Truth That Matters

"What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?" - Jesus Christ

ETHICS

Ethics deals with moral right and wrong - how man ought to treat others. Ethics is closely related to purpose. How we ought to treat others affects what we ought to do with our lives. A system of ethics depends on an underlying belief system to form a basis for it. In this article, I examine the elements needed to establish a basis for ethics. Then I demonstrate how the Bible provides such a basis. After describing Biblical ethics, I also intend to show that no other belief system provides an adequate basis for ethics. [If this sounds arrogant, please don't be offended. Just scroll down slowly, and feel free to debate me!]
 
Before we proceed further, a couple of clarifications:-
 
Firstly: For a system of ethics to be meaningful, it has to be absolute. That is, it has to prescribe the same rules for everyone of the same category in the same situation. To say that each person is right in making his own rules is as good as saying that there are no rules (because anyone can do anything and then say,"That's my rule!"). Also see: "What is true for you may not be true for me and vice versa".
 
Secondly: Having an opinion is not the same as enforcing that opinion. I believe that homosexuality and idolatry are morally wrong, but I don't intend to force these views on others! In civil society, "the live and let live" approach works best - that is, let everyone be free to do as he sees fit as long as he does not directly hurt others. 
 
Thirdly: It is possible to be inconsistent to your worldview. So when I say that atheism provides no basis for morality, I don't mean that atheists cannot live with at least some semblance of morality.

The basis for ethics

Ethics deals with "ought" and "should". Statements involving these words elicit the question: Why?
  • Why should I embrace all these rules as my duty?
  • Why should I care about what you think makes a virtuous person?
  • Why should I care about the consequences of what I do?
There are three things which give the word "ought" its force.
  1. The positive incentive: We "ought" to do something because it will result in our own ultimate happiness. A coach may tell his players just before the finals: "I want you guys to go out on the field and give your very best". Why? Well, because we all want to win, feel good about ourselves, become famous and popular, and get lots of money.
  2. The negative incentive: You "ought" to do something because if you don't, you'll fall in big trouble! If you jump the signal, the cop will catch you.
  3. Consistency: When one sentient, self-consistent being acts in perfect love and goodwill, it is consistent for us to cooperate with him - and it is outrageous for us to act in opposition to it. Acting in infinite, perfect goodwill and love, God created men and women so that we could all be ultimately happy for ever. So rape is outrageous.
All three aspects MUST be applicable to provide a sufficient basis for ethics:-

If the positive incentive is missing, then joy will be missing. Consistency for consistency's sake can be a drudgery, and there is no joy in merely saving one's skin. The false perception of the Bible I had when I was young falls into this category. "I agree that God is the boss, so He makes the rules, and I better follow them! To avoid being flung into hell I need to believe in Jesus Christ. But this means no alcohol, no casual relationships with girls, no porn. How boring!" In such a situation, a human wastes his time looking for loopholes: "Is it okay to watch movies? Listen to secular music? Just how naughty do the movie scenes or song lyrics have to be for them to cross the red line and be off bounds for me?"

If the negative incentive is missing, the moral code is not binding, and therefore as good as absent. It is a fact (which humanists are slow to admit) that humans will not make tough choices without a negative incentive. Just imagine if the traffic cop said: "From now on, no fines for jumping signals. But do adhere to signals so we can all travel smoothly and safely". The humanist may respond: "Even if there are no fines, I, as a rational human being, choose to follow the rules". That sounds good on paper, but does not work in real life. The need for police, judiciary and defense is proof.

If consistency is missing, the system of ethics becomes arbitrary. In such a case, we are motivated to look for loopholes rather than follow the system of ethics. Imagine you're kidnapped by thugs, and they give you a deal: "Everyday, you will bow down three times to us and fast from sunrise to sunset. Violate this, and we'll beat you black and blue, but follow this and we'll give you good dinner complete with the best wine, adequate water, plus a girl to sleep with - you can choose from among 72 virgins" Well? You'd better follow their instructions, but why not grab a bite during the day when no one is looking? And anyone would think you're out of your mind if you proudly told them that you're into something really worthwhile.

