The Tragic Moral Choice and Conflicting Ethical Norms.

Discussion in 'The Law of God' started by BayouHuguenot, Oct 18, 2006.

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  1. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritanboard Amanuensis

    This is the issue where Situation Ethicist Joseph Fletcher nailed John Warwick Montgomery.

    Which action do you take in a situation where you are presented with two ethical norms, norms grounded in God's revelation, yet choosing one norm would conflict the other norm.

    The usual example is the Rahab one. But because so many evangelicals give really bad responses to that, I will choose another one.

    In WW2 Jewish women were promised freedom upon the condition they have sexual relations with the guards. If they refused, however, their relatives would be tortured and killed.
    Adultery on one hand, murder on the other.

    Christian ethicists have usually opted for one of three responses:
    1. Tragic Moral Choice; This was Montgomery's response. Its been a while since the Fletcher/Montgomery transcript was in front of me, but Montgomery took this one on the chin. He said we should break God's law to obey God's law, and then ask forgiveness later. Fletcher made short work of this.

    2. Go with the Greatest Good; this is Norman Geisler's position. One should choose the highest good in the situation. The only problem with this is that it is the same thing as choosing the lesser of two evils (think: Vote Republican--sorry, that was a cheap shot). Also, by what standard (ok, no theonomy talk)--by what metaethical evaluation do you determine what is the highest good? Saying "love" for instance is worse than useless. Love undefined by God's law is meaningless.

    3. Deny the dilemma; deny that these are the only two avalaible alternatives. For instance, Christ was tempted in all things like us yet remained without sin. "This situation" is included under "all things." Therefore, there is a way out of this situation without violating God's law.

    [Edited on 10--18-06 by Draught Horse]
  2. crhoades

    crhoades Puritan Board Graduate

  3. Ambrose

    Ambrose Puritan Board Freshman

    I don't see a a big conflict in your scenario, Jacob. Obviously you wouldn't agree to trangress the Law of God (commit adultery) in order to prevent a hypothetical crime from occurring.

    Realistically, your relatives may already be dead, they may be tortured anyway, and you are not responsible for the actions of lawbreakers. You ARE responsible for your actions.

    You haven't set forth a situation where maintaining your purity and integrity even remotely causes you to violate God's Law in another area.

    [Edited on 10-18-2006 by Chad Degenhart]
  4. JohnV

    JohnV Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Well done, Jacob.

    Have you read Augustine on this situation? Its quite interesting, and worth discussing. He talks about who is violating who, who is culpable, and why a person should not feel guilt for another's imposed wickedness upon him. In fact, this kind of answer turns the 'situation ethic' back upon the questioner.

    The answer is #3, if that is allowed. Unfortunately, in real life situations #3 would not be allowed. You are given an either/or situation, and the one forcing the evil upon you will not be satisfied with a righteous answer, for that is not his intention. But neither were the Jewish women as moral as they were traditional. This is usually the case in such situations, a case that is easier to take advantage of with these types of threats.

    I have read in Leon Uris' book how the guards forced a Rabbi to pee on the holy book or have his students shot one by one until he did do so.
  5. VictorBravo

    VictorBravo Administrator Staff Member

    Pray to God for strength that he would be honored and resist with all your might.

    Actually, my wife and I have discussed similar scenarios. We are united on this. In this case, the threat of violence is appropriately met with violence. If that is impossible, then it is met with whatever resistance that can be acomplished. But I believe that the glory of Christ must be foremost and proclaimed.

    In the case of being unjustly convicted, as were the martyrs, then the appropriate response is to face execution in faith. I remember the Italian a while back who was executed by terrorists on film. He cried out something like, "I am an Italian, you cannot subdue my spirit." He was dramaticly brave. How I wished he had proclaimed Christ as his strength.

    One thing that bugs me about situational ethicists is that they try to define the normative from the extreme. Perhaps because they would like the extreme to become the norm.
  6. JohnV

    JohnV Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Notice that the onus of judgment is placed upon the one of whom the choice of two evils is required, but no onus upon the one requiring it, nor upon the one putting forth the scenario. This is hardly a 'situation ethic' situation.
  7. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritanboard Amanuensis

    The correct answer is 3. And all are good responses to my question.

