Saturday, November 07, 2015
i) Why is the admission of divorced and remarried Catholics to communion such a big deal, anyway? That's a bit complicated to answer.
From an outsider perspective, most Protestants don't think marriage is indissoluble. There is clearly one, and arguably two grounds for divorce in the NT. And some Protestants think there are probably more.
In addition, even if the second marriage was sinful, Protestants generally think that effectively dissolved the first marriage. So it becomes a question of contrition.
ii) On paper, there are huge differences between Catholicism and classical Protestantism. Just consider Trent or the Marian dogmas. Yet modernism has eroded the foundation for traditional Catholic dogmas. Like a broken water main that washes out the foundation of a road, the road may still look solid on top, but that's deceptive.
Why would bishops still believe in the Assumption of Mary if they doubt the historicity of Christ's Ascension? Why would they still believe in the Immaculate Conception or perpetual virginity of Mary if they doubt the historicity of the Virgin Birth? Why would they still believe in Marian apparitions if they doubt the historicity of the post-Resurrection appearances? And so on and so forth. They can't erect a wall between their skepticism regarding the Bible and traditional Catholic dogmas.
iii) So that throws emphasis on externals that demarcate Catholicism from its rivals. Unless there's something distinctive about a denomination, what's the justification for its separate existence? Why not consolidate or go out of business?
iv) Apropos (iii), the Mass is the central sacrament of Roman Catholicism. Although Rome has seven sacraments, the Mass is the most corporate of her sacraments,
[by which communicants] participate with the whole community (1322).
1324 The Eucharist is "the source and summit of the Christian life."136 "The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch."
1327 In brief, the Eucharist is the sum and summary of our faith.
As the showcase of Catholicism, who's permitted to participate becomes all-important. That's a defining sign of Catholic identity, in contrast to Protestant bodies.
Of course, enforcement has been slack for decades. So the real question is whether to make the practical status quo official.
Catholic apologists allege that Protestants have no visible church. The charge is ironic when you consider the dichotomized church of Catholic apologists. For them, the real church isn't located in people. It isn't to be found in monks, nuns, priests, bishops or even popes–much less the laity.
Rather, the real church is located in documents. The idea of the church.
Consider their reaction to the last two synods on marriage and family. By now it's unambiguously clear that this pope wants to change church policy on the admission of divorced and remarried Catholics to communion. And it's clear that bishops and priests can get away with that.
But so long as the policy isn't reversed on paper, Catholic apologists breathe a sigh of relief. That's because their church is contained on slips of paper.
It's like they believe in the transubstantiation of the church. The laity, monks, nuns, priests, bishops, and popes are the visible accidents. But the true church, the substance of the church, consists of invisible, intangible, inaudible, tasteless, odorless ideas. Formal definitions and dogmas.
In that respect, even "mainstream" Catholic apologists are functional sedevacantists. Their practical position is indistinguishable from sedevacantists. Archbishop Lefebvre never doubted the continued existence of the One True Church. But that wasn't to be confused with living, breathing church of popes, bishops, and priests.
For Catholic apologists, just like sedevacantists, the church isn't a physical, organic entity, but a set of transcendent ideas. It doesn't discredit Rome when popes appoint known modernists to influential positions. Apologists stand on the deck of the Titanic, waving their little Union Jacks and belting out another refrain of "Rule Britannia" while the ship takes on more water, because –for them, the true church isn't the concrete church under their feet, but a beautiful abstraction: a timeless, spaceless theological construct.
There is, of course, a point at which this dichotomy becomes untenable. For it's popes and bishops who produce the documents, popes and bishops who interpret the documents.
I will comment on this article:
I don’t buy the argument that suicide is a selfish act.
i) The implication is that suicide would be wrong if it were a selfish act. That suggests proponents like Tod Robberson are conflicted about suicide. To justify suicide, he must deny that suicide is a selfish act. That would be an impure motive.
