Ethics


            By “moral dilemma” I mean a situation in which an agent ought to do A, ought to do B and cannot do both A and B.  Experience seems to validate the existence of such dilemmas, and a plethora of illustrations have been offered as far back as Plato’s question of whether or not to return a promised cache of arms to a man intent on violence[1], to the heart-wrenching decision face by Sophie in Sophie’s Choice[2].  Such apparent dilemmas carry strong intuitive and emotional weight, and it does appear that, in certain circumstances, one is irrevocably caught in the horns of a dilemma which will lead to a failure of duty.  However, I shall argue here that those who support the view that an adequate moral theory must allow for moral dilemmas do so at the cost of rejecting other important principles of adequacy for moral theories.

  There are a number of principles by which a moral theory may be evaluated.  Some of these principles may be regarded as necessary conditions for a moral theory, while others are meta-prescriptive in nature: detailing what a moral theory ought to require of agents[3].  Still others may be regarded as “good-making features” for a moral theory.  In this paper I shall employ the following five principles:

  • P1: A moral theory must be consistent.
  • P2: A moral theory must be action guiding (decision-making procedure).
  • P3: Requirements of a moral theory must be within the power of the agent to perform (“ought” implies “can”).
  • P4: A moral theory must imply that it is morally desirable that agents should seek to avoid moral conflicts.
  • P5: A moral theory must make sense of moral emotions.

      I have listed the principles in order of their respective importance.  (P1) and (P2) may be regarded as necessary conditions of any moral theory.  Indeed, it seems impossible to even conceive of a moral theory which is inconsistent or fails to be action guiding.  While there are a few who deny the truth of (P3), I shall argue below that (P3) can be understood as an extension of (P2).  (P4) is meta-prescriptive in nature, while (P5) may be regarded as a good-making feature of moral theories.

 

(P1). Consistency

The most common charge leveled against those who support moral dilemmas is that of inconsistency.  It is argued that the existence of genuine moral dilemmas leads to an incoherence that, in the words of W. D. Ross, “would be to put an end to all ethical judgment.”[4]  This inconsistency, however, is not as apparent as it initially seems.  Indeed, in order to demonstrate the inconsistency of moral dilemmas, one must first adopt certain principles of deontic logic.

In her essay, “Moral Dilemmas and Consistency”, Ruth Barcan Marcus demonstrates that the existence of moral dilemmas, in themselves, does not lead to a logical contradiction.  Marcus points out that consistency is “a property that such a set has if it is possible for all of the members of the set to be true, in the sense that contradiction would not be a logical consequence of supposing that each member of the set is true.”[5]  Thus moral dilemmas do not necessarily imply inconsistency because it is possible for moral dilemmas to arise contingently yet each principle of the underlying moral theory to be true.

Marcus uses a “silly two-person card game”[6] to illustrate this point.  In this game, black cards trump red cards and high cards trump cards of lower value.  A potential dilemma is cited as occurring when a red ace is turned up against a black deuce.  Initially, this does seem to lead one to conclude that the rules of the game are inconsistent.  However, Marcus points out that such a conclusion is mistaken since it is possible for all the rules to be obeyed in some worlds and for a conflict to never arise.  The rules are contingently inconsistent but not necessarily so. According to Marcus, opponents of moral dilemmas are making the same mistake as the opponents of the card game: they do not recognize that it is possible for moral dilemmas to arise within a moral theory whose underlying principles are all true.

Thus, while opponents of moral dilemmas seek to deny the very possibility of dilemmas, the charge of inconsistency cannot be used insofar as it applies to the truth of ethical principles in themselves.  In order to make the charge of inconsistency stick, one must tie the ethical principles to logical principles so that a moral dilemma can be stated as a logical contradiction (an agent is required to do A and ~ A). 

There are two axioms of deontic logic which are commonly appealed to by opponents of moral dilemmas.  These two principles, when employed together, yield a logical contradiction in moral dilemmas:

  • D1. OA → ~O ~A
    • – If it ought to be that A then it ought to be that not A (it is permissible that A).
  • D2. * (A → B) → (OA & OB)
    • – If it ought to be that A implies B, and if A is obligatory, then B is obligatory.

