[1]        Principles (1): Ethics & Different Perspectives

1.      What is ethics?

a.   Ethics is the study of moral principles and of right and wrong conduct. The term “ethics” comes from Greek ethos (character, 1Co 15:33), meaning “manner of life and conduct”.

b.   Divisions in ethics:

o        general or theoretical ethics (study of principles and concepts)

o        special or applied ethics (application of principles to moral issues)

c.   The objective of ethics is to understand how to make morally right decisions. The simple and direct way is to follow “moral rules” or “norms” (e.g. murder is wrong, honesty is right).

2.      What is foundation of Christian ethics?

a.   For Christians, norms are founded on the will of God. The objective source of norms is the Bible – The Word of God. This is the foundation of Christian ethics.

b.   The Christian ethic is vastly different from the ethic of the society which is characterized by:

(1)  Ethical relativism. Today’s society believes that all norms are not absolute but “relative”, changing with culture and preferences. Christians must not compromise their principles (Ro 12:2; Jas 4:4).

(2)  Secular Humanism (the religion of today’s society). With the motto of “Man is the measure of all things,” man makes himself God. Christians must insist that God is the sovereign of the universe.

(3)  Culture of death. Secular humanism preaches a culture of death which supports and glorifies death, including abortion, euthanasia, homosexuality (which leads to much shorter lives). The objective of the Bible is eternal life (Jn 20:31). Christians must emphasize the sanctity (sacredness) of life.

c.   “Murder is wrong” is certainly a universal norm accepted by all cultures. Secular ethicists talk about 9 ways to determine ethical or moral behaviour. Here are examples.

·         Ethics of Divine Command: I must not murder because God commands me not to, and because man is created in the image of God so murder is a violation of God Himself (Gen 1:27; 9:6).

·         Ethics of Conscience: I do not murder because my conscience tells me not to.

·         Ethics of Virtues: I do not murder because I want to be a good and virtuous person.

·         Ethics of Utilitarianism: I do not murder because if everyone murders, human race would be extinct.

d.   Except the first one, all the rest focus on the qualities resident within each person. There is certain truth in these positions (Ro 2:14-16), but human beings have in them a sinful nature, which impedes them acting according to their conscience.

3.      Why is it important to obey God’s commandments?

a.   God demands His children to obey His Word.

·         To be a Christian involves two components: a Christian faith and a Christian practice (Jas 2:26; also 2:19,22). God demands obedience (Jn 14:15). Obedience is part of discipleship (Mt 28:20). Most importantly, one’s salvation is linked to obedience (Mt 19:17; Eph 5:5-6).

b.   When we encounter an ethical dilemma, how do we decide what to do? We can seek God’s direct guidance and ask ourselves the question: “What would Jesus do?” (WWJD) (Php 2:5)

c.   Then why do we still need the Bible? Because we may be deceived by: our preconceptions and biases, our hardheartedness, by ourselves (Jas 1:14), by the world (1Jn 2:16), or by the Devil (1Jn 5:19). The Bible is the reliable and unchanging foundation for our ethical decisions.

4.      Can Christians tell white lies?

a.   White lies are those lies with a supposition that the motive of the lie is worthy.

b.   Lying is prohibited by God (Lev 19:11). As a rule, white lies are wrong. Those who habitually tell whites lies soon become colour blind to all lies.

c.   However, not every act of deception is a lie, e.g. deception in sports such as football.

d.   Can we falsify to get a friend to a surprise birthday party? No; because there is only one norm involved. You may hide the fact of the surprise party but when you are specifically asked about whether there is a party, you should not tell a lie.

5.      How can a situation with conflicting norms be resolved?

a.   The example of Rahab (Jos 2:1-6; 6:25) is a good illustration of ethical decisions when norms are in conflict (an ethical dilemma).

b.   What are the conflicting norms involved in Rahab’s situation?

(1)  “You shall not murder” (6th Commandment, Ex 20:13).

(2)  One should not lie (Pr 19:9; Mt 5:37; Eph 4:25; Col 3:9).

c.   What are the alternatives before Rahab?

(1)  tell a lie to save the spies

(2)  tell the truth and hope for God’s miraculous delivery

d.   Rahab told the lie yet her action seemed to be regarded by God as righteous (Jas 2:25).

6.      What are the different ways in resolving a conflict of norms?

a.   Three kinds of relativism (norms are relative, not absolute):

Perspective

1. Anti-normianism

2. Utilitarianism

3. Situationism

Regarding Norms

no absolute norms

some absolute norms but all depend on the end result

one absolute norm: love, all other norms relative

Principle Applied

Lying or telling the truth can both be right because there is no good or bad.

Lying is generally wrong but the ‘end’ of good results justifies the ‘means’ used.

Lying is right if it is done out of love.

Rahab’s Possible Action

Rahab would do whatever she thought was right, telling the truth or telling the lie to save the spies.

Rahab may tell the lie because she would then get the Israelites to spare her family later.

Rahab may tell the lie out of love, that is, to save the lives of the spies.

b.   Three kinds of absolutism (norms are absolute):

Perspective

4. Non-conflicting absolutism

5. Ideal or Conflicting
absolutism

6. Graded or Hierarchical
absolutism

Regarding Norms

many absolute norms that should never be broken

many absolute norms, breaking them is wrong but sometimes excusable

many absolute norms, but can be suspended by higher norms

Principle Applied

Lying is never right and one should not lie in any circumstances.

Lying is not right but is acceptable as the lesser of two evils.

Lying is not right but it is right in order to satisfy a higher norm.

Rahab’s Possible Action

Rahab would tell the truth or simply not respond and hoped God would use His miracles to save the spies.

Rahab would tell the lie to save the spies even though she would feel guilty afterwards.

Rahab would tell the lie to save the spies because it is done to satisfy a higher norm of avoiding killing.

 

c.   Norms in the Bible are absolute in the sense that they are divine commands from an absolute authority (God) and that they possess eternal validity (Jas 1:17). This is “ethical absolutism”.  Christian ethics is founded on absolutism, the last 3 alternatives listed above.