[NOTE: This is an extension of my post on the origins of morality. If you have not already read Rights Bubbles: the Origin of Universal Morality, I strongly suggest that you do so before reading this post, as this post is meant to help explain the former in greater detail. ]
When it comes to matters of right and wrong, if you are seeing gray, it is a sure indication that you’re on the wrong side of right.
This is what I like to tell people who accuse me of having a black and white understanding of right and wrong, and I stand by it. Where an issue of right and wrong is concerned, there is never any gray. There is always a right and everything else is a wrong. It’s just that our Creator’s law is impossibly difficult for humans to accept. But this doesn’t change the fact that there is always a right in every moral question, and that gray is the justification of wrong. I wrote this post to help explain why I say this.
As I have already stated, our individual Natural Rights are derived from our Natural Right to our free will as granted to us by our Creator. Because the Creator is the source of our free will, we have a duty to protect and preserve the Natural Rights of other individuals. Natural Law, the universal moral law that governs this universe, is derived from the intersection of our Natural Rights and the needs of others. How we act toward one and other in relation to this conflict determines whether or not we are in accord with Natural Law.
So let’s apply this to a real world example relevant to our modern society. Let’s discuss how this applies to the issue of abortion. Yes, this is an emotionally charged issue, but I chose it for that reason. I would ask that you read through this to see how I use my argument to resolve the moral questions connected to it.
Our society has decided that it will allow a mother to decide whether her unborn child is human. If she does, then, in some States, the same law that would allow her to kill her child will also put another person in jail should they kill that same child – intentional or accidentally. At the same time, should the mother choose to abort the child but it is born alive, then, in some States, that same law suddenly defines the killing of that same child as murder. These are all contradictions created by violating the universal morality of Natural Law to justify our desires rather than honoring our duty to our Creator. A mother does have a right to her free will, so she has a right to her body – up to the point that she creates another life as a result of exercising her free will. Once a mother has conceived, she no longer has the right to abort because she will be placing a claim against the free will of her unborn child.*
Now, there are some exceptions that can be easily handled by the parameters of my argument for universal morality. In the case of a real medical threat to the mother, she has the right to preserve her will, so this would justify an abortion. In this case, there would be little difference – in principle – than the case of my not having to share my pineapple with another castaway. Both are examples of justified self-preservation. We can also justify an abortion in the case of rape. If a woman becomes pregnant as the result of a rape, which is a violation of her free will, then the pregnancy is a continued violation of her free will. This would be justification for an abortion. However, should a mother risk death or sacrifice her free will to preserve the child within her, this would be an act from which we define the notion of virtue and nobility because she willingly places her duty to our Creator and thus, to others, above herself. In this case, the mother would be worthy of higher regard than one who chose to save herself or rid herself of the burden of a child that was not the result of her free will. Both choices would be justified, but only one would command reverence from other people.
Other than this, there is no justification for abortion as it ends the free will of another human. This same principle can be applied to other issues in our society today:
You do not have a Natural Right to a job; you have a Natural Right to seek employment, or to start your own business. Demanding that someone give you a job is demanding you be allowed to control their free will for your purposes.
You do not have a Natural Right to food, clothing and shelter; you have a Natural Right to use your labor to seek them. Demanding that others provide for your care is placing an unjust demand on their free will which – in principle — is little different from slavery.
Same thing: you do not have a Natural Right to health care; you have a Natural Right to seek it and to freely contract with someone who is willing to provide their labor in return for whatever you agree to give them. Demanding that others provide your care is placing a demand on their free will.
Most moral issues where people claim to see gray can be handled in a similar fashion. All you have to do is start tracing the claims placed against people back to their free will. When you find the point where one person is trying to control the free will of another, then you have found wrong, not gray. The real issue here is accepting and living with what is right. As humans, we are self-centered and seldom want to place others before ourselves – even when we are dealing with their right to their own free will. But then, I never said doing the right thing would be easy, only that you can always determine what it is by following the principles of Natural Law.
*NOTE: our founders followed a religious doctrine that held the unborn did not have free will until the quickening. This is connected to the belief that free will is connected to the soul, and that the quickening is the point when the soul enters the body. Our founders sometimes allowed abortion before the quickening, but seldom after it. This position is totally in keeping with the argument I am presenting.
34 thoughts on “Morality Is Black And White: There Is No Gray”
“In the case of a real medical threat to the mother, she has the right to preserve her will, so this would justify an abortion.” Why? Is her free will worth more than the childs? Just because the circumstances are different shouldn’t make an impact on “Narutral law”. This mother is controlling the childs free will in both cases. Same for this piece,
“If a woman becomes pregnant as the result of a rape, which is a violation of her free will, then the pregnancy is a continued violation of her free will.”
This doesn’t change the fact that she is controlling another human’s free will by killing the child.
And on another note, from your previous text, the origin of universal morality, you had this piece of information:
” Because the Creator is the source of our free will, we have a duty to protect and preserve the Natural Rights of other individuals.”
Why, if he gave us our free will, should he have the right to take it away from us, making it our duty to serve him?
If you’ve read it all, that’s great 🙂 And remember, its not a personal attack, just wanting to get an idea of how you would combat these counter-questions.
Interesting article (or blog post)
I read everything on my blogs. SO here you go;
1 — I never said a mother cannot have an abortion if her life is in jeopardy, but too many people push that forward without ever telling their audience that this is something that happens in LESS than 0.01% of pregnancies. The numbers are so small as to make this close to a straw man defense of abortion.
2 — In the case of rape: again, you have two innocents involved. In that case, the mother could chose an abortion, but — morally speaking — it would be wrong. No, the woman did not chose to be raped, but you have set up a situation much akin to saying you have a right to let go of another person’s hand and let them fall tot heir death simply because you didn’t mean to grab it when they slipped and now you feel it is against your will to hold on until help arrives.
