A question about morality

Chuck Ross writes:

I’m attempting to respond to some of the recent posts by Kristor and Alan Roebuck. Before I venture further, I wanted to ask one more simple question: what are the specific moral codes you abide by? Is it specifically the Ten Commandments and how do you discern which to consider in your code when there isn’t clear cut evidence for it? Also, the question of incest comes to mind. While aversion to incest is deeply evolved into humans, I don’t believe that it is against any theistic moral code (perhaps I’m wrong on this). How do we account for acts that humans are naturally aversive towards that aren’t included in theistic morality?

LA replies:

I think I answered the same question from you before and said that I subscribe to traditional morality, not that I’m a great exemplar of it. Beyond that, I can’t answer the kinds of basic and sweeping (not simple) questions I think you’re asking me. I can’t give you a pocket edition of my (limited and flawed) moral understandings. I think you could pick up on my moral understandings from reading VFR, where they’ve been addressed over and over. For example, since the issues of sex are the most interesting, you could take a look at the discussion, “How is homosexuality to be understood?”, where I seek, with help from readers, to come to an understanding of what traditional morality says about homosexual and heterosexual sodomy.

More importantly, you need to do basic reading in the Western tradition. And that’s a project extending over years. It’s something that one has to care about and have the desire for.

On your specific points: Yes, the Ten Commandments is a great place to start, the perfect place to start. Everything in the Ten Commandments is right. And I’ll also add this: to me, the Ten Commandments are a proof of God’s existence. The Decalogue is not the product of the ordinary human mind. It comes from above.

On incest, of course the Jewish law, the Torah, prohibits it, in detail, naming each type of relationship that is prohibited.

You write:

“How do we account for acts that humans are naturally aversive towards that aren’t included in theistic morality?”

The truth is just the opposite. Throughout the Old Testament, God is saying to the Israelites, “The peoples around you do these things (incest, temple prostitution, men lying down with men, child sacrifice, etc.) that are repugnant to me. You shall not do these things. You shall be a people holy to me.”

Meaning that such things were in fact done commonly, meaning that there was no “natural” aversion toward them, and that it was God’s command that such things were abhorrent to him and were prohibited that made the Israelites not do them. If there were not a “natural” (or at least ordinary and common) inclination to do these things, God would not have had to prohibit them.

And this is central to Judaism and Christianity and the conservative view of human nature: While man is capable of good, he is not naturally good. Man is naturally disordered, naturally subject to destructive and disruptive desires, and it requires a higher truth for man to rise above his ordinary inclinations toward murder, adultery, stealing, envy, dishonoring one’s parents, idol worship, and every other sin. This is the opposite of the liberal (and, in some instances, Darwinian) view of human nature, which says that man is naturally good, and that in the absence of artificial social constraints, his natural goodness will manifest itself.

October 17

Jeff W. writes:

In regard to moral codes, I would point out that major changes in the relationship between man and the law began to occur about 2000 years ago.

This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel
after that time,” declares the LORD.
“I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people. (Jeremiah 31:32)

Through the grace of God, hearts are changed. The law (or moral code) is still in force, but now the law consists of more than an external set of rules to be obeyed for fearful or selfish reasons. In the Christian Era, God now changes hearts of stone into loving hearts that want to serve God and man.

Conversion and regeneration, rather than interpretation and enforcement of rules, should be the primary focus in the Christian Era.

LA replies:

But how far does this go? Is the grace of God sufficient for ordering human social existence? Are the Ten Commandments any less true or authoritative now than they were before Christ? Aren’t the Ten Commandments part of Christianity and Christian society?

Jeff W. writes:

Jesus said that the laws of God revolve around love:

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. The Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40)

How do we follow these rules? We can’t, unless God acts to change us.

This does not mean the Ten Commandments are nullified. They are still valid laws needed to guide human behavior. But it puts them in perspective. The Jews of Jesus’ time did not believe that the two laws that Jesus cited, which were two out of the hundreds in the Old Testament, were by any means the most important. I do not believe that Jews today agree with Jesus on this matter.

LA replies:

Yes. However, I wasn’t suggesting that Jewish and Christian beliefs are the same in this regard. My point was simply that Christianity, notwithstanding its emphasis on faith and grace and the believer’s relationship with the Father through the Son, has not done away with positive laws such as the Ten Commandments and human society’s need for them.

October 19

Terry Morris writes:

You wrote:

“Aren’t the Ten Commandments part of Christianity and Christian society?”

They most certainly are. Any so-called Christian sect which claims that they aren’t is, by definition, non-Christian. And as Jeff W. points out in his comment, “This does not mean the Ten Commandments are nullified.” Nullified? By Christ’s great commandments? Not possible. Not possible because God cannot possibly nullify that which He himself has already established. Not to mention that the first commandment of Christ—Love to God—is the exact same thing, in practice, as the first table of the decalogue, each of the first four commandments establishing man’s duty to God. And the second is like unto the first.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at October 16, 2009 11:22 PM | Send

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