Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Moral Liberation?

The NY Times recently ran a story about their polling efforts of Kerry and Bush voters in regard to moral views. What came out of the poll, and what has been discussed almost ad naseum since the election, is that there is a significant portion of our society who is afraid of people who hold religious views. One little segment of the article pointed out that a significant portion of voters were worried about candidates who were “too close to religion and religious leaders.” Although the context of the Times article was political, the point of this post is a bit more philosophical. I would like to comment on what seems to be a growing view of religion, morality, and the public square.

I think what is coming out in these kinds of polls and punditry is a kind of moral calculus which can be described this way:

Religious/Absolute moral standards=moral constriction (read “evil”) and lead to intolerant (read “evil”) behavior.


The only good moral code is non-religious and allows for a greater moral flexibility and freedom.

Is this kind of moral freedom good for humanity?

I think those who think and argue along these lines have lost track of some very important historical and sociological lessons. Hitler went wrong in part because he freed himself from the Christian ethic “love thy neighbor.” The Crusades went wrong for the same reason. The excesses of a consumer culture are a result of freeing ourselves from the Christian ethic, “You shall have no other gods before me.” Dysfunctional families are dysfunctional in large part because people feel liberated from the Christian moral codes “You shall not commit adultery” and “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house….” Sexually transmitted diseases are rampant in our pharmaceutically rich nation because people don’t feel constrained by the Christian ethic of Chastity.

The teleology of the human moral structure is analogous to the teleological structure of something like a watch. If you liberate your watch from your wrist and try to use it to sail to England, you will not fare well; if your liberated watch and you engage in a dual in which you feel it discriminatory to not allow your watch to not take part, it will be a short and one-sided duel indeed. One will discover that a watch functions best, and will function successfully, when it is used in the context for which it was created.

So it is with the human moral structure. Francis Schaeffer has famously said that though people disagree with God, they are still beings created in his image and living in the world He crafted. In other words, people may try to liberate themselves morally, but they will be uncomfortable and uneasy until they find themselves back in the hands of the God who created them. Paradoxically, it is the Christian moral structure which provides us with the freedom to really be human.

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