Finally, the Creator does NOT demand that you worship Him. This is why people place themselves in hell — NOT God. And for the question about why God can’t control you? That question is filled with the type of arrogance that deserves death. A computer might as well as its maker/user what right he has to command the computer. Your question is not only an absurdity on its face, it is the height of arrogance for the creation to question the Creator. Luckily, God restrained Himself so that you may chose your own path — even if it means your destruction.
So, there you are. And, mind you, I meant no attack 🙂 Think of my “you” as the third person variant of the word.
Thanks for posting your comment.
Wow, great how fast you replied, appriciate it 🙂
Okay lets kick it off, and I’m going to copy your system of numbering the arguments to make it easier to read.
1. The numbers are less important here, we are intrested in if its right or wrong to abort when her life is in danger. Point stil remains, I think she is intruding on the childs free will.
2. Eh, not much to discuss, by natural law it is wrong.
3. You and I seem to have different definitions of the word demand. When i say he demands us to be loyal and that it is our duty to serve him, I mean that in a “Or else…!” kind of manner. Like a murderer threatening a poor witness not to tell on him, “Or else…!,” he warns.
This is kind of the same thing, he doesn’t controll our free will, merely suggesting that horrible things will happen if we don’t obey his orders (or wishes).
But i really don’t want this to become a debate of the existence of god, so try to avoid that 🙂 And as always, no disrespect.
1 — When two equally innocent lives are at stake — and I mean truly equal in their lack of responsibility to each other, as in this case — then either one has a right to self-preservation. In this case, it is not an imposition on the free will of the unborn because the unborn cannot and does not have a claim against the mother’s life where the mother’s life is honestly at a real risk of ending. To make such a claim is to claim the right to own another person. But notice: there are many times when we chose to risk our lives for the sake of another, and this “could” be one of them. In fact, there are times where we sacrifice ourselves for another… 😉
2 — What is wrong? If you go by natural law as I understand it, then — no matter how much we may dislike it — the mother has an obligation to carry the child to term,. No, she did not chose to be raped, but once that act has occurred, then there is an innocent at stake. SO long as the mother’s life is not at honest risk, she has a duty to God to carry the child to term. This is why I used the example of grabbing someone who is falling off a cliff by reflex. You may not have meant to have taken another’s life in your hands, but — once you hold it — your choice in the matter is irrelevant. To let go is manslaughter — as would be terminating a child conceived out of rape. The post says right and wrong are black and white — not easy 🙂
3 — No, we have the same definition, you are just setting up a fallacious situation. I addressed this in my first reply to you but you do not seem to want to accept the situation as it is. God does NOT demand you worship Him. He gave you free will. So, if you reject Him, then YOU chose the “or else” — not Him. You can try to reason that away — as you appear to be want to do — but that won’t change the fact that it is YOUR choice — not God’s.
Let’s say mom and dad tell you to do as they say or else. Now, mom and dad might know that if you disobey, the likely result will cause great harm to you. But you disobey anyway — and you get hurt very badly. The spoiled child who thinks ONLY of themselves may blame mom and dad for their injury, but it was NOT mom and dad’s fault — it was the child who disobeyed who is at fault. Same thing here.
And this IS a debate about God. Morality cannot exist without a Creator — period! So the way you end your posts seems to me to be…well, less than sincere. 😦
Look, I know I’m new here, but when you talk about Universal Law and its jurisdiction of the universe, does that also apply to other living things besides humans? Because infanticide it ridiculously common in the animal world, as well as in most (if not all) human cultures. While I’m obviously not trying to justify abortion, I am trying to point out that the matter is not black and white as you see it. While it is ridiculously easy to think a woman is selfish for aborting her child, there are numerous reasons why a women would choose to do so beyond wanting to intrude on a child’s free will. For example, social pressures may compel women to abort children in order to avoid shame and ostracization. For example, a woman may choose to secretly abort her child to avoid accusations of adultery, impurity, impropriety or marrying out of wedlock. It can also be a matter of practicality according to the culture. For example, the reason why girls are often aborted in China is because they’re usually married off to other families and so are unable to provide financially for their parents as well as care for them in their old age (a huge deal considering China’s emphasis on family and community). For others, especially those living in countries torn by war, poverty and corrupt social services, women may abort their children because they feel they will be unable to provide for them during such uncertain times. Yes there’s a good chance the baby will persevere through it all, but for alot of women that’s about as certain as a coin toss. Oh, and about the abortion putting the mothers’ life in jeopardy happening less than 0.01% in pregnancies, that may be true for middle and upper class families, but it’s a whole lot different when applied to lower class or minority populations (especially Latinos and African Americans). And finally, for women who choose to abort children after being raped, remember that for most women rape is not something that going to go away after it has occurred. Trauma may compel a woman to seek a risky abortion in order to wash away what they think is a horrible crime (and you know how trauma can affect how people think). And finally (and perhaps most importantly), a woman may choose to abort a child before it has come to term for the simple reason that she hasn’t yet formed a close emotional bond with it, making it easier for her to go through the abortion. Obviously such feelings will change when the mother does have the child, but it’s not always going to happen (often when it does happen mothers are given certain hormones to heighten their emotional connection to their newborn children if they’re bodies can’t make it naturally). Oh and about that cliff analogy, while anyone grabbing the person about to fall is obligated to keep that person safe, he is not always obligated to help if he knows he’s going to die along with the person he’s trying to save (doubly true if the person doing the saving happens to be a small child, elderly, injured, or mentally disabled). And trust me that actually has happened, especially among hikers and mountain climbers in jeopardy who had to make such a traumatic decision.
Animals are not moral agents. They are not governed by the same laws as moral agents. Humans are both moral agents and — therefore — accountable to moral law. And that is black and white, and gray is a sure sign you are on the wrong side of right.