The basis for Biblical ethics

Biblical ethics has all three basis elements:-

The Positive Incentive: There are rewards for everything good we do (Mark 9:41, Luke 6:23, Revelation 22:12, etc.)
 
The Negative Incentive: God is consistent - just and holy. Rebellion against Him will attract retribution (Deuteronomy 7:8-9, Revelation 20:11-15). There is NO possibility of escape. In hell, you will pay the exact (stiff) penalty that your actions call for according to God's infinitely high standards of holiness. No negative incentive could be stronger!

Consistency: The Bible teaches that God is a Trinity - one God of three Persons. If these three Persons were arbitrary, there would be conflict among themselves. However, there is perfect harmony, joy and unity among them (John 17:5-26, Psalm 16:11, etc). This proves that God is intrinsically, ultimately, good. Therefore, God's rules are intrinsically good, and worth obeying for their own sake. It is remarkable that even though God is complete in Himself, He desires fellowship with creatures! If we cooperate with Him, we will be part of that perfect, infinitely joyous fellowship. There is joy in Christ, both now (1 Peter 1:8, Romans 14:17), and for all eternity. Therefore, when we are in Christ we are not subjected to the fleshly dilemma: the bad choices seem appealing, being fun and easy; and the "good" choices seem unappealing, being boring and difficult. Rather, it becomes possible to delight in good choices for their own sake. Above all, temptations disappear when we dwell on Christ.
 
The highest possible purpose is the happiness of sentient beings living for ever in harmony with each other. It is this purpose that God had in mind when He created man. When man sinned, Jesus Christ came into the world, died and rose again, paying the penalty for our sins. Surely, no act of love could be greater (Romans 5:8). Forgiveness of sins, and new, abundant, eternal life is available to those who repent and believe in Jesus Christ. Jesus' death and resurrection also made it possible for God to remove the taint of sin from our nature without violating our identity. In the light of all this, it is only appropriate that we cooperate with God without being obsessed with His rewards. We recognize that God is gracious and so we don't bargain with Him for rewards (see Matthew 20:1-16). The only reason we look forward to our crowns (2 Timothy 4:8) is so we can cast them at our Lord's feet (Revelation 4:10).
 
Consistency thus demands that we embrace the Bible and its ethics.

Thus, Biblical ethics has a proper foundation. The same can be said about Biblical purpose. When I know that
  • Every other purpose in the universe will ultimately fail or become worthless
  • Only God's purposes will finally come to fruition
  • God's purposes for me will ultimately result in my ultimate happiness and that of others who cooperate with Him
I have every reason to submit to God's purposes for my life.

Biblical Ethics

Most situations in life are addressed by simple, unconditional rules of Biblical ethics that are explicitly stated in the Bible. In other cases, we can take ethical decisions based on principles given in the Bible. Here are some examples of Biblical ethical rules:-

  • Multiple heterosexual relationships and single or multiple homosexual relationships do not fulfill God's purpose for sexuality. Therefore, He has forbidden them - they are thus morally wrong according to Biblical ethics (Malachi 2:14, Mark 10:11-12, Leviticus 18:22). Not just the act, even lusting counts as sin (Matthew 5:28)
  • Abortion is wrong because God forbids the killing of a human being (Exodus 20:13).
  • Idolatry and the worship of anyone or anything other than Jehovah (the God of the Bible) are wrong (Exodus 20:2-5)
  • Seeking any supernatural or non-scientific power except from Jehovah is wrong (Leviticus 20:27, Deuteronomy 18:10). This includes reiki, yoga, Eastern meditation, wicca, etc.
  • Non-vegetarianism is okay since God has sanctioned it (Genesis 9:3-4). God has not assigned the same value for animal life as for the life of humans, who are made in God's image (Genesis 1:26-27). Having said that, we should treat animals reasonably (Proverbs 12:10).
  • All forms of cheating, disrespect, harassment, exploitation, discrimination, etc. against human beings are wrong since we all are the same extended family (Acts 17:26), made in God's image (Genesis 1:26-27)
  • Scientific investigation, technology, the use of natural resources, pest control, etc. are legitimate because God has given man dominion over the universe (Genesis 1:28); there is nothing sacrosanct in nature per se, and God does not value animal life in the same way He values human life.
  • We ought to love Jehovah, the true God, with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Deuteronomy 6:5)
  • We ought to love our fellow human beings as our self (Matthew 22:39, 1 Peter 3:8, Luke 6:31)
  • Do not take God's name in vain (Exodus 20:7)
  • Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:27). Wives submit to your husbands (1 Peter 3:1). Honour your parents (Exodus 20:12). Parents, bring up your children well (Proverbs 22:6)
  • Bosses, treat your employees well, knowing that you also have a boss in heaven (Colossians 4:1). Employees, serve your bosses faithfully (Colossians 3:22)
  • Provide for your family (1 Timothy 5:4-8)
  • Obey the law of the land (Romans 13:6-7)
  • Do not divorce (Mark 10:9)
  • Think of pure and virtuous things (Philippians 4:8)
  • Speak graciously (Colossians 4:6)

