Morality, Philosophy and Faith

1homer-angel-deveilMorality and Philosophy and FaithMessage by Robin Dugall, May 2014 

If somebody goes home today and says to a friend or family member, “you know what Robin talked about today?  Aristotelian and Symbolic or Mathematical Logic and how that delineates a significant differentiation in our personal praxis and moral deliberation”

What you might get, “well, that was exciting,” “boring”, or glazed over eyes or “what the heck were you thinking”

Here’s my promise to you – not going to get overly technical today…not that I don’t trust your robust intellect, stellar ability to comprehend deeper theology and philosophy but rather because I think you need to walk away today with some practical action steps to apply to your life that can/will make a difference in how you decide between right and wrong

The only way that is going to happen is to give you some INFORMATION…in this instance, I know that this talk will be short on inspiration unless you get inspired by new information like I do…but I do promise that this information is critical and important to you and to people you know if you put your mind to it

  • Here’s the issue – what you think about wrong and right in your world and in our world…how people like you determine and come to actionable conclusions about what is right and wrong – is not just influenced by simple things
  • And the truth is that HOW we make moral choices has shifted considerably, even fatally in over the past century

Here’s what you need to know up from – for centuries – HOW we were taught right and wrong all came from a common foundation of belief – that was theistically driven – in other words, it came from a belief and trust in God

  • But now, in terms of issues like personal and corporate morality and how we view moral accountability – it would be a MASSIVE understatement to say, those things have COMPLETELY changed
  • People do NOT, generally speaking, this is a global reality not just some localized observation, get their moral bearings from God anymore

So, today we are going to talk about Morality – turn to someone around you and talk for a second,

  1. When you think of Morality, what do you think of?
  2. Or answer this question, “most of what I’ve learned about morality, I’ve learned from…

What is MORALITY?  Principles of behavior – perspectives or what you and me recognize in terms of behavior on what is “right/wrong”

Here’s the dictionary definition:  “principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior”

Or…”morality refers to any code of conduct that a person or a group takes as important”

Most of us would agree that morality, determining what is right and what is wrong is an important subject to be talking about and agreeing on in any era

But I don’t think anyone, really, anyone upon some honest reflection and observation of what’s going on in our culture today feels good about where we are as a culture morally…

When most of us spend any amount of time thinking about Morality it is usually when we feel that our moral bearings or anchors are being challenged – and most of us are outraged, angry, dismayed, indignant, whatever adjective you want to pick…

Many of us feel that’s what is happening even as we speak in our world

  • The world is going to hell in a hand-basket
  • I can’t believe people do_______________________
  • I can’t believe people get away with________________
  • How could they do___________________________
  • I’m shocked when I see________________________
  • I get so angry when I hear______________________

In fact, I’ll go even further – If you or me or anyone you know has a Judeo-Christian perspective or what I call “biblical theistic” worldview, you would have to agree that we have a moral crisis in world

The context for our talk today – Moral confusion – we’re going to proceed from there…and talk about Morality

So, this is how we are going to start:

* Moral deliberation has been a subject matter for people for 1000’s of years

What was perceived as “natural law” in addition to what we call the Mosaic Law, the Torah, OR the idea of a God-given sense of morality because of human conscience were foundation blocks for moral evaluation and accountability for centuries – they provided boundaries for living “right”

Natural Law – or the law of nature (Latin: lex naturalis), is a system of law that is determined by nature, and so is universal.  Classically, natural law refers to the use of reason to analyze human nature — both social and personal — and deduce binding rules of moral behavior from it

Torah – Law – it isn’t just about that which convicts us that we are broken people, but Jews, even Jesus upheld its relevance as a rule of living…in fact, the Jews proudly proclaimed that the Torah was “THE WAY, the truth and the life”

Yes it eventually was twisted into a means of salvation – but that wasn’t God’s original plan – Law was a part of covenant of love and grace – “this is the way a God-centered people live”

Scripture – Revelation of God – God's nature and character – 2 Timothy 3:16 – "training in righteousness"

C. S. Lewis argued that "conscience reveals to us a moral law whose source cannot be found in the natural world, thus pointing to a supernatural Lawgiver." Lewis argued that because we have a MIND and thought and that is a given in our lives as a gift from God (part of His image) we must accept that there is some sort of practical reason, morality, which could not be valid without reference to a higher cosmic moral order which could not exist without a God to create and/or establish it.