All the ‘factors’ you list to justify doing something that is in violation of moral law are — at their foundation — just excuses we use to rationalize doing what we know in our hearts we should not do.
And your rationalizing away my analogy of the cliff does not work because you are changing what I was trying to explain. No, you are not bound to sacrifice yourself for the sake of another, but that was not the issue here. If you know that help can and will arrive before you go over the cliff, then you are morally bound to hold on and we all know it.
The other half of this — that right and wrong are black and white — is that right is usually a very hard thing to do. It is easy to know, but hard to live. In another conversation, we would explain this as sin and man’s inability to avoid sinning because of our fallen nature and love of self over others…
It is true that animals do not have the same emotional and moral complexity as humans, but, yes, they can still feel emotions, show evidence for altruism, and enforce behaviors that ensure group conformity.
Studies with rats have shown that they are capable of empathy, evidenced by them trying repeatedly to release their cage mates from containers even when their was no clear reward for doing so (not even for companionship, the rats still continued to do this even if they couldn’t interact with the other rats). It’s also the reason they make better pets than mice because they’ll actually form close bonds with their owners
Additionally, animals that work together in groups need to have some way to maintain cohesion for better survival. It’s for that reason that social animals will develop certain behaviors to maintain harmony between different members. For instance, among bees, any worker besides the queen who is found trying to reproduce is immediately killed or driven off, since those bees can threaten the entire hive by possibly encouraging other infertile worker bees to also enter fertility and create their own hives. This is because of kin selection: all the worker bees have agreed to work together to give up their lives and fertility so that their queen (who is also their mother) can pass on their genes indirectly. It’s all a matter of fairness. It’s also the reason why monkeys, especially those in lower social stations, will secretly stash food away from the eyes of dominant monkeys lest they are caught and get punished, and even create false alarms by pretending predators are in the area so they can eat without catching the attention of their superiors, who are too busy hiding in fear to notice. Some subordinate monkeys will even try to cover their tracks when trying to mate with females relegated to the dominant male. They actively take steps to avoid discovery because they know that if they get caught they will get punished for it, because if such behavior continues unabated it could tear the entire group apart and leave the individuals vulnerable to danger. This often happens because said monkeys behave like they’re not getting the fair end of the deal in the hierarchy.
Most human societies also function in that manner. People have a deep sense of fairness, which sadly may compel some people to lie, cheat and steal if they feel the system their following in unfair to them and thus not worth obeying. However, such behavior could endanger society if everyone starts doing the same things. You ever heard of the saying “Cheaters never prosper?”. Anyone who is caught doing unacceptable behavior is punished so that he and everyone else around him do not follow his example and potentially bring danger to their society. But unfortunately, some people do get away with that kind of behavior: A killer could live his entire life without getting caught, a drug dealer could ruin an entire family, and a warlord could get political asylum even if he’s responsible for numerous deaths. But to believe they could get away with such atrocities scot-free is so horrible (even for me), that a realm of punishment needs to exist so those people are forced into unending torment to account for them (which, despite my opinions, is not always bad since studies have shown the fear of hell to be a great deterrent for committing crimes).
Finally, you are absolutely right that all people possess moral agencies. However, not everyone is going to follow what you consider black and white sides of morality. Now I’m not saying that there are people who don’t know the difference between right and wrong, but their moral frameworks are so utterly alien and foreign, that to you and me they seem to follow less a black and white morality and more a “blue and orange” morality.
Heck look at the Japanese during World War II. To the Japanese soldiers, American soldiers were crazy for being willing to dishonor themselves by surrendering. If a Japanese soldier was caught by the enemy, he was expected to kill himself so not to bring himself dishonor to his family and country (even if it meant deceiving the enemy by pretending to surrender and then blowing the other side when they get closer). The best example is seppuku, the old Japanese practice of ritual suicide in order to regain one’s honor. In western thought suicide is considered the ultimate act of cowardice as well as a horrible sin since it goes against the natural order of God’s will. Japan, and to a lesser extent the rest of the world, also could not fathom why Americans would engage in such expensive and often casualty filled rescue missions. The Japanese didn’t even know what to make of this practice, because it showed a great deal of courage and honor on the part of the rescuers, but they still didn’t understand why they were risking and sacrificing their lives for cowards who couldn’t be bothered to die honorably.
And please, let’s not get started on the Aztecs, who considered human sacrifice to be the greatest honor for the ones being sacrificed since it meant being induced into the best “Aztec” heaven ( afterlife was based not on how you lived, but how you died). It also helped nourish the gods who were protecting the world from being destroyed by the hands of the Tzitzimitl.
I’m sorry about getting angry at the cliff analogy. You were right in saying that a person is morally bound to hold onto the hand of the person falling over if he catches their hand first, but I kept thinking about the tales of survivors on hiking and mountain climbing trips whose stories deliberately letting go of the hands of their comrades hanging over steep cliffs when they felt neither themselves or their friends were going to survive.
I appreciate the comments and participation, but you will find that I hold a firm line on ‘right reasoning’ here. So, please understand it is not personal when I show that you are trying to justify something that is – or at least, should be self-evident.
Now, let’s look at your latest comment.
First, I never said animals do not exhibit many characteristics in common with humans, but you listing them does not change the fact that they are not moral agents and humans are. To equate the two is a fallacy for this reason. I noticed you did not argue that the lion should be jailed for killing and eating the zebra. I wonder, would you dismiss the human who killed and ate you? See: self-evident 🙂
Therefore, when you say an animal is punished for “doing evil,” you are humanizing something that is not human. This is fallacious reasoning and undermines your entire argument.
