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Human Ethics and Sin, Research Paper Example

Pages: 13

Words: 3491

Research Paper

Introduction

Many people believe that morality is a matter of personal opinion, unlike science, which deals with facts. There are many ethical arguments because some people hold the view that there are no moral facts because values are interpreted differently. The debate has taken two broad sides of subjectivism vs. relativism. Subjectivists believe that humans hold many different opinions, and they do so because it is impossible to prove how superior one moral view is over the others[1]. They believe this proof is not possible because there are no moral ‘facts’. This is resonant with the theory of ethical relativism, that ethical views are dependent on individual cultures. However, there is a lot of moral agreement amongst different individuals and cultures in the world. Some practices are widely accepted as ethical and moral, and others are not, regardless of the culture. Sin encompasses a wider definition, and includes all unethical and immoral thoughts and deeds. Sinning involves going against the teaching of religion and engaging in thoughts and acts that have been forbidden in the bible.

Philosophy of ethics and morality

Morality is an aspect of human life that draws from people’s rational faculties and feelings. Not every moral question at every level can be solved through reason, but reason is a major factor that influences how humans interpret ethics and morality. Moral rationalism falls under the broad category of objectivism. There are different levels of moral reflection, with the most contentious moral issues belonging to the first order[2]. Disputes at this high level touch on rights and values in general, for example freedom, happiness and well-being. In life, there are possibilities and constraints. Some of these are natural and inborn while others arise out of life’s circumstances. Those issues that arise out of life’s conditions are second-order issues, and they try to define how life should be. Ethics and morality are closely related to sin, but while there is strong debate about interpretation of morality and ethics, sin seems to have a clear outline and general agreement amongst believers.

Many people aspire to be rich and famous. However, in philosophical terms, money has no value at all. Its usefulness comes from the fact it is a medium of exchange. If it cannot be exchanged for material things, it becomes worthless. Therefore, in philosophy, money has instrumental value but no intrinsic value. Its value only comes when used as a means for getting other things. Fame, on the other hand, can have value depending on why someone is famous. Scientists who have made inventions that help humanity are famous for good reasons. However, a serial killer or mass murderer can be famous but for evil deeds. So fame can have some value depending on the route taken to achieve it. From a philosophical view, the best life should be one in which a person succeeds in getting what they want. This brings about the idea of egoism. Egoists give something value depending on how much they want it while subjectivism dictates that value must be rooted in feeling rather than fact[3]. Egoists may take advice and input from other people, but only as far as they want to. The input from other people may be valuable objectively, but it is not sufficient reason for egoists to take it up if they do no want. Egoists believe that it is the desire for things that gives them value, and a good life is about getting the things one wants.

German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche rejected the Christian belief in God and its conception of good and evil. He considered the moral implications of Christianity to be unhealthy. Advances in science, like the theory of natural selection by Darwin, had put an end to the rational belief in God. Nietzsche proposed a completely fresh look at moral values since the traditional foundation of moral values based on God and Christianity had been destroyed by science. His major proposals towards this end were ‘the will to power’ and ‘eternal recurrence’ philosophies[4]. ‘The will to power’ refers to the desire to succeed in the face of struggle brought about by human conditions. It is not just the will to live, but also to overcome the competitive challenges of living. Nietzsche envisioned a successful person as someone who has abandoned any inclination towards the supernatural, and has self-mastery over his emotions and intellect. Such a person prevails over conventional morality and conformity to social norms wile asserting his own will.

When discussing rational egoism, it is important to distinguish between desires and interests. Desires represent longings and inclinations while interests refer to things that are considered important to the well-being and life of a person. Interests may not necessarily coincide with desires, since desires may not promote well-being always like interests. For example, someone may have desire to smoke cigarettes, but they will avoid doing so because it is not in their best interests. Cigarette smoking does not promote their well-being in terms of health. This means that not following desires always is still egoistic, only that the egoist puts his interests over his desires this time around. From this reasoning, the best life is not about a person getting the things they want at any time, but succeeding in securing their long-term interests.

