In a recent interview for the BBC2 series Inside Obama's White House," President Obama sounded somewhat wistful as he spoke to an interviewer about how he has tried to use his voice "to move things toward a more ethical and moral outcome."
The question of morals and ethics has been debated since the dawn of humanity. It won't be settled by the shifting winds of politics, because not everyone can agree on what is moral and what is not.
Dictionary.com defines morality: "Conformity to the rules of right conduct."
Ah, but here's the rub. That definition fits a different era. Morality today is personal. It is not a standard to which one is encouraged to conform for one's own, or society's benefit. Rather, it is about what makes one feel good. By this non-standard standard, one can easily change one's sense of what is moral as they might a suit of clothes or a pair of shoes and suffer no societal condemnation because that "moral code," such as it is, exists only for the individual.
When President Obama speaks of ethics and morality, the follow-up question should be, "Whose ethics and whose morality? Who, or what, established that standard?"
To take one example, if you say there is no God and then turn around and tell me I should not be a racist, or that I should help someone in need, and I say, "why should I?" how do you respond? If we are all evolutionary accidents, why can't I believe and practice anything I wish?
Perhaps you respond that there are laws prohibiting discrimination. To that I answer, "Suppose the laws are changed, is it then OK to discriminate?" It was once legal to own slaves, but did that law make slavery moral?
There is the Constitution, but the courts are busy renovating that great document to fit the spirit of the age, as reflected in opinion polls, which now determine almost everything.
Moral relativism has contributed to a host of societal and relational problems few wish to acknowledge. To do so would force people to admit their "standard," which in reality is no standard at all, isn't working. And such an acknowledgement could lead to what theologians call repentance, a turning away from the old and embracing the new, which is not new, but old, tried and proven best.
President Obama may be the most pro-abortion president America has ever had. He has done little to reduce their number, which near 60 million in the U.S. since 1973. By what standard is his position "moral"? The president used to be against same-sex marriage, now he's for it. Was he moral when he opposed it, or is he moral now that he supports it? And what is his standard, because these positions are contradictory?
Is the president being moral when he allows mostly Muslim refugees from Syria into the country, but permits few Syrian Christians to enter? He says he's a Christian. Wouldn't it make more sense for him to protect Christians first, since they are the ones being targeted by Islamic fundamentalists for death, forced marriages and sexual slavery?
Mark Twain is quoted as saying: "Always do what is right. It will gratify half of mankind and astound the other."
That's funny, but Twain didn't tell us what he thought was right. What is the new standard for "right" and "moral"? Who established it and why should anyone follow your standard when mine might be the antithesis of yours?
The inability or unwillingness to answer these questions and to enforce a moral code that mostly served humanity well until the self-indulgent '60s began to destroy its foundations is responsible for the confusion and moral chaos we witness today.
Who will rescue us from this moral quagmire? It won't be anyone running for president. These things bubble up from the human heart; they do not trickle down from Washington.
Cal Thomas is America's most widely syndicated op-ed columnist. His latest book is "What Works: Common Sense Solutions for a Stronger America". Readers may email Cal Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org.