Determining Just Laws for Society: An Introduction to Authority and Ethics

This is an article for Christians and humanists alike. This is because the majority of Christians and humanists are wholly unaware of the foundational role that authority and ethics play in the question of what laws a society should, or should not, enact.  Furthermore, these same people do not recognize that ethics and authority are immutably paired together; you can’t have one without the other. Are you involved in a discussion concerning the validity of murdering babies before birth? Authority and ethics lie at the very center of that debate. Are you discussing the validity of social security? Authority and ethics lie at the center of that debate as well. The same is true for the healthcare debate, the ownership of firearms, the various questions relating to the rise of same-sex relations, and so on. In fact, there are countless debates occuring in our society, the majority of which are merely a series of circuitous arguments that beat around the bush, that could be cleanly and definitively discussed if all parties involved understood the relationship that authority and ethics bear to each other.

If you have not already formulated a theory in your own mind of the relation that authority has to ethics in society, or if you have assumed that there is no relationship, then this article is for you.  In this article we will discuss how authority and ethics relate to each other, how they relate to all of life and why we can’t escape their use in our reasoning. Because the concept might not seem very clear at first, I will also provide some practical examples. Once the concept has been explained I will discuss why this principle is so important to Christianity in society. I am a simple-minded person and so it is my hope that the reader will benefit from an article comprised of arguments that are short and easy to understand. Though you may not agree with every (or even any) point that I make within this article, it is my prayer that this article would be instrumental in encouraging the reader to consider the relationship between authority and ethics and how they apply to society.

Defining Terms and Conditions

  • Ethical: Those actions that are morally acceptable according to an ethical rule.
  • Unethical: Those actions that are morally unacceptable according to an ethical rule.
  • Non-ethical: Those actions that are morally neutral (fair warning: I do not believe that this term can be applied to real life).

I am not approaching this article from an “ethically neutral” standpoint. For example, when I discuss the practice that is secularly known as “abortion” I will instead choose to describe it as “the murder of unborn children” because my ethical standard compels me to do so. All men should operate according to their ethical standard, Christians and humanists alike, and we should have no expectation that men do anything else in their academic pursuits.

Ethics Everywhere

Collectively and individualistically, human life is a series of choices and actions. All actions have an ethical character. By this I mean that one of any three things must be true of any action: either the action is ethically acceptable, ethically unacceptable, or ethically neutral. One of these three things is the only thing that can possibly be true about ethics in relation to actions; there is no fourth choice (full disclosure: I do not support the possibility of the third choice – more on this later).

Society’s Big Mess

The giant fuss that is going on in our society, which has been an issue in all societies from the beginning of time, is the debate over what actions are ethical and what actions are unethical. For example, there are some people who say that killing babies before birth is ethical. But then there are other people who believe that killing babies before birth is severely unethical. A big argument ensues and society creates laws which reflect the conclusions of the debate. The issue that stands between these two groups is that each of them subscribes to a different ethical standard. The question of ethics lies at the heart of all societal contentions.

What is an Ethical Standard?

In part, ethical standards are a series of rules that define for people what is ethical and what is unethical (see this article for a more in depth discussion of this topic). Every person subscribes to an ethical standard of some form because every individual person on this earth believes that there are actions which are good / permissible for them to commit, and there are other actions which are not good / not permissible. If we were to interview someone, and we asked our interviewee to tell us all of his “rights” and “wrongs” and we recorded those rights and wrongs into a list, we will have compiled his particular ethical standard. We could do such a thing for any person on earth, including psychopaths; everyone adheres to an ethical standard.

Ethical standards provide a means to evaluate every question in life:

  • Should I sleep with my neighbor’s wife?
  • Should I steal from my neighbor?
  • Should the federal reserve practice quantitative easing?
  • Are banks too big to fail?
  • Should the government regulate the internet?
  • Are laissez-faire economics appropriate in society?

