In Sunday’s sermon, I defined the term “self-referential absurdity.” This is an important concept when dealing with the mind of the late modern age. Have you ever encountered self-referential absurdity?
Self-Referential Absurdity – When the application of a claim to itself refutes what is being claimed, it demonstrates “self-referential absurdity.”
The most obvious example of “self-referential absurdity” is the claim that there are no absolutes. Such a claim contradicts itself by saying absolutely that there are no absolutes.
Likewise, people who insist that it is wrong to make moral judgments of any sort, are themselves making moral judgments, and hence demonstrate “self-referential absurdity.”
When Jesus gave the Golden Rule in Matthew 7:12, he made sure to anchor His ethic in the “law and the prophets.” So what Jesus taught is in sharp contrast with the view many hold today that ethics are strictly a matter of the views of people.
Help me fairly understand the worldview which says that moral values are a function of cultures rather than a transcendent standard. I am not trying to be insulting. I assume that most people who believe that morals are rooted in culture believe that adult incest is wrong. What I am trying to understand is the secular basis for saying that something which takes place between consenting adults is wrong if there are no moral absolutes. What I am most looking for in the comments is a fair presentation of the secular position.
I am preparing to speak at a conference on the church and culture in a few weeks (More on that in the video shown at the end of this post). As a part of my preparation, I am working hard to understand secular thought and a discussion on the New York Times site has gotten my attention.
In a recent NY Times Article, Justin McBrayer (who I know neither personally nor professionally), expressed his concern that children are being taught that we cannot say that it is factually true that cheating is wrong. McBrayer summarized curriculum exercises in which children are asked to evaluate if the following statements are “facts” or “opinions.”
— Copying homework assignments is wrong.
— Cursing in school is inappropriate behavior.
— All men are created equal.
— It is worth sacrificing some personal liberties to protect our country from terrorism.
— It is wrong for people under the age of 21 to drink alcohol.
— Vegetarians are healthier than people who eat meat.
— Drug dealers belong in prison.
In each of the above cases, children are taught that these statements are opinions rather than facts. McBrayer is, rightly in my opinion, concerned. He concludes:
We can do better. Our children deserve a consistent intellectual foundation. Facts are things that are true. Opinions are things we believe. Some of our beliefs are true. Others are not. Some of our beliefs are backed by evidence. Others are not. Value claims are like any other claims: either true or false, evidenced or not. The hard work lies not in recognizing that at least some moral claims are true but in carefully thinking through our evidence for which of the many competing moral claims is correct. That’s a hard thing to do. But we can’t sidestep the responsibilities that come with being human just because it’s hard.
Last time I checked 1,836 people had responded to McBrayer’s position. I didn’t tally responses, but many were not impressed with McBrayer’s concerns that we are not giving our children a proper moral foundation. The comments most approved by the Times staff and the readers (thereby making the top of the comments section) argued that morals can not be facts. Here are a few examples:
. . . Ethical statement are not facts, they are conclusions. They are principle-based judgments. So, it is a sound conclusion that one should not lie or steal if one bases one’s ethics on Kant’s categorical imperative or the Golden Rule more generally. To call such a conclusion a “fact” is to conflate facts with reasoned inferences.
The fact is there are no moral facts. Morals are relative to the culture that created them. The problem is how they are being taught to ignore the morals of our society. . .
So the problem is not that they are teaching that there are no moral facts, its that they are teaching kids that they can have their own opinions on things that are not socially acceptable in the society and culture they live in.
. . . The GLARING flaw of this article is that the author assumes moral fact is not only true but preferable. Not only does he over look a pretty significant realm of philosophic thought but he also offers no evidence to support his assertion that moral truths should be taught in school. Ultimately you are free to take whichever view you like but the problem with moral absolutists, people like the author, who believe things are right or they are wrong is that those views are not absolute. Exceptions can be found to every rule imaginable.
Ultimately, the author discounts the power of personal morals. I do not need to believe that killing another person goes against nature on a cosmic scale to believe it is wrong to do it myself. Yes it is an opinion that cheating is wrong, I share that opinion. But I see no evidence to suggest that is a fact.
If there were such a thing as a moral fact it would be consistent throughout the ages, different cultures and species.
Morality is in a stage of flux. Our Opinions and Morals have changed drastically in the last few years towards homosexuality, in the last few decades toward racism and sexism and in the past centuries towards slavery.
. . . We all understand that a society needs a moral structure that we can all (or at least most) agree and act on but this moral structure is not carved in stone and will constantly adapt to the needs and opinions of its society.
In my mind, these questions raise an obvious question. If morals are rooted in the beliefs and feelings of people – – then are we saying that polygamy is a legitimate option for cultures? Bestiality? Someone might respond, “But our culture does not believe those options are okay.” Understood. But what if a majority did?
In explaining how to begin considering what we believe to be true, Ravi Zacharias points out that every thinking person must confront four basic questions: the questions of origin, meaning, morality, and destiny.
How did life come to be in the first place?
To what purpose is my life?
How may I choose between right and wrong?
What happens to me when I die?
Ravi goes on to explain that the answers we arrive at and give must correspond with reality and fit with one another. Ravi encourages us that “Answers that correspond with reality and fit into a coherent system provide the individual a world-view by which all of life’s choices may then be made.”
Tim Keller, Albert Mohler, and Collin Hansen discuss the proper basis for making moral evaluations. Consider Keller’s point at the end. If the premise, “there is no god,” leads to a conclusion, “then there is no such thing as right and wrong,” then why not re-examine the premise?