IN OTHER WORDS, there was a sense of universal ideas/standards of right/wrong

But there has been a profound shift going on behind the scenes, in fact, progressing over the last couple of centuries that has messed up the moral deliberation and moral action process in most people’s lives

Moved away from universals and God and into the realm of feelings…

In fact, here’s how this works (here’s the shift) – morality has entered the realm of RELATIVITY/SUBJECTIVITY (private and individualistically centered opinion) instead of OBJECTIVITY

Relativity – subjective, individualistic, private, me against you

Objectivity – real-out-there-standard which can be seen through nature and God’s revelation (remember – the heavens declare God, Romans 1)

But when everything about right/wrong is on a purely SUBJECTIVE plane… when you come up against someone else’s SUBJECTIVE perspective on what’s right/wrong – and that person (or group) is no wiser, no smarter or a better person than you AND you feel that THEY are simply arbitrarily imposing their standards on you, you are bound get a bit edgy – even outraged…

Not only outraged but THEN, you have a face, a person or system to that you can blame – that’s what’s happening around our culture today…people are blaming each other or feeling victimized by somebody else’s ideas of what is right/wrong

Now, I want you to know, what I'm going to get into from here on MAY get a bit heady or complicated – but, this is how I see it

I’m done with the hand wringing and despair and the bemoaning comments about how pathetic our changed world has become (why can’t things be the way they used to be)

SO I hope and pray that I’ll be able to break down this issue for you in such a way that you understand the issue and pray along with me for some sort of renewal and rekindling of a God-honoring moral foundation

First question – Where does morality come from?

(1) God – Now that may sound like a dumb question for most of us because it is something that most of us take for granted – for most of us here in the Jesus following community we just immediately tap into God

In fact, for MOST people, that’s their starting point…they believe that morality comes from God and ultimate moral accountability comes from God’s nature, character, and it is HIS perfect sense of justice that will right the world – that’s the first answer

But there are other viewpoints:

(2) Philosophical Quandary – We might say God but for others, it is not that simple – something you may not know about is this answer – for some people who don't share in a worldview that is decisively God-focused, they take moral reflection in a different direction…they move BEYOND God…sounds weird, but let me try to explain it to you:

I don’t know if you’ve ever heard about this – there is something called the “Euthrphro dilemma” – that dilemma poses this question:

If we get our morals from God, are they moral because God says that they are or because God is bound by them as well?

Where did these morals come from that are conveyed by God in the first place? 

Again, that may sound like a ridiculous question for most of us but these are the things that you question if you don’t have a theistic perspective/worldview in life…if there is no God or if there is only some sense of man-made religion, then you’ve got to search elsewhere for morality

That’s the second answer to question where does morality come from…for some, it's a philosophical quandary

(3) A Structure built into a DNA – there’s a third – for some others morality is defined this way – morality is a complex structure (something people or nature have built over time) that maintains social cohesion (holds relationships together) and enhance survivability among social creatures

This answer is one that deliberately comes from that who are macro-evolutionists – in other words, they see the world through this prism…naturalism or materialism

They don’t see any substantial differences between humanity and other animals in the world

What this camp believes is that morality is in the DNA

I know that might sound like a flawed system to many of us – but you see, if all you have in terms of truth is nature and the material world and you don’t believe in God, then all you are left with is humanity’s own ideas of social order and, most importantly, peer pressure or competing self interests in which the most popular morals or the morals of the most powerful or persuasive group rules the day

Again, if in comparing humans to animals, you don’t see much of a difference then you break away the biblical narrative (where humanity and animals are very distinctive), this type of thinking is the ONLY frame of reference that is possible. 

