MORAL ABSOLUTES IN OUR BOUNDARYLESS POST MODERN CULTURE
(Joshua 24.2-8 and 14ff.)
As long ago as the brilliant critique on moral relativism by Dr. C.J.H. Henry, we have entered a quagmire of moral relativism in very demanding areas of the corporation executive (compare with Romans 1.18ff.).
An E-Bay executive here set the goal higher than thieves of the online market place. The failures of Yahoo (Lycos and Excite) has precipitated the rise of Google to focus on the events beyond the 1990’s (e.g. Search Enzyme Watch.com). Search Google had a 31.5 percent market share of all online searches in the United States (next was Yahoo with 25.7 percent).
The enormous new program is committed to overcoming jokes about lawyer ethics and dishonesty, the great ingression of cooperation sins, egs.. Enron, Worldcom, Tyco International and the ubiquitous daily front-page headlines about “members judging, corporation execs and out-right criminal activity that landed a series of high profile executors in jail.”
The story that knocked 9-11-01 off the front page of the New York Times would be an accounting scandal (e.g., the Enron scandal broke in late 2001). Elaine Weiss, the CEO of the Illinois CPA society recently embarked on a statewide campaign intending to counteract the negative images created by the corporate accounting scandals of the previous two years (eg., numbers crunching, creative bookkeeping)
The Illinois society, which represents 23,000 certified public accountants, is the first to embark on a moral face lift to precipitate a public re-imaging campaign for a professional tradition not wholly known as an immoral quagmire. In order to rebuild the CPA image after a variety of scandals. Any positive effort (cf. data from an article by Verne Kappy Tobb, San Francisco Chronicle (November 2003) requires a meta narrative of innuendo
The moral maze that is widely made visible in education and media is our cultural environment. But there is “some” good news. Many of us are members of the fourth generation. The “silent generation” (born before 1946) emphasizes duty, tradition and loyalty. The “baby boomers” emphasized individualism, tolerance and self absorption. The “next generation” emphasized diversity, being savvy, and pragmatism (e.g. Post Modern Pop Culture). (These influences appears in many church growth seminars which is expressed in worship wars, cultural wars, homiletic wars, etc.). The latest generation is “The Millennials”, members of a cohort born between 1977 and 1994 (estimated to be 78 million). One of the most brilliant generation watchers is Aan Clurman of The Yankelovick Partners, suggests three areas of preoccupation—“authenticity, authorship and autonomy” characteristics. These three nouns express the emerging culture of the Millennials also known as the “echo boomers.” This generation is family oriented, viscerally pluralistic, deeply committed to authenticity and truth telling, heavily stressed and living in a no boundaries world where they make short term decisions and expect paradoxical outcomes. To this generation paradox means some choices result in some good consequences, some bad (e.g., air bags save some lives but kill others).
By pluralistic, Clurman means that distinction of race, ethnicity and gender are of little interest to Millennials (e.g., integrity trumps success). Enron should have hired Millennials as executives. This generation yearns for family and a good marriage. These emphases were showing up even before 9-11-01. Brandchannel.com, an online marketing site run by Interbrand, issued a gen.y report just a week ago.
In addition, Millennials’ closeness to their parents, statistics on sexual activity, violence, and suicide rites are down and concern with religion and community are up. Millennials are less open to the glitzy marketing product is marked by the rise of Avrial Lavigne, “an ordinary looking, midriff-free, non-dancing singer hailed as the anti-Britney” reports Brand Channel.com. They are constantly looking for less exploitive entertainment.
Millennials are more apt to trust parents, teachers, and the police. A Harvard poll released last week reported that President Bush has 60 percent favorability rate among American college students. In contrast, the students’ professors (ca. 90 percent) are convinced that President Bush is either Hitler or a moron.
“Now if they could just walk one block without carrying a bottle of water and making four phone calls.” (“On Society” by John Leo in U.S. News and World Report (Nov. 3, 2003).
In this cultural context we easily perceive the widely rejected moral norms derived from the Scriptures. Classical moral norms derived from our Judaeo Christian heritage has been under fire since Freud, Mead, et.al. and a host of cultural/epistemological relativists, largely derived from the relativity of cultural anthropology (see my tracing of this phenomena on the web site http://www.worldvieweyes.org/strauss-docs.html.
Dr. Carl F.H. Henry, former editor of Christianity Today, put it—a reasonable case is no longer made in the public schools for moral absolutes. (compare Romans 1.18-31)
An early catalyst for the Christian schools’ movement was the Supreme Court’s 1962 decision in Engel versus Vitale, leading to a ban on prayer and, as practically interpreted in the public schools, to virtual elimination of religious discussion. Another decision was in 1954 in Brown versus The Board of Education, which inspired the establishment of a number of Southern Christian schools as ‘segregation academies’ for white students.
Since neutrality is impossible—school systems are not merely silent about Christianity, they ignore it. In place of Christian morality, naturalistic/humanistic values prevail. Some Christians are opposed to excellence in education as though academic excellence and Christian morality were totally at variance with one another. Rex Heath, who runs the Mother Lode Christian School in Tuolumne City, CA, says “when the community appeals to higher standards of academics that always kill spiritual values. All those schools like Yale and Harvard started out as Christian schools, but then they got concerned with quality.” What a tragedy!
