Problems with Selected Non-Christian Ethical Systems
By Mike Robinson
Apparently healthy, normal, pleasant young German lads, counterparts … in America would be called “fine college boys,” could be and were–1000’s of them–turned quickly into cruel, course bullies who, in uniform of the notorious S.S., flogged elderly doctors and schoolmasters into unconsciousness for the facilitating of the process of opening the jaws and purloining the gold fillings of their… victims before they were wheeled off to one of the crematory.1
“Man––the most brutal, the most resolute creature on earth. He knows nothing but extermination of his enemies in the world” (Adolph Hitler in his wicked work: The Superiority of the Aryans).
Pragmatism: the doctrine that practical consequences are the criteria of knowledge, meaning, and value.
How do you know what is right or wrong? Many people feel the way to establish law is to study a problem and legislate what works best (that which is the most efficient; relating to praxis). Laws that promote a moral code that merely works best are capricious. Laws that solely aim to promote the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people are, also, fickle and arbitrary. Moreover these laws can change. And they do not provide an immovable standard to discern what happiness is or what works best.
Utilitarianism declares that law is to be based on evaluating what supplies the most utility for the most men; what provides the most happiness for the greatest number of people. Laws are to be legislated based exclusively on what will promote the best consequences. However, utilitarian’s cannot find agreement among themselves concerning the proper objective: Is the correct goal the greatest quality of happiness or the greatest quantity of happiness? And who decides? What is more, utilitarianism cannot supply an ultimate and unchanging standard. It just pushes the question back one step. What is the ultimate standard that judges what is more valuable? Utilitarianism fails because it requires a standard that transcends itself.
Ethical pragmatism is one way of determining what is good or bad. … That which works best determines its moral value. Careful evaluation should discern the possible consequences in order to see if an action is … right or wrong. The moral answer is to be judged in terms of whether the actions yield satisfactory results (Richard H. Popkin).
In 2004, Las Vegas County Commissioners and members of the community gathered to debate laws that would restrict erotic dancers. They decided to proscribe moderate rules for lap dancing. Most of the citizens and the commissioners did not cite any moral law that would prohibit such behavior. Instead, one person after another simply cited pragmatic or consequentialist reasons to support their arguments such as: Scientific research indicates sensual touching promotes good health for the human heart. One lady who spoke was an ex-stripper; she recounted how stripping ruined her life. Still, research has also indicated that many serial rapists and sex offenders visit strip clubs and this may eventually lead them to commit heinous sexual crimes against others. However endorsement of pragmatism or consequentialism raises the questions:
- By what standard does society use to discern what works best?
- By what standard does society use to discern what brings the best consequences to the most people?
Through lap dancing, many men will have healthier hearts; yet, many others will be injured as an indirect or direct result of this perversion. Even these shaky ethical systems, in the end, require a standard to judge what is morally paramount.
Pragmatic and Utilitarian Law Leads to Evil
It will be argued that pragmatic ethics involves an evolutionary-based teleological theory—although not wholly Darwinian in nature (James Liszka).
Utilitarianism: the ethical theory that maintains that the correct course of action is the one that maximizes the overall happiness for the most people. It is a system of consequentialism, meaning that the moral worth of an action is determined only by its resulting outcome, and that one can decide the moral value of an action after knowing its consequences.
Laws cannot be completely based on the principle of what works best. Ethical pragmatism is a teleological notion and falls under its own weight. It tumbles inasmuch as the principle itself cannot be tested, studied, and found to work best. Likewise, an absolute fixed ethical system cannot be based on what maximizes utility. The utilitarian (category of consequentialism) precepts can be Play-Doe in the hands of righteous men or wicked men. Wicked people can decide that all manner of evil has more utility and then pass laws based on that evil. Nazism wooed the German people in great numbers partially through the utilitarian application of Hitler’s grandiose ideas. The majority of the German people believed that Nazism brought happiness and great industry to their country in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s. Yet Nazism was evil. The records of the Nuremberg Trials on Nazi war crimes states: “About a million and a half people were exterminated in Madnek … over 133,000 persons were tortured and shot … Germans … exhumed and burned corpses, and crushed their bones with machines and used them for fertilizer… Nazi conspirators mercilessly destroyed even children. They killed them with their parents, in groups, and alone… They buried the living in graves, throwing them into flames … conducting experiments on them.”