Next, you argue that human societies behave much the same way as animals. I’ll give you this one, but I’ll also point out that those societies – if they can be called that – are little more than intelligent animals as they reject the moral aspect of human nature to live as animals – not the other way around as you suggest. This can be seen by the fact that men institute laws. You even acknowledge this in your own comments. But what use or even justice is there in a law if man is not a moral agent? There would be none, which is why we do not jail the lion for killing the zebra: it would all be an absurdity. So all you are doing is admitting to the existence of universal moral law, and – if that exists – then right and wrong are as black and white in terms of governing the affairs of men as the laws of motion are to governing the movement of physical bodies.
Now, as for the fact that people do not always act according to this moral law: you just described evil. But if there is evil in the world, there must be ‘good.’ But ‘good’ can only be defined – as with moral law – by the Creator. And hence, you just landed us at the root of this issue: morality depends on the existence of a Creator, and since He must exist as a matter of necessity, it also must be assumed that the Creator would not establish contradicting laws. Else, we might fall up if there is ever ‘gray’ found in the laws of gravity.
One other thing: do not confuse culture with morality. They are not the same thing. I have written about this in my post on morality. You can find it throughout the posts under the heading of “Natural Law” at the top of the page. Where a culture may exhibit their beliefs in different ways, anthropologists have discovered that all cultures share the same basic beliefs. For example, even among cannibals, there is a notion of murder. And though many cultures treat their dead differently, they are all honoring their dead. This is all you are noticing in the list of different cultures you presented.
Finally, as for getting angry over my cliff analogy: don’t worry about it. But please try to look at the point I was making rather than looking for ways to ‘get around it.’ I think many of us would get along better and learn more from each other if we would consider what is actually being said rather than looking for ways to impose our position before the other person even finishes with their. I pray I have not done this to you. I’ve certainly tried not to do so.
That’s true. Even the most intelligent animal does not spend most of the time articulating whether he’s doing is right or wrong, you get points for that one, but (sadly) that hasn’t prevented certain groups from equating the act with murder anyways. I was quite horrified when I found out that one commentator on youtube seriously considered killing all the predators on the planet because he saw a video of a pack of hyenas devouring a zebra alive. There are also some militant vegan/vegetarian communities who regard the keeping of livestock and pets as equivalent to slavery and will willingly commit crimes in order to save them. And, of course, animals are not human and follow nonhuman behaviors, so anthropomorphizing their behavior is very dangerous, especially among those who choose to keep dangerous animals as pets. In farms, if a llama thinks you’re a fellow llama, it will greet you by spitting in your face. It’s also true that behaviors among animals, while they can be related to humans, are still different enough that they can be separated from other aspects of human nature. But they are still valuable to humans in that they show what can happen when certain environments encourage particular behaviors that better allow survival, something which can be linked to culture.
Now I am not confusing culture with morality, but you would be very surprised just how deeply intertwined those two are. For evidence, look at gangs. In order to endure such a harsh lifestyle outside the realm of law, a new culture has to be created, no better exemplified by the ethics and codes of conduct adopted by the former Russian Vory during the Soviet Union known as “Ponyatiya”. Within the gulags, the criminals of the prison camps adopted a system of collective responsibility, where they swore to a code of complete submission to the laws of criminal life, including obligations to support the criminal ideal, avoiding any legitimate employment (must support oneself through criminal enterprises) and refusal to participate in all political activities. Other rules according to the Vory also included not having a family of their own (including children), forsaking relatives other than Vory members, teaching the criminal way of life to potential youth, disrespect towards women (not even having romantic relations with them as it could interfere with gang loyalty), and not serve the military or any government conditions. Obviously these codes would have conflicted with the Christian way of life. The horrible corruption gripping the Soviet Union helped to strengthen the legitimacy of those codes. It wasn’t until the “Bitch Wars” (where prisoners accepted Stalin’s offer for military service for better living, which is a monstrous betrayal in the eyes of the Vory) and the breakup of the Soviet Union that the code are no longer as strict as it once was. However, there are still Vory today in command of many criminal networks in Russia as well as other areas, including New York. And once anyone is accepted, they must live according to the thieves’ code lest they suffer mutilation or death.
An even harsher example was the slavery system during Antebellum America. Just as Christianity helped to found strong anti-slavery movements (the Quakers being the best and earliest examples), it also ended up being twisted towards the purposes of the Christians who wanted the institution to continue, especially in the South where it was strongest. As Jefferson Davis said, “[Slavery] was established by decree of Almighty God…it is sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments, from Genesis to Revelation.it has existed in all ages, has been found among the people of the highest civilization, and in nations of the highest proficiency in the arts.” The saddest thing about all this is that many of these people sincerely believed that slavery was beneficial to African Americans, even printing out “Anti-Tom” literature depicting their slaves as being like children presided over by a benevolent extended-family-style plantation, similar to a shepherd keeping watch over a herd of wandering sheep. Of course there was also the fact that slaves were responsible for maintaining the South’s economy, which the South feared would be destroyed if the system got disbanded. What’s really interesting is that the question of slavery only begin seriously gaining ground when Eli Whitney’s cotton gin came along, which made cotton production more efficient and profitable than slave labor. In fact, it’s cited as being one of the ultimate causes for the American Civil War. Heck, even Abraham Lincoln, the guy whose face is plastered on Mount Rushmore, considered maintaining slavery if it meant preventing secession among the states despite his personal distaste for it, showing that this was not a simple black and white is issue (though we must be lucky that he chose not to do so). And what’s crazier? There are still reputed Christians who think slavery was the most wonderful thing since sliced bread. Just ask the Christian Identity movement, Klu Klux Klan, and Aryan Nations. And don’t bother trying to argue with them being unchristian, they’ll just chalk it up to following god’s will (or whatever they call it).
