The Christian Mind: Authority

A relative of mine on Facebook a while back was taken up by the news of Caitlin Jenner (formerly Bruce Jenner) having undergone surgery to become a female. The topic in the news at that time was whether it was appropriate to still call Caitlin “Bruce.” My relative felt strongly about the topic and posted the following:

Come on, people! It is 2016! If anyone of my Facebook friends insists on calling Caitlin Jenner ‘Bruce,’ tell me right now so I can unfriend you.

This, in many ways, represents what we might call the New Morality in America: Passionate, vocal, somewhat angry, more than just a bit self-righteous, and completely self-assured of its moral superiority. Honestly, I thought that was the Church’s job.

But certainly America’s newly-discovered moral virtue does not rest on what year it is. As we discussed in our last essay, the fact that moral values have changed does not mean morality has necessarily progressed. In order to progress, there has to be something we are progressing toward.

The New Morality in America is passionate, vocal, somewhat angry, more than a bit self-righteous, and completely self-assured of its moral superiority. Honestly, I thought that was the Church’s job.

Imagine a spaceship that has set a course for the nearest star in the galaxy beyond our solar system, Alpha Centauri. Traveling at light speed, the scientists on board monitor their progress daily. So long as each reading shows they are farther from Earth and closer to Alpha Centauri, they can say they have progressed. But they cannot say this simply because they have moved. If they happen to be knocked off course by the gravitational pull of a planet and find themselves hurtling at the speed of light back to Earth, that would not be progress. It would be cause for alarm.

The same holds true for moral values. In order to know we have progressed morally, there must be a star we are heading toward. Call this star our Moral Authority. Without a Moral Authority providing a reference point, the idea of moral progress is meaningless. In fact, without a Moral Authority, our moral statements become absolutely meaningless — and this is just as true for the non-religious as the religious.

In order to know we have progressed morally, there must be a star we are heading toward. Call this star our Moral Authority.

Let’s say you are in Kindergarten and your teacher calls you up to the front of class to receive a piece of candy from a candy jar as a reward for not making a sound during nap time. On your way to the front, another child gets up and puts her hand in the candy jar before you. Would that child be right to do so? No. But you would be right to place your hand in the candy jar. Why? Because the teacher said so. The teacher is the Moral Authority pertaining to how the class should act regarding the candy jar.

But if your teacher said no such thing — in fact, your teacher was not even in the classroom — would it be wrong for your classmate to put her hand in the candy jar? And if you were to say to her, “It is not right for you to put your hand in the candy jar before I do” would that mean anything? Of course not. Such a statement only makes sense if the teacher actually said this — if your statement concerning what should be is backed by an Authority. For any moral statement is itself an appeal to Authority.

Which is both interesting and important. Because nowadays, it is common to say morality came from our evolutionary past. That is, many claim our ideas about right and wrong are merely a byproduct of the human race’s effort to adapt and survive. But if this is so, then it is impossible to make a moral statement — after all, it is impossible to appeal to a byproduct.

Nowadays, it is common to say morality came from our evolutionary past — that it is merely a byproduct of survival. But if this is so, then it is impossible to make a moral statement — after all, it is impossible to appeal to a byproduct.

It is like believing the Kindergarten Teacher and her rules regarding the candy dish were merely make-believe, but then insisting one child should get the candy and not another because of what The Teacher said.

But if morality is not merely an illusion — if in our modern day classroom, there is such a thing as right and wrong; that some should be permitted to put their hand in the candy jar and others should not; that Caitlin for example should not be called “Bruce”, that it is wrong to do so, so wrong in fact that those who call Caitlin “Bruce” should be punished with Facebook shunning, or with legal prosecution;

If it is true that Christianity’s position on same-sex marriage is hateful and wrong and bigoted and those who hold such beliefs should be punished with financial penalties and even jail time, that they should have to pay for their evil and wrong beliefs regarding human sexuality; if all of this and so many other things about right and wrong in our nation and the world is absolutely true — then I have a question:

Who’s the Teacher?


Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

6 thoughts on “The Christian Mind: Authority

  1. “This, in many ways, represents what we might call the New Morality in America: Passionate, vocal, somewhat angry, more than just a bit self-righteous, and completely self-assured of its moral superiority. Honestly, I thought that was the Church’s job.”

    LOL! Funny that!

    You’re last point, “Who’s the Teacher?” is the real question. We can only be given authoritative laws by appealing to some higher authority than our own, not by what we feel or prefer to think things should be. And, even when we think something should be so, where are we getting that from? But, even so, we should extend grace for those we disagree with. In other words, I don’t have to agree with Caitlin Jenner in order to respect her wishes and not call her “Bruce” anymore.

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