One of my pet peeves is how readily some people swallow information that is preceded by “research shows.” And never mind if the ‘research’ was a poorly conducted study of a small group of people, perhaps hand-picked to give the results the agenda-driven ‘researcher’ was aiming to get. It happens. (via Bookworm Room)
In a Christian study group I’m in, one of the theories that was recently put forth is that one of civilization’s problems these days is that too many people think ethics and morals are the same thing – that morals used to be the study of ‘what is’ and ethics used to be the study of ‘what should be’, but today too many people look around to see what other people are doing as a guide to determining what’s right, at least in their own mind.
I’m not sure it matters whether people think “morals” and “ethics” are synonymous. But that’s probably because I tend to think of them both being a way of addressing ‘what should be’. But, in my case, that rarely translates into a mindset of relying on ‘studies’ or polls or popular culture, etc., to determine what’s right. But, when I was younger and not Christian, I did place more weight on polls and studies and what the popular kids said.
I am inclined to think that I did that because I was younger, more secular, and carefully mistaught that there was no God, instead of having my language muddled. Longtime readers know I dislike muddled language, because I agree with people like Charles Chaput, who writes “We need to be very forceful in defending what the words in our political vocabulary really mean. Words are important because they shape our thinking, and our thinking drives our actions.” But in this case, I don’t think that’s the main issue. I was taught that man was basically good, and things kind of went downhill from there. If man is good, and wisdom grows by consulting other people, then…
Without a belief in a caring, righteous and just God, you only have what other people think of you, and there is a whole lotta benefit in such a world to fit in with whoever seems to be calling the shots, down here amongst the puny but often-merciless humans. But if you believe in, and fear, and trust, God, you don’t dare let the world tell you what’s right, because God is sure enough bigger and stronger than the puny humans, and he’ll be there long after your human adversaries have been taken out of the picture, and he’s reckoned to be pretty sharp-eyed when it comes to searching human hearts. And if you try to run from Him, he has a track record of catching up to people. (For instance, the story of Jonah and the Whale is not about a kindly God rescuing a good man from drowning when he falls into the sea. It is about God tracking down a deserter and hauling him back to where he’s supposed to be. I’d almost bet you didn’t know that, if you’re secular.)
At any rate, my working hypothesis is that the reason we don’t know morals from ethics anymore isn’t because the words got muddled and it fuzzed our thinking, but because our thinking got fuzzed, and there didn’t seem to be much point in maintaining a difference between the words. If too much of society jettisoned the idea that there’s such a thing as truth, or right and wrong, and started trying to cobble together ‘moral codes’ based upon what people thought sounded or seemed good, it seems to me that it wouldn’t take much to slide from there to a society driven by peer pressure and popular culture and lobbyists and propaganda, amongst other often-ruthless externals.