            Using these two principles, the argument demonstrating the inconsistency of moral dilemmas can be stated thus:

(1) OA
(2) OB
(3) ~¯(A & B)
  (Premises 1, 2, and 3 constitute the standard definition of a moral dilemma.)
(4) OA → ~O ~A                                       (principle D1)
(5) * (AB) → (OAOB)                   (principle D2)
(6) O ~(B & A)                                           (from 3)
(7) O (B → ~A)                                          (from 6)
(8) O (B → ~A) → (OBO ~A)             (from 5)
(9) OBO ~A                                          (from 7 and 8)
(10) O ~A                                                     (from 2 and 9)
(11) OA and O ~A                                        (from 1 and 10)
(12) ~O ~A                                                   (from 1 and 4)
   

            Thus, using the two axioms of deontic logic above leads to a logical contradiction of (10) and (12).

            Any attempt to reject the above argument requires one to deny either (D1) or (D2), or both (D1) and (D2).  While (D1) is so basic that there is little controversy regarding its validity, there have been a few concerns with (D2) (such as Ross’s paradox and forms of the Good Samaritan paradox).  Nonetheless, (D2) still seems to be quite basic and the burden of disqualifying these principles rests firmly upon the shoulders of the supporters of moral dilemmas.

 

(P2). Action Guiding

Another condition of adequacy for any moral theory is that it provides an agent with moral guidance (even if indirectly).  Indeed, one can hardly conceive of a moral theory that does not provide instruction for what one ought to do.  However, many consider (P2) to be too weak, thus leading to the following revision:

P2I: A moral theory must be uniquely action guiding.

            That is, a theory should not fail to offer guidance in a moral situation nor should it recommend incompatible actions to an agent.  Since one of the primary purposes of a moral theory is to give direction to agents, it seems only fitting that a moral theory be uniquely action guiding.  Theories that allow for dilemmas, however, do suggest incompatible actions to agents and thus are not uniquely action guiding. 

            Supporters of moral dilemmas will often point to symmetric cases in which the agent is required to choose between two perfectly equal options.  Take, for example, a mother who has twin daughters suffering from leukemia.  The mother can undergo a bone marrow transplant for only one of the girls, thus the daughter who receives the transplant will live and the other daughter will die.  Supporters of dilemmas argue that in such cases there can be no unique guidance for actions since the choices are equal.

            Given the above example, however, opponents of dilemmas can point out that moral theories can still be uniquely action guiding since symmetrical situations like the one cited above present a disjunctive obligation.  Since the best act that the mother can do in such a situation is to save one of her daughters, then that is her duty.  Indeed, such a concept seems quite natural in other situations.  If a dying wealthy uncle can only choose one of his noble nephews to bequeath his wealth, it hardly seems a moral failure if he does so.  Thus the option of a disjunctive obligation to maintain a uniquely action guiding moral theory is available to those who reject moral dilemmas, while supporters of dilemmas are forced to accept theories that fail to be uniquely action guiding.

 

(P3). ‘Ought’ Implies ‘Can’

The principle of ‘ought’ implies ‘can’ is one of the most intuitive of moral theories.  Many consider it to be a condition of adequacy for moral theories. Essentially, the theory asserts that the requirements of a moral theory must be within the power of the agent to perform; that is, if an agent ought to do an act he should be capable of doing so.  However, those who support the view that an adequate moral theory must allow for moral dilemmas can find the principle to be quite problematic, since opponents of dilemmas have used the principle to argue for the inconsistency of such theories.

            Opponents of dilemmas employ the principle of ‘ought’ implies ‘can’ as well as the agglomeration principle to construct an argument which demonstrates the inconsistency of moral dilemmas.  These two principles are represented thus:

  • D3. A OA → ¯A
    • – For every A, if it ought to be that A, then it is possible that A.
  • D4. (OA & OB) → O (A & B)
    • – If it ought to be that A and it ought to be that B, then it ought to be that A and B.

            With these two principles, the argument can be represented thus:

(1) OA
(2) OB
(3) ~¯(A & B)
  (As above, premises 1, 2, and 3 constitute the standard definition of a moral dilemma.)
(4) A OA → ¯A                                      (principle D3)
(5) (OA & OB) → O (A & B)                     (principle D4)
(6) (OA & OB) → ¯(A & B)                     (an instantiation of 4)
(7) OA & OB                                              (from 1 and 2)
(8) O (A & B)                                             (from 5 and 7)
(9) ~O (A & B)                                           (from 3 and 6)
   

            And so, by employing (D3) and (D4), opponents of dilemmas can demonstrate a contradiction in (8) and (9).

