Simon Williams On Morality
I will be presenting Morality from the position of an Evangelical Christian. In this post, I will simply assume that the Bible is as the authoritative word of God and the existence of the Christian God, as described in the Bible and the first six ecumenical councils. My goal is to present an understanding of Morality that is true to human experience and is faithful to the Bible.
Definition of Terms
You can skip this section if you want, but I wanted to explain some of my terms. Morality is a complicated topic and it can be very easy to misunderstand me if I don’t make clear what I mean when I use certain words. Please refer to the following list as needed for clarification:
- Attribute – A quality or feature regarded as a characteristic or inherent part of someone or something.
- Bad – That which doesn’t measure up with the attributes of God. Also, called Evil.
- Duty – A moral or legal obligation; a responsibility; a task or action that someone is required to perform.
- Good – That which coincides with the attributes of God.
- Moral Duties – This is concerned with whether something is right or wrong. This is always a moral consideration.
- Moral Values – This is concerned with whether something is morally good or bad. Good and bad may not have a moral dimension.
- Right – This is concerned with moral obligation. This is what we ought to do. This produces godliness.
- Wrong – This is concerned with moral obligation. This is what we ought not to do.
What is the Good?
I want to affirm the existence of the good as an objective feature of reality. That is to say, the good exists and is discoverable; just like the scientific method, the laws and constants of the natural world or the laws of logic. On this view, the good is not a physical or abstract object, but is the sum of the attributes of God. This means that the good is not tied to human opinion, happiness or flourishing. In short, God is the good.
Good and Evil
On the view that I’m affirming, the attributes should be understood as being on a scale with the foundation of the scale based on God. All attributes are in comparison to God as the perfect standard and rule.
For example, on the above scale of “Loving,” there is no such thing as “hatred.” It doesn’t exist as an objective feature of reality. Hatred is only a statement of a person being less loving, whether in comparison to God or other humans or even his/herself. On this view, it could be said that someone loves his/her mother but hates his/her father (by self-comparison) if the mother were loved at a 9 ranking, even if the father were loved at an 8.5 ranking. The father is still loved, but is given less love than the mother. This is the same with all “evils.” The scale is used to provide a qualitative sense not quantitative.
God’s Strictly Greatness-Building attributes:
Not all of God’s attributes are related to morality. Some of them are “good” in the sense that they are strictly “greatness-building” attributes. These are attributes that improve beings that possess them, making them greater. God, as a maximally great being, would have the most (10 on the above scale) of all greatness-building attributes. The loss of these attributes would be considered a bad thing, or an evil, but it wouldn’t make a person evil. I will try to illustrate this by giving some examples.
- Jer 32:17
- To have power is greater than weakness. And is, therefore, a good. But what is weakness? It is to “lack power.” I have a neurological condition that causes muscle weakness via atrophy. So, I know first-hand how evil it can be to have strength and then lose it. Any being that is less than all-powerful would be weaker than an all-powerful being. Therefore, God, being omnipotent, is the ultimate standard for power.
- Psa 139:7-12
- Omnipresence may be God’s most underrated attribute. It has so much going for it but is rarely addressed. For example, to be “present” in a spatiotemporal sense, a being must exist. Therefore, existence is part of being present. Existence is a good even in the face of accompanying evils, such as pain or suffering/depression, because those evils are not necessary for a being to exist and they can be removed. Even the existence of a flesh-eating bacteria is a good for the bacteria if not for us.
To be “present” in a cognitive or personal sense, a being must be sentient and, therefore, living. This is popularly referred to as “mindfulness.” To be conscience or aware of something is greater than being oblivious or ignorant. It can be said that it is not greater to be conscience of evils such as pain and suffering. But why would that be? Is it truly greater to be ignorant of pain and suffering? Is a person who is oblivious of their own pain or someone else’s pain greater? Wouldn’t that lack empathy or cloud judgement?
It is, also, greater to be present throughout reality than to be isolated to a single spot. Therefore, God, being omnipresent, is the standard for existence and presence.
- Dan 2:21
- The more knowledge you have the better, making it a good. To have all knowledge is to know all possible propositions and to believe all true propositions and not to believe any false proposition. Any being that has less than this is less knowledgeable than a being that does. Therefore, God, being Omniscient, is the ultimate standard for knowledge.