It’s a dog eat dog world…hopefully you run in the pack of the right dogs or at least the most powerful dogs

You see, when youlook at morality – through the lens of Evolutionary theory –morals ONLY have a biological origination and are only designed to help us survive and thrive in our ability to work together in groups…

In other words, it is to our advantage to lean into our evolution or advancement of our species to set up cooperative contracts which eventually we can call “morals” 

In this instance, the essence of morality comes not from outside of human being but is innate or genetic and usually is seen or defined as some forms of human altruism…

Altruism – selflessness is the principle or practice of concern for the welfare of others from that come concepts of fairness, justices motivated by our empathy and compassion

Now this seems to run counter intuitive to the one of the tenets of evolution, “survival of the fittest”…because altruism does not philosophically match up well with self-preservation

But there are those who really believe that there is a biologically based sense of altruism in every human being that just needs a bit of support to come out…and all the world’s negativity and “no’s” and rules prohibit the emergence of this perfect and morally pure being

That’s where we see this movement alive and well in culture to prop up or fan the internal flames of self-esteem – the thinking goes – if only we can get people to feel good about themselves, they will treat others better

OR at least we will internally come to a corporate agreement that we need to avoid or prevent harm to people in a specific group

At this point – let me remind you – emphasize that in this instance, these moral boundaries are NOT universal but only followed by a specific group that are the “wise” or “enlightened” ones who can concede that we as humans need some code of conduct as a guide

Sometimes these codes emerge from the need of a specific person in a group to define the group’s behavior – power play – when we talk about morality, we are talking primarily about ourselves – “ethical egoism”

Sometimes they may come from some function or better yet, malfunction of the brain that sooner or later we will be able to program

Sometimes they are “consequential ethics” – primarily by cause/effect deliberation – set boundaries based upon best outcomes

Sometimes they are “informal systems” – primarily situational morality – no guide to all moral situations just based upon the moment

Morality – cause and effect coupled with extreme contextualization and our desire for the well-being of society – defines morals

For some they would call this is a POSITIVE, OPTOMISTIC view of natural world

(4) Created by Humanity out of lies and manipulation – there is an extension of the third explanation that is entirely negative and pessimistic that goes like this – morals are subject to a wide range of applications and extremes and some social morals are created from lies and false beliefs – in this instance NO MORAL standing is based on absolutes but on a negative view of human or natural potential

In other words, the world sucks and hopefully somebody will evolve further in a more positive way to straighten things out

Do you remember when we heard not too long ago that our President said that his views on certain subjects were evolving?  That’s how this works…

When you don’t have moral absolutes and you feel pretty pessimistic about where human have been and are going and THEN you subject your views of right and wrong to the changing winds of culture…

Where the prevailing winds blow your personal morality and people can get caught up in that breeze…thus views of what is right/wrong can change over time

This is especially true when you subject or better yet acquiesce moral deliberation and decisions to the realm of politics – it is politically expedient if you want to gain personal favor in the culture…that you don’t take stands…you just wait to figure out how other people feel and meet them there…then you are all good

So as you can see, in answering the question of WHERE MORALITY comes from – not as easy as it once was – now let me add into our cocktail mix of moral confusion with a couple of other ingredients and you’ll see why world is messed up

Second part of this message breaks down this way – with all that said and out there for you to consider, we’re going to have to talk about a couple of more important issues that make this morality issue even more confusing:

  1. Issue of the privatization of faith
  2. Logic – and the shift from Aristotelian logic to Symbolic or Mathematical logic

1.  Issue of the privatization of faith  

Put faith in a constricted space – once that happens, faith, which used to seek to sanctify all aspects of life, became focused on the individual and on that individual’s self-fulfillment

Last week in Adult Education, we talked about “Dualism” or a “House division” between a person’s religious/spiritual life and their public life in the world

  • Dualism – two circles – God and World with people LEAVING the world to enter spirituality
  • House analogy – private realm and public realm – neither should interfere with the other!
  • For many people, issues of faith are relegated to the realm of being private

This profound shift happened during something we call the Enlightenment – (post Reformation) there was NO broader issue than individualism and individual salvation that unfortunately, for all the good that came out of the Reformation/Enlightenment, community moved from being essential to a faith or life journey to a convenience