            Supporters of dilemmas have three options available to them in order to avoid the conclusion of the above argument: they can reject (D3), they can reject (D4), or they can reject both (D3) and (D4).  An example of the third option can be found in the fourth chapter of Walter Sinnott-Armstrong’s Moral Dilemmas[7], and since (D4) is widely regarded to be a basic axiom of deontic logic, I will examine Sinnott-Armstrong’s rejection of (D3).

            In rejection of (D3), Sinnott-Armstrong offers what he considers to be an example which demonstrates that there are some cases when a moral agent ought to perform an act but cannot.[8]  In this example Sinnott-Armstrong asks the reader to suppose that Adams promises at noon to meet Brown at 6:00 p. m.  However, Adams chooses to go to a film which starts at 5:00 p. m.  Due to the distance which separates the move theater from the meeting place, Adams will be unable to meet Brown when he promised.  Thus, if the principle (D2) holds, at 5:00 it cannot be true that Adams ought to meet Brown at 6:00, since Adams cannot do so.

            Something does, indeed, seem strange about this account.  Sinnott-Armstrong points to the fact that most people would agree that Adams still ought to meet Brown since he made the promise to do so earlier in the day. Since he cannot however, principle (D2) must be false.

            However, there is something even more troubling about this example which Sinnott-Armstrong fails to point out.  It would appear that principle (D2) grants any agent the option of being relieved from his obligations by simply taking actions to ensure that he cannot fulfill his duty.  Yet this certainly does not seem right.  The problem with the above example is that it fails to take into account the fact that when an Adams willfully placed himself in a situation in which he would be unable to fulfill his obligation he failed to perform his duty at that time.  Therefore it is no longer the case at 5:00 that Adams ought to meet Brown, since Adams has already failed to keep his promise by choosing to go to the film.

            One may still wonder what it is that makes principle (D3) map onto our intuitions so strongly.  I believe that this is because (D3) extends from (D2).  Remember that (D2) states a moral theory must be action guiding; that is, it must be able to give moral direction to agents.  With that in mind, suppose that Jane gives her teenaged son, Ralph, a list of things that need to be done around the house.  The list reads thus:

  • 1. Wash the car and shampoo the carpet at the same time.
  • 2. Mow the lawn and clean the shower at the same time.
  • 3. Clean the oven and fold the laundry at the same.

One can only imagine poor Ralph’s consternation at reading such a list!  Not only will it be impossible for Ralph to follow such directions, this list seems to lack any real direction at all (at least direction that is intended to be followed).  Likewise, moral theories that deny principle (D3), fail – on at least some occasions – to be action guiding.

 

(P4). Avoiding Moral Conflicts

It seems intuitive that a moral theory should direct agents to avoid moral conflicts whenever possible.  Yet some supporters of dilemmas, such as Ruth Marcus, argue that moral dilemmas must exist because there is a moral duty to act in such a way as to prevent moral conflicts:

The point to be made is that, although dilemmas are not settled without residue, the recognition of their reality has a dynamic force.  It motivates us to arrange our lives and institutions with a view to avoiding such conflicts.  It is the underpinning for a second-order regulative principle: that as rational agents with some control of our lives and institutions, we ought to conduct our lives and arrange our institutions so as to minimize moral conflicts.[9]

Marcus’ argument, which is a form of what has been referred to as the “moral residue argument”, can be stated in the following modus ponens form:

  1. If one ought to desire to not knowingly act in such a way as to bring about a moral conflict then moral conflicts are dilemmatic.
  2. One ought to desire to not knowingly act in such a way as to bring about a moral conflict.
  3. Therefore moral conflicts are dilemmatic.

The above argument is valid, so opponents of dilemmas must focus on the truth of the premises, and the second premise (a restatement of (P3)) seems plainly true.  Indeed, Terrance McConnell, a noted opponent of moral dilemmas, acknowledges the truth of the second premise when he states, “One cannot plausibly deny that it is morally desirable for agents to minimize the conflicts they face.”[10]  McConnell, as well as other foes of dilemmas, does take issue with the first premise and argues that there is an alternate explanation that accounts for the moral force of the second premise. 

McConnell gives the example of making a promise to two individuals – Juan and Helga – that you will meet them at a given time.  However, the time at which you promised to meet Juan and Helga is the same so that you cannot fulfill both promises.  McConnell agrees with Marcus that making such a promise is wrong in that leads to inevitable moral conflict: either Juan or Helga are going to be frustrated because of your decision.  The point at which McConnell disagrees with Marcus is whether or not you must engage in yet another wrongdoing because of the moral conflict in which you find yourself.  Marcus, who would argue that the moral conflict in question is a moral dilemma, would say that another wrong is inevitable.  McConnell, on the other hand, denies that another wrong must take place.  Indeed, McConnell argues that the moral conflict in which one wrongly placed oneself is an entirely new situation which requires a new decision that is based upon which choice is morally superior.  The moral ledger has been reset, as it were.