Now as for moral law, you were right when you pointed out that all cultures share the same basic belief systems, but how they are defined by those cultures can make the biggest difference. While it is true that even among cannibals there is a notion of murder, that usually only applies to the inner group. Outsiders are fair game, just look at the history of the New Guinea’s Maori tribes. And often those charges of murder are changed when war is concerned. Going back to World War II, a soldier killing enemy soldiers wasn’t just excepted from murder, he could also be rewarded depending on the number of soldiers he killed. And for many Japanese citizens (one of whom was my grandmother, don’t worry she lived), if killing themselves and their relatives meant being spared imprisonment, rape and torture by the “white devils” they would have done so. And they did. There are cliffs in Japan nicknamed “Banzai cliff” or “suicide cliff”. No guesses why.
Oh and it’s okay, it was my fault for getting mad about the cliff analogy. I got too literal there. You didn’t do anything to impose your position on me. I’m actually having a fun time with this debate.
I’d like to start by thanking you for both well thought out and reasoned comments, and for the refreshingly civil tone in them. Yours are the type of replies I had hope this blog page would elicit. I hope you will not mind if I count our conversation as affirmation that I am on the correct path.
Now, as for those who cannot understand the difference between animals and humans: I think, at the foundation of that compulsion, is a desire to be the one who makes the rules. Jews and Christians refer to this as original sin (the desire to replace God with ourselves). Either way, I agree with your sentiment: humanizing animals is a slippery slope and we need to avoid it.
As for culture and morality being closely related: I agree with you on this point, too – so long as we hold out that they are not the same thing. Addition and subtraction are closely related, but – if we treat them as the same thing – we’re not going to get the result we expect. I think the point beneath everything you are describing is man – once again – trying to create a system other than that of Natural Law. If you look at it this way, most of the things man does that we think of as immoral or evil or destructive are the result of man trying to over-write this Natural Law with his own will. We might as well be trying to reverse gravity for all the success we have or will ever have. The nature of man is fixed, and we can and only have lived in “relative” harmony where and when society tried to conform with Natural law.
As for slavery: It was NOT established nor sanctioned in the Bible! This is a fiction constructed by men who wished to replace God’s law with their own. Scripture just accepts slavery as a man-made construct and then directs people how to treat their slaves. If you look to Paul, you will see him urging slave owners to free their slaves. What’s more, Scripture commanded that ALL slaves be freed every so many years. This was done to prevent people from doing what we did in America and institutionalizing it. Finally, the slavery in Scripture should not be compared to what we made it into. Most times, it was more closely related to indentured servitude. Slaves could own property, earn wages and even have their own slaves. So, as far as I am concerned, we have to be VERY careful not to equivocate when we compare slavery in America with that of the Bible, and when we make claims as to what Scripture actually says about slavery. Too few have actually read the Bible – to include Christians.
Now, you are shifting the topic again. When you admit that all cultures share the same basic belief, then start off on how they change the definitions, that starts an irrelevant conversation that side-tracks the point. If we admit that there does exist a universal moral law, then deviation from it is nothing more than an example of man trying to re-write that law according to his own desires. How is that any different from breaking any other law: man-made or otherwise? It just shows the rebellious spirit in humanity. But the point remains: that universal moral law exists – no matter how it is defined, it exists. (BTW: I am a former Marine and a WW II historian, so I know the cultures and event you mentioned rather well – though, most likely, not as well as you).
Thank you for your reply. I was quite worried since this is a very sensitive topic and I didn’t want to push any buttons.
Now as for slavery, thank you for reminding me that the concept of slavery was different in the bible compared to its implementation during the Antebellum era. It’s true, because it was more closely related to indentured servitude. Slaves could own property, earn wages and even have their own slaves. Even the Native Americans, who were often used as slaves before the black slavery trade went into full force, tried to emulate western colonial culture by keeping their own slave-owned plantations and a force for capturing slaves that tried to escape. But much of the system, while certainly not new, was probably exacerbated by the different religious and belief systems practiced by African blacks and Native Americans. In order to save those people from their “heathenous” sins, missionaries were assigned with the task of converting them to the light of god’s ways. This was not always peaceful, since trying to get a person to break away from cultures and traditions with which they grew up with since birth meant meant there was alot of opposition. And even those who did convert didn’t do so right away. It often took years and even decades for those people to embrace Christianity (and just as likely such long consideration led to reverts instead). Additionally, the people who adopted Christianity often combined their newly adopted faith with their already pre-existing traditional ceremonies and beliefs. You can still see it today in black churches, where there is a mix evangelical Christianity with African beliefs and African rhythms, evidenced by the re-telling of the classic Nativity story with gospel music. Yet even that was considered idolaterous and as a result many native expressions, forms, practices, and items of art were prohibited or destroyed. And when that still didn’t work and led to more rebellions, many missionaries thought that a new radical direction had to be taken, one that involved taking responsibility by taking away their subjects autonomy so that finally they would embrace god completely and totally. That may sound horrific to you and me now, but to these missionaries, if a shepherd must resort to threats and fear in the sheep’s moment of doubt or descent, to scare the sheep away from the edge of the cliff then so be it. But as time passed, the justification switched from religion (the slaves are heathens) to race (Africans are the descendants of Ham). In fact, some slaves weren’t freed even if they embraced baptism. Some slave owners even justified the continued keeping of slaves by claiming that if freed, the slaves would just descend back into their heathenous ways and that by staying in their kind master’s graces the way of god would remain pure and free of sin in their minds and hearts. You are right in saying that these people were using these justifications as a smokescreen for dealing with labor shortages through the use of slaves, but it didn’t apply to everyone. Going back to Jefferson Davis, the leader of the Confederate States of America wasn’t just blowing smoke out of his rear end, he sincerely believed every word he said regarding the continued institution of slavery, so much that he was willing to hold conversations with military and Confederate civilian officials regarding high-level details about battle plans and movements right in front of his house servant and personal coachman, William Jackson (who was also a spy for the Union army). Even if a man overwrites what is called Natural Law with his own will, it is not always intentionally. As the saying goes, “The Road to Hell is Paved With Good Intentions”.