Granted, there is not a list running around somewhere that states, “Neighbor's wife: no. Banks: yes. Laissez-faire: no.” However we can determine the answers to these questions by examining and connecting the many elements of an ethical standard (and, if we use the correct ethical standard, we might be able to determine the correct answers). Any ethical standard that does not contain the components necessary to answer such a comprehensive list of questions is useless and almost certainly illegitimate (the legitimacy of ethical standards will be discussed later).

You Can’t Get Away From It

There are many people who claim that life is ethically neutral. Many of these people would say, if asked, that they don’t need any ethical standard; all morality is relative. Yet a great many of these same people also believe in karma; the belief that in life, what goes around comes around. They believe that, rather than the universe being truly random, there is some sort of invisible / impersonal force that has the intelligence to watch their actions and supernaturally direct life to pay them back for the wrongdoings that they commit against other people. As a result of the religion of karma, many people behave like a certain set of actions are “unethical” and another set of actions as “ethical” even though they claim with their mouth that life is ethically relative. So we see that even these people have an ethical standard, and they live by it. Ironically these people actually do believe in a kind of god, and clearly they adhere to an ethical standard which they have derived from the belief they have in their karma god.

Try as some people might, the fact is that no one can get away from ethics. Theft is a great example. Take the most ardent advocate of ethical neutrality, break into his home while he is away and take all his stuff, and I promise you that he will file a police report the next morning. At the very least he subscribes to an ethical standard that states, “Taking my stuff is wrong!” And of course, EVERYONE subscribes to the ethical standard that states, “Killing me is wrong!” [1] So what we have determined is that nobody really lives without ethics, nor can they really believe that ethics is neutral. Everybody needs and uses ethics.

Are Some Actions Ethically Neutral?

Some people will claim that certain actions fall outside of ethical considerations. The interesting thing about making such a claim is that it requires an ethical standard to validate it. In order for any person to say that an action is ethically neutral they must first check to verify that there are no rules against it according to their ethical standard. At the very least, the action is not ethically unacceptable, which is to say that it is ethically acceptable. Even if you were to suppose that some actions are ethically neutral, you would still require an ethical standard to make that decision. And then, when someone with a different ethical standard comes along and claims that those ethically neutral actions are in fact NOT ethically neutral, you will have to appeal to an ethical standard to demonstrate that they are ethically neutral. This is all to say that, really, there aren't any actions that are ethically neutral. Even if some actions are not directly tied to ethics, at the very least they will require ethics to support their ethical neutrality. Actions cannot get away from ethics.

There is No “Anything Goes”

There are a LOT of ethical standards running around and many of them are diametrically opposed. Which ethical standard is the best, or are several of them the best? Maybe all of them are equally good? It is most common for people to try to address this question by believing that everyone can have and practice their own ethical standard. These people promote the idea that, “This is what is right for me, and that is what is right for you, and really both of us are right.” This idea is of course nonsense and quickly breaks down whenever someone wants to steal their belongings or murder them. When confronted with theft or murder they will suddenly start claiming that there in fact is an ethical standard that they AND the murderer / thief are obligated to follow. Suddenly it becomes evident that there ARE at least some ethical rules that should apply to everyone universally. The, “You do what seems right to you, and I’ll do what seems right to me,” mentality breaks down when what seems right to the other person is the unjustified homicide of you. So what ethical rules apply to people universally? You will need to appeal to an ethical standard to make that determination. You might claim that some rules apply to everyone individually, and some others do not, but someone with a different ethical standard is likely to disagree with you.

Who wins?

I have proposed the idea that everyone needs and uses ethics, and that many times our own personal ethical standard clashes with the ethical standards of other people. As was pointed out, this clashing of ethical standards is the root of all societal conflict. Group A believes that X is right, but group B believe that not-X is right. As we discussed in the last paragraph, you can’t have a system where two conflicting ethical standards coexist; one of them has to go. Either the would-be murderer adheres to your ethical standard that unjustified homicide is wrong, or he adheres to his own ethical standard and murders you anyway; you can’t have both. When two ethical systems clash, how are we to determine which one to follow?