Bible verses about ethics

We now look at the ethics of other belief systems.

Ethics in Jainism and Buddhism

Buddhism is atheist. Buddhist ethics is based on the idea that justice is a law of nature. However, we now know that nature is made of matter and energy which don't have any consciousness, let alone any sense of justice or ethics. Thus, being atheist, Buddhist ethics fails for the same reasons as non-religious atheist ethics fails.

Roman Catholic ethics

Roman Catholic ethics fails because it lacks consistency. If God is loving and respects our free will (as the Catholic Bible claims), why did he guide the "infallible" popes to order inquisitions on countries and torture their inhabitants to death just because their interpretation of the Bible did not agree with papal dogma? Such a god is inconsistent. According to theistic evolution, which has been espoused by Pope John Paul II and others, God originally created disease-ridden animals who would torture each other in a desperate struggle for survival. According to Roman Catholicism, the same god asks us to treat others well. Again, inconsistency. Further, if (as Catholicism claims) god can be appeased by my imperfect "penance", then god is not perfect. Why should I cooperate with an imperfect, inconsistent entity? More on Roman Catholicism

Islamic ethics

In the Koran/Hadith, Allah, a singular god, says that I should believe certain things, and do certain things, including killing people, in return for a sex paradise. This can hardly be called loving or ultimately good! Muslim apologists protest that in paradise, the greatest joy will not be the 72 virgins but meeting Allah, but the Koran does NOT say so. It uses the girls in paradise as Allah's ultimate bargaining tool: "Therein are coy virgins...then which of your Lord's favors will you deny?" (Surah 55:56-57). Moreover, Allah is self-contradictory and morally inconsistent. Islamic ethics therefore fails because its positive incentive is faulty and it lacks consistency. More on Islam

Hindu ethics

  • Should I eat meat like the Vedic priests of old or shrink at the thought of killing cows and goats like modern Brahmins (high caste Hindus)?
  • Should I abstain from all sensual pleasure as the Gita instructs or should I emulate the wild sexual behavior depicted in temple sculptures?
  • Should I fall down at my mother's feet and worship her as a goddess or burn her alive in the funeral flames of my father who has just passed away?
  • Should I join Brahmin Hindu reformers who down-play the caste system or should I emulate the older Brahmins who poured liquid metal into the ears of Shudras (low caste Hindus) who tried to read and write?
  • Whom should I take greater care to exclude from temple precincts - Shudras or rodents?
  • Should I assault girls in short skirts and jeans as punishment for their immodesty or should I encourage them to become devdasis (temple prostitutes)?
  • Should I shun alcohol as something immoral or drink it like the Vedic priests did?

