The New Morality: Its Failures and Fallacies (2)

By Dick Blackford

While some situationists have completely discarded the Bible there are others who attempt to prove their new found standard of morality by the Bible. It is needful then that we examine such attempts to mishandle the words of our Lord.

Pretext of the Situationists

The two chief and strongest arguments made for situationism are the cases of Jesus’ disciples eating corn on the sabbath and David eating the shewbread (Mt. 12:1-8)). However, situationists make a similar mistake as that of the Pharisees – only worse. There is irony in Jesus’ question (“Have ye not read?”). The Pharisees took pride in their knowledge but had not read (understood) one of Scripture’s most common incidents. Jesus did not break the Law nor endorse violations of it. How do I know? Because (1) Sin is transgression of the law (I Jn. 3:4), and (2) Jesus committed no sins (Heb. 4:15). When the disciples plucked corn they did not break the law. They only violated the Pharisaical misconception of the Law. Obviously, the Pharisees “had not read” (nor had Joseph Fletcher) of the humane provisions made in the Law for wayfarers and sojourners. “When thou comest into the standing corn of thy neighbor, then thou mayest pluck the, ears with thine hand; but thou shalt not move a sickle unto thy neighbor’s standing corn” (Deut. 23:25). “Eat thy fill, but pocket none” (an Old English proverb) is undoubtedly based on this passage. Christ’s disciples did not practice situationism but were engaged in carrying out the will of Christ who was “Lord of the sabbath” (one possessing authority over; institutor, governor). No man on earth today is “Lord” over circumstances where morality is involved – certainly not Fletcher. We must subject ourselves to the One Lord (Eph. 4:5).

In David’s case Jesus specifically says what he did “was not lawful” (Mt. 12:4). Eating the showbread violated a condition of the Law (Lev. 24:9). David lied to obtain it (I Sam. 21:1-6). Jesus did not approve either act. To infer He did is to make Him approve a violation of the Law and thus approve sin. His message to the Pharisees was this: “You condemn the innocent and acquit the guilty.” Under no situation did Jesus approve lawlessness. Consequently, Fletcher is left standing in a worse predicament than the Pharisees. He believes both Jesus and David violated the Law, but it was “OK” because of th circumstances! Under this system it is nearly impossible to be wrong. Fletcher admits his views are almost devoid of the concepts of guilty, sin, repentance, and forgiveness. The redemptive work of Christ at Calvary is nullified.

Such a concept would mean Hitler was not wrong for murdering millions of Jews. By being able to give more jobs to Germans (his beloved countrymen) and greatly improving the economy, who could doubt that he did the “loving thing”? Many Germans thought so. The New Morality can be summed up with the phrase “the end justifies the means.” Paul was accused of this. He said the man who says “Let us do evil that good may come” has a “just damnation” (Rom. 3:8).

The Bible And Morality

The Bible does make some absolute ethical demands. There is a sense of “oughtness” and “ought notness” in its pages. But it is not merely a book of cold, hard rules. Behind it is a loving, personal God who motivates us to love him by his abundant blessings. All of His commandments are pure, good, sure, and not grievous (Ps. 19:7-9; 1 Jn. 5:3). Thus, when He tells us not to steal, lie, commit adultery, covet, etc., it is for our own good. The Christian must “love not the world” (1 Jn. 2:15-17). He must not be “conformed to the world (Rom. 2:2). He must be “dead to the world” (Rom. 6:2-7). He must quit the world (Eph. 4:17). His death implies he is finished with it. He must “flee youthful lusts” and “flee fornication” (1 Tim. 2:22, 1 Cor. 6:18).

It is unfair for Fletcher and other situationists to use the Bible when they think it supports their view but then reject the preceding demands. The Bible is a demanding book. It demands that it be read, believed, obeyed, lived, defended, and that it be the final answer in religion and morality.

Consequences of Situation Ethics

Sometimes the folly of a thing can best be seen by looking at its consequences. It may be that I would feel driven to do wrong in a given circumstances. I would be no less guilty. But Fletcher would come out “smelling like a rose” by justifying himself on the basis of the circumstances. John Warwick Montgomery said it well: “We plead with Professor Fletcher to cease the irresponsible practice of sticking his thumb into sinful human situations, pulling out the plum of moral self-vindication, and saying, ‘what a good boy am I!'”(1)

Situationists find great sport in citing some condition that appears as a dilemma and demanding that one of two equally wrong and unpleasant alternatives be chosen. They overlook the always possible third alternative of doing right. They forget the faithfulness of God who promises a way of escape from temptation (1 Cor. 10: 13). Their way of escape is to go ahead and commit the “lesser” evil and tell yourself it was “OK.” Some escape.

H.A. Dobbs gives an interesting illustration: “When my son was four years old he asked.- ‘Daddy, would you rather jump off a 44 story building without any clothes on or be ihot in the head by an automatic pistol?’ ‘Thanks a lot’ ‘ I answered, ‘but for my part I’d rather eat chocolate pie.'”(2) The situationist must be dealt with accordingly. He wants to eliminate the third alternative. Even when I have to make tough decisions in moral matters, I must remember that I am not the standard.

The New Morality insults God, deifies man, makes love for man greater than love for God, obscures right and wrong, and presumes absolute knowledge on the part of participants that the situation will turn out good. Now, back to Mrs. Bergmeier! What if her husband had resented her adultery? Fletcher justifies this case because of the “good” that came. But he violates his own rule that we should “love persons and use things.” One becomes so emotionally involved with pity and tears for the Bergmeier family that he forgets one other person – the guard! Mrs. Bergmeier treated the guard as a “thing” to be used and not as a person. With no regard for his family or his’soul, she deliberately used a fellow human! No one can really claim to love another when he works against that person’s eternal welfare. Fletcher forgets that an all wise God might have his own way of freeing a woman from a prison camp – if she doesn’t lose her “cool,” her patience, and her concern for fellow humans.

The New Morality also destroys individual responsibility and makes society guilty. Charles Manson blamed society for the murders committed by his hippy family.’ Wonder where he got that idea? Haven’t we heard that society was guilty of the murders of JFK, RFK, and Martin Luther King? The Bible teaches that each must give an account (2 Cor. 5:10).

Our next and final article deals with the question, “Who can consistently oppose the New Morality?”


1. John Warwick Montgomery, Situation Ethics (a debate between Fletcher and Montgomery), p. 47, Dimension Books, Bethany Fellowship, Inc., Minneapolis, MN.

2. H.A. Dobbs, Situation Ethics .Anchor, Vol. 2, No. 2, p. 9.

Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 3, pp. 72-73
February 2, 1984