But why not defend suicide by admitting that even if it were a selfish act, people have a right to be selfish? Wouldn't that be more consistent? Surely some proponents defend a right to suicide on grounds of personal autonomy. That's how some secular ethicists argue.
ii) Since different people have different motivations for suicide, it would be a hasty generalization to claim that suicide is a selfish act. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't.
There are people who commit suicide because no one will miss them. They leave no loved ones behind. That's why they are so depressed. So there's a sense in which suicide is not a selfish act in their case. A lonely act of lonely people.
That's not a moral characterization but a descriptive characterization. Of course, one might still object to suicide on other grounds–even if it's not invariably selfish.
Especially when the person committing suicide is considering all of the variables regarding rapidly declining health and the burdens that prolonging life will place on loved ones. Sometimes, suicide is an act of courage and self-sacrifice.
Is suicide courageous? To the degree that you must overcome a natural fear of death to commit suicide, there's a sense in which that can be courageous. However, "courage" has virtuous connotations. Suicide may not be courageous in that sense. Indeed, it may rarely be courageous in that sense (e.g. a soldier who throws himself on a grenade to save his comrades).
I hold Robin Williams as the primary exhibit. He killed himself at by hanging on Aug. 11, 2014. I recall reading critiques from conservative writers calling him a liberal coward.
He doesn't name names. the only person I'm aware of who said that was Shepard Smith, and he's hardly a conservative. If anything, he's a flaming liberal–in more ways that one.
Other armchair psychiatrists…
Tod's entire article is premised on his armchair diagnosis of Robin's motivation.
…labeled his death the act of a depression-addled Parkinson’s victim who couldn’t handle the challenges he faced ahead.
Surely there's nothing antecedently implausible in the suggestion that when confronted with a devastating prognosis, Robin couldn't face the prospect of incapacitation or losing his mind. That's a terrifying scenario. It's not a putdown to suggest that he killed himself to head off that eventuality because he was unable to cope with such a grim future.
There's a distinction between the ethics of suicide and honestly stating why some people take their own lives. Even if you think suicide is intrinsically wrong, it isn't derogatory to point out that many people commit suicide out of fear or despair. Indeed, recognizing the causes of suicide can facilitate intervention.
The reason Tod labors to discredit that motive is because it conflicts with his own social agenda.
Is it possible that he didn’t take the selfish way out, as some describe suicide? Is it possible that he acted rationally…
Indeed, you don't have to be out of your mind to commit suicide. Take Nazi officials who killed themselves to avoid capture, trial, and punishment. That was a rational, calculated act. To say they were in their right minds doesn't mean they acted rightly.
(And I'm not drawing a moral comparison with Robin Williams.)
…and decided that he simply didn’t want to put his family through the agony of watching his mental capacities steadily decline to the point that he would become an overwhelming burden on them?
Robin was a very wealthy man. If he became incapacitated, he could well afford professional round-the-clock homecare. In that respect, his condition was nothing like the "burden" it would be to the average family. So that's one less reason he had to end his life.
Rather than impose that awful experience on others, Williams decided to cut his losses and end it quickly.
That's pure speculation. Tod presents no evidence that this is what prompted Robin to end his life. And other motivations are readily available–not to mention more likely.
Since we don't know for sure why Robin killed himself, it's improper to use his case to illustrate a larger point. Moreover, the example itself doesn't make something morally licit or illicit. Rather, examples are used to illustrate or explicate moral principles.
Yes, there would be pain and anger and tears. But those feelings would be relatively short lived.
How the hell does Tod know that? He doesn't. He's not a hospice nurse. He doesn't work with the sick and dying, or see family members at their bedside. As one bioethicist has noted:
But the exact opposite is often true. I know so many people who deeply treasure [the] experience of caring for those they loved through physical decline and death. Suicide, rather than receiving care, would rob them of an essential part of an intimate human relationship.
It is unethical for Tod to propound ignorant, dangerous generalities.
The suffering of family and friends as they watched him waste away promised to be prolonged and agonizing. Plus, when he eventually would die, there would be all the normal pain and tears of death anyway. Williams simply saved everyone else the trouble of watching it play out over months or years.