Now as for culture, while they do hold the same basic belief systems (honor, the importance of maintaining and keeping promises, grief for the death of loved ones, appreciation for beauty, shame, punishment for the committing of heinous crimes, marriage, and life after death), radically different situations that can lead people to behave separately from other group living under different circumstances. Just look at the 14th-century Chinese epic novel “Romance of the Seven Kingdoms” (or don’t it’s freaking long), one of the four great classic novels of Chinese literature. When the infant son Liu Bei (the main character and hero), Liu Chan, gets lost at Chang Ban, his general Zhao Yun makes a selfless charge into enemy lines to bring the child back. So what does Liu Bei do? He throws his kid to the ground, angry that he nearly lost a great general. The kid later grows up and loses the kingdom, and is considered by most readers to be completely useless. Probably because he was dropped on his head as a kid. And absolutely no one in the story calls Liu Bei out on this. He’s even quoted as saying “[b]rothers are as hands and feet; wives and children are as clothing. You may mend your torn dress, but who can reattach a lost limb?”. It’s obvious he cares about his fellow men, but women and children were basically property during the time the book was written. Compare that to the Hindus and their treatment of cattle. Contrary to the stereotype, Hindus don’t worship cattle but they were regarded as sacred, because they were heavily relied on for tilling the fields, making milk and dairy products (which could feed a whole family), pulling loads, and pooping out cow dung to be used for fertilizer and fuel. Thus, the cow’s status as a ‘caretaker’ led to identifying it as an almost maternal figure, to the point that killing one was a hideous blasphemy comparable to killing one’s own mother. During the country’s last dynasty, the Konbaung dynasty, habitual consumption of beef was punishable by public flogging. Slaughtering pigs was totally fine though.
Again I’m not trying to side-track the point, (although sidetracking is one of my greatest problems when it comes to debate, its hard for me to list examples without going off topic) just saying that even if there are moral absolutes, how they are expressed is going to differ depending on each group and individual and where they live. Since there are so many countries and cultures in the world, it’s not surprising that there are so many different outlooks on life — what’s important, who’s important, what constitutes justice and what qualifies as cruelty changes according to where you are (both historically and environmentally). Even in countries that speak the same language, values can be different. Imagine if there were two trees, one growing in a tropical rainforest and another growing in a desert (like the Joshua tree). In order to survive in their respective environments, those trees need to develop adaptations that better allow them to thrive. For example a desert tree may develop spinier leaves to discourage animals from eating them for water, activate flowers at nighttime were it’s cooler to attract pollinators, or grow long root systems that spread far and wide to better absorb scant nutrients, while a tree living in the rainforest may develop drip tips and waxy surfaces to remove excess water, develop extremely showy flowers to lure pollinators due to the relative lack of wind on the forest floor, and grow shallow roots to help capture nutrients from the top level of soil. And even then those trees don’t remain static in their environment. If anything happens in their environment that is different than what they’re usually exposed too, they may be encouraged to adopt different adaptations to better account for these changing conditions. Over different generations a tree may have to develop different flowers if the main animals or methods responsible for seed dispersion are no longer available. But in the end, regardless of these differences they are still both trees, and nothing else.
Whew! That was alot I had to say. Takes a long time coming up with all these since it’s been years since I’ve taken my botany, anthropology and literature courses.
Oh, and I didn’t know you were a former marine. Wow that changes everything! I’m sorry If I sounded haughty to you. I use alot of Japanese examples because my mother is a Japanese teacher (despite being caucasian) and my father lived in Japan his entire life before coming to America. He’s still somewhat bitter about America’s involvement in the atomic bombings, and thought there could have been other ways to resolve the conflict without resorting to nuclear weapons.
You have not offended me in the least, so, please, do not worry about that. I may have been a Marine, but I have a scholar’s view of history.
That said, had the atomic bomb NOT been used, there may not be much of Japan left — or the world, for that matter. I think, in many ways, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were blessings to both Japan and all of humanity. They saved the Japanese homeland from what would have been a scorched earth invasion most likely ending in wide-spread epidemic and starvation. And they let the world see the horror of these weapons BEFORE we used them in a wide-scale war.
I see this issue much the same way I see the Holocaust: had it not been for the Holocaust, many MORE Jews would have died because there would have been no Israel for them to run to for protection.
It’s a spiritual world view, but I find it puts everything into harmony once we accept and embrace it. :*)
Forgive me if my sentences sound strange and disjointed. It’s often hard to maintain coherency of writing when there is so much to put down.
LOL, Trust me, I understand 🙂
I agree. Still, one must remember that for that to happen, alot of innocent people ended up suffering and having their lives taken away in great pain for that to happen, people who could have lived to make their own families.Jews weren’t the only ones in those camps (although there are many who think that they were the only ones being seriously persecuted), pretty much anyone was put there if they didn’t sing to Hitler’s tune, including Christians. What’s even more depressing about this is that mass killings like these are not at all new. They’ve been going on for a long time in history.
You ever heard of the Herero and Namaque genocide? You ever see anyone talk about the horrors and pain that occurred where the Herero and Nama people of South-West Africa were systematically killed during German colonial rule around the early 1990s. You probably did, but not anyone else. Unlike the Holocaust, it was actually successful. And the funny thing, no one ever talks about it. The Holocaust is so well known, that we actually use it as a unit of measurement when comparing it to other atrocities, yet no one ever mentions the genocide that preceded it.
The same can be said for the mass killings themselves. Sadly, despite our empathy, it’s not endless. It’s like a meter. It has limits (well except, Jesus, according to Christians). The more people that are killed or who are suffering, the less empathy we feel because there’s just too many to feel for. Comedian Eddie Izard said it best here (warning much cursing ahoy):
Eddie Izard “And he (Hitler) was a mass-murdering fuckhead, as many important historians have said. But there were other mass murderers that got away with it! Stalin killed many millions, died in his bed, well done there; Pol Pot killed 1.7 million Cambodians, died under house arrest at age 72, well done indeed! And the reason we let them get away with it is because they killed their own people, and we’re sort of fine with that. “Ah, help yourself,” you know? “We’ve been trying to kill you for ages!” So kill your own people, right on there. Seems to be… Hitler killed people next door… “Oh… stupid man!” After a couple of years, we won’t stand for that, will we?
