Background for Understanding Morality
What is immorality, anyway? We seem to intuitively know what it is in a general sense, but there is an awful lot of disagreement about the specific applications. A lot of people also see exceptions to the general rules, especially when it comes to their own life situations.
But the actual definitions regarding what is moral and what is immoral come from somewhere. There is some authority that people accept regarding what is appropriate and what is not.
This is where we end up with so many different viewpoints about it. Different people accept different authorities, and this forms the foundation for the worldview beliefs that they acknowledge. Since there are a limited number of worldviews, it should be relatively easy for us to dig this out.
Before we do that though, let’s acknowledge an obvious phenomenon in modern society. In our day, much of the sexual activity that the Bible considers to be immoral is very common, and is accepted as okay or even moral. Research done by the Barna organization indicates that, overall, this trend even carries over into the Christian churches. There is not a lot of difference in the values and actions of people who claim to be Christians and those who don’t. This piece of data points to the fact that non-Biblical worldview beliefs are prominent in every part of American society.
It is obvious that this is the case, but just where do the values come from that have become so prominent? And, how have these beliefs become strong enough to override the traditional Biblical moral values in our society? To get at this, we need to examine all of the possible sources of values. We are able to do this by looking at the four worldviews and understanding how they are influencing the culture. So, just how do the different worldviews determine what is moral and what is immoral?
A Naturalist does not believe that there is such a thing as God, or any supernatural reality for that matter. Since there is no external source for moral values, there is no other possibility but for human beings to make up their own. Typically there are two principles that Naturalists draw upon to determine what is moral and immoral.
The first is the survival of the species. This is usually looked upon as the most important principal and is understood to be coded into our DNA. Anything, then, which would cause problems with the survival of the species is considered immoral.
The second principal is the satisfaction of personal desires. Since there is no transcendent moral code, nothing is immoral. There may be actions which are looked down upon, or even banned, by society because they are deemed to interfere with the first principal. But nothing is, in and of itself, immoral. Therefore, if it feels good, and you can get away with it, anything is permissible.
For Animists, morality is founded upon the order of the universe. The universe is understood to consist of both a physical part, where mankind lives, and a spiritual part, where the gods exist. These two parts of reality are symbiotically connected with one another. Those in the physical realm depend on the gods in the spirit world to help make life run smoothly. At the same time, the spiritual beings depend on those in the physical world to do certain activities to make things run smoothly in that realm. If the beings in either part do not act properly, problems occur. Morality, then, relates to acting properly to the benefit of the entirety of the universal order.
The way human beings learn what is moral and immoral is basically by trial and error. When a person does something that displeases the gods, bad things begin to happen. When the humans figure out what the problem is, it is possible to make it right. When they do, things begin to get better. Over time, the accumulated knowledge of the generations becomes known by everyone, and the moral order can become codified.
Far Eastern Thought
In Far Eastern Thought, morality is more like an object that attaches to your life force. Since individual living things are not understood to be personal, there is not a personal component to morality. The idea is that certain actions which a person performs in life cause good karma to attach to the life force, and other actions cause bad karma to attach. Good karma is an impetus for the life force to move forward toward an escape from the material world and its pain and suffering. Conversely, bad karma causes a backward impulse which would make it take longer for the escape to occur. So, good morality is based on what generates good karma. The actions which cause forward and backward progress, then, determine the definitions of what is moral and immoral.
Theists believe that there is a God who created the world and man, and who has his own set of rules which define morality. Typically this set of rules have been conveyed to mankind by some form of revelation so that people can follow them and please God. Actions which follow God’s instructions are considered moral while those which go against his ways are believed to be immoral. The specific things which are considered moral and immoral might be different based on the individual Theistic belief system. Each one has its own authority source which is considered the revelation of God concerning morality.
While Christianity is a form of Theism, we have to treat is separately because we have a specific authority source which we acknowledge to be the revelation of God – the Bible. In the Bible we have an explanation of what is right and wrong (moral and immoral). But in Christianity, morality is more than simply following a list of rules. It is actually based upon the character of God himself. And it is as a person lives in relationship with God that the power to live according to his ways becomes possible.
As a result, the relationship a person has with God is more important than the actions that a person takes in life. This does not mean that the actions are unimportant. In fact, the person who does not do what God expects is living an immoral life. The reason this is so is because wrong actions are evidence that the relationship with God is out of whack. When a person truly loves God, he or she does not want to do anything which will harm the relationship.
Why Does it Matter What We Do Sexually?
We are not, here, going to put up a defense for why the Christian approach is right and others are wrong. (For articles on this topic you can check out the resources section and the Worldview Made Practical article archives at www.marketfaith.org.) This article is for Christians and assumes that those reading it already believe that the Christian faith represents the Truth about the nature of reality.
At this point we simply want to look at what the Bible says about sexual immorality. The general thing we need to understand is that God created sexuality for a purpose, and abuse of that purpose creates destruction in the lives of individuals and in society.
1. God’s Plan for Sexuality
God’s original plan for sexuality was to populate the earth and to create a special bond between a husband and wife. When God created mankind he was looking to make a being who was like himself and with whom he could have fellowship. The fact that this was corrupted by the fall does not destroy the original purpose. God is still seeking to populate the earth in order to create a race of people whom he can fellowship with.
2. One Flesh
When God established marriage, it was designed to be between one man and one woman. When the two enter into the marriage relationship, which includes the sexual part of it, there is a special spiritual bond that is also established. There is an aspect of the image of God that neither man nor woman have by themselves. The unity of the marriage relationship creates what the Bible refers to as “one flesh.” This completes this element of the image of God in the couple.
3. Importance of the Family
It is God’s plan to build his kingdom among mankind. This kingdom is founded upon the desires of God himself, and is based on his righteous character. An important element of that relates to order. Without order, it is almost impossible to accomplish any purpose. Anarchy, in any aspect of life, breaks down the order necessary to accomplish a goal. If God’s goal is that people become like him in character and interact with him as a family, then anything which breaks down the social order, particularly as it relates to family, keeps God’s purpose from being fulfilled. The family is the foundation for society which God has established and which is necessary to accomplish his purpose.
4. The Damage of Sexual Immorality
As has already been alluded to, sexual immorality destroys the order in society which God has established to accomplish his purpose. It does damage throughout society in general and within the lives of the individuals who participate in it.
The specific sexual acts which run contrary to God’s purposes include such things as adultery, bigamy, polygamy, exhibitionism, fornication, homosexuality, pedophilia, pornography, bestiality, prostitution, and rape. It is interesting that for many in society, certain of these acts are looked at as being not nearly as bad as others. In fact, some are actually even considered to be perfectly acceptable behavior.
But every one of them run totally and completely contrary to God’s purpose for mankind. Each one has a damaging effect on society as it breaks down the social order that God deems necessary to build his kingdom. And every one has a damaging effect on individuals as it separates them from God – no matter how good a person they might be otherwise. The acceptance of these sexually deviant behaviors is an indication of the acceptance of beliefs which come from non-Christian worldviews.
According to our Christian worldview, it is God who decides what is moral and immoral. It is up to us to adjust to him, not for him to adjust to us. And we don’t do this by simply avoiding a list of sins. Rather, we do it by entering into a loving relationship with him which is so profound that we don’t want to displease him by participating in activities which go against his purposes.
When our worldview is aligned with God’s purposes, we don’t live negatively by trying to avoid sin. Rather we live positively by aggressively living life in our love relationship with him and participating in the activities which please him. With God’s way as our worldview foundation, expressing our sexuality as only between a husband and wife within the bonds of marriage makes for an exciting and fulfilling life.
© 2007 Freddy Davis