“Black and White” morality

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Everything is part of the loving God’s plan, including miracles, life, happiness, love, beauty, etc. But death, disease, destruction, war, famine, drought, disasters, evil, suffering, pain, immorality and just about everything that isn’t ‘good’ is our fault!

I notice that in a few places we find this sort of morality/setup; the idea that morality is black and white. In the Bible, shaving is punishable by Hell; being tattooed is punishable by Hell; being lazy or idle is punishable by Hell; telling a harmless lie is punishable by Hell – There is no middle ground; it’s either good or it’s a sin, and all sin, no matter how big or small, is punishable by the same method.

We can also find this in the world of video games; this ‘Black and White’ morality was brought to my attention by watching a YouTube video about gaming cliches – “you can either burn down the orphanage, or give everyone a million dollars” – there is no middle ground in games like these. And then I remembered that religion is actually quite similar.

I have made topics before about sin, morality and Hell (for instance here and here) and throughout studying the Bible I have noticed this lack of middle ground. Are there different versions of Hell? Or different levels of severity? Why should someone who broke a pointless Leviticus commandment be condemned the same amount as a sadistic mass-murderer? There are also no different levels of sin. Steal a spoon – it’s a sin, tell a lie – it’s a sin, murder a million people -it’s a sin. This is a very flawed method. Just like in the law you get different punishments based on the offense someone has committed, having different amounts or ‘levels’ of sin would actually be a pretty useful system.

Good or evil, or more specifically good vs evil, does not exist in reality. Who was good and who was evil in the Crusades? The Christians invaded the Holy land and left a trail of blood behind them, but the Muslims were hardly any better. Or Hannibal, who stood up against the Romans? Who was morally superior there? or Spartacus? You could call the invading force the evil one, but that doesn’t work in all cases. And sometimes the invading forces were welcomed by their opponent’s citizens, for instance during the reign of the Persians or Mongols.

Furthermore, ‘Black and White’ morality can’t possibly work in a real life scenario. For instance, during the pre-civil war days, people hid slaves in the underground railroad. When the government showed up, should the family hiding the slaves say, “No, I am not hiding slaves.” Or should they have spoken the truth and sent the slaves back to be owned as property and abused? Another example would be if you are in an out-of-control vehicle heading towards a fork in the road ahead, (assume that there are only two possible choices, stopping the vehicle or trying to turn around would defeat the philosophical part of the question) you could either turn right and hit three people, or turn left and hit only one. Either way someone is going to die; is one a ‘good’ decision and the other an ‘evil’ one?

Image courtesy of  digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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11 thoughts on ““Black and White” morality

  1. Who should be teaching us how to be decent?

    Would my actions today be judged by the decency is tomorrow or the decency of today?

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    • Humans have a natural tendency to move towards ‘moral’ behaviors; this is a by-product of our evolution. Society further reinforces this ‘natural morality’ through various methods, such as punishing criminals or teaching children the importance of morality.

      By both; for instance, humans in the past thought slavery was morally acceptable, hence the Bible does not speak against it, however humans now realize that other races are no less ‘human’ that us, and slavery was abolished. Slavery is now classed as immoral because of our more complex moral code , which has been made more complex due to scientific discoveries and the gradual increase of our species’ knowledge.

      The problem with the idea that morality is not subjective lies in the fact that it means one of two things; 1. slavery and all the other things classed as immoral in history are still technically moral, despite the fact that pretty much everyone disagrees with them, or 2. everyone in history was immoral, and who is to say that we are not immoral too? Humans in the future might decide what we do today is immoral, so everyone in history was wrong.

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      • This is a good observation. I agree with this that humans, in the course of history, have natural tendency towards “moral” behaviors and reinforces the same “natural morality” through rewards and/or punishments.

        However, I think that there is not one possible explanation for this. While your explanation here seems plausible, i do not agree that absolute things/realities are directly obvious to humans who need to develop over time (hence we call it “evolution”). It takes time before human race realize that those deemed “moral” are actually not moral. It is seldom, if not at all, that the Church ever declared something originally deemed immoral to be moral in the modern sense.
        Here’s an alternative view of morality:
        A. There is an objective morality.
        B. Humans don’t have immediate and clear knowledge of this morality, but the view develops over time.
        C. There are portions of this objective morality that is revealed for clarity in some aspects of it (e.g. Ten Commandments) and clarified over time (e.g. revelation that Love is the key to the commandments as ultimately clarified by Christ).
        D. There is an institution, the Church which Christ has founded, that is equipped with an authority, through the Holy Spirit, in decisions regarding **morals** and the Christian **Faith**. (Read: morals and faith only.)

