Tuesday, December 05, 2006

How To Determine Right From Wrong

Before we dive into defenses for conservative morality as taught by the early Church and maintained by the Catholic Church today, I will outline my own thoughts on the basis for morality.

The nature of right & wrong is such that it is not a force outside of God, but rather it is based on God’s very nature. Good is that behavior which pleases God and evil is the opposite. Since right & wrong is not a force outside of God, it is impossible for God to ever be guilty of doing wrong. Anything God does is right: anything God tells one to do is right.

"revelation teaches that the power to decide what is good and what is evil does not belong to man, but to God alone."(1)
There are three ways to know the difference between right and wrong. Firstly, as according to Scripture, God has written His law on the heart of every man(2) (we call this natural law). Secondly, by reading the Law (Genesis through Deuteronomy) and later, the revisions to that Law as imposed by the only One with authority to do so (namely, Jesus Christ). Thirdly, by the dogmas taught by the Catholic Church.

On the topic of natural Law Pope John Paul II wrote:
It also becomes clear why this law is called the natural law: it receives this name not because it refers to the nature of irrational beings, but because the reason which promulgates it is proper to human nature.(1)
The entire Law & Prophets are summarized, (as declared by Jesus & the apostle Paul among others) in the two greatest commandments: Love God with all your heart mind and soul, and Love your neighbor as yourself.(3) Thusly, if anyone suggests a sin that does not break one of these two laws, it ought to be ignored (unless it is implicitly declared in the Law or Church dogma). Those few laws within the Law that do not obviously break one of these two also ought to be carefully examined to determine if they are culturally exclusive or nullified by New Testament text (most importantly the words of Christ Himself). We should first consult the Church especially on these issues where it is not apparently breaking the laws which Christ prescribed. Don’t forget what Paul told Timothy on the subject of how to determine right from wrong:
“If I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God's household, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.”(4)
The Law remains without error to this day and ought to be followed by Christians save those laws which were specifically nullified in the New Testament and those which pertain to circumstances no longer relevant. These include ceremonial & dietary laws(5) except those dietary laws which were reiterated in the New Testament (such as abstinence from blood(6)). A law which is relevant only to that culture in which it was given need only be followed in spirit and not in letter. Again, it is the Church alone that can authoritatively declare which laws were culturally exclusive and which ones weren’t. We do not have the right as individuals to determine that for ourselves.

Morality is objective; that is, there is a definite right & wrong for each situation (though it might, in rare cases, differ from the common understanding of morality); it does not change depending on the person’s attitude or belief towards it. For example, the Law states “Do not lie”(7), however in certain circumstances (though rare), telling the truth may in fact be a sin. (Consider the case of Rahab who’s life was spared by the people of God precisely because she did lie). This instance was not one (as some suspect) in which she chose the lesser of two evils but rather one where she did the right thing. (An action that pleases God is always right even if it be something horrendous in our minds). Consider also, that God Himself required genocide from His people on more than one occasion. In those situations, it was the right thing to do and in fact, in the instance where the people failed to kill everyone, God counted it against them as a great sin. This concept easily makes sense of the passage in Ecclesiastes that begins:
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven(8)
A sin is defined as ‘missing the mark’ not ‘aiming away from the mark’. To be more direct, trying to do good and failing is still sin. Unwitting sin is still a sin. Consider when Abimelech took Sarai from Abram because Abram had said ‘she is my sister’.(9) When Abimelech found out through a dream that she was his wife, God said “because you were ignorant, I kept you from this sin”.(10) It is clear, ignorance would not have been an excuse. God called it a sin and even threatened his life. However, Pope John Paul II said:
“It is possible that the evil done as the result of invincible ignorance or a nonculpable error of judgment may not be imputable to the agent; but even in this case it does not cease to be an evil, a disorder in relation to the truth about the good.”(1)
Of course, the Church interprets the Scripture authoritatively so we have an ultimate answer for right and wrong. In my previous analogy where the husband is gone and the wife is in charge (the wife being the Church in this metaphor) when the wife says ‘its ok to do such & such’ or ‘don’t do such and such’ the children may obey without hesitating. If the husband finds error and requires an explanation, “your wife told me it was ok” or “your wife told me not to” would both suffice. Therefore in our current situation, we have no need to worry when following moral instruction from the Church. Will Christ hold it against us that we obeyed His Church instead of our own opinions on Scripture? Certainly not!

Finally, just because something isn’t morally wrong doesn’t make it a good idea(11).

So now I have shown a basic outline of the foundation which has brought me to my current beliefs. Hereafter I will get into more specifics in my ‘attack on liberalism’.

References:

1) Pope John Paul II Encyclical Veritatis Splendor October 14, 1993


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