An Argument of Ethics

I was attending a conference today (non-religious), and listened to a speaker talk about Ethics.  He gave a very interesting and passionate presentation on the topic, and reinforced his speech with heartwarming film clips from some old movies.  His speech reinforced the need to “stop and smell the roses,” and to live life to the fullest.  These were great concepts, and I was enjoying his presentation.  However, as he was closing this speech he made a remark that made the gears in my brain grind to a stop.  He said, “Ethics starts in the heart.”

Ethics starts in the heart?  Really?

When he made the remark many in the audience were drying tears from seeing the emotional film clips and hearing the passionate commentary.  As a result, I’m guessing most people missed the importance of what he just told us.  “Ethics begins in the heart” might work for a group of girl scouts who are ready to sing Kumbaya and then gather in a great big group hug.  But for those of us who are more critical thinkers – it just doesn’t work (no offense intended to any Girl Scout).

Now I don’t want to be too hard on the guest speaker.  This wasn’t a religious conference and any faith he might have had probably would not have been well-received.  Still, his closing remark was a jolt to my system.  Let me explain…

To say that ethics “starts in the heart” is to suggest that the code – or law – for moral conduct originates from within us.  This makes morality completely relative.  No one could ever rightly judge another person’s actions as wrong as long as the other person felt in his heart that he was right.  The best one could do is to disagree with what another prefers, but no one could ever insist that any action was objectively wrong.  If someone robbed you, you could not insist that the robber was wrong, but only that you would prefer not to be robbed.

Likewise, no action could ever be seen as truly good since there is no objective standard by which to judge good.  Morality would be nothing more than a set of preferences, like what color one likes, or what food one desires.  There would be no wrong or right.

But morality is not relative.  Everyone recognizes that there is a moral code – which does not come from within, but without.

To use an illustration by C.S. Lewis: If I were to draw a crooked line on a chalkboard, everyone would recognize that it was not straight.  How would they know it was not straight? They would know because they have an understanding of what straight is – even if they cannot draw a straight line – they intuitively have a concept of what straight should be.

Likewise, humanity intuitively understands that there is a standard of good by which they compare all things.  For example, humanity recognizes that it is not good for a mother to neglect her children.  Humanity also recognizes that it is not good for a person to take something that rightfully belongs to someone else.  By recognizing that these things are not good we are actually recognizing that there is a good – or a standard of good to compare it to.  This standard cannot originate from within us because it would not be commonly shared. Therefore, it must come fromwithout.  And if it comes from without, there must be some force in our universe that is concerned with moral conduct.  And, if there is a force concerned with moral conduct, that force must be a Mind, and have a Will.  In other words, that force is not just a force, but a Being.

Ethics cannot come from our hearts. Rather, morality comes from God, and is a reflection of His character.

Anyway … that’s my speech on ethics.





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