  • Between “I think therefore I am” (Rene Descartes, Cartesian philosophy) and Evangelicalism which stresses personal relationship with God via individual salvation…expressive and utilitarian individualism replaced, as modes of thought, the earlier biblical traditions on which society had grown 
  • Those early “habits of the heart” had tempered individualism with more expansive virtues…especially on the importance of relationships and community 

Unfortunate truth though – is that our religious or spiritual identity is inherently communal – Body of Christ imagery and metaphor in the bible

With the decline of religious attachments in society we are seeing proof over and over again that that move impacts behaviors

You see, it takes religious values to shape a moral frame of reference – and it takes religious communities to not only reinforce morals but also to support and encourage people to hold true to what they agree together is what they value

Those two realities are NOT the ones that reinforce individualism

In order to put this in context, we have to go back a few centuries – it was the enlightenment (started in 16th century but really got going in 17th and 18th century) focused relentlessly on two entities – the individual, and the state – the individual detached from historical context and the universal, politically realized NOT in an exploration of Ultimate Reality, but in the secular state

Neither the individual NOR the state is where we discover who we are and why

The world that has emerged is that of individuals as the makers of their own meanings and the state as the perceived moral arbitrator between conflicting interests.  In this environment, personal autonomy reigns supreme

Along with that was the transition from what some people called, “fate” or “God’s will” to personal, or “my” choice. 

And individual choices eventually dissolve the commitments and loyalties that once lay behind our choices. 

NOW we choose because we choose.  Because it is what we want; or it works for us; or it feels right to me. 

Something interesting for you to consider, “…The word, ‘heresy’ derives from the Greek, ‘haeresis’, meaning choice.  Once life becomes lifestyle and all morality a matter of choice, heresy has become, as it were, the air we breathe.  The central religious assumption that there are moral absolutes which are given, not chosen, has been sent into cultural exile.”

You see, as long as we Jesus followers believe in individualism and privatistic faith, we really do not have a deep commitment to community. 

Again, another inconvenient biblical truth is that we are grafted into a “shared” faith in community through Jesus – this is indisputable and non-negotiable truth

Believe me, when your Salvation identity comes in and through community” vs. “I’m saved and you are not” that will make an impact on your actions and your morality

Where there is no community there is no morality. 

Individuals just ask for forgiveness instead of needing to live in forgiveness and mercy through community and relationships. 

Without community and tradition, there is no self-expression beyond the inarticulate cry of a child. 

Individualism condemns us to the task of constructing our own morality and becomes inherently private and detached from relationships.

When you or I enter community I learn a moral language, a vision and its way of living.

Community (aka faith family or even biological family) becomes a narrative institution molding and shaping shared meaning

But when we turn our lives over to individualism, our moral language becomes effectively secularized. 

The orthodoxies of our time believe that morality is a private affair, a matter of personal choice, and that the state must be either morally neutral or the arbitrator of what is right/wrong (which we have seen in SPADES –

Reference to the children’s show/video clip Animaniacs and the FCC's requirement of adding moral and educational value to children's programming/ (foundation for a better life – minus God, I might add)

So now, our moral imagination is bound by three central themes – autonomy, equality and rights.

The central character of our moral drama is no longer the saint or the hero, but the free self…

  • Unencumbered by attachments
  • Unobligated by circumstance
  • Freely negotiating its temporary contracts with others

We no longer know what it is to identify a moral issue, as something distinct from personal preferences on the one hand or technique on the other. 

We have arrived at Nietzsche’s conviction that morality is no more than a camouflaged way of imposing our will on others. 

Which brings us back to the issue of God – if there is no God, than all is permitted. 

In other words, we cannot edit God out of our language and leave our social world unchanged.

The tasks of religious institutions are NOT to influence governments but create communities of faith. 

Governments can only see morality as that which must be addressed by legislative constraints or/and financial inducements and can only underscore morality as a matter of punishment and reward. 

In the beginning, God created the world.  Thereafter He entrusted us to create the human world, which will be, in the structures of our common life, a home for the Divine presence. 