Alright, let’s move on to God’s moral attributes. In addition to building greatness, the moral attributes also serve to promote proper behavior and conduct.
God’s Moral Attributes
These are the attributes of God that causes one to be morally upright. I won’t bother describing each one because I think you get the idea from above. Only a few of them will be listed, but there are a ton.
- Rom 8:35, 37-39
- Jhn 8:31, 32
- Eph 4:22-24
- 2Co 5:10
- 1Jhn 1:9
- 1Co 10:13
If this understanding of morality is true then it helps to explain God’s use of and compatibility with evil. In scripture, God is shown to be compatible with evil (Please see Isaiah 45:7, or whenever He is punishing, like the 10 plagues of Egypt). Because any action that doesn’t measure up with God’s perfect attributes could be considered evil. But, when God calls something evil it may or may not be in accordance with our tolerance of evil. When God provides punishment, the act is not just evil to His standard, but must be considered evil by the standard of the person’s or culture’s being punished. Or else it wouldn’t be a proper punishment. The question then is, when does something become evil to us? As fallen humans, with different tolerance levels of evil, it could be very low on the scale. Something could start to be evil at 5 or even lower. And anything above that could be considered love by that person. But these opinions always move along the scale provided by the standard of God.
If God is compatible with evil then what is He incompatible with? This is to move us to Moral Duties.
Moral duties only exist in relation to beings with the authority to give commands. For example, a boss has authority to command tasks related to the job he/she supervises. Bosses are in charge of directing an employee’s efforts and when they do it becomes morally right for the employee to carry out the command (to obey). Obviously, when dealing with other humans, there are a lot of other factors that impact moral duties which are related to moral values. But, to disobey a lawful command is morally wrong. God, as a maximally great being who is moral perfection, has the most authority and is in the best position to give lawful commands. Our disagreement with the commands of God are always from a position of situational ignorance and moral imperfection. Therefore, disobedience of God is always morally wrong (Objectively Wrong) and is what the Bible calls sin. Sin is the only thing that is incompatible with God.
This is just a basic overview of one understanding of morality, and it’s definitely not fully fleshed out here. I also wanted to address relative morality and subjective morality. Maybe I will do that in other posts. Please let me know what you think! There are a ton of nuances in this topic and hopefully I can address those with any questions that are made. Thanks for reading!
Simon Williams is a certified Chapter Director for Reasonable Faith. He works at Millstone Power Station as a Leading Nuclear Chemistry Technician. Prior to Millstone, Simon served six years in the United States Navy where he apostatized to atheism. He renewed his faith in Christ shortly before being Honorably Discharged. He has been a member at Norwich Assembly of God since 2012 and is happily married to Saschia Johnson.
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Wanna read more? Here’s another great piece in our Morality Collection Redivivus by Geoff Blanchette.
Someday’s I’m just pushing through one more day of work.
Just adding one more piece to the pile of experience.
It feels like it’s never enough.
I’m sure I’ll thank myself later.
According to Mutualart.com, “Jan Toorop was a Dutch visual artist who was born in 1858. He has had numerous gallery and museum exhibitions, including at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and at the Rijksmuseum. Many works by the artist have been sold at auction, including ‘Portret van mevrouw M.J. de Lange – Portrait of Mrs M.J. de Lange’ sold at Christie’s Amsterdam ‘TWENTIETH CENTURY ART INCLUDING BELGIAN ART’ in 2005 for $964,318.
I don’t know much about art sales but that’s a lot of money. It’s not only impressing that he sold a piece for that much but that he dabbled in many different styles of art including book covers, sketches, and portraits. And according to Wikipedia, Toorop was the center of an artist group in the seaside town Domburg, Walcheren, Zeeland.
The versatility in Toorop’s art is astounding! Here’s a link to see more of Toorop’s art showing how versatile he truly was.
Gracie at the Siege of Troy
Gracie at the Siege of Troy
By: Geoff Blanchett
Upon the battered shores of Troy
did Gracie arise
from the lapping waves.
