Two contributors present brief
essays in response to some perennial questions. Each writes
independently of the other. One comes from a person closely linked to a
Christian denomination. The other comes from a person at the fringes of
the traditional Church.
2. Are there immutable moral
principles that apply at all times and in all circumstances?
Some say there is no reality beyond the
material, that human existence is but the result of chance evolution,
and morality is simply another name for the tools humans use to get
along or gain advantage over one another.
I consider morality as beginning with the rise of consciousness. Then
humankind was forced to recognize the consequences of behavior toward
others as well as to self. Experience taught that life was to be
protected and cultivated as opposed to destroying it. Self respect was
recognized as an essential foundation for good living and citizenship
and self respect in turn led to respect for the same in others.
All these qualities led to the development of communal living and
society wherein the same principles applied. This accumulation of
consciousness led humankind to the inevitable question, who or what
created all this and what does our existence mean?
Over many millennia, progressive experience resulted in codes of law
and morality. The Ten Commandments are an example. Two thousand years
ago Jesus Christ arose to embody all our human concerns and serve as a
model for living that is unsullied and endures to the present.
Here is the sticking point. Is our morality solely a product of our
physical nature that derives from chance evolution and always rests on a
fragile base of circumstance? Can we really know right from wrong if we
don�t know the context of the moral setting? Some contend that given the
fluidity and uncertainty of human life there can be no immutable moral
principles if we are going to live effective lives and adapt to the
modern world. Our actions must always be seen in context and we must be
equipped with adjustable principles to meet an array of challenges.
On the other hand I assert that the foundations of morality were
created by the Creator of the physical universe. They are as fundamental
as any physical law and are deeply embedded in our beings. At times the
moral template may be difficult and ambiguous to lay over modern
circumstances. Nevertheless, the timeless and immutable principles of
respect for human life, respect for individual dignity, respect for
personal integrity, and concern for ones neighbor and society are
sufficient to approach any contemporary moral dilemma.
It may be asked, why must we invoke God as the source of morality?
This is a choice that derives from one�s conception of reality. It is
based on the conviction there is an immaterial reality beyond or along
side the physical material universe. It asserts there is a God, a
divinity who has created us and our morality.
Where there is no firm basis and source of morality there is "moral
relativism". Morality is then the hand maiden of power, money, social
status, race or any inequality that gives undue preference in society.
The tension between moral relativism and its opposite, "authoritative
morality", has gone on for ages. Invoking God and Jesus Christ tips the
balance to the authoritative side.
I have avoided using the term "absolute" morality because of its
pejorative character. I prefer the term "authoritative morality." Full
well do I know that what I call authoritative morality has often been
corrupted by representatives of the church and others with pretensions
to representing God. This fact in no way invalidates the idea there is a
God-given bedrock of morality that at times may seem obscure and far
away but nevertheless exists and endures.
Soon after dawn on 6 August, 1945, the Enola Gay
dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima in Japan. Within seconds 70 000
people were dead or dying.
Days later Japan surrendered and the Pacific war ended.
United States President, Harry Truman, had been faced by a tormenting
decision. Should the bomb be used? Some advisors thought the
consequences too terrible. Others held that Japan had to be shocked into
submission. If not, millions more might die in protracted fighting.
So "Little Boy" was dropped. The USA Bombing Survey later stated that
the Japanese "would have surrendered prior to November first  in
The question arises: "Was the choice to drop Little Boy morally
There are two possible sources of morality. First, laws governing our
behaviour may come from God. If so, they must by definition be absolute
since God can't be wrong. This is the standpoint of traditional
Christianity. God has "spoken" through the Bible, which can be consulted
in any moral dilemma.
Alternatively, we might ourselves be the authors of morality.
However, when we talk of morality we don't usually mean laws passed by a
government. These derive from a social contract, not from God. Human
laws change and penalties for disobeying them are finite.
Paul recognised that absolute laws inevitably create sinners. The
Hebrew Torah only "makes us know that we have sinned" and "brings
down God's anger". His solution was, "If you love others, you will never
do them wrong."
He was echoing Jesus, who said that love overrides moral laws.
Augustine of Hippo later took him up. "Dilige et quod vis, fac,"
he wrote: "Love with care and then what you decide, do".
The Christian position, then, is that the only moral absolute is
To love is to give. Love encompasses everyone - even an enemy, said
In contrast, the moralist gets trapped into an ever-increasing maze
of rules in trying to cope with reality. If he or she wishes to act
lovingly, exceptions to the laws must be sought. Casuistry becomes a way
On the other hand, the person who loves is free, for love is always
right. Love is essentially calculating. Provided we weigh up the pros
and cons of a situation, and provided we factor in the human element
with utmost care, whatever we choose is loving and therefore right
- regardless of the actual outcome.
Provided Harry Truman and his aides agonised over the best possible
outcome for the most people, their choice was morally right even if
tactically wrong. The "wrong" thing done in love is right. That's why T
S Eliot wrote,
The supreme treason
is to do the right thing
for the wrong reason.
What is right is not revealed by moral principles. It is revealed by
the facts interpreted as best we can for the good of all. To love is to
choose as best we can for the good of others and ourselves.
The Church therefore fails when moral rules and not love are at the
heart of its teaching and practice.