May 17, 2009 -- A recent editorial discussing the issue of sports betting and gambling concluded with the statement; “You can’t dictate morality.” I respectfully take issue with this statement; a statement which I believe is seriously misguided and contributes to many of our societal ills. The term morality comes from the Latin “moralitas” and means “character or proper conduct.” The basis of morality is determined by one’s understanding of right and wrong. Those things an individual or society deem to be right are considered moral and those things which are deemed wrong are considered to immoral.
Morality is not an abstract or relative concept but a fundamental building block for the individual life as well as the life of society as a whole. Morality governs every facet of our lives. In fact morality is so foundational to human existence that governments, throughout history, have found it necessary dictate or legislate morality. Law is in fact dictation of morality in that it determines what is good (moral) and seeks to encourage and protect it. Likewise that which is determined to be wrong (immoral) is discouraged and even punished. Take for example laws against murder. Murder has been deemed wrong and immoral therefore our government declares the action to illegal. The government’s prohibition of murder is a dictation of morality.
So let’s be honest, the issue has little or nothing to do with dictating morality the real issue is “whose” morality will be dictated? This is where things get uncomfortable especially for those politicians who prefer to govern on the basis of political expediency rather than moral conviction, but at the end of the day whose morality will be dictated is something all lawmakers must decide and all members of the judiciary must discern.
For example, imagine an issue comes before the legislature. Side A declares a certain action to be wrong and therefore morally unacceptable. However, side B declares the same action to be good and morally acceptable. Both sides are persuasive and make convincing arguments to prove their position is beneficial to society yet they are in complete opposition to one another. How are we to decide who is right and who is wrong?
Many people are quick to boil the matter down to majority opinion. That which the majority determines to be right is deemed morally acceptable and therefore becomes the basis of law. The problem with this however is what if the majority is wrong (i.e. American slavery, Nazi Germany, etc.).
On the other hand those in the minority will often declare the majority opinion to be wrong or immoral and their own position to be the right or moral one. When asked “why do you believe your position to be the right one?” you are likely to hear “It just is! It’s just the right thing to do!” Unfortunately neither individual certainty nor sincerity is a valid basis for determining morality.
Both of these mindsets relegate morality to the realm of opinion and opinion is not a sufficient basis for determining the rightness or wrongness of an action. Morality must be based on a higher standard, something that transcends opinion or personal experience, a standard by which all opinions and individual experiences must be judged.
Author C.S. Lewis, wrote that “…if no set of moral ideas were truer or better than any other, there would be no sense in preferring civilized morality to savage morality, or Christian morality to Nazi morality.” He continues; “The moment you say that one set of moral ideas is better than another, you are, in fact measuring them both by a standard.” (Mere Christianity) Whether we are willing to admit it or not we all do this every day. As Lewis would later observe; “Human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and can't really get rid of it."
Consider for a moment our use of that word “ought.” What gives you the right to tell me that I “ought” to do something? On what basis? Your own moral authority? What makes your moral authority any higher than my own? It doesn’t. Therein lies the problem. As Lewis explained our morality must be based upon something outside of ourselves otherwise it is simply an opinion absent of any real authority.
So again, whose morality do we dictate? How and upon what authority do we determine right and wrong? These are the questions we all must consider. I propose to you that moral authority rests with God. He has placed a moral law within the human heart to point us to Himself. The very presence of a moral law indicates the existence of a lawgiver who is the objective or absolute standard of all morality.
In closing let me encourage you to read the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans in the Bible. Notice how often God’s relationship with mankind is described in legal terms. You will quickly discover that while morality and law serve a practical purpose in governing the earthly affairs of men, their primary purpose is to act as road signs pointing us to God, the divine lawgiver, His expectations for us, and His provision of salvation through Jesus Christ for us, the lawbreakers. The moral law is one of the many ways God has made Himself and His expectations known to us, and we are all responsible for this revelation. As the Apostle Paul said “They (mankind) demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right. And this is the message I proclaim—that the day is coming when God, through Christ Jesus, will judge everyone’s secret life.”
Pastor Duane Smith
Sussex County Bible Church
22516 Harbeson Road
Harbeson, DE 19951-2907