The Western world is loving morality right now. Or at least what they think to be morality. Morality in their mind is rather shallow and public. The question has to be answered: if there were no social media sites, would anybody actually have any moral stances? People love to hashtag, tweet, or meme their moral expectations for everybody else. Of course they do this all the while smoking weed and sleeping with people who are not their spouse. And of course do not forget the incredibly moral decision to make sure they have a designated driver who can escort them home from a night of drunkenness.
That may have sounded harsh and judgmental, but while I do mean to be harsh, I do not mean to be judgmental. I was harsh because sometimes we need the bucket of water straight to the face in order to wake up. I believe we are asleep as a culture, so there was my bucket of water. But I am not self-righteously judging anyone. I recognize that I fail morally on a number of occasions all before I leave my driveway in the morning.
So why am I writing a blog titled “False Morality”? Well, it was inspired by a phrase I read in a verse in Scripture that I believe is incredibly appropriate to our post-modern generation.
Denying its power
The phrase is found in 2 Timothy 3:5 and was penned by a guy named Paul, a guy who changed the world, and a guy whose writings still inspire billions of people today. The phrase comes at the end of a warning against a number of poor attributes. So at the end of this list of poor attributes Paul adds that people will “[hold] to a form of godliness, although they [will deny] its power.”
This phrase blew me away. What is “a form of godliness”? That, my friends, would be morality. For millennia morality was considered to be that which is godly, or God-like. Many people may indeed hold to a form of godliness when they espouse their moral opinions.
However, many people also do the second part of the phrase, that is they deny the power of morality. How do people hold to a form of morality but deny its power? They deny its power by denying – or ignoring – the existence of God.
When you strip God away from morality, you deny the very thing that gives morality its power. Without God, morality has no power. Without God, morality is stripped down to the whims of each individual person. Without God, morality carries no weight from one person to the next; each individual is allowed to redefine and reshape morality to his/her own desires. Since morality is constantly changing, it cannot be measured, and if it cannot be measured, it carries no weight, and since it carries no weight, it has no power.
Morality is …
Many people who would disagree with the conclusion of my last paragraph would say that we can identify morality and its aim. These people are called moral realists. Moral realism is a category that (most) theists fall into because they believe that morality exists mind-independently, or in other words, morality is not at the whims of each individual, it is something that exists outside the mind of each person. There are also atheists who are moral realists.
How can an atheist be a moral realist? Well, in part they believe that morality can be objectively deduced. What is the objective standard most atheist moral realists use? It boils down to this: that which increases human well-being, that which decreases harm, that which benefits society. (Of course not every atheist moral realist would agree precisely with this definition, but a great many of them do, and that only substantiates my first point upcoming.)
There are a number of problems with this standard, but I will focus on just two:
First, this standard is not objective after all. What one person considers to be beneficial to society, another person could completely disagree with. This is true for even what some people would think to be foundational truths in morality. For instance: is it morally right or wrong to lie? Some people would conclude it is never right to lie while a good amount of other people would say it could be right to lie. Is it more beneficial to always desire truth, or is it more beneficial to bring about a desired response? In other words, should you tell your wife that those jeans make her look fat, or should you keep the peace and let her believe what she wants to believe? I am willing to bet you will find the answer to this to be rather diverse. Ultimately even defined this way morality still comes down to preference, nothing objective. Logically, claiming human well-being as objective is just begging the question.
Or how about doing harm to a human who just so happens to still be in the womb? How is it that so many people who agree that doing harm to another human is wrong yet they have no problem with a person deciding to kill an innocent baby? You see how the water is not so clear here? You see how this so-called objective standard is not so objective?
Second, with morality defined by that which increases human well-being, decreases harm, and benefits society, morality is no longer a thing to be revered, but a means to an end. It is not morality that is important, but human well-being. In this case morality is truly stripped of its power. Morality is continually in flux depending on the situation. In this case morality is not something that exists, but human well-being is what exists, therefore morality is still a creation of the individual’s mind, or mind-dependent.
This means that one can justify an act that would normally be considered immoral (e.g., lying) by showing that it actually can bring some benefit to society. This happens quite often in everyday life. No longer is morality the discussion of what is right and what is wrong, but now a discussion of what is more beneficial.
I have written on the problems of defining morality as that which increases human well-being before. If you would like to read about that, you can do so here.
Morality when it is popular
As I referenced earlier there are a number of people who like to make easy, self-promoting public displays of their morality on en vogue topics. This is very much true for a number of celebrities and Hollywood members. I refuse to buy into their false morality.
These are the same people who glamorize illicit drugs, insatiable sex, creepy evil (the bad guy is often “cooler” than the good guy), and a hoard of other ills. No thank you. I will not fall for your crumbling moral standard.
Morality not only holds true for the social media sites, but also for when one is away from the public eye. Many people do not self-evaluate unless forced to. Challenge: how is your morality at home, or how about when no one else is at home, or how about when no one else can hear your thoughts, or how about when you are around strangers, or maybe even harder, around your buddies at a party?
There are also a number of people who are getting violent in their moral pronouncements. There are a number of people who think you are justified in punching someone in the face (or worse) if they disagree with some of your moral standards. And there are some who may not be getting violent but they are getting extremely intolerant. They refuse to even talk or have any dealings with people with whom they disagree. This is amazing to me because these same people who are so intolerant of other people’s views used to be the ones pushing tolerance. They did not realize the shallowness of their view on tolerance. If you do not believe me, here is a great video that details that a little more.
Is the Divine Command Theory subjective?
I have heard a number of people criticize the Divine Command Theory (DCT) as a subjective moral standard. They say it is subjective because it is based on a person, and since it is based on a person, it must be subjective.
The problem with that logic is that God is not a changing person. People change, God does not. In DCT morality is based on something concrete: God’s nature. Since God’s nature does not change, neither do the pillars of morality.
Now, notice that I qualified my last statement by saying the pillars of morality do not change. As everyone would agree, there are layers to morality. The higher layers of morality are not as black and white and can change depending on the situation. However, the pillars of morality do not change because they are based on the nature of God who does not change.
With God, morality is given power. It is given power because instead of it being up to the individual to define what is beneficial, it is pre-defined by the unchanging nature of God. With God, morality’s most fundamental tenants are not up for debate. With God, moral standards can be enforced because they are handed down by an Authority, not by an equal.
On a side note, we would expect to see God’s moral standards lead to the benefit of society. It is amazing to me to see Christian principles being advocated more and more in our secular society. The society that forgot God is finally realizing it still needs His commands.
I know this does not answer all the objections one may have towards DCT, but it is a start.
There is a lot of false morality out there. That claim that objective morality can exist without God is false. The so-called objective standard is found to be subjective when scrutinized. Many people fall prey to the thinking that if one is morally strong in just the popular subjects of the day, then one is morally strong overall. DCT is not subjective as some people claim, but objectively based on an unchanging God.