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Monday, February 09, 2009

Morality is Wrong?

What a great day of class. This is always the part of my two-week trip that starts to get long. So I am always appreciative of Bethel's approach to these classes. The first week is typically much more heady and theoretical (Greek), while the second week tends toward more practical, here-and-now discussions. This week, I am in ethics, which is a welcomed change of pace from learning Biblical Greek.

I approached this class with the belief that ethics would primarily be about developing a system to determine right from wrong. In other words, I figured that ethics was all about morality. So imagine my surprise when one of our professor's first statements went something like this, "The problem is not that we are immoral. The problem is that we are moral." What!?!

Yes, that was my response. But, somewhat surprisingly, by the end of our first morning together I found myself coming to some agreement with his position. Here's the line of reasoning.

In the garden of Eden (yes, we have to go all the way back to our beginning), God created Adam and Eve as two people in perfect relationship with Him. The word we use for people in right relationship with God is "righteous." Try and forget all the other connotations you may have of the word righteous, because it fundamentally means to be in right standing with God. Anyway, God gave them free reign of the garden, except for a tree in the middle, of which he said they may not eat. You know the story- Satan slithered by and convinced them to eat, and their eyes were opened. As a result of this, God says, "now they have become like us, knowing good and evil." In other words, knowledge of good and evil (morality) was a result of fallen humanity. God's intention was for us to be rightoues, but instead we became moral. The foundational problem with this is that our purpose as humans shifted from living under God's true word to becoming our own moral compass. WE became the moral compass to try and determine right and wrong.

So, from this, all human attempts at being good are doomed to fail, because we inherently base these judgments off of our fallen perceptions. The true call to ethics is to return to God's intended design- righteousness. In other words, we become truly ethical when we give-up trying to be moral and simply enter into right relationship with God by living in obedience to His words. As we saw in the life of Jesus in John 12 a few weeks ago at church, this is the true path for human freedom. It is out of this right relationship that we can then begin to make decisions regarding right and wrong, good and evil. Because in this world, there is still good, and there is still evil. Yet our hope of living for the good and shunning the evil is not found in good and evil themselves, but in right relationship with our Creator. Make sense? Do you agree? Have I totally lost you?


Over the past few years, you've likely seen the provocative Super Bowl commercials put out by Here's my question for you: is it ethically wrong for a church to hire to host their website? I leave the question open...please respond below.


Anonymous said...

Am I the only one reading your blog?? Hmmm...anyway, this one made me think a bit (which is always a dangerous thing), so I waited to post anything until I had mulled it over sufficiently :D I was hoping that someone would respond in the mean time, but I guess other people must be mulling it over as well.

So, in college I took an ethics class. To put the entire class in a nutshell, ethics were rights and wrongs that were generally accepted and inherent in MOST cultures. Things like murder, theft, rape, child molestation, cheating, physical violence without provocation, etc. Now, to every ethical "rule", there are exceptions that can be found (yes, to EVERY one of those), but these exceptions were generally looked at as a society's attempt to moralize an ethical issue.

Now we overlay that worldly understanding of ethics with the Christian perspective of ethics. There are similarities, but there are differences as well. Under worldly ethics, many of our Christian ethics would fall under the definition of morality for any place that it adds a layer or a "rule" to what is or should be right and wrong. Let's look at the idea of sex outside of marriage. Anyone can turn on the tv or radio, open a magazine or newspaper, or talk with friends or co-workers and learn that our society, and many other countries, does not hold this to be a "truth" or an ethical standard. This is our Christian morality (as the world sees it), although by your definition it would be an ethical rule, right?

What I hear you saying is that ethics are those things that are always right (good) and always wrong (evil), and our human attempt to understand and live by those ethics is how we get our moral "law" or "code".

For instance, where the Bible states that you shouldn't be drunk on wine, we attempt to interpret that and set rules to make sure we obey. So, some churches say that means no alcohol at all, while others say that a little is o.k., excess is not. But even a little is subjective, right? How do I know when I'm drunk? Is it when I feel it at all? Is it when I am legally drunk under the statute, is it when I black out? Our moral compass will dictate just what "drunk" really means.

O.k...that all was a really long intro., right? I guess I want to make sure I am getting where you are coming from and you get where I'm coming from, so my answer to your question will make sense. :D

To answer your question, a church using is NOT unethical. I don't see where it falls under an absolute evil by God's definition or keeps me from having right standing with God. And, because morality is subjective, I personally don't find it immoral either. However, I understand where some would think so.

Did you go online and watch the full advertisements? The one with the shower scene was totally hilarious and I personally didn't find it offensive at all. The second one...definitely more risque than the first, but nothing more risque than what I've already seen during daytime hours on other commercials. was using an advertising tactic to get you to go to their website.

If it is unethical for a church to use them, then you are opening up a whole can of worms and sliding down a slippery slope. As a pastor, are you then beholden to this rule that you cannot patronize any business that may advertise in this manner? What about if the person who owns the business is actively using drugs? What if they are a swinger?