Initially, the position may seem to be incorrect.  Indeed, the alarm bells of intuition begin to ring when one considers the inevitable frustration and disappointment that will be brought about by failing to keep your promise to one of your friends.  McConnell acknowledges this intuition, but points out the friend’s disappointment and frustration are not the result of an additional wrongdoing, which stems from the neglected horn of a moral dilemma, but that her frustrations are the result of the original wrongdoing of placing oneself in a moral conflict.  Furthermore, McConnell correctly points out that the friend’s future frustration cannot be what made the original decision of placing oneself in a moral conflict wrong, since your friend could very well die before the time of the promised rendezvous, but your earlier conflicting promises would still be wrong, since making such conflicting promises shows disrespect for the individuals to whom they are made.  Thus the wrongness of placing oneself in a moral conflict, contrary to the second premise of Marcus’ argument, is not based upon a moral conflict presupposing a moral dilemma.  Therefore Marcus’ argument is unsound.

Furthermore, McConnell points out that the duty to be careful to not place oneself in a moral conflict still holds even if the conflict in question is easily resolved.  He uses the example of breaking a trivial promise to save an accident victim’s life: while nearly everyone would agree the aforementioned action is morally correct, if the agent in question had made the trivial promise with knowledge of the future conflict she would have been wrong in doing so due to the disrespect shown to the individual to whom the false promise was made.  Since one commonly held aspect of moral dilemmas is that they are irresolvable, it is clear that the duty to be careful to avoid moral conflicts cannot be based upon the existence of moral dilemmas since it is wrong to knowingly place oneself in a moral conflict, even when the said conflict can be easily resolved.[11]

 

(P5). Making Sense of Moral Emotions

It is naturally desirable that a good moral theory be able to make sense of moral emotions, and many supporters of moral dilemmas actually consider (P5) to strengthen their case.  This “phenomenological argument” in favor of moral dilemmas argues that since one feels guilt after making a difficult choice in a situation of moral conflict, then one must indeed be guilty.  There have been various illustrations of the above argument, but the one thing that they all have in common is the insistence that perceived guilt (or remorse) indicates actual guilt.[12]

            Opponents of dilemmas agree that remorse is only appropriate when an agent has actually done wrong.  However, they are apt to point out that just because one experiences remorse does not mean that one has done something worthy of remorse.  There are many cases in which an individual may experience incredible feelings of guilt, yet, according to outside observers, has done nothing wrong.

            Consider the example of Matthew, an amateur golfer who is enjoying a game on a weekday afternoon.  After a particularly wild swing, Matthew’s shot slices in the direction of a nearby street and strikes the windshield of a school bus filled with children.  The distraction from the impact causes the driver to lose control and the bus runs off the road eventually rolling into a ditch.  Many of the children are seriously injured, and a few are killed.

            Of course, no one should legally or morally fault Matthew for the accident and the consequent deaths and injuries of the children, however few would find it unsurprising that Matthew, after discovering that it was his ball that caused the accident, should be filled with grief and experience feelings of guilt over what had taken place.  Indeed, it would seem strange if Matthew did not experience such emotional pain, since we know how we would, ourselves, would feel in such a situation.  Nevertheless, while Matthew’s grief and regret over the tragic accident may – and should – be considered appropriate, the same cannot be said for his feelings of remorse.  Indeed, one could even say that Matthew’s experience of guilt is, although understandable, irrational.

            Supporters of dilemma are not the only ones who appeal to (P5) in favor of their position.  Opponents of dilemmas have their own phenomenological arguments against the existence of moral dilemmas.  One of these arguments appeals to the practice of seeking moral advice in an apparent dilemma, another points out the phenomenon of moral doubt that often occurs after a decision has been made in an apparent dilemma.[13]

            In situations of moral conflict, and especially when the alternatives appear to be symmetric, it is a common practice for an agent to seek moral counsel concerning which decision to make.  However, if a moral conflict is genuinely dilemmatic, it would be irrational or dishonest to advise an individual to choose one alternative over the other.  Indeed, the only sound advice in such cases would be to simply instruct the individual that they will fail in their duty no matter which choice they make.  But this is not how we perceive the nature of seeking and giving advice to be.  Thus, the opponent of dilemmas argues, if an agent feels the need to seek advice for a solution to her problem, and the advisor feels the need to give advice because there is a solution to the problem, this must be because moral conflicts are not genuinely dilemmatic.