What this overlooks is that we have a duty to care for ailing, failing friends and family members. That's not something we are entitled to be spared.
Moreover, that experience develops soul-building virtues. But, of course, this reflects a profound difference between secularism and Christianity. It was Christians who founded hospitals and orphanages.
Problem is, ethical reasoning depends on our ability to appeal to someone's conscience. But in the case of people like Tod, there's nothing to work with. They are too corrupt.
His experience adds a lot of weight to those who argue for legalization of assisted suicide, at least in cases where the prognosis is similar to his. It takes a lot of courage to make this decision and go out on your own terms. It is the exact opposite of selfishness.
And there you have Tod's ulterior agenda. The entire article was structured to arrive at that foregone conclusion.
Once again, this goes to a fundamental difference between secularism and Christianity. I remember that nursing home in New Orleans. When Katrina was forecast to hit New Orleans, where were the family members? Why didn't they come back for their stranded mothers and fathers, to rescue them ahead of the storm? They just left them behind. Left them there to take their chances. Left them there to die.
The consistent alternative to Christian ethics is Nietzschean nihilism. And many people will get a dose of their own medicine. Having supported abortion, they will be abandoned by their fair-weather friends when they become weak in mind or body. Poetic justice.
1. This post is not about the morality of lying. Rather, it's about the relationship between truthfulness and trustworthiness. This is an issue that crops up in many walks of life. Dating, voting, parenting, marriage, friendship, business partnerships. For instance, it's sometimes said that because all politicians lie, the fact that a particular candidate is a pathological liar is no reason not to vote for him (or her).
2. Some folks never lie. Some folks are chronic liars. And most folks lie some of the time.
For people who lie some of the time, lying tends to be compartmentalized. It depends on the situation or the relationship. Offhand, I'd say people lie for the following reasons:
i) To hurt others
ii) To gain unfair advantage
Someone who lies for (i) or (ii) is untrustworthy.
iii) To protect themselves.
They lie to get out of trouble or avoid getting into trouble.
a) They may lie because they are guilty of wrongdoing
b) They may lie because they are innocent of wrongdoing
Apropos (b), person can be unjustly punished for doing the right thing. There's a significant difference in these two motivations. I'd say a person who lies because he did something wrong is less trustworthy than someone who lies because he is innocent (to evade unjust punishment).
iv) To protect others.
As with (i), a person might cover for someone who's guilty of wrongdoing, or cover for someone who's innocent of wrongdoing, but liable to unjust punishment. I'd say a person who covers for someone's wrongdoing is less trustworthy than a person who covers for the innocent.
Even if you think lying is intrinsically wrong, you can distinguish between good motives and bad motives for lying. If, for instance, you put someone on the spot, that may place him in a dilemma. If it's unfair to put him in that situation, and if he lies to extricate himself, that's an extenuating circumstance.
Likewise, lying to save Jews from Nazis is well-intentioned in a way that lying to cheat a working-class student out of a football scholarship is not, even if you think lying is unjustifiable in both cases.
v) Some people lie to themselves, to bolster self-esteem. Convince themselves that they are better, more deserving, or more talented than is the case.
3. Humans tend to be loyal to an inner circle of friends and family. Some people will lie for the in-group, but not lie to the in-group. They will lie to members of the out-group, but not to members of the in-group. But this may also depend on the situation.
4. On a related note, some partisans or ideologues will lie for the cause. This creates a bit of a paradox. On the one hand, you can't believe anything they say on that topic. On the other hand, they can be trusted to defend and promote their cause, whatever it takes. In that sense, they are reliable liars. You always know what to expect from them–at least when it comes to their agenda.
These people are chronic liars in a specialized sense. Unlike habitual liars, they don't reflexively lie. Rather, they always lie in the service of their cause, whenever the agenda requires it. To the extent, however, that the cause dominates their life, they will lie most of the time.
5. The upshot is that lying tends to be compartmentalized. Most folks are apt to lie in certain situations; conversely, most folks are apt to be truthful with significant others. To the degree that lying is predictable, people who lie some of the time can still be trustworthy most of the time. But unless you're prepared to be disappointed, it's prudent not to test their limits.
