By David Hegg
The basic question in the study of ethics has always been that of determining right and wrong, moral and immoral. Some find right to be that which aligns with authoritative truth or standard, while others base morality on the consequences of individual actions. The former (deontologists) and the latter (consequentialists) have argued for centuries, and the battle rages on today in academia.
But in the corridors of everyday life ethical determination has taken a different turn. Today in many cases right and wrong, moral and immoral are determined on a far simpler basis: Does what you believe make you a better person? We might call this “relational ethics.”
Increasingly I’ve come to see this worked out in many arenas of life. In debates ranging from the political to the theological, it is clear that winners are considered to be those who came across as nicer people, someone we’d like to go to lunch with. Never mind the factual nature of their declarations, or the cogency of their arguments — the thing we want most is someone we can like, relate to, and even hang out with.
As an ethicist I inhabit the ranks of the deontologists who believe that, ultimately, right and wrong are not determined pragmatically but on the basis of absolute truth. However, I also believe a correct ethic or moral worldview ought to make one a better person. If there is a gap between what we believe is right and our living as good people, then there is a radical disconnect somewhere.
Let’s put it to the test. While I expect that many who read my opinions will disagree with my ethical starting point and worldview, I will ask you all to accept my presuppositions, for the sake of argument. I believe in the God of the Bible, and the worldview that flows out from understanding the Bible in the way the original authors intended it to be understood. That means I don’t stand with those who, while claiming to follow God, twist the Bible to align with their own crazy ideas.
Given this, I would tell you that my worldview makes sense of reality, and also provides for an amazing life. Simply put, my worldview can explain the presence of evil, the reason for, and benefit of suffering, as well as define a path of forgiveness, beauty, peace, purpose and satisfaction both in this life and the life to come. I love my life, despite the hurts and pains of living in a broken world. My marriage is amazing, and all of my children are healthy, responsible adults, have married very well, and are pursuing both career and family with joy and purpose.
Now it’s your turn. What kind of a person are you? What is your worldview? Do you have a cohesive understanding of why things are the way they are? Can you explain the presence of evil and suffering? Can you say your way of life brings you satisfaction, and you live your life with real purpose?
My suspicion is that some reading this will say yes to these questions. I also suspect that a great majority will have to admit that they have no cohesive, comprehensive worldview at all and are just living life as it comes to them, without purpose other than to find as much pleasure as possible. In my opinion, this isn’t living life at all but rather letting life live you.
I am reminded of Socrates’ great statement that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” By this he meant that we should each strive to grow personally and spiritually during our time on this earth. Sadly, many refuse such an examination and find at last, to their great regret, that their lack of a cohesive ethical worldview has left them with more regret than purpose in life.
Don’t let that be you.
David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church and a Santa Clarita resident.“Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.