Just over three decades ago (1972-2004) our nation experienced its second and greatest constitutional crisis, popularly known as “Watergate” (Newsweek, June 14, 1982), ‘the Legacy of Watergate’ and Roe vs. Wade, 1973). In our world of ‘Rights,” millions live according to two dogmas: (1) Anti-authoritarian and (2) Anti-normative. Both of these dogmas were prevalent in Sophism of the pre-western civilization of the Greeks. Socrates questioned the dogmatic naturalism of Thrasymachus; the pluralism of the sophists in general and the nihilism of Gorgias, in particular.
The solemn pronouncement, “But we are living in an age of change”, makes it difficult to bite the lip which wants to laugh and quote Heraclitus of the fifth century B.C. Our moral Watergate represents the Post Modern revival of radical relativism. Of course, all contingent things are relative, but question is, relative to what or whom? The God of Joshua and father of our Lord Jesus Christ alone can set us free from the present loss of moral absolutes. After all, the denial of absolutes becomes an absolute basis of judgment. As is also true of the denial of Biblical Infallibility, all systems are internally infallible (Latin for “true”). The permissiveness of the decade of despaired, i.e., 1960’s, was “grounded” in Fletcher’s Situational Ethics. The moral challenge of the 2004 is to present A Case for Moral Absolutes. “Choose you this day whom you will serve”! The key is personal choice. Choices are based in ultimate beliefs. Morality has been grounded in “Eternal Natural Law”; cultural more’s; Biblical revelation; and radically individualistic decision-making supposedly justified by our freedom or rights. We are free to choose whatever we like, but we are not free to choose the consequences.
The Biblical Case for Moral Absolutes: Back to Basics (Genesis 18.25)
What, or who makes an action right or wrong? There are at least four major post modern non-Christian answers to this question:
1. The Cultural Relativism Thesis of most social and educational thought says that what a given culture accepts determines the answer. Morals are merely the result of custom or convention.
2. Another response to the above question is called Situation Ethics. Joseph Fletcher concludes that “love” is the foundation for an ethical system. But this judgment is clearly arbitrary. Yet his analysis of three approaches to morals, i.e., legalism – anti-nomianism – and situationism – is helpful. For Fletcher, the sole (ultimate) arbiter of morality in any situation is love (agape, selfless love). Yet every single example which he provides for analysis contradicts this claim.
3. A third position is Behaviorism, which presupposes that genetic and environmental facts are the sole arbiters of moral values. According to Sociobiology, there is no such thing as a responsible person, since every act is determined, there is no freedom from which to praise or blame any ‘human action.’ All acts are biologically inevitable.
4. A fourth theory of morals is called Emotive Ethics. This theory maintains that ‘emotion’ is the sole factor in ethical decision-making. According to these four theories, nothing is literally right or wrong; these terms are simply the expression of emotion and as such, are neither true nor false. Each of these positions espouse ‘false absolutes’; so therefore, they cannot aid man in his moral dilemma. What about God?
It is our immediate concern to present a Biblical Case for Moral Absolutes—based in the person of our creator-redeemer God, ultimately revealed in Jesus Christ—“But I say unto you. . . “
As post modern mankind slips ever more deeply in the moral malaise of our subjective, pluralistic relativism, humanity asks ever louder, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18.25) Yet man needs grace, not justice. God’s grace only can enable us to constructively respond to moral challenges from every area of life.
a. Human Life Issues: (1) Infanticide; (2) Abortion; (3) Aging and termination of life (Dying with Dignity), and Cremation.
b. Sexual Morality: (1) Situation Ethics; (2) Value Clarification.
c. Ecological Crisis: Creation/Environment
d. Government: Abscam; Homosexuality and the Senate Page-boy crisis.
e. Attitudes toward Pain and Suffering
f. War (the Mid-East and Latin America)
g. Inerrancy and Biblical World View.
h. Hunger: Third and Fourth Worlds and their Poor.
i. End of the Permissive Society? (U.S. News, June 28, 1982) “If we say we believe the Bible to be the inerrant word of the Lord,” author/theologian Francis Schaeffer affirmed, “then we do not have to face the howling winds of cultural change, we have an immovable base.”
Remember the past
a. No man is an island; part of what we are is derived from the past.
b. Present nostalgia
c. Present Narcissism
Remember the Standard
a. Biblical values
b. American values—youth, wealth, beauty
Remember the True God (Joshua 24. 20ff.)
a. Sumerian gods – e.g., Abraham
b. Egyptian gods – e.g., Moses
c. Amorite gods
d. Allah – Koran/Islam
e. Post modern pantheistic gods (all gods are not equal; we are not talking about the same thing ) There is only one God.
Only an authoritative Word from God can be the basis for moral absolutes. And this we possess in the Scriptures!
Dr. James Strauss, Professor Emeritus
Lincoln Christian Seminary