In the last article I spoke about where we are as a society, where we judge things on a subjective basis rather than objective truth. I introduced the topic through an episode of a particular television show.
Although it is entertainment, it demonstrated or suggested a particular way in which we can view the world, or how we ‘should’ view the world. I ended the article by saying since philosophy can come to us through the arts, then we ought to examine the claim made by the television episode that ‘a subjective view of the world’ -where the truth is circumstantial and relative- is a favourable way to live.
I must say I do not think this view of the world is best and I will give three reasons why I do not think it is.
Firstly Man, the individual, must live with and among men in community. What does that look like without clearly defined morality? Consider the dilemma as painted by Peter Singer, professor of bioethics at Princeton and Melbourne University.
Speaking at a Veritas forum dialogue, he said, “If I say, well this is what I want, and you say, yeah, but this is what I want, then we may have difficulty in reaching agreement about what we ought to do”. The quote amplifies the problem that I am highlighting for us. There needs to be something more than a subjective basis for defining how we live.
You see the problem with subjective morals is that it lacks the “ought” that breaks past the impasse mentioned in the quote; without that kind of objectivity, allowance and restriction, which every view must have in any community, cannot happen. Allowance and restriction is needed particularly because of the reality of evil.
Think about it with me. If all views and behaviours and attitudes are equally allowed, then the reality we have is the one presciently painted by Christian Apologist and author C.S Lewis: “…it means believing that bad men like badness as such, in the same way in which good men like goodness...in reality, along with the power to forgive, we have lost the power to condemn”.
Any society must restrict. Unbridled allowance does not exist. Such a space could only be described as anarchy but before we can restrict or practise disvalue, we must be able to ‘categorically’ call something wrong, bad, evil and even sinful.
Now “grey”,the phrasing that conveys relative views, may have an understandable aspect that can evoke sympathy, after all we do live in a world with difficult decisions. Though I do understand that, we must also realise that actions don’t exist in a vacuum, both the ends and the means matter.
What we do can set the tone for a society. As Martin Luther King Jr said “...the means represent the ideal in the making, and the end in process, and ultimately you can’t reach good ends through evil means, because the means represent the seed and the end represents the tree”. So some may argue that the “grey” is important for moment to moment/situational decisions. This leads to my second point.
Do we only live for the moment? We have explored the idea that we live as men in community, and that clearly defined morals become necessary, morals that carry with it objective categories that permit us to allow some actions and restrict others. Why is this?
Now moments are lovely, they carry intensity, fun and spontaneity and on the more serious side life can happen so quickly that we sometimes have to make quick decisions in the moment. I would argue that this is not the norm for how we make decisions, mainly because the reality is that consequences exist and they tend to be long term.
Wisdom is seen more in delaying as long as possible to weigh a matter before making a decision. When we live in a community, as much as we think our lives are our own and only affects us, this is certainly not the case. The scriptures are replete with examples that convey consequences affecting others through the single action of one.
Think on this
Think of Ezekiel chapter 18 where it speaks about-through figurative language- the father eating sour grapes and the child’s teeth are set on edge. Consider the Christian doctrine of original sin where through the sin of Adam, the ‘origin’ of sin in all man came about through one man’s disobedience, consider also the phrase that the scriptures use to communicate the reality that behaviour can affect others: “a little leaven leavens the whole lump”.
We can’t just live for the moment. Although moments exist, is that all we have?
This brings me to my final point. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians he makes a point to say if the resurrection from the dead is not a reality, then “let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die”.
Effectively there is nothing beyond tomorrow, all we have is the ‘now’. What is spoken of is essentially what life looks like- “eating and drinking”- without any eternal significance, it is simply a resignation to the moment, through the passage highlighting a hypothetical reality “ if the dead do not raise”, with the implication being no tomorrow. Now there is a shift that happens in the passage when the writer says “but Christ is risen indeed”, how does this shape the final point?
We do not simply live for the moment nor do we live as man among men only either. We live as Men before God, which carries with that an eternal significance with present implications. Consider what Paul says in his 2nd letter to the Corinthian Church “...and he died for all, that those who live, might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Corinthian 5 verse 15 ESV).
Christ’s death not only took away a self-centred ‘me only’ focused living, but made it possible for us to live for more, to live for Him, for more than a moment, to live as how we were meant to live, as Men before God.
In Part 3 I will close off the series by sharing what this looks like; How should we then live?
Paul Lewis is a Staff Worker for Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship in Kingston Jamaica, where he also resides. He has aspirations of becoming a Christian Apologist and he loves reading especially topics like: History, Philosophy and Theology. You can follow him on twitter @VeritasDeiVinci