This is the point at which it becomes evident that authority plays a major role in the application of ethical standards. The way that we determine which ethical standard has dominance is by determining which standard carries the most authority. In the world of ethics, authority determines the legitimacy of ethical standards. Ethical standards which are not authoritative have no legitimacy. Ethical standards which are authoritative hold the legitimacy that is necessary to justify applying them over conflicting standards that are not authoritative.

An illustration of this principle will be helpful. Let us suppose that an emperor publishes a decree which establishes his ethical standard within his realm. Suppose also that a king within the emperor’s realm decreed a different ethical standard within his little kingdom, and some or all of the his ethical standard stood in conflict with the emperor’s ethical standard. In this example, the ethical standard of the emperor holds more authority than the ethical standard of the king, and therefore the emperor's ethical standard is authoritative and legitimate while the king’s ethical standard is neither authoritative nor legitimate.

Now the example we just discussed serves only to demonstrate what I mean by applying the term “authoritative” to an ethical standard. The reader should not take this example to mean that literally emperors are the supreme establishers of ethics in this world. The point is that when ethical standards clash we can resolve the dispute by examining the legitimacy of each ethical standard and discarding the illegitimate one (or both, as the case often is) in favor of a standard with true authority.

So how do we determine what makes an ethical standard authoritative? The source of the ethical standard is what determines the authority, and therefore the legitimacy, of the standard. This raises a good point: ethical standards do not appear out of a vacuum; they all are derived from some source. The source could be an individual person, or the source could be an idea that is subscribed to by a group of people. In order for an ethical standard to be legitimate, it must be derived from a source which has the authority to define an ethical standard. For example, it would be nonsense for me to declare that all people who paint doors the color red are guilty of a capitol crime and must be put to death. I have no authority to declare such a law. In fact, I have no authority to create any ethical standard at all.

A Brief Survey of Popular Ethical Sources

It should be patently obvious that no individual person has the authority to create out of a vacuum an ethical standard which bears any legitimacy (though there are some supremely self-important people who might say otherwise). Therefore, most people subscribe ethical authority to some source that stands over mere individuals. Today’s most popular choices are:

  • Governments have the authority to define ethical standards
  • Society has the authority to define ethical standards
  • Nature has the authority to define ethical standards

The belief that nature has the authority to define ethical standards is the view that is most often taken by modern Christians and classical atheists. [2] This belief is built upon the idea of Natural Law which proposes that nature is where ethical standards are authoritatively defined (see this article for a more in depth look into the problems of Natural Law). Proponents of natural law would have us to believe that we can look at “ethical norms” in nature throughout history, and that these various examples have the authority to define an ethical standard by which men ought to be compelled to live.

No one can deny that we see a basically consistent ethical standard practiced throughout the history of nature. In regard to this idea, C.S. Lewis makes the comment, “Think of a country where people were admired for running away in battle, or where a man felt proud of double-crossing all the people who had been kindest to him. You might just as well try to imagine a country where two and two made five.” (Mere Christianity, Book I, Ch. I) As Lewis so nicely illustrates, there seems to be a pattern of morality that is “naturally” ingrained into mankind. But does this then make a law that men are compelled to follow? The well-known 18th century humanist philosopher, David Hume, makes an excellent reply to this question:

“In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with, I have always remark’d, that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary way of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning human affairs; when of a sudden I am surpriz’d to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not. This change is imperceptible; but is, however, of the last consequence. For as this ought, or ought not, expresses some new relation or affirmation, ’tis necessary that it shou’d be observ’d and explain’d; and at the same time that a reason should be given, for what seems altogether inconceivable, how this new relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it. But as authors do not commonly use this precaution, I shall presume to recommend it to the readers; and am persuaded, that this small attention wou’d subvert all the vulgar systems of morality, and let us see, that the distinction of vice and virtue is not founded merely on the relations of objects, nor is perceiv’d by reason.” (David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, Bk. III, pt. 1, sec. 1.)

Hume’s point is powerful. According to what logical progression does the “is” of nature proceed to the “ought” of human behavior? Just because they observe that nature’s ethical standard “is” consistent throughout history, many people like to "jump the gun" logically and claim that mankind “ought” to act according to the ethical norms of nature. This is a serious flaw in the thinking of those who propose that nature can authoritatively define ethical standards. The “is” of nature does not logically lead to the “ought” of human behavior.