Pol Pot killed 1.7 million people. We can’t even deal with that! You know, we think if somebody kills someone, that’s murder, you go to prison. You kill 10 people, you go to Texas, they hit you with a brick, that’s what they do. 20 people, you go to a hospital, they look through a small window at you forever. And over that, we can’t deal with it, you know? Someone’s killed 100,000 people. We’re almost going, “Well done! You killed 100,000 people? You must get up very early in the morning. I can’t even get down the gym! Your diary must look odd: “Get up in the morning, death, death, death, death, death, death, death – lunch- death, death, death -afternoon tea – death, death, death – quick shower…”
And trust me, he’s not just milking that for black comedy. It’s even been reproduced in the lab, where increasing the number of a criminal’s victims causes people to recommend a lower sentence. What’s worse is that I think that also affected the dictators themselves. They ended up killing so many people, that it no longer really mattered if they had to kill more.
Where am I going with this? I have no idea, you tell me (I’m not joking, I already said I had a habit of going off topic).
Yes, I am aware of most of what you just detailed — including the fact that nearly 11 million died in the holocaust and only 6 million were Jewish. Gypsies, Poles, Russians and ‘undesirables’ were also murdered.
I think Stalin said a death is a tragedy, a 100,000 deaths is a statistic. I believe this is what you are getting at: our inability to comprehend the enormity of man’s inhumanity to man. Still, none of this changes the fact that right and wrong ARE black and white. If anything, you are underlining the point and hammering home how hopelessly depraved we are as a species that we cannot live by that moral law. But then, that is the whole reason God sent a savior: because we are wholly incapable of saving ourselves — as you have just made so plainly evident in your last posts.
What’s weird is Stalin never actually said it, but it’s so “Stalin” it fits anyway. But while I agree that people are capable of the most hideous and depraved things, that shouldn’t invalidate a person’s ability to do good. If everyone was a self-serving backstabber, society wouldn’t be able to function properly. It’s making sacrifices for others than allows people to maintain communities. Part of that is a willingness to following those who are believed to have the best for everyone. Unfortunately having complete trust in those figures means sometimes overlooking their flaws. Obedience has always been regarded as a virtue in many traditional cultures, but it’s that same obedience that can make people blind to the errors and/or immoralities of the authorities which they put their faith in. It’s part of the reason why during WWII the Japanese kept killing themselves for the sake the emperor, and continued to do so even after the bombs had dropped. The Emperor was believed to be practically divine, to the point that defying his will was tantamount to defying the heavens themselves (something which has been done throughout history, from the divine right of kings in the West to the Mandate of Heaven in East Asia). And if you sincerely believe that someone is following the will of god, then who are you to disobey?
I guess what I really wanted to sum from everything I written is that I believe evil is not the absence of good, but good twisted and mutated into terrifying extremes. You can be a horrifying, ruthless person, but still have virtues that accompany their vices. For example: A prideful man might also be very hard working in order to get the power he needs. A slothful man might compensate with amazing creativity, coming up with amazing inventions, plans, and limitless funds. A wrathful man may nonetheless be very loyal to his minions, inspiring great devotion. A greedy man might back it up with tenacity, relentless and unyielding in their pursuit of more, more, and more. A lustful man may also be extremely courageous, willing to risk death or worse in pursuit of their carnal desires.
A Christian says that their existence is steeped in sin. But how much sin do they have to have before it becomes intolerable? Martin Luther King Jr. helped pave the way for civil rights for African Americans but he was by no means a perfect person (there was evidence he had illicit relations with other women). Neither was George Washington (who kept slaves, though he released them upon his death) or Mother Teresa (whose secret letters after her death revealed her doubting her own faith despite helping the starving and needy). Yet people still stand behind them and wholeheartedly support their cause regardless of those “sins”.
From the Christian perspective, what you see as good in the bad people is just the reflection of God’s image in all men. In this sense, evil is not the absence of good (something I know I never claimed it to be). Evil is the willful disobedience of God’s laws: either Natural (as in the book of Romans) or revealed (as in the bible).
There is just one word of caution I’ll offer regarding your last comment. When we start thinking in terms of what is best for everyone, we are well on our way down the path to atrocity. The only thing that is truly best for everyone is to preserve the integrity, dignity and liberty of the INDIVIDUAL! And, if this means some suffer from fate or laziness, we must have the courage to let them suffer because, yes, many times, the individual is as much responsible for their plight as anything else. Think about it. If the peasants in China REALLY wanted liberty, what could the Chinese government do to stop them? Nothing! But they do not want that as much as they want an easy life with as little concern as possible. It is a quality of human nature that has been exploited to put people under tyranny since time began.
As much as I enjoy agreeing with you, I will say with absolute certainty that evil, if it can be seen as disobedience to god, is not always willful. It’s easier to believe that someone is being deliberately stubborn and defiant if they don’t follow God being the source of morality, than if they follow definitions of right and wrong that are different to a Christian believer. but a person can commit numerous atrocities and still come up with a boatload of justifications for doing them. Heck he may not even need them. The goodness of his actions is so obvious (to him) that it doesn’t even need justification. Remember when I mentioned the Aztecs? Or the Japanese soldiers fighting for the emperor? If you believe that what you and your leaders are doing is in accordance to the will of the heavens/gods, then you’re rarely going to question what your doing is wrong or not.