            The second phenomenological argument against dilemmas focuses on the doubt that an agent is apt to experience after making a difficult decision involving moral conflict.  According to this argument, if one is in a genuine dilemma, there is no reason for doubting one’s decision after the fact since doubt implies that the agent is concerned over whether or not she made the right choice.  In a genuine dilemma, there can be no right choice.  Thus the existence of moral doubt disproves the reality of moral dilemmas.

            Objections offered by supporters of dilemmas against the above two arguments are very similar in character to the objections given by the opponents of dilemmas.  One may say that it is irrational for an agent to seek advice or have moral doubts in certain situations; however, the burden of proof rests upon the supporters of dilemmas as to how one may determine these situations.  Furthermore, the arguments given above clearly demonstrate that the position of supporters of dilemmas is not significantly strengthened by (P5), and that opponents of dilemmas can construct similar arguments.

 

Conclusion

The debate concerning moral dilemmas will probably continue for a long time to come, and there are many other arguments and considerations to be examined about the matter.  However, it seems apparent that those who argue that an adequate moral theory must allow for moral dilemmas find themselves in a troublesome situation in regards to other conditions of adequacy for moral theories.  Until the supporters of moral dilemmas can account for these apparent weaknesses, it seems that only moral theories that exclude dilemmas should be considered adequate.    

           

 


 

[1] Plato, The Republic, Book I, trans, G. M. A. Grube, in Plato: Complete Works, John M. Cooper and D. S. Hutchinson (eds.), Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company.

[2] Styron, William, 1980, Sophie’s Choice, New York: Bantam Books

[3] See Terrance McConnell, “Metaethical Principles,  Meta-Prescriptions, and Moral Theories”. American Philosophical Quarterly. Volume 22, Number 4, 1985.

[4] Ross, W. D., Foundations of Ethics, Oxford University Press, 1939, p. 60.

[5] Marcus, Ruth. “Moral Dilemmas and Consistency”.  The Journal of Philosophy.  87.3 (1980): p. 129.

[6] Ibid., pp. 128-129.

[7] Sinnott-Armstrong, Walter, 1988, Moral Dilemmas, Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

[8] Ibid., pp. 116-121.

[9] Marcus, Ruth. “Moral Dilemmas and Consistency”.  The Journal of Philosophy.  87.3 (1980): p. 121.

[10] See Terrance McConnell, “Moral Residue and Dilemmas”, Moral Dilemmas and Moral Theory. ed. H. E. Mason.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.  p. 44

[11] Marcus, incidentally, avoids this criticism by holding the position that all moral conflicts constitute moral dilemmas.  One must question, however, if the benefits that Marcus’ theory gains from exempting itself from this objection outweigh the very unpalatable position that all moral conflicts lead to inevitable wrongdoing.

 

[13] See Terrance McConnell, “Moral Dilemmas and Consistency in Ethics”. Moral Dilemmas. ed. Christopher Gowans.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987. pp. 163-169.

Are we always free to change?  It was argued in my Existentialism class today that no matter our past, we can always reinvent ourselves and pursue a different life.  I disagreed, however, and I have the famous Irish playwright Oscar Wilde in my corner.

Wilde was blessed with an extraordinary story telling ability.  The characters from his plays and novels leap from the page in vivid plot and description.  Oscar Wilde was known for his gits to be sure, but he was also known for his lecherous behavior which eventually led to imprisonment and disgrace before his death.

Wilde gave both personal and literary testimoy to his destructive behavior.  Shortly before his death he wrote the following words:

I let myself be lured into long spells of senseless and sensual ease…Tired of being on the heights, I deliberately went to the depths in search for new sensation.  I grew careless of the lives of others. I took pleasure where it pleased me, and passed on. I forgot that every little action of the common day makes or unmakes character, and that therefore what one has done in the secret chamber, one has some day to cry aloud from the housetop. I ceased to be lord over myself. I was no longer the captain of my soul, and did not know it. I allowed pleasure to dominate me. I ended in horrible disgrace.

Wilde witnesses the effect that behavior has on character here.  The choices that we make today will determine what options we have in the future.  If I make bad choices, I damage my soul and distort my character.  If I continue down the wrong path long enough, I rob myself of the very freedom that I had once treasured; I will indeed cease to be the captain of my soul.  Wilde wasn’t the first to discover this truth, of course; Aristotle stated much the same thing and the principle of moral sowing and reaping is clearly taught in Scripture (Galatians 6:7).  Every decision we may effectively limits our future decisions: for good or evil.

