasik, “The unintended consequences of laws addressing sex between teachers and students,” Washington Post (8.30.2013).

[3] Friedrich Nietzsche, The Antichrist, H.L. Mencken, trans. (New York:  Alfred A. Knopf, 1920), 42-43.

[4] Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will To Power, 2 vols., Anthony M. Ludovici, trans. ( Publishing, 2010), 82.

September 9, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

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