In the wake of last week’s decision in the US to legalise same-sex marriage the world of social media lit up with rainbows and the hashtag #lovewins. Reason got left at the door while everyone jumped on the party bus. But the fact is no-one really believes #lovewins. If they did we’d encourage the legalisation of incestuous or polygamous relationships – if love really wins why would we tolerate one form of ‘love’ and not another. Because we don’t really believe that every expression of ‘love’ is legitimate or properly called love. All of which forces us to ask the most basic question (one I feel as though I have to keep asking all the time in helping people wrestle with these issues): On what basis do we determine right or wrong? Here’s 6 options that happen to spell TRIBES (easy to remember):
T – tradition. What’s the traditional position on an issue? Chesterton said tradition is the only true democracy because it gives a vote to our forebears. But what if tradition stops women voting or encourages slavery?
R – reason. Let’s do that which seems reasonable and evidence based. But what about those things you can’t do an experiment on – the nature of ‘love’ for example.
I – intuittion. If it feels good do it – classic hedonism. But what if that which feels good to me causes harm to you, and the denial of pleasure to me causes me distress. What then? Who’s desire for pleasure wins?
B – I’ll come back to this one shortly
E – experience. We’ll determine morality based on experience. But again, what happens when my experience differs from yours. Who’s experience is more valid?
S – society at large – democratic morality. But what if say 51% of the populace want x and 49% want y. Is right and wrong differentiated by 2%?
Seems we have a problem here. None of the above are a sure-fire way to determining morality. Perhaps a combination of them will get us so far but even then it all feels a little shaky doesn’t it? I missed out ‘B’ – stands for Book – as in a holy book, like the Quran or Bible for instance. Many people determine their morality based on a religious text. But what if it’s wrong, and they all contradict one another don’t they?
Our problem is that we do our morality from within rather than without. What I mean is we determine right and wrong from within our closed universe all the while trying to determine where ultimate morality may lie. What if someone had come in from the outside of our time and space universe to answer these sorts of questions for us. That’s the unique claim of Christianity – that Jesus came in to our world to tell us about life, death, right, wrong, and lots besides. So actually the Christian view of the book is inextricably linked to the man Jesus Christ.
Epistemologically speaking that means the Christian basis for morality is qualitatively different from any other. That’s why we look to the Bible to determine moral questions and not ultimately to tradition, reasons, intuition, experience or society at large. As useful as they might be, they can also be severely flawed. I know this isn’t a popular or majority view and, if you’re not a Christian I know you’ll disagree. And of course then there are the plethora of interpretative questions and issues to wrestle with in properly understanding the Bible’s teaching on any one issue. The key question is where does your ultimate authority lie, and why? At least stop and think about how and on what basis we determine our morality. Because when we really stop and think, anything other than a Christian epistemology is like building your house on sand. And morality based on dodgy foundations may not, in the end, be loving at all.