    Those are illustrations of 3, with which I agree.
  8. SRoper

    SRoper Puritan Board Graduate

    I also believe the answer is 3. Where these scenarios fail is they assume that we already know all ends. This simply isn't the case in real life. This is from memory so I'll get some details wrong, but Ravi Zacharias once described a real situation where a Vietnamese Christian was planning to escape an internment camp with fifty others. The guards became suspicious and asked about the plot. He lied to them. After the guards left he repented and told himself that if they came back he would tell the truth. The guards came back, and he told them the plot. The guards wanted in. It ended up that they needed the guards when they escaped the country by boat because they had the necessary seamanship skills.
  9. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritanboard Amanuensis

    I remember the talk. I don't know if it is sufficient to build an ethical foundation, though. While I would generally agree with the above, and I still affirm 3 as the answer, there is some ambiguity in it. It seems that 3, despite its good qualities, has a "sit and wait" mentality to it.
  10. PuritanCalvinist

    PuritanCalvinist Inactive User

    I do not believe that denying the dillemma is the answer at all. Number 3 is point of fact to me a sort of "cop out" response. History and life present us daily with these kinds of moral dillemmas. I have had many myself and I know others who have had them. The classic example is in the case of Rahab, or a similar more modern example- what to do when the Nazi guards come knocking on your door and ask you whether you are hiding some Jews in your basement. Do we lie and preserve their lives or do we remain mute/speak the truth thereby attracting the suspicions of the Nazi and the death of those who are relying on us for their lives.

    The key to all of this comes to us from the word of God. For the Lord declares in Matthew for us what the two greatest commandments are: "Thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all of thy heart, thy mind and thy soul" and the second is like unto the first "thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." Therefore, the greatest way that we might honor God is by obedience to the second greatest commandment, provided it does not conflict with the greatest commandment. Therefore, when a lesser commandment conflicts with these two (as the Apostle says- the greatest of these is 'charity'), then we follow the first two.

    This was indeed advocated by Richard Baxter himself, who in his declaration on whether we should confess our sins to someone we have wronged (a thing which is commanded in Numbers 5), called us to temper such a confession when the situation demanded it on account of love for either the mental stability and purity of our neighbor, or for some other just cause. For example-

    "Quest. II. What causes will excuse us from confessing wrongs to others?

    Answer. 1. When full recompense may be made without it and no forgiveness of the wrong is necessary from the injured, nor any of the aforesaid causes require it. 2. When the wrong is secret and not known to the injured party, and the confessing of it would but trouble his mind, and do him more harm than good. 3. When the injured party is so implacable and inhumane that he would make use of the confession to the ruin of the penitent, or to bring upon him greater penalty than he deserveth. 4. When it would injure a third person who is Interested in the business, or bring them under oppression and undeserved misery. 5. When it tendeth to the dishonour of religion, and to make it scorned because of the fault of the penitent confessor. 6. When it tendeth to set people together by the ears, and breed dissension, or otherwise injure the commonwealth or government. 7. In general, it is no duty to confess our sin to him that we have wronged, when, all things considered, it is like in the judgment of the truly wise, to do more hurt than good for it is appointed as a means to good, and not to do evil."

    The greatest commandment is love. And by this please do not write me off as a hippy (I disdain hippydom as I'm sure much anyone does here), but that does not mean we may make mincemeat of the word of God and not be true to what it says. Among evangelical Christians in general, as well as my fellow Puritans, I have found an overtendency to limit love to a mere rote obedience to the commandments, as though that was the fullness of the definition of love in the scripture. IE... "love is obedience to the commands." This is only so close to what the scripture means, for the scripture declares "God so LOVED the world, that He gave His only begotten Son", and so we see that love encompasses more than an obedience to commands. On the first two commandments hang (or rely) the law and the prophets. Love is where you place your heartfelt interests in the welfare of another, and where you esteem another as yourself, and this is the point and goal of the law. It is the charity of God poured forth into our hearts by the Holy Ghost and transforming us, which is superior to the law by the letter, and all who are saved are no longer therefore under the law in the sense of the letter of the law and a rote obedience thereto, as though you were a slave and not a freeman who should consider the point of the law. This is not antinomianism however, because almost always the law accurately expresses the way toward love, but when one of the lesser commandments does not point the way so clearly, then we follow the 2 greatest ones.

    [Edited on 10/19/2006 by PuritanCalvinist]

    [Edited on 10/19/2006 by PuritanCalvinist]
  11. JohnV

    JohnV Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Good answer, Philip.

    Augustine also asked who it was that was violated when the Gauls sacked Rome, raping the young women at will. Why should those women feel guilt, as if they willingly participated? Why should they feel guilt if not resisting caused less pain than resisting, but the outcome would be the same either way? Either way, they were unwilling participants; not resisting was only a manner of avoiding greater harm. Why should the evil perpetrated on someone be the cause of their being forever soiled?