Wilde’s literary autobiography is contained in the novella, The Picture of Dorian Gray which relates the story of an innocent young man’s descent into debauchery and self-destruction.  Throughout the story, Gray learns that he is able to take part in the vilest of behavior, yet suffer no consequences to his body or appearance; the eponymous picture suffers all of the damage.  However, Dorian eventually discovers that the picture is a representation of his own twisted soul, and at the climax of the narrative when he reveals the ruined painting to the artist who created it (just before murdering him):

“It is the face of my soul.”

“Christ! what a thing I must have worshipped! It has the eyes of a devil.”

“Each of us has heaven and hell in him, Basil,” cried Dorian
with a wild gesture of despair.

Hallward turned again to the portrait and gazed at it.
“My God! If it is true,” he exclaimed, “and this is
what you have done with your life, why, you must be worse
even than those who talk against you fancy you to be!”
He held the light up again to the canvas and examined it.
The surface seemed to be quite undisturbed and as he had left it.
It was from within, apparently, that the foulness and horror
had come. Through some strange quickening of inner life
the leprosies of sin were slowly eating the thing away.
The rotting of a corpse in a watery grave was not
so fearful.

His hand shook, and the candle fell from its socket on the floor
and lay there sputtering. He placed his foot on it and put it out.
Then he flung himself into the rickety chair that was standing by
the table and buried his face in his hands.

“Good God, Dorian, what a lesson! What an awful lesson!”
There was no answer, but he could hear the young man
sobbing at the window. “Pray, Dorian, pray,” he murmured.
“What is it that one was taught to say in one’s boyhood?
‘Lead us not into temptation. Forgive us our sins.
Wash away our iniquities.’ Let us say that together.
The prayer of your pride has been answered. The prayer of your
repentance will be answered also. I worshipped you too much.
I am punished for it. You worshipped yourself too much. We are
both punished.”

Dorian Gray turned slowly around and looked at him with tear-dimmed eyes.
“It is too late, Basil,” he faltered.

“It is never too late, Dorian. Let us kneel down and try if we
cannot remember a prayer. Isn’t there a verse somewhere,
‘Though your sins be as scarlet, yet I will make them as white
as snow’?”

“Those words mean nothing to me now.”

For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind. (Hosea 8:7)

 

Top Ten Posts for February, 2008 

Here are the Top Ten April posts on Quadrivium:

  1. Faith and Reason: A two part essay dealing with a proper definition of faith as well as its relationship to reason. Part 1, Part 2.
  2. An Evaluation of the Bundle Theory of Substance: An analysis of a popular theory of substance advocated by the famous skeptic/empiricist David Hume
  3. The Ethical Quagmire of Designer Babies: A post that investigates the murky waters of bioethics.
  4. An Evaluation of Descartes’ Claim that the Mind is More Easily Known Than the Body: A post that examines the contents of its formidable title.  (Note: this is not an argument against substance dualism, just an evalution of one of Descartes’ arguments for it).
  5. The Battle for the Mind: German and British Propaganda In the First World War: A post examing the beginnings of modern war propaganda and how it is used to direct the populace.
  6. What is Christian Art?: Is there such a thing as “Christian” art and how does one recognize it?
  7. Much Ado About Nothing: Nihilism and Modernist Literature: A four part essay that examines nihilistic themes in the works of three Modernist authors.  Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.
  8. The Nature of Truth: A two part essay that examines the meaning of truth and its underlying principles. Part 1, Part 2.
  9. There’s Hope For Porn Stars! (sort of): This post analyzes the controversial techniques of a ministry to porn stars along with the misleading statement, “Jesus Loves Porn Stars”.
  10. Two-Way Tie for Tenth: The Suffocating Soul: A two-part book review and commentary on the various ‘corsets’ and ‘tight slippers’ that suffocate our souls.  Part 1, Part 2. And Is Fantasy Escapism?:Is fantasy literature (LOTR, Narnia, etc.) an attempt to escape reality, or does it communicate reality better than any other genre?

 

What is the balance between putting others above yourself and standing up for yourself, particularly on the job?  When do you lay down the robe of passivity to protect your job?

