The word “ethics” derives from the Greek “ethos” which means moral custom. Most of us understand ethics to mean simply doing what is right. But defining what is right is not always so simple in the new international culture in which we live. The world is shrinking. Moral customs are manifold and in various forms across the globe. What’s right for you may not be right for me. That dilemma is called, of course, moral relativism, where there are no absolutes. How can we have a universally agreed upon sense of ethics without moral absolutes?
I’m afraid the concept of situational ethics has come more and more into play. That is the philosophy contending that the end justifies the means. The situational ethics advocate, for example, would say, “It was fine for me to lie in that situation, because the lie brought forth ultimate good.” The political situational ethicist might say to himself or herself, “The important thing is for me to get into office so that good will result, even though my means of getting elected may be questionable.” When people abandon a universal code of right or wrong, a moral custom, they come up with their own definition of good and create their own means of achieving it, however shady.
In this kind of environment, some feel threatened by any hint of absolute truth. Some want to take “under God” out of the Pledge of Allegiance. Some want “In God We Trust” off of our currency. Some want to tear down the wall of Ten Commandments from court houses. Some get nervous when people pray in public. It is as if some Americans want to turn their backs on our very heritage, which includes highly motivated intellectuals bent on achieving and maintaining the freedom and independence by-productive of a Christian or at least a Deistic world view. In short, it seems as if America is becoming Europeanized.
I presented a scholarly paper at the University of Bonn a few years ago. The title of my contribution was “He Was Talking About Truth: Faulkner in Pursuit of the Old Verities.” In it, I contended that William Faulkner believed that the writer’s goal was to present the old truths of the human heart. The organization wanted to publish some of the essays in a collection called “Rewriting the South.” My work was accepted for publication. But, the editors softened my assertions about absolute truth and when the book was published, the paper read as if an atheist had written it. When I wrote the word Truth the editors wrote, “Faulkner’s sense of truth.” Essentially, the paper was about Truth; unfortunately, the editors made it about a mere literary concept.
If Truth is merely a concept, then, by all means, tear down the Commandment walls, take out any reference to a creator in our national language and, you will most certainly want to hide when you pray. This latter may not be a bad idea, considering that Jesus said our prayers were more effective when done in the closet.
I’ll reveal my closet prayer here today: “Lord, show us the Truth that sets us free.”