    Did Christ not suffer the greatest of humiliations on our account? He was violated in every way, but in no way was He Himself a sinner. Did He have a third, or even a fourth, choice? He could have resisted more than anyone else could.
  12. LadyFlynt

    LadyFlynt Puritan Board Doctor

    Phillip, then you forget Corrie Ten Boom's sister. When asked if her maid was Jewish, she said, "yes"...they took her. When asked if she was hiding other Jews, she said, "yes, they are under the table". The guards never found the other Jews...albeit, they were indeed under the table. (under the rug, under the trapdoor in floor)
  13. LadyFlynt

    LadyFlynt Puritan Board Doctor

    Of course, then what do you do with CIA, FBI, armed forces, etc. Can a Christian be ethically part of those in the fact that they may or regularly face having to be deceptive, etc.
  14. CDM

    CDM Puritan Board Junior

    1. is forbidden by God wether we like it or not
    2. breaking God's law, for whaterver reason, cannot be rightfully called "good"
    3. is correct, the others are not the only choices

    The answer is to fear God and not man. We have no problem obeying God's law when we can live with the consequences so ought we to obey them when we feel we can't live with the consequences.

    I understand what you are saying in your answer, Philip. On the surface, it seems pious. And at the risk of falling into your category of "an overtendency to limit love to a mere rote obedience to the commandments" I will remember Christ, who said, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." The "greater good" then is loving God by keeping His commandments.

    So, I love Christ more than wife, children, family, or Jews hiding in my basement.

    May God be with them if I am ever placed in this situation. :(
  15. Ambrose

    Ambrose Puritan Board Freshman

    How would it violate God's law to lie or deceive in order to protect your family? I personally wouldn't think twice about doing that! And I really can't figure out why any husband or father would do otherwise.

    That's the problem with the sex scenario - I think agreeing to commit adultery is totally different from telling a lie to protect someone.
  16. CDM

    CDM Puritan Board Junior

    There is a difference between me lying to invaders in order to protect my family. I am quite sure I would do this. I am also quite sure a lie is a lie is a lie.

    There is a part of me that believes God would not *weigh* this transgression of His law in the same way he would *regular* lies.

    I'm just not sure this part of me is correct though. ;)

    Do you mean to say in a circumstantial/consequential sense or do you mean in the sense that adultery is worse than lying? Both? Neither?

    I do think there is a difference to be drawn between leading an enemy to believe something (away from the truth) than an outright lie.

  17. LadyFlynt

    LadyFlynt Puritan Board Doctor

    Mangum, where is that in scripture? And where is one sin greater than another?
  18. CDM

    CDM Puritan Board Junior

    That's what I'd like to know!

    This is not my position. I though Chad was taking it here:
    ...that's why I asked.
  19. Ambrose

    Ambrose Puritan Board Freshman

    No, I am not at all saying that one sin is greater than another, rather asking how telling a lie to protect your family is a sin to begin with. Certainly it could be, but I don't believe it is necessarily so. I don't agree at all that bearing false witness against your neighbor is the same as telling an enemy that the spies went thataway when they are hiding in the barn. All lies are not the same.
  20. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritanboard Commissioner

    Some sins are indeed greater than the other. Some are described as abominations.
  21. smhbbag

    smhbbag Puritan Board Senior

    #3 is certainly correct.

    But in the situation where a lie is told to a murderer, there is no conflict at all, and you are free to lie. Not because it's a lesser moral evil and accomplishes a higher good - but because such a lie is not evil at all.

    My basic reasoning - it is a sin to lie when the person lied to has a reasonable right to the truth.

    Thus, in the Decalogue, the command is not to bear false witness. Well, in a court of law with a righteous judge, the truth is an obligation for the witness because the court has a proper, Biblical right to that truth. Not only that, but the innocent you would lie about has a right not to be falsely convicted.

    A murderer has no such right to the truth. He lost his claim on my truthfulness when he threatened to use that truth unlawfully. I might even go so far as to say lying is commanded in some of those situations.

    But, in the adultery vs. murdered family situation, there is no viable option, and we must choose neither.

    And Mr. Bushey is right, some sins are greater than others... but they are all prohibited. And not just prohibited, but ALL sins, regardless of motivation, defame our Lord in front of those we long to have rejoice in Him.

    [Edited on 10-19-2006 by smhbbag]
  22. Theoretical

    Theoretical Puritan Board Professor

    Intriguing. :detective:
  23. Kevin

    Kevin Puritan Board Doctor

    Chad is correct. There is a big difference.

    To tell a "lie" you must;

    1) say something that is untrue
    2) to someone to whom the truth is "owed"
    3) with the intention to decieve

    If the person is not due a truthfull reply then you do not need to give one. As in the example above or Rahab, etc.