It used to be fairly popular for people to believe that governments (e.g., kings) had the right to create ethical standards within society. But during the reformation of the fifteen and sixteen hundreds, this idea was challenged and largely thrown out. For a short while it was understood that governments don’t have authority to create ethical standards. Unfortunately the message of the reformation was soon forgotten. The debunked idea that kings hold supreme ethical authority eventually birthed a newer version of the same idea, and it became popular to believe that governments comprised of an elected body have the right create ethical standards. This belief is predominant among members of modern societies.

The idea that society has the authority to define ethical standards is the view that is reached by people who used to believe that governments are the source of ethical authority, but then realized that such a notion was ridiculous. Proponents of societal ethical authority, who are most often modern atheists, believe that ethics evolve in society over time, and that the sheer mass of society has the authority to determine ethical standards.

Our question is this: do the institutions we have previously discussed (government, society, or nature) really have any authority to create and define ethical standards? Let us first examine government and society as these two sources are answered by identical lines of reasoning. The simple question that we must ask ourselves is this: “How do governments, be they a monarchy, democracy, republic, or other, have the authority to create an ethical standard that any person should be compelled to follow?” Certainly governments can arbitrarily create an ethical standard, and obviously they have the power to enforce any ethical standard they desire, but how can they claim to have a moral right to do so? How are governments morally authorized to create and enforce ethical standards upon any man? The answer, “they just have the authority to do so, simply by virtue of being in office” is a non-answer.

Who or what has authoritatively declared that a government has the right to create ethical standards, merely by virtue of being the government? The answer, “Because society agreed to grant them the authority to do so” merely punts the problem down the road one step further. Who gave society the authority to grant a governing body the authority to create and declare ethical standards? Did society simply assign itself the authority to create governing bodies that can make up ethical standards? Such a statement would be nonsense. Society cannot legitimately assign itself its own authority to create governing bodies that can enact ethical standards at whim. Believing in such a statement is tantamount to declaring, “Society has the authority to establish governing bodies which can create ethical standards because society decided that it has the authority to do so.” This is blatant circular reasoning.

Does the Playground Bully Define Right and Wrong?

Many will say, “No, you are wrong! Governments DO have the authority to create legitimate ethical standards because they will put you in jail if you don’t adhere to them.” This is a fancy way of saying, “Might makes right.” As so many 20th centuries governments have well demonstrated (think Nazi Germany, or the USSR), might does NOT make right. A government merely possess the might to apply ethical standards (any ethical standard) regardless of the legitimacy of the standard. For a government to choose to use force to apply a corrupt, invalid, ethical standard does not magically make its ethical standard authoritative and therefore morally right to enforce; it merely means that the government has become a tyranny.

So what about society? Does society have the power to make an ethical standard authoritative? Of course not. The reasoning, “Well this is what most everyone believes in, and therefore it is authoritative” is nonsense. Who said that individual men must follow the rules that society adopts? Did society say so? If so then we again have a circular argument: “You have to adhere to society’s made-up ethical standard because society said you have to.” That is nonsense.

The belief that nature can create an ethical standard has the same problem. Even supposing that Hume were wrong, and that the “is” of nature could logically be made to inform the “ought” of human behavior, where did nature get the authority to enforce such a standard? Does it have the authority to enforce the standard by virtue of being nature? E.g., it has the authority because it has the authority? Or does it have this authority simply because a group of men got together and decided that it does? Who gave them the authority to make such a decision? As Hume noted, nature can point towards “normative” behavior all day long, but that does not mean that it ALSO has authority to inform the way that men ought to live. In fact, it would be a purely man-made idea to suggest that the behavior of mankind must adhere to nature’s norms. The obvious assertion to make to such an idea is this: “who gave those men the authority to claim that the behavior of these other men must conform to nature’s norms?” It would appear that those men merely granted themselves their own imaginary authority to make such a claim.