So the fact that most folks lie some of the time doesn't make them generally untrustworthy. The social fabric would quickly unravel in that were the case.
6. There's a complex relationship between friendship and deceit.
i) On the one hand, a friend will act in the best interests of another friend. That's a defining feature of friendship. And that typically includes the unspoken expectation that friends cover for each other. That makes them dependable. He has my back.
ii) Mind you, that goes to the distinction between lying for the innocent and lying for the guilty. Suppose my friend and I go to a store, but I catch him shoplifting. That creates a dilemma. On the one hand, I wish to act in my friend's best interests. But that's in tension with the best interests of the proprietor. So I have conflicting duties. Moreover, my friend is in the wrong.
Suppose I wait until we leave the store, then I talk to my friend about what he did. He should treat others the way he wants others to treat him. If he'd resent someone stealing his stuff, then he shouldn't steal their stuff. Moreover, shoplifting makes products more expensive, which isn't fair to consumers.
Finally, he put me in a compromising situation. By shoplifting in my presence, he put me on the spot. If I catch him doing that again, I will either turn him in orbreak off the friendship, because I don't wish to be put in a situation where I have to make that decision.
A similar example might be if I catch a student athlete juicing up on steroids. I could report him. But that's not my preferred option. Rather, I'd talk to him about cheating, as well as the health hazards. Why is a completive advantage that important to him?
Keep in mind that in both cases, I have less responsibility for the conduct of others than for my own conduct. Letting them get away with something isn't the same thing as my doing it.
iii) Those are situations where my friend (or acquaintance) was in the wrong. Let's take a different situation:
Suppose our high school has a politically correct speech code. A student will get into trouble for violating the speech code, even though it's the speech code that's wrong, and not infractions thereof.
Suppose I have a straight arrow classmate. He doesn't believe in the code, but if someone reported me for violating the code, and this student was questioned, as a witness to the incident, he'd confirm that I was in violation. He's not malicious. To the contrary, he's a well-meaning guy.
But I can't afford to have him as a friend. I can't afford to be around him. Paradoxically, the fact that he's so honest makes him simultaneous trustworthy and untrustworthy. I can't count on him to cover for me, even if I'm innocent of wrongdoing. His honesty makes him an undependable if I'm caught in a situation like that. He doesn't have what it takes to be a friend.
iv) Let's consider another example: my roommate comes home late at night with alcohol on his breath. Next morning, on the local news, there's a report of a deadly hit-and-run in the vicinity. And I notice blood on the fender of his car.
Do I cover for him? Obviously not. Unlike (ii), he's in far too deep. Not only would I refuse to lie for him in that situation, but I'd turn him into the authorities.
To vary the example, suppose my roommate has a drinking problem, which I've warned him about. I've put him on notice that I won't cover for him in a situation like that. There's a sense in which that makes me a dependable friend. One duty of a friend is to deter another friend from destructive or self-destructive behavior. To act on his behalf even when–or especially when–he can't be trusted to act in his own best interests. It's good for him to know that I have limits.
v) Take a final case. Wanda Holloway was an ambitious mother who tried to advance the career of her daughter (a junior high school cheerleader) by hiring a contract killer to murder the mother of her daughter's rival. Now, in one sense, that's a very dependable mother. She can be relied on to do anything and everything to protect and promote her daughter.
But ironically, that makes her a bad mother. She's amorally trustworthy.
Pope vs Church – the anatomy of a Catholic Civil War”. Of course, “Pope Francis” is doing for the Roman Catholic Church what Miley Cyrus does for bad men everywhere.
Here are some choice quotes:
Here are some choice quotes:
Last Sunday, the Italian newspaper La Repubblica carried an article by Eugenio Scalfari, one of the country’s most celebrated journalists, in which he claimed that Pope Francis had just told him that ‘at the end of faster or slower paths, all the divorced who ask [to receive Holy Communion] will be admitted’.