As the armies of Agamemmnon charged
the walls, Gracie followed
in their wake, the marks of
her claws in the sand
the only trace of her path,
her triangular head
split wide in a grin,
her tongue lolling
almost to the sand,
her eyes bright
She came upon
the fallen bulk of Achilles
face down in a pool
of seafoam and blood,
his last drops of life
from the shattered remnants
of his foot.
Any true-hearted warrior would
have ended his misery,
for other tasks.
So she galloped away
into the billowing steams
and there, on a nearby dune,
the beaten Petrochalus,
his sword raised
for the kill.
One with hatred,
Or at least righteous fury,
in her heart might have come
to the boy’s defense,
and struck out with crushing blows
opposing the bullying hulk,
was lost in other thoughts,
and she passed on,
loping along the shoreline,
where the Trojan
and Mycaenean blood
was beginning to mingle
of bitter wine,
and the screams
of the dying
mingled with the ravenous squawks
of circling gulls.
with the city gates
looming above her,
Gracie caught sight of her quarry.
She let loose
a howl of joy and,
as her grin enveloped her,
dashed off in pursuit,
as just beyond her reach,
ran for his life, howling
to his gods for mercy
as Gracie’s hot breath
cleaned the sand
off his untouched heels.
Geoff Blanchette is a writer and actor based in Westerly, RI
Wrap me up
Wrap me up
In something white and dry
Wipe my eyes
Wipe my eyes
These tears have gone awry
What have I done
Exposing my bare breasts
Weave Lemons into silk
Melt Tin cans into platinum
Bake Mud into a feast
They dare say it
They dare exclaim
But here I am citrus
With a brow of sweat
Serving my walls as horderves
It’s the middle of the night and my mom has me wrapped tight in a bundle of blankies carrying me to the car. Mom tells me it’s ok with a kiss on my forehead and tucks me into my car seat. I don’t wake up til the car comes to a stop. All I can see is a huge brick building. The three of us, mom brother and I, stagger to the door only to find it locked. It won’t open again till 7am. We pile back in the car and find a grocery store to munch on snacks till the building opens. She was so sure going to the shelter was the right thing to do, and nothing could stop her. See, mom had been raped for most of her life and found the strength to leave the house to create a new future for my brother and I. A bag of corn chips, cookies, and a jar of artichoke hearts later, it was finally 6:45am. Brick building again, only it isn’t as scary during the day. We head in leaving the blankies in the car. Inside, up a couple flights of stairs, we come to a huge open area. There’s people walking around and kids playing tag inside. Blinding lights and a lady with a clip board calls us in just like the doctor’s office. When the door closes it gets surprisingly quiet. The colorful toy garage catches my eye first, but then there’s a play kitchen with fake food. That absorbs most of my attention. Mom interrupts my preparation of a huge meal including a whole turkey with sprinkles, mashed potatoes (no gravy), and cookies all mixed together in one large bowl. And even though I wasn’t finished, I hand the bowl to mom and offer her a taste. Mom takes a quick taste. She’s in a rush and places the bowl back on the stove. We had to hurry and gather our things from the car so the lady could show us where we’d sleep tonight.
They trickle in
underneath the floor boards
Like a plague sent by Moses
These aren’t the crippling ones
they’re the ones
that make you crave
When you least expect it
they make you question
if spoiled milk is really spoiled
The dew on the leaves drip
lifting you beneath the leaves
And you float Atop the flooding stream
Floating drifting into something serene
Then it finds you there
It’s there again
Knives on necks and
Ares thrashing your
insides like an erupting
“I am a beautiful universe”
“I am light and love”
Love down a scented lane
of rosebuds and the voice of a violin
in the distance. A cool breeze soothes
my damp skin. There she is dancing
to the rhythm I wish would hold me closer
to its bosom.
There’s my girl becoming one
with the ocean. This motion is an escape from
the plagues that live beneath the floor boards
“The sense of mystery is a matter of being all the time amid the equivocal, in double and triple aspects, and hints of aspects (images within images), forms which are coming to birth, or which will come to birth according to the state of mind of the observer.”
-Odilon Redon, Notes to Himself
Odilon Redon The Grinning Spider 1881 via Galleryintell.com
The place we go to find ourselves is often the place we fear the most. We procrastinate and put that place where we dwell on hold for when life gets easier and when things feel more comfortable. The only thing is we as humans hide pieces ourselves in the most uncomfortable places.