        The thesis is this: Perception causes absolute things to appear differently. We may perceive a different moral value on things with absolute moral value. Red may be grey for a colorblind, but its redness is absolute based on spectroscopic instrumentation.

        This is corroborated by the fact that the Bible recounts Jesus explaining that the original design is for man and woman once joined in marriage shall not be separated (indissolubility of the covenant) as “what has God joined, let no man separate”. As to why divorce was previously “allowed” in the Mosaic Laws, Jesus explained that it was allowed because of the “hardness of their heart”. Hence, it is the perception and recognition of the absolute morality that needs to develop over time.

        As to slavery, with respect to a kind of servitude as an act of charity and out of voluntary service to others, this is not condemned (see St. Paul’s letters on slaves). However, slavery with respect to ownership is condemned as immoral by the Church since persons cannot be owned by other people being in the same dignity.

        Response to #1: The agreement of “everyone” depends on the eyes that is used to look into the objective morality. Much like this: A red apple cannot be recognized by everyone as “red” unless no one is colorblind (about 5% of the population?). Thus, the redness of an apple does not depend on the population that looks at it; so is absolute morality. This solves the dilemma posted in #1.

        Response to #2: Acts deemed moral today may eventually be realized to be immoral in the future (that is: perceived moral => actually immoral) based on some known absolute morality (e.g. against killing, against rape). However, those already known as immoral (e.g. euthanasia) cannot be considered moral in its entirety.

        As to the possibility that those perceived moral today (e.g. charity work) could be judged as immoral in the future is plausible. It really depends on the social basis of morality. The Church is offering the Holy Spirit as the absolute guide in these things. That is, asking God to judge between good and evil instead of us human alone. Biblical basis about this problem is that it all started with humans claiming to own the judgement between good and evil (that is: “eating the fruit of knowledge of good and evil”) displacing the rightful role of God (“becoming god in own terms”). This is known as the “Original Sin”.

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        • Assuming for a minute that God exists, your model of objective morality makes sense. Throughout history most human civilizations have been only partially moral, and humans had to ‘evolve’ a better sense of morality. This model is still subject to the idea that everyone in history was immoral, but in this case they are only partially immoral. Furthermore, this model could be expanded to encompass both the purpose of life (striving to achieve ‘perfect’ morality – and to a lesser extent, sophistication and the complexity of our race) and who gets into Heaven (tied between faith and works, the works would be judged by morality as well)

          Overall there is no way to tell whether morality is subjective or objective, but one thing is for certain – it is definitely not black and white.

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  2. …and to think that this comes from the Infinitely Good and Just God. How can any God be considered ‘Just’ if he condemns the sweetest little old lady in the world to the same punishment as a mass murderer? The Bible is clear on this: “For all have sinned.” “All liars have their part in the lake of fire.” This is not justice. This is abuse and emotional blackmail.

    Christians say that this is exactly why Jesus died for our sins. Hell is the justice, but Jesus’ atonement is the grace. In reality though, this only complicates the problem. With this theology, the mass murderer can repent and accept Jesus, and–so long as he is sincere–he is saved. The sweet little old lady who doesn’t believe (or who believes the wrong thing), however, is doomed to burn in hell.

    This is the irony: Christians claim that without God, there can be no justice. In reality, the opposite is true.

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    • There are many points that need clarification here in connection with the Christian concept of Absolute Being who is God — Justice and Goodness himself.

      The value of morality depends on the nature of the one who is offended. God is the Infinite Being being the Justice and Goodness himself. Thus any act that opposes justice and goodness causes infinite injustice and infinite evil. Thus, it is said that sin, no matter how light, is a sin against the Law.

      However, in lieu of the new Law of Love as clarified by Jesus in the new Covenant, the key to the evaluation of sin is love. Indeed, in this theology, a mass murderer can repent (if the murderer is truly sincere, God can see it) just as the Vineyard Owner can pay the same one denarius both the early and late laborers. On the other hand, the lifetime goodness of another person can be cancelled by his/her decision to go to Hell in his/her final moments of life.

      Under the same theology however, there are differences in the glory since some may be crowned with rewards. Thus, while everyone in Heaven is fully happy (fullness), not everyone attains the same glory. This is the concept of communion of saints and veneration of holy souls (such as of the Virgin Mary as Queen of all Saints). Being Queen is due to difference in glory, not happiness.

