“‘Cuz I Said So”

The recent issue of Philosophy Now is devoted to a debate about morality–not about what constitutes morality, but about whether or not there really is such a thing. The debate, however, has only two sides: those who champion relative morality and those who believe morality itself to be a fiction. The latter group is further divided by its views on whether or not the fiction is useful. Note the clever title for the issue: “W(h)ither Morality?”

There are those of us who might argue that there is indeed an inevitable withering of morality when it is seen to be entirely relative. Yes, we comprehend it only in part and from limited perspectives; but to believe that there exist only the perspectives and nothing behind them is a road to nihilism. If morality is essentially a fiction, much else goes “nighty-night” along with it. Not just “mundane” things such as with whom and when one might have sex, but the very notion of “appropriate” as well. Appropriate to what? Something that is preferred; but why should anything be preferred? Why do we have preferences at all? Preferences seem to me to be inextricably tied to purposes. We prefer what promotes our purposes to those things which destroy them. But purposes themselves are aimed at some ultimate end, even if that end is completely time bound.

What of justice? In a non-moral universe there should be no courts or law enforcement; there should be no accounting to be done by Charlie Sheen, Bernie Madoff, or 9/11 terrorists or Middle East dictators. But such accounting is exactly what everyone demands–not just because they arbitrarily prefer it, but because something very basic to human nature cries out when human dignity (another casualty, I’m afraid) is continually thwarted.

One strongly suspects that such pronouncements as the fictionality of morality can only be posited by tenured ivory tower academics who leave their notions at the office when they go home. It is difficult to imagine that they allow any behavior whatsoever from their children; but to enforce restraint is to shape in a certain direction which is presumably thought to be better than the alternatives. It is even more difficult to imagine them having teenage daughters and not caring about the intentions and attitudes of the young males whose attention has been captured. In either case, as soon as the offspring involved ask the inevitable question of “why?” in response to the parental directives, there is nothing to say except what we’ve all said at some point, knowing it to be inadequate: “because I said so.”

Perhaps more to come on the subject, including a more detailed look at the arguments–or would that not be preferable to the readers? Or maybe I’ll do it just because I said so.

Another Call to Arms?

Well, here we go again. Nothing like a good controversy to spur a backsliding blogger back into action.

And oh, what a controversy we have, courtesy of the White House, from whence it was announced earlier this week that the fifteen year run of the Defense of Marriage Act will no longer be defended itself. Predictably, a host of conservative watchdogs has been busily rallying the troops for an all-out frontal attack on the decision and on those responsible for it. Anyone associated with evangelical causes of any kind can expect a mailbox flooded with appeal letters pointing out the evils of homosexuality, the callousness of the current administration toward what its citizens truly believe, the necessity of overturning the decision, and–oh, by the way–the need to send a check to make sure all of this happens. (Last time I checked, I did not need to pay someone else to cast a ballot for me. Just saying.)

Let’s make no mistake about it. There is plenty to find disconcerting in the announcement. For starters, there is the hubris of justifying the decision by pronouncing that it violates the constitution. Clearly, that sort of declaration does not come from the Oval Office; but apparently the body charged with making that declaration failed in its duty to so rule and needs to be corrected by the White House. Technical foul. If that were not enough, the administration also presumes itself to be the appropriate arbiter of what marriage is and is not. Flagrant foul. Then there is the flip dismissal of the moral traditions which have been woven into the fabric of this culture as though they cannot speak into the whole question. Just plain foul from the start.

The concern in this corner is not over whether or not to agree with President Obama’s decision; rather, it with what we are to do about it. I cringe almost as much over the coming rantings and deluge of promo materials as I do over the decision itself. Does that mean I am indifferent? Not at all, though interpret it as you must. But I do wonder whether it is time for Christians to evaluate what they have to show for the strategies of the past forty years or so, strategies which have included the giving of untold millions of dollars which have yielded virtually nothing by way of actual policy reform. At the same time, there has been far too much vitriolic language targeting “the opposition.” Unlike the funding, this has produced a yield, albeit of a negative sort; it has created further defensive barriers and animosity, not only toward the attitudes on the issues, but toward the faith supposedly represented. So what do we do? Below are several options, not exhaustively stated by any means.

1. Fight the good fight as before, trusting that the Lord will do mighty things to bring victories which we may not see immediately. Write the letters, send the contributions, and join the marches.

2. Pray for those who represent our views and for those who do not, yet have influence in the decisions.

3. Recognize that the arena of the mind, from which ideas flow, was conceded a long time ago when we preached a private faith, untouched and unaffected by reason. We then must do the hard work of recovering the believing mind, and maybe the even harder work of gaining a hearing, all the while displaying a respectful attitude.

4. Let the world do what it will. It is unredeemed and we cannot expect redemptive behavior from it. After all, no one is forcing believers to engage in homosexual marriages, have abortions, gamble, etc. When they have had enough, we’ll be there to help the lost to see a better way.

It’s just the start of a list, but I’d like to hear where you find yourself and why. Since some of my readers cannot refrain from posing their own nuanced options, you have my permission.

The Things That Don’t Go Away

This post is of a different sort, perhaps not to be repeated. It’s a personal reflection on events begun on a Ground Hog Day in 1982. For the most part it makes little difference what year it was.

It was the date on which my son Mark was born. It was near the end of the day, coming within minutes of missing my wife’s hopes of bringing a little boy into our lives on the anniversary of the day we met. But he made it with a couple of minutes to spare. Oh, what a feeling. And I’ll never forget the way his eyes locked onto mine for all too brief a time. As many of my readers know, however, such moments were to come to an abrupt end; Mark was gone four days later, having been born with only half of a heart.

Lots of people, maybe even a majority of people, have things in their lives that they would never have chosen to experience. Other folks sometimes wonder at those experiences, and even more at how they seem to be carried, how they reset the course of lives, how they redirect the personalities as well as the dreams of those walk through them. All too often the people themselves become victims, never making it through at all, compounding sense of tragedy. Even those who are guided through to a brighter day, however, never forget. There are moments of remembrance which can come out of nowhere, grip and rip at least momentarily, and remind one that life is not all it might have been, if only . . ..

I’m not a member of the group that believes it to be sinful to think back, at least for a while, to those kinds of things. And I don’t believe we are required to conclude that it was all for the best after all. I’m not a determinist, philosophically or theologically. I do believe, however, that the inevitable looks to the past can remind us that God picks up broken pieces, sometimes badly shattered pieces, and makes something whole out of them if we allow Him to. We almost surely will not see just what that new whole will look like except in hindsight, and even then only partially. I also believe that the “good” of that notoriously abused passage in Romans 8:28 is not our temporal experience, but our participation in the good of redemption, described in the verses before and after v.28.

Some may view it as pie in the sky to believe that God works through our tragic experiences and points us to a better day, one which we might fail to see in all its promise were it not for those very events. If Jesus Christ is truly the incarnate, crucified, risen, ascended Lord of all, however, there is nothing else to say in defense of the confidence. Or needed. The things that won’t go away do not have to go away. But along with the tears they bring in the remembrance, may they bring to you also the new day and unshakable hope.

(If anyone is interested, the link here is to a sermon I preached a couple of years ago on the subject; you can copy and paste it into your brouser and scroll to the date 08/03/08.
http://www.boyertownec.org/sermon_archive.html )