Sometimes the hardest liar to spot is the one in the mirror.
In a new book Spy the Lie three former CIA officers detail strategies for detecting deception. According to Forbes columnist Susan Adams, HT: Z, the book offers tips for spotting people who are not telling the truth. Adams distilled 5 summary points from the book:
1. Look for deceptive behaviors and responses within the first five seconds of asking a question.
2. Someone telling the truth will say immediately and plainly that they did not commit the crime.
3. Liars often respond to questions with truthful statements that cast them in a favorable light.
4. Liars often repeat a question to stall for time, go into attack mode against the questioner or butter up the questioner with compliments.
5. Nonverbal cues to lying include hiding the mouth or eyes, throat clearing or swallowing, grooming gestures like adjusting shirt cuffs, shifting weight around and sweating.
Of course, pinning down a skilled liar is not easy.Sometimes the most difficult liar to catch is ourselves. Think about Proverbs 16:2 (cf. Proverbs 12:15):
“All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, But the Lord weighs the motives.”
According to this Proverb, there are times when we fool ourselves. We believe that our ways are clean. But, God only knows the reality.
Has there ever been a time when your spouse asked, “Is something wrong?” and you responded in a tense voice, “No, nothing is wrong!”
And when you did respond in that tense voice that nothing was wrong – – -did you spot the liar?
Or, maybe responded to you, “What is that supposed to mean?” And you said, “Nothing. Nothing at all. It was just a simple question.”
There are times when we deceive even ourselves. We persuade our consciences that our motives are pure. In reality, only God knows us at the depths of our being.
This is one of the many reasons we need to spend prayerful time in the Word. Then the Holy Spirit will convict us with the truth rather than only feelings.
It is only as we see ourselves in the mirror of God’s Word—only as we are sharpened and strengthened in the community of God’s people—that we begin to understand ourselves more truly.
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? Jeremiah 17:9
Many of us have been saying for some time that the normalization of homosexual marriage will inevitably open the door to the state’s acceptance of polygamy. Proponents of gay marriage typically scoff and say we’re silly for making such a slippery slope argument. Well, not anymore.
In an op-ed in today’s New York Times, Jonathan Turley argues that the same civil liberties that enable homosexuals to marry must also allow for polygamous relationships. He’s right.
If framed in terms of rights and freedoms, then of course homosexuals and polygamists have the right to freely marry however many of whichever gender they choose. A polygamist man would be free to marry two men and three women if he chose and they were agreeable.
But what if the debate is not really about rights and freedoms but about nature? If marriage is by nature the covenantal union between one man and one woman, then . . .
It is ironic that many listen to worship music that they obtained illegally.
Despite the clarity of the law, many people continue to ignore it. This is true both within the church and without. A Barna report (link) from 2004 showed that only 1 in 10 Christian teenagers believe that music piracy is morally wrong. This varied very little from the percentage of non-Christian teenagers who believe the same. I don’t think a lot has changed over the past 6 years except that more and more adults are now equally ambiguous about piracy. After all, everyone’s doing it, and when everyone does something, it is easy to think that we can do it too.
As Bob says, “Christians have a higher standard than ‘everyone’s doing it.’ Romans 13:1, Deut. 5:19, and Eph. 4:28 come to mind. While file sharing, copying CD’s for friends, and downloading music illegally is easy and attractive, it’s still wrong, despite our rationalizations.” I have been amazed in talking to friends, and young people in particular, just how little they care for copyright laws. Excuses abound: “Everyone is doing it. The music companies don’t really care. The artists say they don’t care if we download their music.” I am even more amazed when I hear young people talk about pirating Christian music (I recently spoke to a young man who had pretty well the complete Sovereign Grace music collection but it was all illegally copied). I’ve even spoken to people who laugh, saying, “You don’t want to lend me your music. I’ll just copy it.” Long before I stopped buying CDs (I now buy almost all of my music online) I stopped loaning those CDs to other people.
Justin Taylor points to a helpful article considering the ethics of cremation.
David Jones, professor of Christian ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, has an excellent article in the latest issue of JETS on the topic of cremation, which I’ve received permission to post. It’s called “To Bury or Burn? Toward an Ethic of Cremation” (PDF).
Here’s the purpose of the essay:
In light of the growing interest in cremation, this brief work will attempt to summarize some of the key historical, Biblical, and theological considerations that have been a part of the moral discussion of cremation within the Judeo-Christian tradition.
Thesis: In a digital age, we need to be very careful about our integrity.
If you are pressed for time, read only the question and respond if so inclined .
The Question: Can I legitimately take a picture of a quote in a book at Barnes and Noble, or do I have to buy the whole book?
Background: I buy a lot of books. I mean a lot of books.
How many books you ask? Let me put it his way. I am Barnes and Noble’s favorite customer. When I walk in, they assign someone to follow me around in case I need something. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos gave me his cell phone number. I text him when I want books and he stops by the warehouse to personally shrink wrap my orders.
Which is to say, I must limit myself somewhere.
So recently, while at Barnes and Noble, I was reading a book and I stumbled across a quote that I thought would be useful for my sermon. However, I didn’t necessarily want to buy the book – –
I started to type the quote into my Blackberry, but then thought, why am I typing in the whole quote. I could just take a picture using my camera phone.
An ethical wrestling match ensued: Is this a violation of copyright laws and a form of stealing?