Who Defines Morality?

Gilbert_Stuart_Williamstown_Portrait_of_George_WashingtonPresident Obama’s administration has taken a few hits lately. One of the latest problems to come to light has to do with the IRS targeting for delays groups applying for non-profit status if they had a conservative moniker such as Tea Party.

As an aside, I find it interesting that “Tea Party,” associated with one of the brave acts of rebellion by the forefathers of the US in the process of gaining independence from England, has become a negative in the eyes of liberal Americans.

Maybe that isn’t so much of an aside. The question is, who defines morality? Once, standing up to a government that wasn’t really all that repressive, but was unilateral in its decisions, was thought to be a brave act worthy of acclaim.

Today, the group of people standing against a Big Brother type of all invasive government is ridiculed by the media and, in this latest Obama administration gaffe, targeted for unfair treatment by the IRS.

As it turns out, the President himself spoke out against this kind of unfair treatment. But the incident brings up the question, who gets to define morality? Those opposed to the Tea Party were making a decision based on what they believed to be right, I would have to assume. I mean, they were violating common practice if not legal precedent in targeting organizations with whom they disagreed. Who would do that unless they thought those organizations were wrong?

But do government officials get to define morality in this way? Do police get to target people because of their political views or religious persuasion? Some actually think they should–in light of terrorist threats.

How do we then keep government from going after those with whom they disagree, just as the IRS so recently did? This is the kind of action dictatorial regimes take.

No wonder President George Washington said in his farewell address

“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. . . . And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

How, President Washington seems to say, can morality exist apart from religion? How can political prosperity stand without the support of religion and morality?

Here we are in the twenty-first century, stripping religion from the marketplace of ideas, claiming that it has no place in government, and we find ourselves in a morass of immorality–or morality defined by one’s own ideas and beliefs.

How can we expect otherwise when we have stripped away any authority upon which morality is to stand? Why shouldn’t the anti-Tea Party IRS agent believe he is doing his nation a service by thwarting their processes? Who’s to say he is wrong? That is, if there is no authoritative, objective moral standard.

But if not from religion,from where does morality come?

Interestingly, Jesus was asked by the Jewish leaders of His day where He derived His authority. They wanted to trap Him and He would have none of it. But later, when he talked with His disciples, He let them know that what He said, He’d first heard from His Father. He was not making things up on the fly, not moving according to the whims of His own heart. He had an authoritative standard, established in conjunction with the Father and revealed by the Holy Spirit.

All this to say, the further government gets from religion, the weaker will be the grasp of morality. The latter will become a malleable thing, bent to the will of men and women in power, whether for good or ill, without any authoritative standard to guide it. Expect, then, more IRS-like scandals.

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3 Comments

  1. Any attempt to define morality risks trying to make morality a value rather than a state. Because values are rendered from ever shifting, fallible perspectives, and those who assign values lack omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence, those values are a snapshot in time, an interpretation of what the assigner believes to be correct. So if morality is a value, it doesn’t actually exist. But rather, if morality is a state, and the only two possible conditions of the state are moral or not moral, then morality is not something that is defined but rather indicates the positive condition. Now for the real challenge. Because morality doesn’t exist as a state based on natural laws, then it woud have to be based on either preternatural or supernatural laws. But how can preternatural laws or supernatural laws exist? The short answer: God.

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  2. Great comment! Love the reduction of the clutter. If morality is a state, then it is the positive condition–the antithesis of immorality. It’s one of the fundamental apologetic proofs of the existence of God. Since we all believe there is a right and wrong, then morality exists as a state. Our attempt to define it is actually a perversion since we not only don’t have the knowledge, presence, and power God has, we also have soaked our worldview in self-interest. How can we see clearly to make a moral judgment apart from ones God has given us, seeing as our hearts are deceptive?

    Becky

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  3. “If” morality is a state. Not everybody accepts that. And not everybody accepts that right and wrong are static. In fact, I wonder if anybody really does. For example, we all know the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.” But many people make allowances for warfare, or executions.

    Wikepedia says the following: ” Jonathan Haidt and Jesse Graham have studied the differences between liberals and conservatives, in this regard. Haidt found that Americans who identified as liberals tended to value care and fairness higher than loyalty, respect and purity. Self-identified conservative Americans valued care and fairness less and the remaining three values more. Both groups gave care the highest over-all weighting, but conservatives valued fairness the lowest, whereas liberals valued purity the lowest. Haidt also hypothesizes that the origin of this division in the United States can be traced to geohistorical factors, with conservatism strongest in closely knit, ethnically homogenous communities, in contrast to port-cities, where the cultural mix is greater, thus requiring more liberalism.”

    I recommend the following article to explore some of the problem with a unified theory of morality:

    http://dangerousintersection.org/2007/07/07/why-conservatives-and-liberals-talk-past-each-other-on-moral-issues/

    It may be an exercise in sophistry, but it should at least very quickly demonstrate the folly of simplistic black-and-white arguments about morality.

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