Breaking the Chain

As you can see, all the ideas we have discussed suffer from the same form of circular reasoning. One cannot merely assume that a thing (like nature) or an institution (like government or society) has the authority to create it’s own ethical standards. To believe in such a thing merely leads to a long chain of circular reasoning wherein, each time the next circle is completed, the same logical tautology is exercised: “well, they have the authority because they just do.” This is not sound reasoning. This same problem will apply to any potential source of ethical authority that you can think of. The question can always be asked, “who or what gave institution X the authority to create ethical standards, and how do they have the right to authoritatively compel any subset of mankind to comply to their standard?” For people who subscribe to a humanistic worldview, answering this question will always result in circular authority appeals that can be whittled down to the logical tautology, “Institution X has the authority to create and enforce ethical standard Y because institution X says so.” Empty assertions do not carry moral authority over you or I.

Practical Examples

I have proposed the idea that ethics and authority are intertwined and that they stand at the center of all societal contention, but I believe that some examples would be helpful in clarifying what I mean by this. A great example of this principle can be found in the debate over the ethical validity of murdering preborn infants. Christians say that abortion is murder. We make this claim based upon God’s decree that life begins at conception. [3] Humanists, on the other hand, say that life does not start until some nebulous point after conception. The Christian response should be simple, “According to what authority have you determined that life does not begin at conception?” The humanist will quickly reply, “Because SCIENCE!” Humanists like to appeal to “science” as if it is some sort of deity that has the authority to define ethics in life. But really, modern “science” (as opposed to classical science) is just a group of men who like to make metaphysical conclusions based upon strictly material research. The Christian response is simple: by what authority do humanist scientists contradict the authority of God? So you see that we have two sources of ethics that stand in contradiction here: what Science says versus what God says. A choice must be made: which one of these two ethical systems will you submit to? Which standard has a right to be in authority over us?

Perhaps you are a really strong advocate of the ethical authority of science, so that last argument didn’t do it for you. Another example, one which is not governed by empirical science, is property tax. Most modern governments have implemented some form of property tax which they enforce through the threat of taking away the property of individuals who remain delinquent in payment. The ethical standard which has been proposed by the state is this: you must pay property tax, and if you do not then we have the authority to take your property. All discussion about a government’s right to apply taxation aside, God has made it clear, in contrast, that lawfully acquired property (according to God’s law), especially land and houses, belongs exclusively to the people and may not be confiscated in this way by the state. Which ethical standard is authoritative?

Even the Southern Slave Economy had Benefits

Once again we find two ethical standards which stand in stark contradiction: the state claims an ethical standard which gives them the authority to take people’s property, yet God prescribes an ethical standard which maintains that the state may not take a person’s property. If you look at the points of strife in society you will see this exact same issue cropping up again and again, where group A advocates ethical standard X, but group B advocates ethical standard Y. Many people like to try to solve these issues with arguments that appeal to the supposed benefits of the ethical standard they support. For example:

“But you must understand that the state HAS to be able to tax people because it needs to pay for roads and things like that. Therefore the state MUST be able to enforce payment somehow. This necessitates that the state MUST be granted the authority seize the property of tax-evaders.”

Of course such an argument is nonsense and can easily be countered with an argument like this:

“I’ll grant for the sake of argument that a responsibility of the state is building and maintaining public transportation systems. But even so, that does not mean that the state must necessarily have the right to seize property from tax delinquents. A simple alternative solution would be to remove the right from such people to travel on state-funded roadways. I uphold the simple principle of, ‘if you don’t pay for it you don’t use it’ rather than, ‘if you don’t pay for it we take everything you own.’”

And of course a counter to the counter-argument could be made again, and the whole debate goes back and forth. The point of this illustrative back and forth argument is to remind you that most people try to resolve ethical contradictions by arguing over the benefits and applications of the two ethical systems. But the benefits and applications of any two ethical systems can be argued six ways to Sunday. Such arguments have nothing to do with the true validity of the ethical systems in question. It is foolish to chalk up the argument to a discussion of what seems like the most beneficial course of action based upon our finite knowledge grounded in a mere 80 years (for those older folks among us) of existence. Benefits can be found in any ethical system. I challenge you to e-mail me and I will provide you with a list of benefits that could be derived from recreating Nazi Germany. Just as might does not make right, neither do supposed benefits make right. Once again, the question comes down to this: which ethical system is authoritative and why.