Matthew 5:10-12 states, ““Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

What does this passage imply?  Are we to be doormats to be trodden on under any circumstance or is there a point when we stand up for ourselves?  The Christian life is about balance, and I have often wondered where these two extremes can harmonize.  It is very clear by this passage and others that we are not to push others down in our own endeavors.  Looking out for self even at the cost of hurting others is clearly unbiblical.  However, is it completely biblical to always turn the other cheek?  Jesus states in Matthew 5 that we are blessed, or counted as fortunate if people lie against us on His account and our reward in heaven will be great.  There have been instances when Christians have been lied about at work and have lost their jobs because of it.  I would like to know if they would have been right to bring the truth to light, dispelling lies and protecting their jobs as well.

I would love to hear everyone’s thoughts on this.  Where is the balance between defending oneself and turning the other cheek, or should we even attempt to balance the two?

                                                       

Jesus loves porn stars! So heralds the cover of the controversial Bible (The Message version) being distributed by the guys over at Triple X Church. Triple X is an anti-porn website run by Mike Foster and Craig Gross, who also run the ministry Starving Jesus, and together authored the book, “Questions You Can’t Ask Your Mama About Sex”.

The flashy picture above is the actual cover of the Bible Foster and Gross are distributing. Distributing at Porn conventions, that is. The ministry of XXXChurch is to attend porn conventions which are frequented by the top names in pornography like Jenna Jameson and Ron Jeremy (who often participates in public debates with XXXChurch on porn). Does Jesus love porn stars? Here’s my controversial answer– No, He does not.

Modernly, “porn star” is simply a euphemism of a lifestyle, not a human being. It’s used, as best I can tell, exactly like “pimp” or “rock star” or “redneck” , words which no longer refer to an individual, but a particular lifestyle. Go to your local superstore, and you’ll find t-shirts (in the teen section by the way) with those titles screen printed on the front. I remember a girl with whom I went to high school wearing a t-shirt which simply said, “I’m a Porn Star,” in the same coloring and typeface as the Bible cover above. Who’s not seen the Rockstar brand energy drink, or heard a rap song about being a pimp or a country song about being a redneck? These titles don’t refer to people as individuals, but lifestyles. Contrariwise, I could say that Jesus loves homosexuals, because this currently still refers to individuals, not the lifestyle. Does Jesus love Ron Jeremy and Jenna Jameson? Absolutely! He also loves every single other individual involved in the pornography industry. However, He does not love porn stars, nor does He loves pimps, rock stars, or rednecks, as those words are used in modern vernacular to convey not the individual man, but his lifestyle; lifestyles often characterized by their committment to ignorance, promiscuity, drug use, and immorality on many fronts. Does Jesus love that? Of course not.

The message that Jesus loves porn stars, to modern individuals, does not convey the intended meaning, therefore, that Jesus loves the individual man, but that Jesus seems to have a special place in His heart for the porn star lifestyle. This is clearly seen in the ABC news video (below) where a female pornography actress says the Jesus Loves Porn Stars t-shirt is “awesome”. Finally, porn stars are justified, Jesus loves it, and if He does, what’s the problem?

Aside from the obscure message that Jesus loves porn stars, the XXXChurch website sells items which again are intended to deliver the message of Christ to individuals struggling with sex addiction. To encourage men to abstain from lust, cards are handed out that remind them (forgive me for typing this) “Don’t Spank that Monkey”, and the XXXChurch website sells Jesus pencil toppers, and Jesus bobble heads, called Jesus nodders.

  Penciltoppers_copy           

Jesus loves you. Let’s remind modern men that they are just that- you, men, women, people, individual humans in God’s image. Jesus doesn’t love porn stars, but He loves every single human, despite their man made titles.

Romans 5:12 Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:

You may have seen the commercial on TV that seems to run year after year. It advertises a medical alert system allowing a person who lives at home alone to push a button on a device around his or her neck signaling that he or she is in need of medical attention. It was made famous by the phrase, “Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”

I can’t help but think of this statement when I read this passage of Scripture. The apostle Paul is describing the human race as fallen in sin and without hope of pulling itself up to acceptance with God. We are all in need of a spiritual rescue. As the Apostle Paul wrote, “we all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” Now what in the world does this word “sin” mean? It sounds like something we’ve heard of before, but have you and I really sinned? How would we define the word “sin”? It comes from “hamartia” in the original manuscripts, meaning “to miss the mark”.   Anything that displeases God, anything that contradicts his nature, rebels against his authority, anything that misses his mark of perfection is sin.