The philosophy of hedonism is about enjoying life, and that the best life is the one that brings most pleasure[5]. It is closely related to egoism, which also advocates for the pursuit of a person’s desires. Early hedonists believed that pleasure was the only thing recognized universally as desirable. On the other hand, pain is considered a natural evil, and is also universally considered to be undesirable. It follows that the best life is one that has much pleasure and as little pain as possible. However, pain and pleasure may be opposites, but they tend to accompany each other. In the pursuit of bodily pleasures, one is bound to encounter pain also. Those who believe in moral endeavor are bound to avoid this philosophy of hedonism as it is mostly associated with immorality. The Bible expressly forbids and speaks against hedonistic tendencies.

John Stuart Mills tried to categorize different forms of pleasure, making some pleasures better than others[6]. Higher pleasures are considered of better quality. The only problem with this thought line is that there is no standard method for measuring and determining higher and lower pleasures. Mills categorization was based on the judgment of people who have experienced both pleasures. These judges had to be people whose standing in society was respectable. Aristotle pointed out that the activities that bring pleasure are different in many aspects. The hedonist view is mainly about pleasurable sensations, but Aristotle points out that not all pleasures come from nice sensations. One can draw pleasure by engaging in an activity they enjoy by getting thoroughly absorbed in it. However, most of the pleasurable sensations, like sex, are not allowed by the bible unless in the right context. For sex, it has to be within marriage between a man and woman.

Religion on ethics and morality

Human beings are a type of animal, but religion puts them above all animals. Human beings are not expected to behave like animals since they have a conscience and reasoning. They are able to rationalize their thoughts and deeds to help them make the right choice. In the pursuit of a good life, man has several options, as outlined by various philosophical and psychological theories. However, the bible provides a straight and clear path on the kind of life man should live here on earth. Going against these teachings would invariably amount to sinning. When Christians commit sin, it can create doubt and confusion about their faith. Becoming a Christian and giving one’s life to God means one’s original sins are forgiven[7]. Such a person is expected to live a new life in Christ. This new life under Christ is not always easy, which is why one must engage in prayer, reading the bible, attending church and engaging in other activities that reinforce their faith and provide them with strength to live a righteous life.

All Christians struggle with sin yet non-believers can consider this to be hypocritical. Critics usually ask why Christians cannot practice what they preach. However, it is important to note that Christians are faced with the same temptations that everyone is exposed to in the world. Becoming a Christian and dedicating one’s life to Christ can take some time to change a person. There is a lot of work to be done to transform the life of a sinner into that of a righteous person. Christians live in a state of ongoing transformation until the day they re-unite with God. In the meantime, they rely on faith to cling to the hope of full restoration as they navigate the tension between the two worlds. This struggle is capture very well in the bible, “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:18b-19 TNIV).

The struggles of Christians should not be taken to mean that their lives are hopeless and defeated here on earth. The bible teaches that when someone becomes a Christian, they cease being a slave to sin. Christianity gives one the ability to choose not to sin. Of course Christians still make poor choices in this regard. They ignore their inner conviction or the teachings of the church and choose to do things their own way. Some habits are just too hard to break. In all these struggles, it is important to remember that Christianity recognizes that it is very difficult to be good enough to gain God’s favor. Christians should recognize God’s graciousness and his willingness to overlook the sinful nature of man. All they have to do is to surrender their lives to God and allow the Holy Spirit to work in their lives[8].

The various philosophical and psychological theories cannot justify their views on morality and ethics without leaving room for sin. The theories attempt to accommodate both freedom and happiness. However, the moral demands of others cannot satisfy the demands of egoism. This gap is bridged through religion. The problem faced by the philosophical interpretations of moral life arises due to debate about the authority of morality- the conflict between personal desire and social obligation. If people use self interest as the basis of moral obligation, it implies that moral obligations can be done away with if they interfere with personal satisfaction and happiness[9]. However, religion advocates for self-sacrifice and putting the needs of others before one’s own. Philosophical views on morality and ethics fall short of the religious standards for the same.