Now this is not to say that authoritative ethical systems do not come with good benefits. They most certainly do. In fact, applying a valid ethical system will ensure the best benefits for a nation, and such a system will necessarily ensure that all people are treated with justice and equity, not just a  particular sub-class of people (of course this justice will be defined by that valid ethical standard, so people who don't like the ethical standard will claim that it is not justice). But the benefits are merely a side-effect of applying a proper ethical system; they do not grant any authoritative legitimacy.

What Now?

If you have stayed with me so far then you may be wandering how this line of reasoning can be productive. After all, if my arguments have been cogent, we should have reached the conclusion that the only ethical standard which can be applied with any legitimacy is an authoritative one. How is it that we can determine which ethical systems are authoritative and which ones are not?

Many people will protest to the arguments I have presented because of the conclusion that seems to be reached. They will claim that, according to such an argument, there is no institution that can authoritatively create ethical standards, and therefore all men should rightly be allowed to live however they see fit in their own eyes (or in the eyes of their own society), which is anarchy. This compels people to discard the relation that authority and ethics have because, “It can’t be true because the results are unrealistic.” This whole conundrum is only a problem for people who have a worldview which pre-supposes the non-existence of the Judeo-Christian God. According to such a worldview one cannot find a source of ethical standards that is truly authoritative. The only thing that you can have, according to a humanistic God denying worldview is a system where a group of men voluntarily choose to adhere  to ethical standards that are made up by non-authoritative sources. The problem with systems built around humanistic worldviews of voluntary submission to non-authoritative ethical systems is that there is no valid justification to condemn other men who opted out of the ethical system. The only thing that the voluntary adherents to the non-authoritative ethical system can say with any authority is, “We don’t like that you have decided to play by your own rules.” What they cannot say with any authority is, “It is morally wrong for you to choose to play by your own rules.” According to a worldview in which Christianity is absent, the ethical situation is always one where adherence can only be voluntarily, but not morally required. Yet the group with the most power uses it's military and police might to "volunteer" non-conforming individuals. As we observed earlier, might does not make right, it just makes tyranny.

A worldview that presupposes the existence of the Judeo-Christian God solves this philosophical dilemma easily. The Christian states the obvious: no institution on earth has the authority to make up its own ethical standard. God, on the other hand, does have such authority. Why does He have the authority to create ethical standards that men can justly be compelled to live by? Because He created the world and all men that live therein. The apostle Paul illustrates this point in Romans 9:20-21, “But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Does not the potter [God] have power over the clay [mankind]…?” By this Paul, as God’s mouthpiece, is basically saying, “God made you so He can do whatever he wants with you.” God has the authority to require mankind to conform to His ethical standards. Men can rebel against this idea all day long. The creature cry out in anger against the creator, “Why have you done this? You don’t have the right!” But no amount of complaining can change the Creator / creature distinction. The Creator has authority over His created creatures; He is the emperor of the universe, and His ethical standard is legitimate and has the authority to compel man’s conformance.

How Does This Apply to Government?

So how does all this work, practically speaking? The conclusion that I have proposed is that government can only authoritatively require that mankind conform to laws that are based off of God’s ethical standard because God is the only legitimate source of ethical authority. If asked the question, “By what authority do you apply this ethical standard?” the state should respond, “By God’s authority.” And then the question is a done deal. Or the state could reply, “We apply our own ethical standard according to our own authority” and we all laugh and reply, “what authority?” The sole difference between just rule and the tyrannical rule is God’s ethical standard. Just governments apply God’s ethical standard. Tyrannies make up their own standard and use their military and police might to unjustly impose it upon the population.