But what makes an action “right” or “wrong”? Who has the authority to judge between good and evil? These questions will naturally flow from any discussion of missing a mark or of a need for a spiritual rescue. Some people feel that right and wrong are simply societal constructs designed to preserve the power of the government or the ruling class. Others may feel that right and wrong are simply based upon what makes us feel good or bad emotionally or what the “majority” rules them to be. A few may actually believe that there are absolute standards of right and wrong. One way to press the issue is to find an extreme case. In other words, if a person believes that right and wrong are simply societal constructs, how can we absolutely condemn the actions of a serial killer like Dennis Rader or Jeffrey Dahmer? Is there a setting in which such behavior would be acceptable? Is genocide acceptable as long as the ruling government condones it? Is it okay if every government in the world favors genocide or turned a blind eye? If not, then why not?

If right and wrong are purely individual concepts, based on conscience and personal preference, then what are the ramifications of such a viewpoint? Is it wrong for one person to indulge his sexual desire by raping another, simply because it makes the offender feel good? Why or why not? On what basis can we call a sociopath’s version of morality incorrect if there is no absolute standard? 

One problem with sin is that, if we admit it exists, then we have to define its boundaries. Once we acknowledge that absolute morals exist, known as sin and conversely, holiness or moral perfection, we must tip our hats to a moral law giver outside of our own human race. No human could set a standard by which we could judge all other humans. Only a being of moral perfection could stand in judgement of those who were not morally perfect. Furthermore, once we acknowledge this person exists, we would be foolish not to then seek out as much information as possible about this individual and to determine whether we have “missed” any of his “marks”.

This is the logical progression that we as Christ followers have employed to help us judge our own lives and strive to obtain the upmost morality. We do this for a couple of reasons. First, we want to stay out of trouble with this morally perfect being. We assume that since he is good enough to establish a code of conduct for all of the human race that he is also powerful enough to enforce this code. Our senses lend themselves to this rational as we observe the rhyme of the solar system, the rhythm of the beating heart and the complexity of all things around us. Only a very powerful individual would be responsible for such a universe. However, this trail of thinking leads us to unpleasant surroundings. We either choose to progress down this pathway to the natural result known as “conviction of sin”, the realization that we have offended this perfect law giver and deserve his anger; or, we peek around the proverbial corner to see where the trail is leading and then choose to run in another direction.

There is an element of cowardice in all of us when it comes to our own depravity, but for those who choose to see their own evil and confront it with sorrow and remorse, there is hope in the forgiveness that Christ provided by his death on that cross outside Jerusalem almost two millennia ago. For those who reject the mirror of truth and turn away into their own debauchery, they beg the question, “Is there not a reckoning day?” The patriarch Abraham said it most effectively, “shall not the judge of all the earth do right?”

Top Ten Posts for February, 2008 

Here are the Top Ten February posts on Quadrivium:

  1. What is Christian Art?: Is there such a thing as “Christian” art and how does one recognize it?
  2. The Results of Poor Hermeneutics and KJV Extremism: A wacky preacher explains why God is interested in bodily functions.
  3. The Suffocating Soul, Part 1: A book review and commentary on the various ‘corsets’ that suffocate our souls.
  4. An Evaluation of the Formal Cause Argument for the Existence of Universals: An analytical post (with a formidable title) that rebutts the the formal cause argument for the the existence of abstract universals.
  5. Much Ado About Nothing: Nihilism and Modernist Literature: A four part essay that examines nihilistic themes in the works of three Modernist authors.  Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.
  6. Eschatology Poll Update and Fun With Christian Kitsch: Results from our eschatology poll as well as a small gallery of kitschy Christian art.
  7. The Conflict of Christianity and Culture: A post that examines the underlying causes of modern Christianity’s estrangement from culture.
  8. Stephen Pinker and the Morality of a Meat Machine: Admiring Stephen Pinker’s awesome ‘do, and examining his not-so-awesome materialistic foundation for ethics.
  9. Is Fantasy Escapism?:Is fantasy literature (LOTR, Narnia, etc.) an attempt to escape reality, or does it communicate reality better than any other genre?
  10. Three-Way Tie for Tenth: We actually have three posts which tied for the tenth spot.  The Economics of Art is a rejoinder to post 1 that takes a different approach to the idea of “Christian” art and the concept of ‘art’ altogether.  Rebutting Ancient Skepticism: provides an analysis and rebuttal of ancient Pyrrhonian skepticism.  And Handling Money God’s Way is a practical post that gives Scripturally based principles and tips on how to manage your money.

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