The Seduction of Moral Ambiguity (4 of 9)

One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” – I can’t think of a more quintessentially existential statement. It assumes that no real moral distinction can be made, because it assumes that they’re simply competing morally equivalent opinions in conflict. This, of course, is just another variation on the theme of “Who are we to judge?”.

Interestingly enough, I have never met anyone asking this question who didn’t philosophically presume themselves to have this authority . For that matter, I never met anyone who objected to moral absolutes who didn’t seek to absolutely impose their moral presuppositions on all the rest of us. And whereas the question “Who are we to judge?” is more often employed as a rhetorical gambit intended to disarm, in an ironic attempt to claim the moral high ground – it remains a sound philosophical question . . . if we’re intellectually honest enough to pursue the answer.

The question of where moral authority resides has long been an open question — most especially in a culture that has charted its course into the vague and mercurial waters of relativism. Are we to view ourselves as authoritative moral agents? Are we to simply follow the anthropological tipping points of shifting ethics and mores as our authority? Or is morality affixed to a more transcendent source, pursuant to the purpose for which it was designed?

Nietzsche would say that morality is a struggle of “Will to Power”. Kant would say that morality is a simple matter of cultural pragmatism. Sartre would say that morality has an esoteric value found in self-actualization. Each one of them making the argument that morality is nothing more than something we make up as we go along – something to be ushered into existence by the existential pronouncements of the prevailing culture.

It is a very seductive notion to believe that morality could be that ambiguous – an ever morphing social contract vacuously insisting we comply and conform . . . a standard so tentatively constituted, that no one could ever take it seriously. With a wink and a nod, we can simulate conformity while still pursuing our own selfish agendas – because after all who’s to judge?

imagesBut still, intuitively, we believe that there innately exists a tension between what is and what ought to be . . . as if a pattern were being interrupted. This is likely because we instinctively know that every moral question is predicated on how we measure the value of human life. Which is to say, if human life is to be measured in the flux of the sentimentality generated by circumstance – then morality will be nothing more than a validating aspect of that sentiment. But if human life is to be understood as having an immutable value – then morality must have immutably transcendent moorings.

Being made in the image of God is the game changer – either all human life has an immeasurable value established by God . . . or human life is at market value, allowing us to haggle over its value, by way of our moral opinions. Without getting into the weeds over the specifics of what a transcendent morality might look like – let’s suffice to say, that it is God who must lead us into all understanding; that he is the final authority; and that we must defer to his judgements – humbly confessing that he is God . . . and we are not.

Here’s a great philosophical framing of morality


The Seduction of Being Right (3 of 9)

If we are to take social media as a normative indicator of cultural ethos, then it is clear that coherent debate and civil discourse have long become a lost art. When twitter feeds aren’t filled with innocuous banality, they are spiked with gotcha zingers intent on dispatching all opposing views. Meanwhile Facebook, when it isn’t being an echo chamber of tribalistic affirmation, it is a highly charged exchange of ad hominem accusations, straw man inferences, and hyper link elephant hurling.

I can only suppose that we are left to accept all of these convoluted examples of tortured logic as if they were reasonable facsimiles of a well-developed argument . . . but I don’t think so. When I engage in a discussion on social media, my approach is to make my case systematically, using syllogistic reasoning predicated on my presuppositional framing of the issue – then employing the Socratic Method, I defend my position while challenging the veracity of opposing views.

And because I do this, often I am curiously accused of “just wanting to be right” – to which I’m always tempted to retort “of course I do – aren’t you interested in getting it right?” Of course, there’s no mystery here – we choose to believe something precisely because we believe it to be true . . . to be correct. For now, let us leave for another blog, the dubious and careless process most people employ when making such choices. Instead, let us focus on what it means to be right.

right and wrong checkboxReading Luke 18:10-14 we find the story of the Pharisee and the Publican. It’s a perfect example of how a tightly wound orthodoxy will invariably produce a tightly wound orthopraxy – only to make being right an empty exercise of reductive legalism. Therefore, of the two men, it was the Publican, who had actually internalized what being identified as right was about . . . enough to know that it required a more humble and contrite heart.

In this way, the seduction of being right is found in the arrogant presumption of imagining ourselves as better than those who are supposedly getting it wrong. This occurs in the subtlest of ways, often under the pretense of defending the faith – likely, this was the Pharisee’s intention. But if we are to allow honesty to guide us, confessing the limitations of our epistemology – at best, all we can really offer one another in regards to being right is our own presupposed conclusions.

And it is this very honesty I find in this insightful exchange between Peter and Jesus (John 6:66–68) Jesus asks “Do you want to go away as well?” and Peter answers “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life . . .” The particular beauty I find revealed here, is in how Peter isn’t relying on being right, as if it were an intellectual exercise performed in a vacuum – but instead, is honest enough to confess that he has nowhere else to turn but the Lord . . . and that staying with Jesus is the only right thing he knows to do. May this be our humble confession as well – leaving being right to someone else.

And just in case your still tempted to think being right is so important . . .