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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Absolutely Absolute

A few days back, I raised the question about moral absolutes. Are there ethics or moral that broadly apply to every person in every culture in such a way that we would say they are an absolute rule of practice. In discussing absolutes, most philosophers bring up broad terms such as lying and murder always being wrong, and protecting life and defending the innocent as always right.

The problem that "absolutists" run into is when two absolutes collide. (I've learned in ethics that you can make up words to suite your fancy, so therefore if you believe in absolutes, I now call you and "absolutist") What if a mad-man is waving a gun, promising to kill your friend and demanding to know their where-abouts. In this case, two absolutes (not lying and protecting life) would be at odds and therefore you would have to choose to break one of the absolutes. In so doing, you would no longer call that an absolute because there is a situation in which that "law" no longer applies.

There are many ways to deal with this. Some call for an ethic of the "lesser evil". Others call for one of always doing the "greatest good." A method presented in class that I have found appealing is the idea that we don't trust in absolutes; rather, we trust in the Absolute One. We believe in God as the only absolute and we enter into relationship with Him. His commands carry obvious weight, but the absoluteness (I think that's another new word) is not in His commands, but in God Himself. So the reason we obey a command, such as not lying, is because an absolute God has shown us this is the best way to live. But, in a situation where lying, and say loving our neighbor, are in conflict, we are able to choose rightly by looking to God and his love for us rather than trying to decide between two moral laws.

Have I lost you? If not, good. Thanks for reading this far. I hope that my class experience here is serving to at least make you think more deeply about why we do what we do.

When we face an ethical dilemma, (a choice where either way we are violating a moral law) how do we decide what is right? In other words, how might we discern God's leading in issues not specifically addressed by Scripture?


Britt said...

That's almost too hard to answer without having a particular situation in mind... Off the cuff, I'd say that in those "darned if you do, darned if you don't" situations I pick whichever one I can live with the most. Maybe not the one that is necessarily the easiest, but the choice that enables me to still face myself in the mirror.

Marcia said...

I think it comes down to love. Love God, love your neighbor. Is lying to the mad-man showing love to your "neighbor"? I'd say so.