What is the practical application of this when sifting through all the legal contentions that inevitably arise in society? We have determined that there are only two types of ethical standards that people can adhere to: standards which are in conformance with God’s ethical standard (which has legitimate authority), or standards which are not in conformance with God’s ethical standard (which have no legitimate authority). When contending with people about which laws are right and wrong in society, we must examine the ethical standard that they appeal to. If it fails to fall in line with God’s ethical standard then we must take them to task philosophically by challenging them to demonstrate the authority of their ethical standard. They will apply some form of logical tautology, a series of layered circular reasons for why their ethical standard has authority. The job of the Christian is to patiently sift through the series of circular arguments and explain, for each argument, why they cannot in fact apply their ethical standard to the life of any person around them with any authority.

False Gods: Application for Christians

Ethical standards represent an authority source. A person’s authority source is their god in the religious sense of the word. But gods are not necessarily deities in the Christian sense of the word. A god is merely that thing which dictates the beliefs of any person or culture. A god is that thing which informs the way that one or more people religiously live their lives, day in and day out. Because all people have beliefs that inform the way that they live their lives, and the ethical decisions that they make, all people are religious. For example, the religion of science offers a very popular god to the modern day masses. Many modern men religiously follow the dictates of science. Science, through it’s various priests (scientists), informs many people today about a wide range of ethical issues. Like any religious body, these people organize their core beliefs and their behavior around the rules dictated by the science god, which have been handed down to them by the priests of the science god. And, just like any other religious organization, they quickly cry foul when someone violates the ethical standard that has been proposed by their god through their priests (people who advocate abortion for example). In the debate over what ethical standard to adhere to, it is the responsibility of the Christian to choose ethical standards which are informed by the one true God as opposed to all those standards which stem from false gods. To do anything else is to commit idolatry.

Conclusion

The gods that exist in the thinking of society are the sources of the various different ethical standards that vie for dominance in our culture. This leaves Christians with a choice: will we serve our God by adhering to His ethical standard, or will we submit to the ethical standards of these other false gods? In His commission to us, Christ commanded that we disciple nations, “teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:20). What is that thing which Christ has commanded us to follow, which we are to teach to nations? It is God’s ethical standard. Thus, the task that Christians have been given is that of going into cultures and replacing humanistic ethical standards with God’s ethical standard. We can accomplish this task with the confidence that comes from knowing that God’s ethical standard is the only legitimate, authoritative standard. This is why it is important for Christians to understand how ethics and authority work together. We need to understand that man-made ethics have no authority, and that God’s ethic is the only standard which has the authority to command the behavior of all men. We also need to recognize that this clashing of ethical systems, God’s versus man’s, is at the center of all debates over law and order in every culture. Therefore, in keeping with our allegiance to Christ, we must spend our lives resisting the false standards of man and insisting upon the true standard of God. This is the central calling of every single Christian: teaching society how to live in accordance with God’s ethical standard.

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[1] Often these same people have trouble extending their ethical beliefs to other people who are not them. They will maintain that it is ethically wrong to kill them while also maintaining that it is ethically right to kill unborn children.

[2] This is because classical atheists were, by necessity, far more intelligent than their modern counterparts. Once upon a time it was well understood that ethical standards could not be made up by government or society. Therefore, when atheists were pressed to defend the existence of an ethical standard that didn’t count God into the mix, the best they could do was to claim that nature authoritatively informed their ethical standard.

[3] See Jeremiah 1:5, Galatians 1:15, Psalm 139:13, 16, Job 10:8-12, Isaiah 44:2, Job 31:15

About Micah Hurd

I am a 2nd generation Reformed Christian, a Husband, Father, and a United States Marine. I was born and raised in Dallas Fort Worth (DFW) Texas. Together with my wife and two sons, I attend Church at Heritage Covenant Church in Weatherford Texas. My hobbies include reading, writing, bodyweight fitness, community organizing, computer and electronics tinkering, radio communications, building rifles, becoming more proficient in my ability to employ rifle and handgun weapon systems, learning and teaching marksmanship and combat marksmanship, martial arts, sharpening iron with Christians, and discussing worldviews with humanists (when they allow). I work as a Calibration Technician for a DFW based company that rents test-equipment.

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