Catholic opinion was stunned. The Pope had just presided over a three-week synod of bishops at the Vatican that was sharply divided over whether to allow divorced and remarried Catholics to receive the sacrament. In the end, it voted to say nothing much.
On Monday, the Pope’s spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said Scalfari’s report was ‘in no way reliable’ and ‘cannot be considered the Pope’s thinking’.
Fair enough, you may think. Scalfari is 91 years old. Also, he doesn’t take notes during his interviews or use a tape recorder. Of course he’s not ‘reliable’.
But that didn’t satisfy the media. They pointed out that the Pope knew exactly what he was letting himself in for. This is the fourth time he has chosen to give an interview to a man who relies on his nonagenarian memory. In their last encounter, Scalfari quoted the Pope as saying that two per cent of Catholic priests were paedophiles, including bishops and cardinals. Poor Lombardi had to clean up after that one, too. Last time round, Catholics gave Francis the benefit of the doubt. This time many of them are saying: never mind Scalfari, how can you trust what the Pope says?
We’re two and a half years into this pontificate. But it’s only in the past month that ordinary conservative Catholics, as opposed to hardline traditionalists, have started saying that Pope Francis is out of control.
Out of control, note. Not ‘losing control’, which isn’t such a big deal.
In a culture like the United States, in which people have such significant advantages and responsibilities that Chrysostom's audience didn't have, every pastor should be speaking this way. So should other people in positions of influence. Notice that Chrysostom includes the poor in his criticism. Even they should be involved in apologetics and should be criticized when they neglect it. In societies like the United States, we often classify people as poor when they aren't poor by historical and global standards. But even when Chrysostom was addressing people poorer than the average allegedly poor person in America, he held those individuals accountable for being involved in apologetics. If pastors, parents, teachers, and other people in positions of influence would speak this way, we'd have a much better culture. Read through to the end, as the focus moves more and more to apologetics. Notice how the faults and excuses Chrysostom demolishes are so similar to the ones we see in our day:
Friday, November 06, 2015
The Bible contains some classic passages on civil obedience (Mt 22:21; Rom 13:1-7; 1 Pet 2:13-25). Conversely, the Bible contains some classic passages on civil disobedience (Exod 1:15-22; Acts 5:29). Likewise, the Book of Revelation is politically seditious.
That raises the question where to draw the line. One answer I've heard is that civil disobedience is justified when the state commands us to do what God forbids or forbids us to do what God commands. But although that's a good answer, those are very narrow grounds for civil disobedience. Are those the limits of permissible disobedience?
Mt 22:21 offers no concrete guidance. Beyond the issue at hand, it doesn't list our duties to Caesar in contrast to our duties to God. In that respect it's an empty norm.
Moreover, this may well be a trick answer to a trick question. Jesus' enemies try to box him into a dilemma, but he traps them in their own ruse.
Rom 13 is framed in ethical categories of justice and moral wrongdoing. As such, it doesn't address civic duties in reference to laws and regulations that fall outside that purview. I will mention a few examples:
i) Many years ago I went into a cutlery shop and asked about switchblades. The owner told me they were illegal.
I suppose that goes back to the 50s (or so), when switchblades were the weapon of choice for gangbangers; likewise, they were used in knifefights at inner city schools. Of course, the law is dumb, since that law has no deterrent effect on the criminal class.
ii) I had relatives who used to own a view property. Had a commanding, scenic view of a lake. But trees on the property were beginning to encroach on the view. Problem is, fanatical environmentalists made it illegal for homeowners to cut down trees on their property. Yet much of the resale value of the property lay in the fact that it was a view property, which was threatened by the growing trees. My relative considered poisoning the trees.
iii) Pundit David French has proudly admitted that he defied trash sorting regulations where he used to live.
Are Christians obligated to submit to every law and regulation unless it conflicts with moral and religious duties? I doubt it. The Bible is not an encyclopedia. It doesn't give detailed answers to every conceivable question. In this case, the Bible sets certain outer boundaries on the limits of civil obedience, but it doesn't say how far in those extend. Where Scripture is silent, we must fall back on reason. General principles.
