Over the last several days I have been reflecting on the rise and fall — and in certain sectors of society the near obliteration of the idea of a moral compass valid for all.
Today, most people agree there are certain things that are always and everywhere out of bounds — intentionally killing the innocent, lying, stealing, and rape are some of the most obvious. But, what happens when the majority of people — or more commonly, the most powerful group of people — sees things differently and creates laws contrary to one or all of these precepts?
In other words, what is the basis for morality? Is there such a thing as a universal moral compass, and, if so, who or what makes the arrow of truth point this way or that way?
These questions are not new. What is new, in my opinion, is the erosion of basic assumptions, which up until recently made a basic ethical code (like my examples above, or like the 10 Commandments) acceptable to a reasonable person.
To understand the causes of this erosion, we must keep in mind our cultural context, including the marvelous scientific advances of modern and contemporary times. In the face of jaw-dropping material solutions (medical cures, astronomical and archeological discoveries, etc.) to prior mysteries, we are tempted to think that all solutions and all truths must have a material explanation.
When we assume falsely that all truths have a biological or chemical explanation, we deny our ability to "discover" through reason the ethical message (moral compass) written in nature — human nature in particular. In fact, if someone adheres to this materialistic assumption, he or she is right to reject a universal moral compass. Experience tells us, after all, that there is no such thing as a moral gene. We know we don’t become morally "good" through biological development or manipulation, but rather through morally good decisions — free choices —influenced, but not determined, by education and environment.
Because religious faith is in crises in many parts of the world, if we are going to recover lost ground on morality, it is more urgent than ever to highlight to society and its leaders how the ethical message in nature, instilled in us by the common source of nature and reason — God — points toward what will allow us to flourish on a natural level. This very discoverable natural law tells us to avoid evil and do good, but it even goes further. It tells us what the moral life should look like in broad strokes and then how to derive other moral precepts from the rational demands of our common human nature.
On the other hand, if we can’t explain what makes some things always and everywhere out of bounds without first recurring to Sacred Books (a source many people reject), there is little left to save a secular society from giving up on prohibitions against the likes of rape, slavery, incest, or bigotry, not to mention throwing in the towel on feeding the poor, clothing the naked, and protecting the weakest members of society, especially the unborn.
If explaining the foundation for natural morality is difficult for us, it is even more challenging for policy makers and other public figures to live up to it. They are under tremendous pressure to make decisions based on selfish convenience. For example, in last week’s video blog, I suggested that politicians should not point to the Bible or Jesus’ teachings as a proof that their particular policy is best, unless they are willing to use the same standard for all of their decision-making. That’s hard to do. From my experience, these same people are often willing to change their opinion and even sacrifice votes and popularity if they are taught why personal morality is never purely subjective, that there is a law written on human nature that can serve as a basic moral compass for all people, everywhere.
God bless, Father Jonathan
• E-mail me at FatherJonathan@foxnews.com
What I've been Reading:
Values and Politics
• Poll: Highly Religious Less Likely to Vote for Giuliani
• California Representative’s Atheist Views Break Political Taboo
• 2008 Race has the Face of a Changing America
• Surfing the Web for Our Next President
• Study: Family Time Trumping Church Time
• Americans See Media Aiding Moral Decline
• Rosaries: A Spiritual Symbol or Trendy Accessory?
• ‘Alternative Spring Break’ Growing Trend with Christians, Non-Christians
• Linking Ancient and Modern, a World-Wide Web of Worship
• Customer Service and Faith Clash at the Registers
• The Rise of ‘Techno Churches’
• Church Remembers ‘Model Member of the Congregation’ – a Wild Turkey
Not All News is Bad News
• Gift of the Gospels: Alabama Priest Gives Ancient Manuscripts to Vatican
• Tenant in Pennsylvania Court Saves Her Landlord
• Publishers Put Faith in Comics for Girls
• Instead of ‘Complaining,’ Texan Runs for Office to Make a Difference
News Which Never Made the News