Without God, nothing can supply the immovable paradigm for immutable universal moral values and duties. Society needs an absolute universal moral law to evaluate what is best and what is good, or it will fall into barbarism. Without God, moral choices are unclear. The true God is inescapable. Men may try to escape His moral decrees, but without them, life can only lead to despair and pain.
Some atheists assert that the focus of morality is to minimize harm. If that were the case, one could not morally prohibit a 20,000 group of child molesters in an East Asian country that desires to molest 500 young children in a small town. If allowed they will not invade a large city and kill 10,000 citizens. This is a way to minimize harm, but it allows outright evil to occur. One needs an absolute standard to have proper moral objectives.
Moral Law: It’s more Than a Feeling
Supreme Court justice Stephen Bryer revealed his ultimate measure for deciding law. On CSPAN he conceded that he knew his ruling was right by how he “feels” in his heart.2 The brilliant atheist Bertrand Russell admitted that he based his ethics on how he “feels.” Pol Pot felt he needed to mass-murder one million of his citizens in the killing fields; Hitler felt like murdering over 10,000 people a day and to use the skin of those murdered to make lamp shades and use their hair to make sacks. Moral worth is more than a feeling.
Ethnic Cleansing and Utilitarianism
If men are wicked with religion, what would they be without it? (Benjamin Franklin).
In claiming that the Turks were wrong in the mass genocide of one million-plus Armenians, a socoety needs more than an ideology that establishes law based on maximum utility. The Turks thought the ethnic cleansing of the Armenians was of great benefit for most of the people in Turkey. The genocide helped the greatest number of people, as it increased and augmented the most happiness for the most people.
Putting women in emotional, civil, and physical bondage makes most Muslim men, in dozens of countries, very happy. An Associated Press article3 reported an opinion poll of the people of Russia. The poll found that 53 percent of the respondents viewed Stalin’s role (he murdered 20 to 35 million people) in Russian history as “absolutely positive” or “more positive than negative.” Yet, only 33 percent said his role was “absolutely negative” or “more negative than positive.”
What if the majority of a nation voted that killing people with big noses or large feet made them most happy? What if 51 percent voted to kill the other 49 percent who had bigger noses or larger feet? Is it wrong? By the utilitarian benchmark it is lawful and good inasmuch as it benefits the most human beings; it brings happiness to the greatest number of people.
By what standard does society measure happiness and pain? If most people are not happy and feel pain because they cannot afford steak seven days a week, does society have the moral obligation to take the people out to a steakhouse every night? What if the majority of people can’t afford to buy the supersize meal deal at Taco Bell? Do we owe the people a big Chulupa combo with an extra-large Pepsi because this will make the most people happy? One needs an absolute moral yardstick to make law. Pragmatism and utilitarianism ultimately fail inasmuch as they cannot supply a fixed absolute standard.
- A pleasure calculus?
- Passing laws to make the most people happy?
- Avoiding the moral law as politicians speak only of that which works best?
- Does this sound familiar? Are there two American political parties (and all the pundits) that seek to enact laws with strict utilitarianism aims?
- Which US political party avoids moral issues the most while seeking to make people happy using other citizen’s wealth?
God’s Law is the Objective Standard
Non-Christian philosophers fell short when they attempted to devise an obligatory moral criterion. It appears the best they could come up with was the pleasure calculus. The laborious chart did not work because it was arbitrary and could not deliver a universal and fixed moral touchstone. God has given mankind the blessing of an absolute moral law that binds all men at all times. This gift is His commandments: the absolute moral law which all censure, prohibition, civil restraint, individual rights, approbation, and righteous jurisprudence are derived. We are to reject all moral and ethical systems that are not based on the general equity of principles of God’s commandments.
Geddees McGregor, Introduction to Religious Philosophy
(Boston, MA: Mifflin, 1959), pp. 118-119.
Associated Press: March 6, 2003.
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