And there’s plenty the Chinese government can do to stop those pesky rebellions. You may be surprised what a little propaganda, bribery, control of information, militant organization, exploitation of fears of an uncertain future in the older masses, and a dash of torture can do to keep people in line. The same thing can also be said about North Korea, which is like George Orwell’s 1984 come true. Despite the mass starvations, unrelenting torture, and constant surveillance (and accusations of human rights violations throughout the world, can’t forget that one), that country has managed to continue existing since splitting from South Korea in 1945. Additionally people who wish for more liberty do not belong in one group. Often the greatest threat to a bunch of revolutionaries after a corrupt government has been toppled is another bunch of revolutionaries. Just look at Somalia, it’s had to endure this ever since the dictatorship of Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991. And just because people ask for freedom doesn’t mean they’re going to get it, or that fighting for it will lead to victory (not that it isn’t meaningful). You would be surprised, but peasant and slave rebellions were actually pretty rare throughout history, mainly springing up from plain old desperation. And even then, most of the time they ended up getting suppressed anyway (but that didn’t mean the rulers didn’t learn their lessons and soften their rule, if only to prevent another rebellion).
See, now you are explaining control. In Scripture (specifically the book of Romans), it says that God’s law is written on the hearts of all men. We are born knowing right from wrong, but we go astray from birth. We convince ourselves otherwise. And everything you just mentioned can be explained as the result of men trying to impose their will on others. This does not change the fundamental realities of this world; it only highlights the extent to which we have strayed from or rebelled against them. This is the essence of Natural Law: identifying those fundamental realities in a way that ALL men intuitively know to be correct 🙂
Yes, but understand that in those situations the people who are being governed (whether by leaders, parents, or other authority figures) are often conditioned (sometimes from birth) that anything imposed by people in positions in power is permissible since they believe that it is in their best interests. Those people can often be found in positions of influence themselves since they have learned to internalize those values. This is not helped by the fact that they are surrounded by other people who also adhere to the same values. Additionally, anything or anyone that goes against this status quo is demonized, shamed, and shunned, which in turn further strengthens its legitimacy in the eyes of those who follow it. Does that still qualify as a defiance of God’s Law (because defiance often involves willing intention)?
Like I said, my friend: easy to determine right from wrong; hard to live it 🙂
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Then it is you who have blessed me. ty :*)
I use the gray area if I am undecided about something or someone; It’s stay on the gray area until I choose on what side it should be. I also use it for things that are neither good or bad such as baking, walking, doing hair, and so on. However the gary-area is never use be me for something or somene that is both true and fasle both good and bad.
The things you call ‘gray’ where there is no good or bad: they are not moral issues. So no, they would be neither black or white, but not really gray, either. They would be colorless 🙂
But aside from that, I ‘think’ I understand you. Thanks for commenting 🙂
I wouldn’t exactly call it black and white morality, as the way that’s used by people tend to suggests that the /people/ involved are either 100% good or pure evil and not worth taking seriously. A good example of this would be social justices who ignore pretty much anything to do with the entirety of classical studies as worthless because, shockingly enough, people from thousands of years ago didn’t have a sense of morality that lined up exactly with the “morality” of first world/nominally first world Western social justices in the 2010’s. They say they want to learn from the wisdom of other cultures and the past…but only if their morality lines up 100% with the morality” of first world/nominally first world Western social justices in the 2010’s (unless maybe it’s from a culture that isn’t White). This means that they quite intentionally will never learn anything and will never broaden their mind, less judgmental, and less self-righteous, which has led to the nightmare from which we cannot awake we are currently in.
However, the way that /you/ use it, in which IDEOLOGIES are either good are evil, that I do agree with. Infanticide is always evil, except of course in the extraordinarily rare case in which someone _actually_ needs it, to name just one example.
I’m sorry, but I strongly disagree with you. Maybe you have missed the fact that I do not accept the notion of one morality for this group and another for that one? But no matter, I do not believe one can EVER justify a wrong. If infanticide is wrong, it is ALWAYS wrong — period! There can be no justification, even at the expense of the mother’s life. This is because one does not murder one person to save another.
Like I said, morality IS black/white, right/wrong, and the choice is usually simple to see. It is living with that choice we find most difficult.
Hello (please excuse my English as it is not my first language.
I am totally agree with ” When it comes to matters of right and wrong, if you are seeing grey, it is a sure indication that you are on the wrong side of right.”. However, I disagree that the abortion as a result of rape and medical risk is grey. I think it’s just purely white for either getting an abortion or keeping the child. The child should not have a free will over the mothers life, unless she has giving consent from her act when she knows the consequence. Your analogy about grabbing hand on the cliff should be the women agree to have sex with a man without protection and aware that she could be pregnant rather than she got raped. It is also the right thing to do if to get an abortion if the mother is risk her life. Anyone should be able to protect their own life from other harmful being.
I don’t believe that without the existence of your creator, morality won’t exists. My reason is very simple , because there is no good reason to believe. There are about 5major religions in the world, if one is right that’s mean the other 4 must be liar. From the history yours creator has not proven his/her existence better than others. They may be all lying.
OK, let’s take these one at a time.
1 — If a woman is raped and gets pregnant, morally, the child is STILL innocent. No, the woman didn’t consent, but the child didn’t, either. So, set aside the cliff example and just look at this for what it is: the taking of another life — period! How is that ever ‘right?’
As for the example of the mother’s life being in danger: first, this is so rare as to be a fallacious objection. Second, would you risk your life to save the life of someone you love? Why? They have no claim on you, do they? So just let them die to save yourself. No moral dilemma there, right?
2 — If you do not have a law giver, then there is no law. It is impossible to have a law without a law giver. This is by definition, and one cannot RATIONALLY argue with a definition (but many do reject them).
3 — the fact is, yes, all but 1 world religion are false.
4 — The God of Arbraham, Isaac and Jacob most certainly HAS proven he exists. People just chose to reject the proof, but that does not mean it wasn’t provided (and many times over).