2.     Logic

Aristotle – Aristotelian philosophy

Symbolic or Mathematical or Analytical logic or philosophy

Let me give you a bit of history:

350 years before Jesus, a guy by the name of Aristotle wrote his first series of textbooks on philosophy

a)   From THEN until 1913, when a guy by the name of Alfred Whitehead published the book, “Principa Mathmetica” – most people learned to think…deliberate…and have as their foundation to moral questioning – Aristotelian logic

Aristotelian philosophy is based upon the assumption that human beings can KNOW things that really are and can know them with certainty

  • e.g. 2 +2 = 4 (when we use something like that, we are saying that the universe and truths of the universe CAN be know)
  • Aristotelian philosophy/logic – was established on something called, “realism”
  • Assumes we have the ability to know reality and that that reality is ordered and knowable
  • It is also a philosophy that appreciates and acknowledges that there are absolutes…universal truths that can be known and experienced

b)   But then something called Modernity and the Enlightenment came along and out of that a NEW way of thinking…a new logic came out of the works of people like Francis Bacon, Ludwig Wittgenstein, John Stuart Mill, John Hume championed – was affectionately called, “symbolic logic”

Symbolic logic was influenced by the rise of the scientific method – which stresses quantitative value vs. qualitative value

Symbolic logic says that knowledge of reality is impossible – there is no universal, objective truth, knowledge only corresponds to ideas and nothing that is universal

  • One philosopher – our minds merely manipulate the world as we experience it and our reality is only that which we formulate in our individual minds
  • In other words, there is no one reality…we only know reality as we understand an individuals understanding of their reality – again, in other words, there are no universals but simply personal perspectives or competing personal preferences
  • So, if you can’t really know what something really IS then all you are left with are your feelings about what you experience in the world
  • How we feel about things, how we can use them, how we can work them, how we can change them, how we can control them becomes the foundation of our understanding of the world
  • Again, in Symbolic logic, nothing is inherently valuable…nothing is inherently real…
  • It is only feelings are real and the feelings of value that we attach to things, people, experiences are that which emerge from individual perspectives and feelings
  • Since morality is NOT objective knowledge everything in that realm has to do with the subjective evaluate on an individualistic, relativistic vantage point
  • Symbolic logic has huge implications on ethics – because there are no such things as “normal” any longer…nothing can be universally called “unnatural” because that can only be measured individualistically

Morality in the age of secularization – built on individual feelings (most likely empathy and compassion) and instituted by mass consensus…shifting and evolving depending upon mutually acceptable outcomes.

Why is all this important?

Here’s what I said earlier – I think you need to walk away today with some practical action steps to apply to your life that can/will make a difference in how you decide between right and wrong

Application – in a complex, increasingly amoral culture, how are you and me going to make moral decisions?

Let me show you a chart – External, Internal or Eternal authority

a)   Internal – feelings based – goes along with biological, altruism, and other philosophical explanations – reinforces the belief in NO absolutes

b)   External – competing self interests get to consensus…usually shifting because people find it convenient to change their minds if there is self-interest or self-fulfillment or “good feelings” generated by the decision – or in some cases imposed upon us from outside influences

c)    Eternal – this is an absolute – universals that can be known

Do you think, like I do that the world is a mess because we have detached from God? 

By all means – untethered from God, humans can make up their own rules and power up or impose them on others arbitrarily and without a foundation of absolutes like truth, justice, freedom, community, and the like

That's why God has given us, or better yet, revealed His Word to us – Revelation of God determines how we interpret right from wrong

We were created with an image, the image of God – embraced for 1000s of years as the truth and foundation of all moral deliberation and action – in addition, Jesus revealed God's will for our values/morals in the teaching and through the teaching of the Bible – Sermon on the Mount, Fruit of the Spirit, James (faith w/o works dead), Jesus (if you love me you will obey me), the Torah

These are simply SOME of the places on which we can secure our lives, not on the shifting sands of culture and individualism or relativity…but on an absolute truth, God's presence and revelation.

Note – now there was more to the end of the message that I gave…but this is essentially the main text – if you want to hear how it all came out verbally, see and watch the video.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s