By Dick Blackford
The new morality may be a change from that of the former generation but it is not new. “The thing that has been, it is that which shall be. And that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun. Is there anything whereof it may be said, See, this is new? It hath been already of old time, which was before us” (Eccl. 1:9, 10). The new morality was being practiced in Corinth 2000 years ago. It was practiced in Sodom and Gomorrah before that. The Israelites were practicing a 64new morality” when Moses came down from Mount Sinai. Today, we have an old idea renewed as this generation continues its search for truth apart from the Bible. This search has been indicated in the popular music of the day, “How Can I Be Sure In A World That Is Constantly Changing?” Everything has been made vague in the area of morals. The word “love” describes everything from a young boy’s fond affection for pizza to an older boy’s interest in premarital sex, neither of which is correct.
What Is Morality?
Morality is the system that distinguishes right and wrong. It is that sense of “oughtness” or “ought-notness” by which one decides things, depending upon his standard. The Bible contains a number of “shalts” and “shalt nots” as well as “oughts” and “ought nots” (Rom. 13:8,9; Mt. 23:23; Eccl. 2:3; 1 Tim. 3:15; etc.). Every man has a standard of morality, even if it is himself.
What Is Situation Ethics?
This is the popular view that there are no moral absolutes. Nothing is right or wrong; it just depends on the situation. “Circumstances alter cases” is a way of saying that stealing, lying, adultery, or any other thing may be right in a given situation. What is moral is “what you feel good after.” What is immoral is “what you feel bad after.”(1) Rules can be cast aside when love can be better served. Regardless of the rules, one should do the loving thing. One should love people and use things. “For the situationist there are no rules . . . none at all. . .”(2) “It means too, that there are no universals of any kind. . .”(3)
Joseph Fletcher, well known theologian, author and leader in trying to remove the ancient landmarks in the area of morality, has had a great impact on the thinking of religious leaders. Many have been influenced, especially in the field of sex, where the most damage has been done. The subject of sex perversion is somewhat taboo in most family circles and it’s not exactly one we like to discuss at the dinner table, especially in mixed company. But we may as well face it. Sex in its perverted forms has pressed itself into the daily lives of people of all ages. It’s not wrong to talk about when done respectably. We have to in order to deal with it. Many think nothing of having it piped into their living rooms in its perverted form but they don’t want the preacher to even hint at it. It is quite ironic that the people of Israel (male and female alike) stood from morning til midday before the water gate and listened to Ezra read the law (Neh. 8). If you have read the law you know it deals with sexual perversion in very explicit terms. We must be. careful in trying to improve on the manners of God, especially when it causes our children to suffer for lack of proper training. The Father knows best. It would shock most parents if they knew how much knowledge their children have gained about sex (unaccompanied by proper teaching on morality and responsibility). Parents often wonder where they went wrong and don’t know they did until they see the wild oats growing.
Fletcher’s Example of Situationism
Fletcher captures his readers’ emotions with a sad story about a woman who was separated from her family at the Battle of the Buldge and imprisoned in the Ukraine. During these months of captivity she learned that her husband, also a prisoner of war, had been released from another camp and had located their children in Berlin. There were two reasons why the Russians would release a prisoner: need for extensive medical treatment or pregnancy. The woman, Mrs. Bergmeier, persuaded a German guard to impregnate her and she was returned to Germany, as a liability. The family was reunited and they all loved her and the child born out of adultery for it. Keep this case in mind as we will discuss it more thoroughly in the third part of this series.
The Prevalence of Situationism
Remember the West Virginia textbook controversy? From a third grade text there was a discussion question to go with a story about a little boy who cheated and felt bad about it: “Most people think that cheating is wrong, even if it is only to get a penny, which is what Shan did. Do you think there is ever a time when it might be right? Tell when it is. Tell why you think it is right.”(4) A television program about Robin Hood “justified” his stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. Defending the morality of the Watergate break-in (planned by G. Gordon Liddy) and other aborted 1972 campaign schemes to kidnap antiRepublican radicals and entice Democratic politicians with prostitutes, Liddy said, “If Watergate is all its alledged to be, it was an intelligence gathering operation of one group of persons who were seeking power … against another group of persons who were seeking to acquire power … It’s like brushing your teeth . . . It’s basic.”(5) Popular music: “If it feels good do it. Do it if it’s what you feel . . .” “We’re living in a,world of rules, breaking us down, when they all should let us be . . .”, etc. Popular expression: “Do your own thing.” The crime rate: Since 1968 violent crimes increased 47% and property crimes 28%. There is one violent crime every 36 seconds.(6)
Our second article will deal with attempts of situationists to justify their teaching from the Bible and some consequences of the new morality will be discussed.
1. Christianity and Hedonism, A Clash of Philosophies. Discussion between Anson Mount, religion editor for Playboy Magazine, and Dr. William S. Banowsky, minister of Broadway Church of Christ, Lubbock, Texas, published by Christian Chronicle, Austin, Texas.
2. Joseph Fletcher, Situation Ethics, p. 55. Fletcher is Professor of Social Ethics at Episcopal Theology School in Cambridge, Mass. Quoted here from The “New Morality ” Reviewed, a tract by Cecil Willis.
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 2, pp. 37-38
January 19, 1984