Tuesday, March 18, 2014
Truth or Consequences
A survey of philosophy and of human experience strongly indicates that human beings desire the consequences of God without accepting the truth of divine reality. One has to look no farther than the plethora of ethical constructs in the various worldviews in order to understand what I mean. Some philosophers reduce ethics to two basic types: teleological and deontological. The former view focuses on the production of a particular result (pragmatic) while the latter focuses its attention on inherent duty or obligation (rule). It is clear that the fuss over ethics in our world isn't going away any time soon.
Why is it that human beings have such an irresistible attraction to ethics? There are a number of answers offered up to this question, most of which offer little more than fodder for philosophical squabble. Perhaps the question comes down to the highest good that is to be sought in human experience. Hedonism would argue that pleasure is the highest good. Moreover, it is the greatest amount of pleasure for the greatest amount of people that humans ought to seek. But one cannot help sensing the arbitrariness in this point of view. What is pleasurable for one may not be pleasurable for another. Who defines pleasure? One person contends that the fine arts produce the kind of pleasure humans ought to seek while another counters that sexual pleasure is the type of pleasure humans ought to seek. On and on we could go about how humans ought to seek this or that kind of pleasure. The disagreement has raged for centuries and it shows no signs of letting up today.
Another view, rational eudemonism claims that the highest good consists in the exercise of the highest human faculty, which is of course, reason. The highest good consists of disciplining the lower appetites and bringing them under the control of human reason. It is sad to say but a large percentage of professing Christians fit this category even though they label their system "Christian."
Yet, another view holds that there isn't one intrinsic good we ought to seek but rather we should seek to maximize all pleasures of all types whenever and wherever possible. In other words, there is intrinsic good in pleasure, in knowledge, in virtue and other areas as well. Ethical pluralism seeks to maximize all the possible areas of highest good rather than isolate a particular one. In other words, the highest good is the highest good we can glean from each of the areas of human experience. However, we cannot help but wonder what makes anything intrinsically good? Still, we seem to be confronted with the charge of arbitrariness. Who says what good is and who says what is good?
"Ethical theories not only aim to prioritize moral principles; they aim to tell us the meaning of moral terms, concepts, and principles." [Cowan/Spiegel, The Love of Wisdom, 324] What we have examined thus far begs the question of what exactly makes good, well, good. Where does the concept "good" enter the human experience? Why does it even matter? But matter it obviously does. There is no denying that goodness matters, at least not for the sane person as far as it goes.
Morality serves a very real purpose in life. It anchors meaning, provides order and structure, and preserves the species. Is it then the mechanism of evolutionary processes solely intended to aid the survival of the species? Somehow, we seem to know that there is more to morality or ethical theory than just the survival of the species. We don't derive nearly the same kind of satisfaction from eating dinner as we do when we do the right thing especially when doing the right thing was not the easiest thing to do. Yet, we must eat if we are to survive as a species. There is something fascinating and mysterious about morality that philosophers and scientists have yet to solve. Why have these specialists not been able to solve the riddle that is morality? I suggest it is because they have been looking for answers in all the wrong places. Typical.
Before we can answer the mystery of morality, we must answer the question of the summum bonum, or the highest good. What is the highest human good? "The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God, and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person." (Ecc. 12:13) The conclusion or sum of all of life is for every person to fear God and to keep His commandments. It is in these words that not only do we see the highest good of humanity but also the very anchor of divine and hence, human morality.
The consequence of God is seen in the ethical theories that humanity grapples with day in and day out. We are confronted with the fact of morality no less than our own existence. Just as light stands in our path each and every day, so too does the fact of morality. It refuses to shrink into the shadows and even though its details have been twisted and contorted beyond recognition in some cases, its principle, like the Sun in desert sky, refuses to hide. The awareness of right and wrong, morality and immorality exists everywhere humans exist. Every philosophical system known to man fails to overcome the obstacle of arbitrariness where ethical systems are concerned. There is one and only one worldview that accounts for morality. That system is Christian theism.
The argument for morality from Christian theism is simply that if there is morality, then God exists: there is no God; therefore, there is no morality. But there is morality. Therefore, God must exist. In other words, God is the necessary precondition for the experience of human morality. Apart from God, human morality is not just arbitrary; it is unintelligible. But humanity wants the consequent of God's existence, namely morality, without the truth of God's existence.
If humanity wants the consequent of God's existence in the form of morality, then it will also have to eventually face the consequences of rejecting His truth. Either way, humanity will eventually come face to face with both the truth of God's existence and the consequences of that existence, whether it wants to or not. And that existence shines as brightly as ever in the person of Jesus Christ as revealed to us all in the pages of Sacred Scripture.