The question is whether the state has the right to micromanage the details of our lives. Is that the proper role of the state? This can eat up a lot of our time. Does the state have that totalitarian claim on our time? Likewise, it erodes personal responsibility. Life becomes increasingly constricted as we must navigate a minefield of petty, intrusive, onerous laws and regulations. Moreover, it's becoming impossible not to break some arbitrary law, given the unabridged scope of the regulatory state.
I doubt that Christians have a moral or religious obligation to submit to every law and regulation, even if those don't conflict with our moral and religious duties. Of course, civil disobedience carries a risk. So you need to take that into account. But it's important to resist the suffocating restrictions of the regulatory state. Allowed to go unchecked, that will become totalitarian.
The state exists for the benefit of the public; the public doesn't exist for the benefit of the state. Our purpose in life is not to be wind-up toy soldiers for bureaucrats. For the most part, adults are entitled to decide what to do with their lives–with their time, means, and opportunities. We are creatures of God, not creatures of government. Servants of God, not chattel of the state.
Thursday, November 05, 2015
As I was rummaging through the unpublished papers of Bilbo Baggins, I ran across his "Religious Demography of Middle-earth," in which he classifies the denizens of Middle-earth according to their religious affiliations.
Hobbits: Earnest little English Methodist countryfolk.
Frodo: Holy fool. Ought to be a conventional Methodist, but the monkish ways of Gandalf rubbed off on him, making him a holy fool, in the tradition of Eastern Orthodox hagiography.
Elves: A syncretistic cult. Their quaint speech and aristocratic airs are indebted to Anglicans; their hairdo is indebted to Jesus Freaks, while their archery is indebted to a DC comic book superhero.
Dwarves: Hard Shell Baptists, given their working-class values and clannishness.
Wizards: Catholic prelates, redolent with priestcraft: bachelors, vestments, temples, crosiers, incantations in dead languages.
Sauron: The Pope
Saruman: The Grand Inquisitor
Gandalf: Sedevacantist. The Archbishop Lefebvre of Middle-Earth. On a mission to defeat the Antipope.
Aragorn: Presbyterian. The John Knox of Middle-Earth.
Ringwraiths: Mormons, vibrant and substantial on the outside, hollow and dead on the inside.
Orcs: As apostate elves, they are militant atheists–which accounts for their intolerant and brutish behavior.
Today, Pres. Marco Rubio signed a treaty with Cuban Pres. Raul Castro conferring dual citizenship on Mormons. This was in exchange for Mitt Romney's endorsement during Rubio's campaign.
Romney lamented the fact that Mormons feel out of place in the 21C. They are caught in an Eisenhower era timewarp. Just look at the average Mormon missionary.
Since Cuba is like trapped in the 1950s, Mormons feel right at home there. For Mormon retirees, it's the next best thing to heaven this side of planet Kolob.
OT scholars and Hebraists disagree on the meaning of raqia in Gen 1. John Walton used to think it denoted a solid dome, but changed his mind. Nicholas Petersen has his own theory. Some versions render it as an "expanse." But what, exactly, does that mean–or refer to?
One reason for the disagreement is that we don't have enough occurrences of the word to nail down the meaning. In addition, the meaning is contextual. How does it function in relation to the other elements (e.g. sky, heavens)?
Here's a suggestion: what if raqia is a synonym for "space." Suppose it denotes the space between rainclouds and terrestrial bodies of water (e.g. lakes, oceans, rivers)? Suppose we translate Genesis this way:
6 And God said, “Let there be space in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 7 And God made the space and separated the waters that were under the space from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. 8 And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.
If you think about it, that would make perfect sense to the original audience. After all, "space," air, is what separates rainclouds from terrestrial bodies of water. It's the spacious air in-between seems to keep them apart. And that's what the birds fly in.
That's what ancient Hebrews saw when they went outside. That's what they experience. On the one hand there's water at ground level. Bodies of water on the surface of the earth. On the other hand, there's the water that comes down from the sky. Rain or snow from clouds up above. And in-between is empty space.
