Most Christians believe in God and Jesus as their savior, but do not do much more than attend church on Sunday mornings. Unfortunately, our modern society promotes this type of environment. We rush to work, race home to family activities, eat dinner and get ready for bed. Then we do the same thing the next day. We seem to repeat these days over and over again like in the movie “Groundhog Day.”
Chapter 13 in the book of Romans always gave me pause. In this chapter, Paul required us to submit to the governing authorities, who were established by God, 13:1. After analyzing this chapter for some time, I believe that I finally understand what Paul was saying. He probably was saying that we should obey ideal and proper functioning rulers, but that is not always the case. When the government crosses the ethical line, we should obey God and not the rulers. See NIV Study Bible note under 13:3.
One of the best books in the Bible on Christian ethics is found in Romans, a book written by Paul addressed to the Roman church in advance of his visit to the present country of Italy. Paul wrote this about 57 A.D. and he wanted it to include the heart of Christian theology. Although justification through faith or belief in God and Jesus was paramount, it was not the end to Christian ethics. It was only the beginning.
In 1:17, Paul states that man is righteous through faith. He went on to declare that even if you attempted to obey all the religious laws, you would not be righteous. No one is declared righteous by observing the law, 3:20. Righteousness comes through faith in Jesus Christ, 3:22. We are justified by His grace, 3:24. Once we have been justified through faith, we obtain peace and reconciliation, 5:1-11.
So, shall we accept this gift from God and continue sinning? By no means, 6:1-2. If we truly believe, we will start a new ethical life, free from sin. Obedience to God leads to righteousness, 6:16. Because we are weak in our natural selves, we must be slaves to righteousness, 6:19. Our new ethical guidance is to conform to the moral likeness of Jesus, 8:29. Our conscience will now be reliable because it is enlightened by the Holy Spirit, 9:1.
The ethical teachings found in Chapters 12 through 15. We are asked to not conform to the pattern of the world, but to be spiritually transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we think differently, 12:2. We will still have free will to make choices that follow the path of God’s righteousness that is now inside us, acting as our conscience. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us, so we will all have unique ways to please God, 12:6.
Then Paul offered ethical statements. Love must be sincere; hate what is evil and cling to what is good, 12:9. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; honor one another above yourselves, 12:10. Keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord, 12:11. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer, 12:12. Share with people in need and practice hospitality, 12:13. Bless those who persecute you, 12:14. Live in harmony with one another, and do not be proud or conceited, 12:16. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, 12:17. Live at peace with everyone, 12:18. Do not take revenge, 12:19. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good, 12:21. All the commandments are summarized by “loving your neighbor as yourself,” 13:9. We need to clothe ourselves with Jesus and forget our sinful nature, 13:14. Do not look down on those who do not have your faith, 14:3. We will all stand before God’s judgment seat, so do not look down on your brothers, 14:10. Make every effort to what leads to peace and to our spiritual edification, 14:19. Accept one another to bring praise to God, 15:7. May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, 15:13.
If you were asking me to draw a duplicate picture based on descriptions provided by a third party, I would ask you to give me a broad-based, general description first. In other words, before I started working on the details of the picture, I would need an overview of what it was about and what it looked like. Then I could fit the specifics in much better as I could link them to the big picture. As an example, if you described the picture as a view of a forest of hardwood trees during autumn, then that would help me as I started filling in the details of individual trees and their leaves.
This is a basic introduction to the meanings of “a priori” and “a posteriori.” “A priori” is deductive reasoning that allows you to infer from self-evident propositions without the details. “A posteriori” is inductive reasoning from observations of specific and detailed facts. In the example of trying to replicate a painting, I would prefer to start with “a priori” description of the big picture. Then I would use the “a posteriori” analysis to fill in the details. I find it very helpful to fit the pieces of a jig-saw puzzle together if I have a picture of the finished product to examine.
The same can be said about ethical foundations. I would prefer to start with the ethical forest rather than the ethical trees. Thus by deductive reasoning, we infer that there is a God that created the universe. This is logical if we believe in creation at all. We know that neither matter nor energy is created or destroyed in our universe (First Law of Thermodynamics). So any creation had to be either outside (macro-view) or inside (micro-view) our universe. God, by definition, is the creator either without or within our universe. So, we exist in a visible universe, but we know that God, the creator, is in an invisible universe.
So starting with the “a priori” belief in God, I can build the first foundation of ethics, which is God’s ethics. This generally is the Ten Commandments, which embraces a belief in one God. The belief in God is based on a powerful faith that God exists and not on facts proving that God exists. In effect, it is founded on deductions from our existence. We believe in a God because we believe that we and the universe were created at the beginning of time. However, since God’s world is invisible, we can never find evidence proving or disproving His creation. We can only infer that it happened because we are here in the visible universe, thinking about it. This faith gives us justification to join Him in His kingdom after we die.