      Finally, not all who do not believe will go to Hell. In fact, by the new Covenant under the Law of Love (and of Mercy), those who are sincerely seeking God by doing good and trying to know Him in their best ability is not culpable of sin. However, those who are already provided with means to know and realize the truth about God **and still** maintain their avoidance of God’s truth will be culpable and will indeed go to Hell. Note that in this theology:
      No one goes to Hell by God’s decision. Going to Hell is a personal free decision that God allows. Remember that it is God’s wish that all go to Heaven. But going to Heaven by force is against the Law of Love and Love Himself. Freedom is the key to authentic love.

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      • In fact, in the same theology, not all who believe will go to Heaven. Not everyone who calls Christ “Lord, Lord” will be recognized by the King even if miracles are done in his Name through them. What is important is to always do the Will of the Father. Thus, while love is the key to the New Covenant, the intention is crucial whether doing the Divine Will or one’s own will (selfishness). Works of Mercy and Philanthropy are two different acts of charity.

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      • “Thus any act that opposes justice and goodness causes infinite injustice and infinite evil.”

        How can any finite act cause infinite injustice and evil? Likewise, how can any finite act warrant infinite punishment?

        Does God have technically have the right to dole out the same reward to the mass murderer as he did in the parable of the vineyard owner? Sure. It’s his game, so he can run it however he chooses. But the key point is that this does not make it right; it does not make it just; and it does not make it good.

        No one decides to go to Hell. No one wakes up in the morning and says, “I sure would like to roast in eternal damnation.” I’m sure you don’t mean this is a conscious decision, so how is this decision made? By actions? You indicated that after a lifetime of goodness, someone can decide in his/her final moments to go to hell. Are you saying that someone on his deathbed would suddenly cast aside all the benevolent acts of his life and commit acts so heinous as to warrant hell? So, if not a sudden ‘shift to the darkside,’ what is it? a last-minute denial of God? You said that not all who disbelieve will go to hell, so in this case wouldn’t the lifetime of goodness negate the last-minute denial?

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        • Great questions here. I’m moved to think deep in the ramifications of these positions.

          A finite act can cause infinite injustice. Justice and goodness of any being finds its source from the Source — Goodness and Justice himself, God. Thus, any act of a finite being *in some way* opposes the Source and thus causes infinite injustice. To illustrate, imagine one person who hurls a rotten egg towards an innocent man. It will surely insult the man since there is no justice and goodness. However, things will be considered worst if the man had been the President of the State.

          However, culpability can be different due to the finiteness of the one who acts. If the person hurling the rotten egg was an innocent child who was thinking everything was then a play, the act against (ruining the clothes and person) the man still exists as injustice but one cannot impute the same punishment to the child as opposed to the previous example.

          Thus, not all injustice does not warrant infinite punishment (going to Hell) since this depends on the culpability of the act. This is the reason why God does not send people to Hell. People decide to go there. If a person is in his right mind, he will definitely NOT choose to go to Hell. Imagine someone going the wrong way and road signs have been indicating that this is so. S/He can either ignore the signs or recognize them. If ignorance is not deliberate, he is not culpable. If ignorance is deliberate, whatever the consequence is justifiable. If s/he recognizes the signs YET continued in the wrong track, the same consequence is just.

          Thus, one decides to go to Hell by his own deliberate act of recognizing the signs AND by not following them. God does not punish just to show his power, in fact it is more like God forgives to show forth his power.

          God gives the same reward (“Heaven”) to both the early and late workers. It is also right that this is by his nature as God the Creator decide for the reward (he is the owner of the vineyard). As to “this does not make it right; it does not make it just; and it does not make it good”, the answer is simple: “Is your eye envious because I am generous?” Truly, the measure of Man is inadequate. How do we reconcile our view?

          In the parable, it must be thought that there are two “rewards”. The first reward is receiving the wage, “heaven”. All laborers got Heaven. The second reward is “having to work”. To work is a human dignity. Note, owner asked “Why have you been standing here idle all day long?”. Those who worked (having realized early of their calling) have a lot already much like the Other Son in the parable of the Prodigal Son since God would say: “Son, you have always been with me.” God called us to Heaven (be with Him) and the justification is not what we do (works and the law does not save) but because He calls: “You go into the vineyard too.” The only way we go to Heaven is by heeding His call, deciding to do, and acting so by all humanly means. God wants us to be fully human as Jesus said: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

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