The best solution to all these debates is submission to the will of God and his authority. God is the creator and loves all his creation equally. He is all powerful and always advocates for good, so whatever he commands provides both moral and prudential reasons for action. For the rational being, obedience to the will of God should be easy to accept since God always has good intentions for everyone. God is perfect, and his commandments are compatible with justice and the well-being of all creation. Submitting to the will of God will solve all the lingering questions about moral philosophy that cannot be explained by the philosophical theories. God has shown the way to a good life, and He is able to do so because he is the creator of all life and the earth where that life is lived.

God’s role in good and evil

Religious solutions are not accepted easily in many quarters. The first question that some people ask is whether God really exists. This is one of the most debated subjects in human history. Even amongst the great thinkers, there are those who have been very religious –Aquinas, Augustine, Descartes, Plato and Newton, while others have been skeptics or self-confessed atheists – Darwin, Hume, Marx and Nietzsche. It is always pointed out that whereas God is perfect and is the source of all good things, the depiction of Yahweh in the Hebrew bible shows the opposite. In most instances, Yahweh comes across as irritable and tyrannical instead of a loving heavenly father. In the book of exodus, Moses says that the lord is a jealous God. However, it is Christianity that is most concerned about God’s love for all his creation[10]. The Gospel of John 3:16 says, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.” It is for this reason that Christian philosophers and theologians are usually concerned with the problem of evil as compared to other religions. The problem arises from the practicality of this love. Those who believe in the love of God confess to experiencing it from time to time. However, there are those who look at the suffering and destruction going on in various parts of the world and ask why God’ love is not at play there. The problem humanity faces is to trust in God’s goodness despite all the suffering, which sometimes goes to immense proportions.

One school of thought gives the philosophical interpretation that concludes there is no loving God. One of the strongest proponents of this idea is Hume[11]. He says that if God is all powerful, and whatever he wills is executed, yet men are not happy, meaning God does not will their happiness. In case God wills against evil and he is not able to prevent it, then he is not all powerful as claimed, says Hume. If God is the most powerful and full of love, he should eliminate all suffering. John Stuart Mills argues strongly that there could be no evil in the world if God was all powerful and all loving as it is claimed by believers. Some people are fully persuaded by this argument, especially based on their experiences. For those who still believe that God exists, the question is whether they can know for certain what his will for man is. From worldly experience of religion, it seems like this is impossible.

There are many religions in the world, and what is permissible in one religion may not be permissible in another. A good example is the issue of monogamy. All Christian denominations (except Mormonism) demand that their faithful practice monogamous marriages. It is the only form of holy matrimony. Islam, on the other hand, does not place such a restriction. In Islam, polygamy is allowed and is seen as desirable. Religious differences can also be seen in dietary laws. These examples and many more seem to imply that appealing to religion as a guide to conduct is not helpful since, in practice, it amounts to appealing to a wide range of different and, often, contradictory guides to a good life. If the central ethical concern is how man should live, religion fails to provide one unified answer.

There are suggestions that the different answers should be analyzed so that a decision is made on what to accept and what to reject. However, there is no standard criterion for doing this. Each religion claims to be based on divine intervention, so they are equal in this aspect. However, some prescriptions in the religious books like the bible or Qur’an are not likely to have come from God. The only way to judge between different religious beliefs and practices is to put them through a test that is widely acceptable to all. Even if this were possible, it would mean testing what is believed by some people to the revealed will of God[12]. It would put religion against a certain standard, relegating religion from playing the major role. The ultimate question here is; does religion provide a better guide to a good life than secular alternatives? The answer is yes. God’s version of what is good and evil is a much better proposition than the philosophical arguments that abound.