After establishing this firm foundation of faith, we can then journey to the next step, which is “a posteriori” development of specific ethical acts. This second layer of an ethical foundation is based on sanctification or pleasing God by following the teachings of Jesus, including the Beatitudes. This ethical journey will last a lifetime and will extend into the afterlife. It will be a moral compass to guide us along a path of continually improving yourself. As you make daily choices in life, you will have the freedom to avoid peer and social pressure to conform; but you will have the overarching conscience provided by your first layer of the ethical foundation to guide you. This is critical because if you had only the second layer of freedom of individual choice without any conscience, there would be nothing to prevent you from making bad choices. The ethics of doing the right thing must have some control or we will have a tendency to do what is best for us.
Self-realization of the individual is the second step that should occur only after we take the first step of securing our faith. That faith will be the basis for your ethical behavior guided by your conscience or super-ego. Armed with that conscience, we can then go about the business of fully developing the individual without the outside pressures to conform.
Religious existentialism was founded by Soren Kierkegaard, who believed that our choices were what shaped our lives. We are free to choose what we will become, but this freedom carries many dangers. By Kierkegaard combining religion with independent thinking, we are able to keep humanness from perverting ethical behavior. The strong faith in religion is our guiding force that keeps us on the path of righteousness even when we are exercising our freedom of choices. Kierkegaard emphasized the subjective importance of choice. Our choices must be authentic and not superficial. These choices must be based on earnest integrity and not what we think other people want and expect.
Other existentialists got off the ethical path by leaving out the first step. Clearly, the selfish spirit of man can lead down a different path without the guiding hand of God. It is only with God that we can allow our independent spirit to freely move us. Thus, there are two ethical foundations: (1) justification by our faith and the grace of God, giving us a conscience, and (2) sanctification by our wanting to please God and do the right thing on a daily basis.
We are free to make choices, and these choices determine who and what we are in life and also may be judged later by God for the afterlife. Criminals are some of the most optimistic people on earth. They believe that they will not be caught, but even if they are caught, they think that very little punishment will be meted out for their misdeeds. Again, choices can get us into trouble if we do not have faith in God.
A definition of good ethical behavior is someone who does the right thing when nobody is looking. In other words, even when you know that you can do something and get away with it, you should not do it if it violates God’s guidance. You must ask yourself, “Is this something Jesus would have done or would not have done?” The two ethical layers form a solid foundation that can support all your decisions in life into the afterlife.
Homo sapiens have the freedom to choose among many things. They may decide where they are going to live, what they are going to eat and drink, and which mate to choose. But many animals can make these choices. How are we different?
Our choices are much more complex and varied. Other animals are limited in their choices, which are primarily satisfying basic needs. Humans have choices in lifestyles, careers, entertainment, vacations, and romance. Humans make decisions on how to deal with emotions, such as anger, jealousy, hate, and love. Humans make decisions on how to satisfy personal needs, such as greed, desire, and lust. Our choices run the gamut and when we have too much time on our hands, we have a tendency to create more choices.
So, when man makes decisions is he a creature that is inherently good or bad? Thomas Hobbes said that people were naturally greedy and basically savages that must be tamed by society. On the other hand, Jean-Jacques Rousseau thought that people were born essentially good but were corrupted by society. Both, of course, were wrong. Man is a very complex animal that is a mixture of good and bad. Our decisions are based on genetics, experiences, peer and family pressure, social mores, laws, and politics.
Generally, our decisions are inconsistent based on what is most important to us that day. For example, two weeks ago a man may have rejected an offer of $1,000 as a bribe to hire an unknown teenager off the street. But he accepted $2,000 to hire the same kid today because he was behind in his rent.
Our decisions are based on many things, including religion, conscience, chances of being caught, and degree of punishment if caught. If there are few consequences, then we may ignore our conscience and religious training. If the odds are in favor of us getting away with something and the rewards are high, then the temptation to do something bad is sometimes too powerful to avoid.
Certainly, our nurture and nature have made us predisposed to making certain decisions. But these decisions are not set in concrete. We still have the freedom to choose. For example if a man is genetically predisposed to being an alcoholic that doesn’t mean that he will choose to be an alcoholic. He may have to work harder than somebody who is not so genetically predisposed, but he still has choices and can choose not to be an alcoholic.
Hardened murderers were interviewed, and the majority of them admitted that they chose to kill. Of course, they had come from broken homes and they were abused and they had horrible parents, but they admitted that it came down to a choice that they made whether to kill or not to kill.
I suppose that if you harden your heart and deaden your conscience, you may make many choices that are based entirely on your selfish needs. If society imposes few restrictions on you, then you might feel free to make decisions based only on your interests. This could create chaos in society, so it is important to temper our freedom with laws and punishments.
J.S. Mill in his book On Liberty wrote that the only limitation on liberty is that you should not hurt anybody. As much as I believe in liberty, I do not go along with Mill’s idea. Individuals should not be free to do harm to themselves. Would you allow your co-worker to jump from the tenth floor or would you attempt to talk them out of it? Part of our moral system is based on protecting the weak and the helpless. If we allow people to hurt themselves, then we are moving away from what separates us from other animals.