    Also the intention to decieve is key in my opinion without it all you have is a joke.
  24. PuritanCalvinist

    PuritanCalvinist Inactive User

    John V,

    Thank you for these insights and they are indeed quite powerful. It is not always a question of whether there are two paths, there may be three, four, maybe five paths to take in the circumstances we confront in life, and 75% might be without sin and 25% with sin for various reasons.
  25. PuritanCalvinist

    PuritanCalvinist Inactive User

    Yes, if you love me "keep my commandments", and the greatest two commandments are to love God and love neighbor. When we are faced with a hypothetical choice between lying which would almost surely bring about the destruction of our neighbor, versus acting in the interests for the welfare of our neighbor- we must under the law of God choose to act in the interests for the welfare of our neighbor if we do not wish to incur sin. In fact, I would say that refusing to lie in this case would constitute sin, because you've disobeyed the higher commandment (to love your neighbor) in order to obey a lower commandment (not to lie).

    Everything we do is in reference to God, and all of the commandments we obey are in reference to God. Therefore to use the following argument- "yes I must love my neighbor but I do not want to sin directly against God by lying" does not constitute a valid excuse. THis is because by lying you are still sinning directly against God by refusing to love your neighbor, and so merely have switched the sin directly in reference to God from a lower sin to a greater sin! The only time the commandment to love our neighbor (ie look out for the welfare of our neighbor) may be overridden is when it directly conflicts with a love of God (ie our neighbor wants us to help him erect and build a temple to a false god, or our neighbor's life would be saved if we would forsake Christ and blaspheme his name, etc... in those instances, which constitute direct sins against looking out for God's welfare and lordship in our own lives, may we disobey our command to look out for our neighbor's welfare).

    And indeed, it is quite clear that love is more than obedience to the lesser commands. Christ Himself points out an instance where David rightly neglected obedience to the lower command with respect to whether one might eat shewbread in the temple in order to obey the greater command to look out for the welfare of his soldiers by getting them food to eat. And this is an extremely potent argument, because eating the showbread was a sin directly against God and directly against the temple! Yet apparently according to Christ not even this yet went far enough, the commandment for David to love his fellow soldiers was still greater in this instance, because it was a commandment that had to do with rites, and therefore still did not directly offend against the majesty of God as would blasphemy or idolatry.

    [Edited on 10/19/2006 by PuritanCalvinist]
  26. Theoretical

    Theoretical Puritan Board Professor

    Excellent points - and it addresses less-serious issues of how to address commands as well. I'll definitely keep this set of things in mind for future reference.
  27. brymaes

    brymaes Puritan Board Sophomore

    Obligatory Larger Catechism quote:

  28. JohnV

    JohnV Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    I don't think that there are any paths that we might take that will be without sin. Even our best attempts at righteousness may be rife with sin. If someone thinks that he is less guilty because he sinned only 25%, while he believes that another response may be more like 75%, then he is deceiving himself. One must ask himself what it is he believes God will have him do. Putting sin upon oneself for the sake of the life of another is not like putting someone else's life at risk so that one may think that he is maintaining righteousness on his own. This is altogether different than refusing to lie for the sake of God's righteousness, and trusting in His saving power. It is also different again than using it as a test to see if the person will be saved by God, that if God does not save him then God did not intend that you keep him safe either.

    The question is: whose righteousness is this scenario of ethical choice establishing? God's or man's?
  29. Kevin

    Kevin Puritan Board Doctor

    I was thinking of LC145 "speaking the truth unseasonably". This seems to me that "the truth" can be used in a wrong way i.e. to someone to whom you do not "owe" it.
  30. JohnV

    JohnV Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    I've personally seen situations where people deliberately lie in order to bring out what they think is the truth. I think that this is more of an immediate situational concern than the ones that people raise as a moral dilemma for righteous (as opposed to 'self-righteous') people. They may leave out truths because these tend to mitigate or hide the facts that they want to bring out; or they may put more emphasis upon one thing than another for the sake of their purposes. These things are almost rampant in our justice systems. That is, situational ethics has been stretched way out of control for the sake short-term 'moral' agendas.

    That's how we got abortion on demand. No one would ever have proposed the legitimizing of abortion on the basis of what is presently practiced, a way to be rid any unwanted baby like one throws away a used mop. If it had been proposed in that way, it would never have passed through the courts. Instead they put forward the desparate situations of the rapes of young daughters by their drunken fathers, and such like situations, to put the need for abortion into its best light. But the result is: that the young daughters believe that the payments of a car must come first, that the baby she is carrying comes at an inconvenient time, or that becoming pregnant does her career more damage than she can afford, or becoming pregnant because her attempts to avoid pregnancy failed, but she 'must' be allowed her promiscuous life-style if she is to have any social life at all, etc., etc., etc. Why are these moral dilemmas overlooked by the moral ethicists who place situations against each other? Why do such day-to-day practices in real life escape their attention?

    From the point of view of a real ethicist, it doesn't matter whether one is putting forth such a 'moral dilemma' by the point of a gun or in a public debate. Either way, the intention is to undermine the Christian's resolve to trust and follow God's perfect law, to follow Christ Himself. And that, to me, is a more pertinent situational ethic.
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