Monday, March 14, 2011

Doing What Is Right In Our own Eyes

There is a verse in the book of Judges that is repeated at least once, and it reads, "In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes" (Judges 17:6;21:25). The first of these verses precedes an almost humorous account of a man and his house of idols, and the second follows a sad depiction of the evil that was taking place in Israel at that time. In both cases, the point is the same: anarchy and wickedness were the norm rather than the exception, and the reason for this was owing to the fact that there was no ultimate authority in the land.

But that's always the case: where there is no ultimate authority, anarchy and evil inevitably follow. This is true in government in general, but especially in the arena of morals. If there is no ultimate authority, anything can be legitimatized. But this, sadly, is precisely the case in our culture today: we are without a king, without a reference point for differentiating between right and wrong, between truth and lies. Every man does that which is right in his own eyes.

In other words, we are living in a culture which cannot correct itself from within. There is no mechanism built into the current philosophies that can carry any real weight in addressing the issue of evil. If you call something "evil" you are only inevitably met with derision and told to go mind your own business.

That doesn't mean the current culture doesn't try to address the issue of evil. The only problem is that the new morality is without any real definition and without any basis for moral authority. In the place of the authority of God we have enthroned a sickly, saccharin sentimentalism that vaguely calls all men to love and tolerate each other.

But in a post-modern culture, even the call to "love" is dubious. What is love, anyhow? Stripped of our Christian foundations, we are left to define it for ourselves. In other words, to redefine it so that it does not get in the way of our self-serving appetites. I'm sure Hitler would have said that the genocide of the Jews was a loving act, at least from his perspective. And where there is no ultimate authority, who are we to say that he was wrong?

Don't get me wrong, I don't approve of Hitler, and I do think men should love each other. But I say that from a Christian position, where it makes sense to love others because God has revealed his character as love and calls men to be like him. From a Christian perspective, love has both meaning and foundation. However, I get the distinct impression that while the post-modernists want to get rid of the Christian ethic, they are hijacking Christian terminology without keeping its roots, and it just won't work.

It reminds me of a debate between the Christian philosopher Fredrick Copleston and the atheist Bertrand Russell, as told by Ravi Zacharias. He narrates, "At one point in the debate, Copleston said, 'Mr. Russell, you do believe in good and bad, don't you?' Russell answered, 'Yes, I do.' 'How do you differentiate between them?' challenged Copleston. Russell shrugged his shoulders as he was wont to do in philosophical dead ends for him and said, 'The same way I differentiate between yellow and blue.' Copleston graciously responded and said, 'But Mr. Russell, you differentiate between yellow and blue by seeing, don't you? How do you differentiate between good and bad?' Russell, with his genius still within reach, gave the most vapid answer he could have given: 'On the basis of feeling - what else?' I must confess," continues Zacharias, "Mr. Copleston was a kindlier gentleman than many others. The appropriate 'logical kill' for the moment would have been, 'Mr. Russell, in some cultures they love their neighbors; in other cultures they eat them, both on the basis of feeling. Do you have any preference?'"

And that is precisely the problem. We have reduced the matter of morality to personal preference because we have gotten rid of God and his word. And as a result, as it was in Israel of old, in America every man does that which is right in his own eyes. God help us.

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