Better not shop at Old Navy, Hollister, American Eagle, Abercrombie and Fitch, Victoria's Secret, or ANY other store that has ever used sex to sell something. Forget about most jeans or cologne too...ever seen some of those Levis commercials? Racy! What about razor blades? What about those herbal essences shampoo commercials?

What's my point? If I use to host my website, while I'm wearing my Levi jeans, after I've used herbal essences shampoo and shaved my legs with a venus razor, and I'm now wearing my obsession perfume, how does this take me out of right standing with God? My opinion? It doesn't.

The use of the objects or hosting service is NOT evil. Some would say that by supporting such businesses I am condoning such behavior in advertising. Perhaps, or maybe I just like those things. This is when we get on moral ground and we start splitting hairs and making rules.

There is way more I could say about this stuff...but I think you get my general idea.

Thanks for posting a thought provoking blog!

Pastor Nick said...

Thanks for responding Britt! I was beginning to wonder if ANYONE was reading at all. :-)

To be a bit blunt, which you know isn't like me, I think you missed my point a little, or more truthfully, my prof's point. What I was saying is that Christian ethics has tried far to hard to adopt cultural and social models for doing ethics. A truly Christian ethic doesn't start from the basis of deciding good and evil, but from the basis of knowing God. As we seek to live right with Him and right with other people, our obedience TO HIM (as opposed to obeying our sense of good and evil) become more clear.

I see what you're saying about the "slippery slope" of not using a business, but I would push back some on your observations. Isn't hosting a site through GoDaddy a little like going to Hooters because they have wings? I am not saying it's absolutely wrong, but I think we end up justifying things because it's what we want. I would question GoDaddy's blatant use of advertising that I find ethically disturbing. If there are other good options out there, why not go that route?

Anyhoo- a big part of this class, I think, is to help us see that our simple, knee-jerk reactions to right and wrong fail to really wrestle with God's call to love Him and love neighbor. Hopefully, posts like this will help you, me, and anyone else who might one day read my blog, take Him seriously.

Anonymous said...

Here's the problem with the guidline of "knowing God" as your ethical standard -- how is it that we know God? Through reading of the Bible, prayer, being around other believers, and going to church, right? Let's see...reading the Bible -- I'm hardly a scholar when it comes to that book and don't have the time or inclination to really dig deep (like in to the Greek meanings and such), so it ultimately is up to my interpretation of what I read (prone to failure). Prayer -- ahhh, well, now we're getting closer to really meeting with God, aren't we? What if I hear God giving me standards for living or behavior that perhaps I don't see others doing? Do I assume that what I hear God saying is the right way to live? Is it just for me then, or should everyone be held to that standard? What if I get no answer at all?

Meeting with other believers. I have yet to be in a group (even a small one) where we all agree on what is truly moral or ethical. If I listen to person A I would never watch a movie with a rating above PG. If I listen to person B, I can watch just about any movie, as long as there is no nudity. If I listen to person C, nothing but porn is off limits. Seems that we're right back to the problem of people interpreting and setting moral standards.

And now, church. Church is great and it teaches me a lot about passages in the Bible that I would just read through and think, "Oh, nice story." But it's not like I can raise my hand in the middle of a sermon and ask, "So, Nick, what about...?" Also, being a human yourself, you are prone to interpreting things incorrectly. Also, I may just plain disagree with you. I know, how can a lowly person like me think to disagree with my almighty pastor, right? ;-)

I think the whole problem of people puting up all of these moral standards and laws comes exactly FROM their efforts to know God and come in to right standing with Him. So, if this is the "true" way of ethics, then ethics become subjective as well -- what it takes for ME to come in to right standing with God would be different than it would for you.

I find it interesting that you find the advertising of to be "ethically disturbing" -- that gave me a good chuckle. You must not watch many commercials (maybe you are lucky and have a DVR so you skip them). You are correct that there are other alternatives to that hosting site...I was going on the premise that this would have been the most cost-effective, and/or reliable, so that is why a church might choose it (you a hypothetical situation). Anyway, thanks again!

Pastor Nick said...


I think we are wrestling with some of the same stuff here as I go through this class. No matter what ethical system we develop, I am struck by the fact that sooner or later, everyone has to actually make choices about what they will, or will not, do. And those choices, invariably, will have some degree of subjectivism.

That's why I agree with you that it is dangerous to base all our ethic on one "system", such as just reading the Bible, or just prayer, or just church, etc. I think our best ethical selves are developed through all those things. We take seriously our commitment to be in right relationship with God, so we walk in the Spirit by reading God's word seriously and deeply, by praying regularly, by willing involving ourselves in community and going to church. All of these together will lead us toward more ethical living. I mean, let's be honest, the issue for many people is that they never even think about their actions- they just "do" based on emotion, gut instinct, or feeling. I'm not discrediting those things, but I wouldn't want to base my life on them. They need to be informed by something else.

The core conviction I'm developing is that our ethics come forth from a relationship with God, rather than being the way that we try to get to God or become like Him.