 

Another question that philosophers ask is; does an action become good out of God’s approval, or does its being good make God approve of it? The story of the Good Samaritan in the bible has been used to teach generations about loving one’s neighbor as Christians are commanded to do. If it is taken that something is good because God demands it, then it would mean that if God demanded an action that is contrary to what is considered right, it would still be good[13]. Such line of reasoning means that what a person thinks is good is not intrinsically so, but is good because God has fixed it that way. Therefore, happiness is not good and suffering is not bad on their own; it is just that God has chosen to declare them good and bad respectively. He might as well have chosen to condemn people who are kind and generous while praising selfish and malicious people.

Most people believe God commands man to do what is good because it is good. On this point, God is consistent, and he is not likely to change his mind arbitrarily and command the opposite. God sees the truth, commands what is really good and rejects those things that are really bad. This would mean that things that are good and evil are that way regardless of what God might think of them. It follows that good and evil deeds are independent of God’s will, and are therefore not determined by it. God is after all not the origin of good, but its biggest proponent. Regardless of his will, good is good and evil is evil in reality.

Appealing to the authority of God was supposed to provide an answer to the question of morality that philosophical theories have failed to do. However, the above reasoning has shown that good and bad are independent of the will of God. This would rule out any appeal to religion as the basis for a good life. The abundance of evil in the world puts a lot of doubt about the existence of the right type of God. The differences amongst several religions regarding their views about a good life create a major difficulty when it comes to using religion as the basis for a good life. Non-religious scholars insist that this point makes religion not sufficient to serve as the basis for morality.

The problem of evil, the reality of misery and suffering, has been used as a reason for disputing the existence of a loving God. However, it is through the experience of evil and suffering that most people turn their hopes towards a loving God and religion in general[14]. The experience of something that is supposed to disqualify the existence of God is the driving force behind the belief in God’s existence. It could be argued that the experience of evil has made these people to realize something that has been missed.

Conclusion

Many people usually come to adopt strong religious beliefs after having survived some disaster miraculously. Such people usually give explanations in terms of divine intervention. Skeptics are quick to point out that these explanations are not base on evidence and do not add any knowledge to the cause of near-death event. However, the fact that people continue to make references to God and miracles should point to the possibility that they may not be looking for explanations when they do so. There is something different involved when people turn to God and call up on him in prayer. The philosophical point of view regarding the problem of evil assumes that what happens to man is evidence for and against God. However, a careful analysis of how religious beliefs arise and what sustains them, it is clear that religious experience is not to be compared to gathering evidence for and against scientific explanations.

Bibliography

Beck, James R. and Bruce Demarest. The Human Person in Theology and Psychology: A Biblical Anthropology for the Twenty-First Century. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2005.

Boa, Kenneth. Augustine to Freud: What Theologians and Psychologists Tell Us About Human Nature (And Why It Matters). Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2004.

Chafer, Lewis Sperry. Systematic Theology. Vol. 2, Angelology, Anthropology, and Hamartiology. Dallas, Texas: Kregel Publications, 1993.

Green, Joel B., and Stuart L. Palmer, eds. In Search of the Soul: Four Views of the Mind-Body Problem. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2005.

Moreland, J. P. and Scott B. Rae. Body and Soul: Human Nature and the Crisis in Ethics. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2000.

Noll, Stephen F. Angels of Light, Powers of Darkness: Thinking Biblically about Angels, Satan and Principalities. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1998.

Pyne, Robert A. Humanity and Sin: The Creation, Fall, and Redemption of Humanity. Nashville: Word, 1999

Sherlock, Charles. The Doctrine of Humanity. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1996.

Stevenson, Leslie and David L. Haberman. Ten Theories of Human Nature. 4th ed., New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Wright, Nigel Goring. A Theology of the Dark Side: Putting the Power of Evil in Its Place. Revised ed. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2003.

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