I think we miss this if we think of the sky or atmosphere as something up above. Overhead. But that's just a part of the space. The space is up and down and all around. Birds fly through space. They fly up from a tree, shrub, grass, or bare ground. And they fly down from to a tree, shrub, grass, or bare ground. Although the sky is the limit, the space begins at ground level. That's the space we freely move through. That's our natural element, in contrast to bodies of water.
In modern parlance, "space" refers to "outer space," but here, space refers to the airy buffer between lakes, oceans, and rainclouds.
Sure, there's space above the clouds, but the description in Genesis is from the perspective of a ground-based observer.
You've just said a very revealing thing. Are you telling me that the only reason you don't steal and rape and murder is that you're frightened of God? (Richard Dawkins).
That's ill-conceived in many respects:
i) The contention is rather contradictory. After all, atheists routinely assert that Biblical ethics is "hateful." If so, how is that a moral restraint on Christians?
ii) It begs the question by presuming there are wrong things Christians would do unless their theology restrained them. But, of course, an atheist is not entitled to stipulate moral realism in the first place, then tut-tut Christians.
iii) Lack of moral inhibition doesn't mean you want to do anything in particular. Maybe I don't think it's wrong to pirate Barry Manilow recordings. That doesn't mean I'm tempted to pirate Barry Manilow recordings. I've never had the slightest inclination to listen to Manilow. Even if I could do so with impunity, I wouldn't.
iv) Christian critics of secular ethics by no means concede that Christians would be more prone to rape, murder, and pillage than unbelievers if they lost their faith. Lifelong atheists have the same evil propensities as apostates.
v) But now I'd like to turn to my main point: the contention has it backwards. It treats Christian ethics as a kind of add-on. An artificial code of conduct that's superimposed on neutral human nature–in contrast to moral intuition or inner direction. But that mischaracterizes Christian ethics.
Oftentimes, Christian ethics liberates us to do the right thing. It is sin and society that inhibit us from doing the right thing. Christian ethics isn't so much adding moral norms, but removing impediments to moral norms. For instance, there are situations in which a person instinctively wants to do the right thing, intuitively knows the right thing to do, but his peer group or the legal system deters him.
Take people living under the thumb of a corrupt regime. Might be a police state or a banana republic. They witness widespread injustice. There are times when they'd like to intervene, but it's too dangerous. Likewise, there are times when they may be ordered (at gunpoint) to commit evil.
Or you can have peer pressure in high school or college that discourages people from "getting involved" because there's a social sanction for sticking your neck out.
To take a comparison, suppose a person has sociopathic impulses caused by brain cancer. If the brain cancer is treatable, he will lose his sociopathic impulses. The treatment didn't give him a conscience; rather, the treatment removed a barrier, thereby allowing his conscience to resurface.
To a great extent, Christian ethics gives us the courage to do the right thing, by corroborating our conscience, and by making the cost of bucking the system acceptable. Even if we are persecuted, God will ultimately reward those who obey him.
It isn't just about moral restraint, but moral freedom. To be at liberty to do good or resist pressure to do evil. Christian ethics is inhibiting with respect to vice, but liberating with respect to virtue.
When I say "instinct" or "intuition," I don't mean that in a naturalistic sense, but in a natural law sense. Absent divine creation, there is no right or wrong.
Moreover, I'm not suggesting that intuition gives us an infallible moral blueprint. Revealed norms can be a corrective. Likewise, revealed norms can resolve moral uncertainty.
But in many cases, Christian ethics isn't so much about giving us new information, but confirming the right course of action, and giving us an incentive to do the right thing. Due to common grace, many atheists retain some remnants of common decency. But that can be smothered by expediency. It isn't worth the risk. Likewise, why deny yourself?
Christian ethics is at least as much about the motivation to do right as the knowledge to do right. You can afford to do the right thing, even if that will cost you dearly, because this life is not all there is.
Only a fool would voluntarily put his head on the chopping block to save another–if there's no payoff. We need to know that God has our back.