When I was a young boy, I remember our pastor calling all of the children to the front of the church to ask us what we thought God was like; my younger brother being much more vocal then the rest of us quickly replied that God must be the sort of person who is always snooping around to see if anyone is having fun and then He tries to stop it. Sadly that is exactly the idea that the word 'Morality' brings to mind in the vast majority of adults; morality is something that stops you from having a good time. In reality moral rules are the directions for running the human body.
If you were like me and when you were first learning to drive a car, the instructor kept saying, “No, don’t do it like that, do it like this”; because there were all sorts of things that looked all right and seemed to me the natural way of driving the car, but do not really work. That same idea applies to the moral rules; every moral rule is there to prevent a breakdown, or a strain in running the human body. That is why these rules at first glance seem to be constantly interfering with our natural desires.
Morals are not an ‘idea’, and certainly not an ‘idealism’ that we should aspire to, no more then rules about driving a car are. If while driving a car, I elect to ignore the rules, and drive without my lights on at night, eventually there are going to be consequences, in the same manner every moral failure is going to cause trouble, probably to others and certainly to yourself (even if you do not realize it for a very long time). By talking about rules and obedience instead of ‘ideas’ and ‘idealism’ we help to remind ourselves of these facts.
There are two ways that a human can go wrong, one is when the human individuals drift apart from one another, or collide with one another and do one another damage. The other is when things go wrong inside the individual – when the different parts of the individual (his or her different desires, wants, etc. either drift apart or interfere with one another. To give you an idea of how this works, if you were like me, as I was growing up, I learned how to play an instrument (the French horn); so think of all of humanity as a large band playing a song. To get a good result two things are needed. Each member of the band individual instrument must be in tune and each must also come in at precisely the right moment so as to combine with all the others.
But there is still one thing that we have not yet taken into account, all of the instruments might be in tune, and they might all come in at the right moment, however if the band was suppose to play the Christian hit song “I Can Only Imagine” by Mercy Me, but instead played George Thorogood’s “Bad to the Bone”; regardless of how well they played, it would be a disaster.
Morality then is concerned with 3 things, first – with fair play, and harmony between individuals. Second – with cleaning up (keeping things in harmony inside each individual) and lastly, the general purpose of human life as a whole; what man was made for: or in other words, what tune the conductor (God) of the band wants it to play.
If you look about you, you will notice that everyone is nearly always thinking about the first thing and forgetting the other two. Even when Christians talk about striving for moral standards, they usually mean that they are pursuing kindness and fair play between individuals, classes of people, and nations; all of which is concerned only with the first part of morality. Not that it is entirely bad, as it is quite natural when we think of morality to begin with the first thing. For one thing, the results of bad morality in that area are so obvious and press down on us everyday; lies, poverty, war, graft, adultery, and thievery. There is very little disagreement about morality as long as you stick to the first thing. Almost everyone agrees (in theory anyway) that everyone should be honest, kind and helpful to one another. However if we stop there, we might have not have any thought at all. Unless we move on to the second thing – the cleaning up inside each individual- we are only deceiving ourselves.
What good is it if all of the members of the band are coming in at the right moment, if they are each horribly out of tune? What is the good of drawing up on paper, rules for behavior, if we know that in fact, our selfishness, greed, anger, and cowardice are going to prevent us from keeping them? What I mean is that all the thinking means nothing, unless we realize that noting but the courage and unselfishness of individuals is ever going to make society work properly. You cannot make me good by law; and without good men you cannot have a good society (including the society within the church). That is why we must move on to the second thing; the morality of the individual.
We could stop here, but if we did, while there would not be much disagreement, we still very well could be playing the wrong song. This is the hard part, for religion involves a series of statements about facts, which are either true or false. If they are true, one set of conclusions will follow about the right song, if they are false quite a different conclusion will follow. For example, if a person says that a thing can not be wrong unless it hurts some other being, he understands that he must not play his instrument when he should not, but he honestly thinks that if he keeps his own instrument in tune or not is his own business. But does it make a difference if his instrument is his own property or not? Does it matter if I am the landlord of my own mind and body, or only a tenant, responsible to the real landlord? If somebody else made me, for His own purposes, then I have a lot of duties that I would not have if I simply belong to myself.
If I only live for 80 to 100 years, then a city, a state, or nation that may last for a thousand years is more important then I am. However, if Christianity is true, and all human being are going to live forever (either in Heaven or Hell) then the individual is not only more important, but incomparably more important, for he or she is everlasting, and the life of the state or civilization for that matter , compared to his is only for a moment.
We must then think about all three areas when we think about morality; relations between man and man, things inside each man, and relations between man and the power that made him. We can all cooperate (at least in theory) in the first one. Disagreement’s always begin with the second and become very serious with the third. It is the third that the primary differences in regards to morality, come out between Christians and non-Christians. For the rest of this series I am going to look at the entire picture as it is seen from Christian point of view, as it will be if I am correct and Christianity is true.