I'm not trying to mock or be hurtful. All of these things have been done in the name of Hinduism. Different Hindu texts have different ethical directives and no one text can be objectively established as authoritative over others. Hindu ethics is as good as non-existent because it is self-contradictory. More on Hinduism

Atheism

Any system of ethics based on atheism lacks all the above requirements. My female subordinate at work is pretty. Atheism gives me no reason to believe that refraining from taking liberties with her will be better for my happiness in the long run. There is therefore no positive incentive. There's hardly any chance of getting caught, so there's no negative incentive. Consistent atheism would mean treating her like what atheism claims she is: an ultimately worthless bag of molecules produced by time and chance. Therefore, consistency to atheism works against ethics. Thus, atheist ethics fails. Further discussion

"The cruelty of atheism is hard to believe. When a man has no faith in the reward of good or the punishment of evil, there is no reason to be human. There is no restraint from the depths of evil that is in man. The Communist torturers often said, “There is no God, no hereafter, no punishment for evil. We can do what we wish.” I heard one torturer say, “I thank God, in whom I don’t believe, that I have lived to this hour when I can express all the evil in my heart.” He expressed it in unbelievable brutality and torture inflicted on prisoners." - Richard Wurmbrand, Tortured for Christ, Chapter 2.

The moral nihilism that follows from atheism is so contrary to human nature and intuition that most atheists today insist on having some ethical standards. Let us examine atheist morality:

Most atheists today insist that homosexuality is good and that bestiality, pedophilia and rape are wrong. When asked why, they usually reply that unlike in the former, consent cannot be established in the latter. This "answer" actually raises more questions than it answers:-

Why should consent be the criterion of right and wrong? According to atheism, a person is just a collection of molecules that has evolved by chance. Why is her consent so important? Now if consent is granted as the criterion of right and wrong:-

  1. Most atheists agree that incest is wrong, despite being consensual. We therefore have a contradiction.
  2. Most atheists agree that conservation projects (in which lions are tranquillized and treated without their consent) are correct. Again, a contradiction.
  3. The same applies to non-vegetarianism (animals killed without their consent), sterilization (organisms killed without their consent), and medical science (animals tested on without their consent).
  4. The same applies to vaccination and abortion (infants given injections or killed without their consent). If parental consent makes vaccination and abortion right, by the same criterion, the items in 2 and 3 that atheists approve of will be wrong: a contradiction.

If parental consent is what justifies abortion and vaccination, how about forced marriages, child marriages and the killing of unwanted children?! 

Some atheists say that it is only human consent that is important, not animal consent. But such a distinction between animals and humans is a Christian idea based on the Biblical teaching that only man (and not animals) is made in God's image and the subject of divine redemption.

Some atheists say that human consent matters but not animal consent because humans are intelligent, and animals are not. But this only raises the question: why should intelligence be the deciding criterion? And if it is, it would imply that chimps should be treated better than parrots (because chimps are more intelligent than parrots); it would also mean that it is okay to rape a mentally challenged person (who has no intelligence). Most atheists would disagree with these conclusions - a contradiction.

And if animal consent does not matter, bestiality must be right, a conclusion that most atheists would squirm at. Incidentally, atheist philosopher Peter Singer, in his Unsanctifying Human Life, points out how atheists are inconsistent in giving special preference to human life. He is in favor of killing the disabled and bestiality (if there is no obvious harm to the animal). Other atheist philosophers such as Bernard Williams oppose him, yet complaining that Singer is "so damn logical"!

Some atheists would say that it is okay to sacrifice consent if there is hope for later good. To see how pernicious this idea is, one only has to look at Mao's Great Leap Forward, in which millions of peasants were killed, supposedly for the "greater/common good" (which never came - humans never know the future perfectly).

Bernard Williams is the "most brilliant and most important British moral philosopher of his time." (to quote The Times). "I did all the major vices" he told The Times in his interview published on 14 June 2003. He cheated on his wife, left her and wrote about a dozen books on ethics.  Everywhere you turn, atheist ethics is self-contradictory.

Conclusion

Ethics is absolutely important, because it has to do with how we treat people. Everyone has some sense of right and wrong (the Bible calls this our God-given conscience), and so we are able to get along with our daily life without thinking too deeply. But when we give ethics a closer look, we find that ethics has no sure foundation outside the Bible.
 
Also see: