Tag Archives: morality

Rules versus Laws and the Breaking Thereof

So, back in November I posted this thought for the day:

There is a significant difference between breaking the rules and breaking the law. One is a key factor in progress and innovation; the other is a breach of morality and trust.

I deliberately didn’t provide any context for the statement, partly because it was an idea still so fresh in my brain I hadn’t had a chance to determine the scope or the validity of the idea. Part of it, too, was that I wanted to see who chimed in on it and what thoughts they would come up with. Hey, psychology major here, remember? Sometimes I care about observing the process of people thinking through things more than I care about the final outcome of that process.

Here’s the context for that statement.

I’ve been thinking long and hard lately about what kinds of games I like to play and, more specifically, what kinds of characters I like to play in those games. One upcoming title that I’m extremely excited about is Bungie’s Destiny, a first-person shooter with heavy MMO overtones and a robust backstory. One of the classes of Guardian you can play in the game is the Hunter. Bungie describes the Hunter thusly:

Hunters once prowled the wilderness and wastelands, taking big risks for even bigger rewards. You’re no outlaw—at least, not anymore—but making your own luck has always meant bending the rules. Your unique brand of daring and ingenuity is needed now more than ever.

I have to admit that the Hunter appeals to me in part because of this penchant for bending, or even breaking, the rules. It appeals to the artist in me, since a lot of creative expression involves taking established processes and finding new ways to use them, ways that might be viewed by some as breaking the rules of the format. It’s the free spirit in me that is drawn to the Hunter, to the type of Guardian that is most likely to do things his own way.

Compare that, then, to a game like Grand Theft Auto (GTA), where the character you play is a criminal, the type of person that is highly likely to break the rules. The gameplay, in fact, demands that you break the rules, violate laws, and be otherwise disruptive in order to expand your criminal empire. For this reason, GTA appeals to me not at all, despite the dozens of rave reviews I’ve heard about the game.

This gave me pause to consider what was different about the two types of characters represented by these games. Both are rule-breakers with a tendency toward lawlessness. Why then does the Hunter in Destiny appeal to me while the gangster in GTA doesn’t?

The difference comes down to the thought stated above. The Hunter breaks the rules of established tradition in such a way that leads to progress and innovation. His process provides creative solutions to difficult problems. If he breaks a law established by a governing body, he does so with the end goal of protection and the establishment of order. The gangster, however, breaks the law, often just for the sake of lawlessness itself and always for greater personal gain. It is a violation of morality and trust that serves to do little more than push society further toward entropy and chaos. The Hunter pushes toward the greater good, even if his methods may sometimes be ethically questionable; the gangster pushes toward greed and self-indulgence, caring little for those he hurts along the way.

It at least the first part of an explanation why games like Destiny appeal so much to me and games like GTA never will.

Feeling Snarky

I’m having a day of snark – one of those where everything I want to write about involves some sort of sarcastic response toward ridiculous opinions and viewpoints. Hazards of coming off a couple of sick days, I suppose – I tend to be a little less patient and tolerant.

For starters, in response to the shooting at Virginia Tech the other day, gun control outcriers have cropped again. And they’re welcome to their opinions, of course. But I still think they’re wrong. There seems to be this mentality that allowing people to own and carry weapons will only cause the crime rate to increase, since guns will be that much more available. Almost without exception, though, I find that those opinions come from folks who have had very little exposure to guns. For those of us who have grown up with guns and have been taught how to safely handle them, we know that those folks who make the decision to 1) own guns and 2) earn the license that gives them the right to carry said guns are _far_ more likely to handle them safely. These are the people who respect these weapons enough to, get this, keep one with them at all times. The people who go on these shooting sprees usually acquire their weapons by illegal means or, if they’ve acquired them legally, haven’t bothered to learn how to use them properly or gained the licenses necessary to carry them. In short, shooters like this do not respect the laws that govern the use and ownership of guns. It places those of us who actually _do_ respect these laws in a difficult spot because the resultant fear from tragedies like these threatens the right of American citizens to own and carry guns.

Recognize this – psychos like this Virginia Tech shooter will always be able to find guns when they want them, no matter what sort of legislation is in place to make it “impossible” to do so. The black market will never be shut down. All these gun control laws do is make it more difficult for honest citizens to put a quick end to a shooter’s spree should such a crisis arise. Personally, I feel much safer with a licensed-to-carry citizen next to me than without. But then again, I realize that said citizen has been trained in how to use that weapon and would never casually use said weapon unless there was no other option.

The other thing that has my snark up right now involves Fox News apparent posthumous besmirching of Kurt Vonnegut. Apparently, Fox News ran a story the other day that wasn’t terribly flattering to the late science fiction author. Ultimately, I couldn’t care less what Fox News thinks of the author or how people are reacting to the news story. I deliberately tend to avoid the news in any form exactly because the news seems to bring out the worst in people.

What I _am_ a little bit surprised by is Fox News’s deliberate mention of Vonnegut being a ‘leftist.’ Well, of _course_ he was a leftist – most science fiction authors are. Read just about any science fiction novel, and you’ll see worlds in which religion is all but dead, with God having been debunked and traditional and historical forms of morality having been given up in favor of less restrictive and more ‘liberating’ personal values. These are worlds where anything goes, guilt-free, so long as others are not harmed in the process. This is the ideal of 21st-century man, to live as he desires rather than being bound to a set of rules set down by a third party, whatever that third party may be. This view is liberal and leftist, and for some reason this viewpoint, this hopeful future, goes hand-in-hand with science fiction. The shirking of religion, with all its rules and regulations, is seen as progress for mankind, and science fiction embraces this hope with vigor, eagerness, and passion.

What _I’d_ like to see is science fiction where the future world doesn’t look all that much different to the world we see today, with the obvious exception of more advanced technology. I’d like to see some science fiction where, if anything, morality and religion have become _more_ entrenched, just to see what that kind of world would like. I wouldn’t mind seeing such worlds built in both a positive and negative light, since either outcome is equally likely, in my opinion. Essentially, I’d like to see a more deliberate exploration of such universes. And just once, I’d like to see a world of the future where religion isn’t the demon that it’s made out to be today, where religion is actually beneficial and productive. Stephen Lawhead attempts this in his Empyrion set, and Orson Scott Card presents another version in his Ender series. But these are the exceptions, rather than the rule. I just tend to think that science fiction does not necessarily need to be divorced from religion and morality in order to be good and exceptional. But since many times science fiction expresses the ideologies of each writer, they tend toward a certain brand of preachiness against religion that grows wearisome after a while.

So that’s a bit of the snark factor bouncing around in my brain today. And now that it’s out there, perhaps it’ll leave me alone.

Ick Factor

Boing Boing: Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence trike drag (queen) race, SF

I’m linking to this particular article for only one reason. I’ve considered writing about this for a little while now, but this quote was the catalyst:

bq. Scenes like this make me proud to be American.

Popular sentiment, this one. And I suppose that’s ok. America is, after all, a nation known for its freedoms and liberties. It’s the very reason this country was established, so that people could worship there God/gods (or not) however they see fit, so that people could be free to live their lives however they want – within certain limitations, of course.

I’ll be honest, though. This sort of thing does not make me proud. It does, in fact, make me feel physically nauseated. As a Christian, I do have a moral problem with homosexuality. I do think that homosexuals have the right to live their lives how they want, even to marry, if they wish. That’s part of what this nation is about, after all. But I’ve stated my opinions on the moral and legal nature of this issue before, so this is nothing new coming from me. Morally, I object, but legally I think they have the right.

Physically, though, the thought of two men having sex, even just kissing, makes my stomach clench, makes me feel like vomiting. Even were I to come to a place where I believed that homosexuality was an ok thing on a moral level (never gonna happen), I would still have this physical reaction to the idea.

It makes me wonder. All these people who are pro-gay, who say they are so proud to be an American when they see things like this, in particular the ones who are very heterosexual, do they feel any sort of physical reaction when they think about it? Or do they simply not think about it enough to allow such reactions to rise up? Would they look at their _lack_ of reaction and say that it is a good thing, that it is a sign of progress, of… evolution toward a better, more welcoming world for all? I don’t know because I’ve never seen anyone address this side of this topic.

I’m just grossed out by the thought. It’s part of what adds fodder to my belief that homosexuality is _not_, in fact, natural or normal, that is really just a perversion of the human nature, of the way things are supposed to be. And holding it up under even the evolutionary microscope (which I also believe to be complete bunk), it still doesn’t make sense because it threatens the preservation of the species.

But people want their personal freedoms, but more importantly people don’t like to be told they’re wrong, let alone have to fight against their ‘natural’ ((Read: sinful)) urges. Rather, they embrace them and tout them as the next best thing, the next logical step in the evolution of mankind.

Whatever. I just know that I think it’s wrong, and the gay pride movement is one of the last things I would ever hold up to show my pride in being American.

Take it for what it’s worth.

Musical Posture

I heard an evangelist speak once when I was a kid. His topic was music, particularly the evils of rock ‘n’ roll. I don’t remember much now of what he said but for one thing. It was something to the effect that rock music was evil because most rock songs put their beat on 1 and 3, rather than on the traditional 2 and 4 beats (or it could have been vice versa). Being just a young kid (I think I was six or seven years old at the time), I swallowed that line completely. It wasn’t until much later (read, college) that I began to question what that man said.

Over the past couple of days, I have been ripping some of my CDs from home to my work computer (.wma format) so that I have something to listen to while I crunch data all day long. I discovered my “WOW Gold”:http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00004TQT9/sr=1-1/qid=1139406826/ref=pd_bbs_1/104-6878653-4494303?%5Fencoding=UTF8 album and added that one to my stack. I’ve already removed a couple of the songs from my playlist, though; they just seem a little inappropriate to me. One is by Stryper, entitled “To Hell with the Devil.” Aside from the questionable usage of the term ‘hell’, I think it might actually be a wrong mindset. I’m sure we all long for the day when we can be rid of Satan’s influence in the world, but the closing chapters of _Left Behind: Armageddon_ shed some light on what God’s perspective probably is – sadness that one of His creations even _has_ to be condemned to hell. I think it’s something that we can learn from.

The other song that no longer graces my playlist is one by Larry Norman, “Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?” It could be that I just find this song entirely annoying, but more it touches on a couple of personal peeves – there are a lot of _great_ hymns out there, and there is a lot of great music in all genres (even at the time that song was written) that is not, pardon the pun, devilish. This touches on my philosophy of music, a philosophy that was challenged and reshaped when I began my college career.

Growing up I believed that music was split by some defining line into righteous and evil. I felt that you could take any song and clearly categorize it as white or black. This was in large part determined by the _style_ of the music, though if the lyrics weren’t focused somehow on God that also played a huge part in deciding which was which. Imagine my confusion and dismay then, when I got to college and found that there were quite a few Christian bands whose style sounded very much like rock to me. Initially, I reacted as I always did by labeling them evil, as wayward Christians who had lost their focus on God. Forget the fact that some of those bands had exceptionally theologically rich lyrics. Their style was too rocky, their beat in the wrong place.

Over time I was pushed out of my comfort zone, and I was forced to reconcile this internal conflict. My roommate was a huge fan of Petra, the other guys in my suite played various Christian artists whose beat was a little too heavy for my tastes, and chapel frequently featured contemporary Christian music. I couldn’t escape it and so I had to deal with it. It was a gradual process, encompassing some of my Bible classes, various chapel services, and personal study.

I was actually a bit surprised to find that I had arrived at a conclusion quite a bit different from what I grew up with – I had determined that music, in and of itself, is amoral and that it is the way people use it that determines how righteous or evil it is. I could find nothing in Scripture that stated that any particular style of music was more evil or righteous than any other. In fact there are many places in Scripture where it describes music that can’t be anything other than lively (though what it exactly sounded like we can’t do more than speculate, but it very likely _wasn’t_ ‘church’ music). Therefore, it must be certain principles that determine the level of music’s morality.

I enjoy a wide variety of music – classical, baroque, American, rock, Gospel, contemporary Christian, for starters. I try to maintain a diet of music that 1) keeps me in touch with the current trends, and 2) is wholesome for my spiritual, mental, and emotional development. I do enjoy some secular music, but more and more I am trying to limit how much of it I listen to, as the lyrics and content of so many of those songs are less than beneficial. I also avoid metal of _any_ variety, as that, to me, is the music of rage, bitterness, and hatred, all vices with which I already struggle and so need no more such exposure, not to mention being very unartistic.

As I understand it, music is amoral; it’s what you do with it that matters. I have absolutely no problem with music that bumps. I like to get my groove on, too. And if the words are wholesome and uplifting, so much the better and is, in fact, my first music of choice. It took me quite a while to arrive at this conclusion (the first half of my college experience), but it is, I believe, a balanced and biblical stance.

I can’t wait to find out what the music of Heaven will be like…

Swearing and Cursing

I have something against ‘Christians’ who drop profanities in casual conversation. It’s probably the idealist in me, but I tend to think that Christians ought to shy away from such practice. For one thing I’ve never heard a profane word that I felt contributed anything intelligent to a conversation. In fact I’ve always given _less_ credibility to people whose regular dialogue includes curse words exactly because it makes them sound so much more ignorant. Apply this to people who call themselves Christians and such people lose a notch or three of my respect.

Tack on another item – a lot of people are offended by profanity, _particularly_ when it is casual. Christians have an obligation, whether they acknowledge and accept that fact or not, to maintain a higher standard of living. This standard dictates avoiding such behaviors as are deemed offensive for the sake the maintaining a testimony for Christ that is without spot or blemish. To hear a Christian use profanity is disappointing because it tarnishes the image of Christ, whose reflection we are to put out to the world.

And before you cry hypocrite, let me just say that, yes, I place myself under and condemn myself by my own standards. I have something of a wicked temper – I always have. Unfortunately, I’m not perfect and find that my language turns a bit blue when I get angry. As often as I bite my tongue when I’m mad, I’m not perfect (how often I wish I was). Always, though, when I have slipped up, I recognize my wrong and feel appropriately guilty. Forgiveness is sought and restitution made as best as possible. Even so, I make a point of _not_ slipping into potty-mouthed behaviors in casual conversation and writing.

I don’t know if it’s a symptom of our culture or of our churches or both, but I _have_ seen a fair number of believers who seem to have no problem at all with certain terminology in their discourse. I know that some justify it by saying that this allows them access to certain circles they might not otherwise meet, but I don’t believe that a wrong makes right. I have actually found that by _not_ engaging in similar behavior it is possible to engage the same groups because you gain their respect for not sinking to those levels. It’s strange – as much as people have little problem with a coarser way of speaking, they do seem to recognize that it is a lesser way of it. And so when they meet someone who can dialogue with them intelligently without engaging in profanity with them, they at least take notice, and I have found that they often listen to what I have to say with greater attentiveness.

So, clean up the language, kids. I think you might be surprised at the result.

Morality Informs Worldview

bq. When you eat a hamburger, is that a moral issue? Some people in India would seem to think so. “#”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/?p=105#comment-258

When I say that everything is a moral issue, what I am driving at, what I am actually trying to say is that every single action we take and every decision we make is informed by our worldview, which is nothing more than a set of morals, a set of value statements about the world around us. When I get angry and make the choice to react with violence or respond with peace, that decision is informed my values about human life, about how to react to situations that make me angry, about self-control. When I see something I want and make the choice to steal it or leave it alone, my value system, the morals I live by inform that decision. When I eat a hamburger, yes, that decision, too, is informed by my values. And since I have nothing morally against eating meat (or beef) and since there is nothing against the practice of consuming beef in my Bible, which serves as the foundation for my moral beliefs, then I can eat a hamburger with a clean conscience. If a Hindu, for example, takes issue with that, then I engage him in conversation, explain my beliefs and frame them in juxtaposition to his, with hopes that we can at least arrive at a peaceful and agreeable relationship. We may still disagree with one another, but we can continue to have respectful fellowship.

Everyone’s worldview is informed by the morals and values by which they live, even down to the smallest thing. Some of these may seem trivial by comparison to the major issues of our day, but they are values and morals, nonetheless, and they do inform our worldview.

Tension

There is a tension inherent in holding the belief that morals are absolute but in recognizing that one cannot force once’s value system on everyone else. Specifically, I hold to the notion that moral standards are absolute — they do not change over time. The same moral standards that were right and good yesterday are still right and good today. At the same time, I also believe that there is room, within reason, for personal freedom for one to choose what morals they believe are right and good and to live by them. That is part of what America and democracy are about, allowing people to live as they will. I live by the ideal that people should live by what is right and good and be held accountible to that standard. Yet, I am stuck with the reality that not everyone agrees on what is right and good, and so the definitions of such are going to vary from person to person. It is also not within my right to make anyone accept or embrace my own beliefs. I can possibly persuade others that I am right, and then teach them to live by the system that I embrace, but I can only do so after they are convinced that it is the right way to live.

I would say that morals are both subjective and objective — subjective insofar as nearly everyone will have, at the least, subtly different notions of what is right and good and just, objective insofar as I believe that there is one, and only one, code of morals that is actually right and true. Some people believe that the standard for morality can only be found within oneself, that one can only discover their personal value system by working it out for themselves, since there is no other true and stable source for such truth. Other people believe in God (or a god or gods) as the source for the standard of morality, looking beyond the fluid system of their own mind and heart to something they consider to be stable and much more permanent and unchanging. For the religious this is not so difficult to believe, but for the non-religious and the atheist, this is a difficult pill to swallow. One must first be convinced of the existence of a God before one can believe that He could serve as the standard for morality.

Morality only becomes out-of-date because men themselves change, and when men, who serve as their own moral standards, change so then must their moral systems. We have seen many such changes over the past couple of hundred years since this nation’s founding, a greater acceptance of a wider range of behavior. This has, in many cases, been a good thing, but in others it has been a very bad thing. Where such changes have been good, in my observation, are in those places where the conservative (read, ‘legalistic’) right has relinquished their militant hold on beliefs that are actually very judgmental and hateful and, for the religious, have no basis in Scripture. Where such changes have been bad are in those areas where the liberal left has been more ‘tolerant’ of traditionally deviant behaviors that have, in so many cases, caused so much heartache. But such behavior has been allowed to exist, within legal limits, in the name of freedom and permitting people to build, or destroy, their lives as they see fit.

Of course for me, this creates a tension. I hold to this standard of morality that has been defined by the God I serve, a standard that, when lived by as described in Scripture, provides nothing but joy and peace and healthy living. I want others to know this standard, to live by it, and experience the joy of a lifestyle that shuns self-destructive behaviors, that gives respect to all men, and that embraces only those things that are good and right. Some Christians wish the same, but in such a way as to become forceful and offensive in trying to make other people believe as they do. When they are rebuffed again and again, frustration naturally crops up, leading to anger and bitterness and hatred. These Christians forget, in their anger, that they are called to reject these feelings; instead, they allow themselves to be controlled by them. Much damage is done in the name of Christ, as a result, further adding to my own tension (and I am not alone in this, I am sure), as I work to persuade others of my own viewpoint while working both against destructive Christians and antagonistic unbelievers. (There are also still a great many of the aforementioned legalistic Christians who, while I share some of their beliefs, carry many hateful rules and regulations that I believe are very unbiblical. More tension.)

Tension is part of life, part of the nature of the human condition, part of what it means to be a community of people who live together in relative peace but who sometimes hold very different beliefs. It is only for me to share my beliefs with others in a way that is bold and confident, yet respectful and peaceful. If I can convince others that God exists and that His way of doing things really is best, then glory be given to Him. If I cannot then I can do nothing more than continue to boldly proclaim the tried-and-true beliefs that serve as the guiding light in my life.

Laws and Morals

I love getting feedback, whether it be to one of my own articles or to a comment left on another site, and I certainly have plenty to think on and respond to today.

bq. I agree that “what is right for me is not right for everyone” does not apply to laws – Laws are absolute. It does however apply to morals, as morals are subjective. Everyone’s morals differ – Some people have stronger morals than others. Some people have no morals at all. For instance, how is it morally acceptable in some regions for a man to have multiple wives, but it is morally wrong in other areas for that same occurence. Vegans think it is morally wrong for you to eat meat, but that doesn’t strike me as being a bad thing. I also don’t find it morally wrong for two men to have sex, but there is a large population of people who do find it wrong. “#”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/?p=103#comment-246

The question that I have that comes immediately to mind here is this — are not all our _absolute_ laws based on _subjective_ morals, according to this reasoning? Does this not then make said laws subjective? How does something based on subjectivity somehow gain absolutivity? All laws in all nations are based on some set of morals. This is a necessity. It is, in fact, the only possibility. Laws are the practical application of an abstract value. If we follow this reasoning through to its logical conclusion, then we have to admit that anyone can establish and follow any laws that they want, since they are based on some value system, some system of morality that is relative to the individual. Since your moral system is different than mine, then your laws cannot apply to me, unless I agree with whatever moral your law is based upon. In essence, if I kill someone, I am justified, so long as my moral system allows for the killing of another human being. You cannot apply your intolerant law against murder to me because your law is based on your value that murder is wrong, a value which I happen to disagree with. Your moral, and hence your law, is not right for me and therefore cannot be applied to me, since it would restrict my freedom to do and believe as I choose.

In actual practice, of course, we see that this simply cannot work. Laws exist so that large groups of people may live together in peace. This is the primary reason, I believe, why government exists, to enforce the peace. Laws, however, _must_ be based on some set of morality. Laws are practical statements of morals. The local governing body simply bases their laws upon those values that are most likely to ensure the greatest amount of peace and least amount of conflict. Sometimes, they get it right; sometimes they don’t. In the case of the previous example, someone has to decide what value to enforce in order to keep the peace and the one that works best is enforcing the sanctity of life. (Notice that this is a functional, rather than an ethical, definition at the moment, one that ignores any mention of right and wrong.)

bq. So the fact remains that as long as abortion IS legal in certain areas, it is a moral issue and not a law. When it is a moral issue, the morality of it is personal to each person who thinks on it. So, in your opinion, abortion is morally wrong. I however live in an area where abortion is legal, and although I do not agree with the reasons why a lot of women have abortions, I do not think that I am one to judge someone for their decision to have one, as their morals are obviously different than my own.

Everything is a moral issue. Every deed, every thought, every word spoken is based upon some moral. But as I have stated before, laws are also based upon morals, and what legalizing abortion says to me is that it is ok to commit murder, so long as the child is not yet born. Of course, the underlying value here that is the real center of debate is whether a fetus can be called human. I know of few people who do not at least _claim_ to value the sanctity of life. The difference in the argument centers on the fact that some people believe human life begins at conception and some believe that human life begins at birth. This is both a philosophical and theological point and not one that is likely to be settled anytime soon, since science cannot seem to adequately answer this question (lending further proof to my conclusion that science is ill-equipped to handle the questions of beginnings, but that is an argument for another time). Unfortunately, this also means that the abortion debate will not be settled anytime soon, either.

Subjectivity of Truth

For me, the fact remains that what is right for one person may not be right for everyone.

I really hate this argument in most instances in which it crops up. It is essentially the admission of the individual that they do not believe in absolute truth, not surprising considering the postmodern philosophy of the vast majority of our culture. But I generally dislike this argument, despite the fact that it does at times have legitimate applicability. It reminds me of schoolyard children taunting each other with, “I know you are, but what am I?” It has always held for me, perhaps unfairly, that tone and that attitude of superiority and condescension toward the opinions of others. It is not even so simple as the individual who says this implying that they disagree with another opinion and are just too polite to say so; often, the individual really believes that what is right for you may not be right for me.

For personal preferences, this argument makes sense. For instance, chocolate ice cream may be my favorite, but because vanilla might be your favorite, then chocolate is not right for you. And because there are no laws or moral or ethical rules that dictate that chocolate must be everyone’s favorite, it is completely legitimate in this case to say that what is right for you may not be right for me.

Where it comes to laws and morals, however, there are absolutes, so what is right for me must also, necessarily, be right for you. I cannot commit murder. It is immoral and illegal. There are laws against such behavior, and justice is meted out for such crimes. All people are governed by laws against murder, and so there is an absolute measure for what is right and what is wrong in murder.

The waters have been muddied where it comes to abortion, though. Somehow, a fetus is not considered human until it is born. Legally, it has no rights, not even the right to live. It is completely up to the whims of the mother to determine whether or not the child — excuse me, the fetus, the _parasite_ — is brought to term. Traditional emphases on the value of all human life are tossed aside. It became convenient to think of the unborn as less than human because then there is no conflict, no guilt involved with terminating a tiny life. What was once straightforward thinking has now become shaded in gray — what is right for you may not be right for me. You may choose to have your baby, but that may not be the right thing for _me_ to do. The emphasis is on the self, with little thought given to life growing inside the womb.

It is all very convenient when truth becomes subjective. The only person I have to answer to, then, is myself.