For example, Mill would permit members of society to smoke crack cocaine as long as they didn’t harm others. What would our society be like if we had billions of people addicted to drugs, who had no motivation other than to score their next hit? This society would be dysfunctional and would disintegrate through entropy. What may not harm others initially could eventually be devastating to the human race.
So, how much freedom should we have? I think we should follow Aristotle’s “golden mean.” It should not be absolute freedom, but it should not be a totalitarian society either. A well balanced amount of freedom and discipline is just the right amount. Of course, this is not an exact science, but society should be able to regulate itself with reasonable laws and punishments.
But make no mistake, we will make choices every hour of every day and there must be consequences for our choices, otherwise we might be tempted to choose based only on our self-interests.
The Old Testament provides the early Christian law, represented by the Ten Commandments that Moses delivered to his people. This became the foundation for early Christian ethics. In early civilizations, there was an effort to manage society so that there were some controls over behavior. Even the Code of Hammurabi, which was enacted by the sixth Babylonian king about 1772 BC, had 282 laws with punishments like “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” which sounds very familiar to the Old Testament.
The Old Testament was also helpful in explaining how God shall judge the world both in righteousness and righteously, Psalms 9: 7-8, 67:4, and 96:10. So, what was a righteous man under the Old Testament? This was a man who believed in one God and tried to avoid breaking any of the Commandments, but when he did sin, he could sacrifice animals to make himself right before God.
However, a new sacrifice changed everything under the New Testament. Jesus was sacrificed on the cross so that all mankind could receive His grace granting us freedom from sin and everlasting life. In effect, the old Christian law was replaced by grace upon acceptance of Jesus as your savior. The Ten Commandments may have helped us determine the difference between right and wrong, but they did not eliminate our sinful nature. They may have helped us refrain from evil, but they didn’t cure our nature. The law was like an x-ray in that it showed us what was wrong with us, but it didn’t heal us.
So, what are Christian ethics today? Well, even though the Ten Commandments still humble us because we still fail this early test of ethics, we are justified by our faith and not the law. The law may lead us to Christ, but once we accept the promise of grace, then the law is not the foundation of Christian ethics anymore. We are declared righteous as an act of grace. Christ sets us free from our prison of sin.
But Christian ethics do not stop at the gates of grace. The gates open to a righteous path. Only those who continue walking down this path of righteousness truly believe in God. Those who sit in front of the gate and wait for salvation are not true believers. Those who wait for a free ride to heaven will be disappointed. Those who believe they are entitled to the key that unlocks the gate by just reaching the gate will be surprised at Judgment Day.
Once we are truly saved, we will be highly motivated to continue on a path of integrity. Believers will want to please God by going through the gate and walking along the righteous path, following in the footsteps of Jesus. A righteous lifestyle occurs by following the teachings and lifestyle of Jesus, following Him as the role model. The righteous path is blocked by sin, but we must be like Jesus and cast evil aside. We must ask ourselves, “What would Jesus do?” as we travel this path.
The new Christian ethics is a process called sanctification. We want to please God through ethical behavior. This new ethical behavior based on Jesus as our role model sets a high standard that we cannot reach, but we will always be working to get closer to that goal. We know that the ethics of Jesus were so powerful that in the Beatitudes, you cannot even think about sinful matters. Even thoughts can get us into trouble. But each day, we try to be a better and more ethical person.
Once we receive God’s grace, true Christians are on an eternal journey to continually improve and become closer to Christ in all that they do. As we acquire wisdom and knowledge on our travels, becoming better people will bring us happiness. When we follow the ethics of Jesus, we will like ourselves more, finding good in life and loving our souls, Proverbs 19:8.
An Army master sergeant has pleaded guilty to accepting thousands of dollars in gratuities from contractors during his deployment to Iraq as a field ordering officer at a forward operating base, The U.S. Attorney’s Office said that 52-year-old Master Sgt. Julio Soto Jr. of Columbus, Georgia., pleaded guilty Wednesday to one count of conspiracy to accept illegal gratuities.
Authorities say Soto and a co-conspirator sought, received and accepted illegal gratuities for helping Iraqi contractors gain U.S. government contracts, then used the gratuities to purchase postal money orders and mail them to the United States. Soto faces up to five years in prison, a fine of $250,000 and up to three years of supervised release. Under his plea agreement, he agreed to pay $62,542 plus interest in restitution to the U.S.
I have seen this same story play out time and time again. When I worked acquisition fraud first in the Air Force and next in the Navy and Marines, I saw this occur. In my last assignment, I handled the fraud cases in Iraq and Afghanistan. This type of case was not unusual. And it looks like things haven’t changed that much.
The problem is that there is less oversight at these forward operating bases. They are in dangerous places, so who is going out there to provide oversight?
What is the answer? Well, part of the answer is in providing consequences to these soldiers. The word has to get out that they are being monitored closely and if they are caught, there will be severe penalties. We don’t have to catch all of the people committing fraud, but we need to make sure that there are consequences from these activities. Another part is in providing better training to our troops who are involved in contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan. These young service members sometimes get caught up in a culture that accepts bribes as a part of business. Better training, which emphasizes consequences, would help. The rest of the answer is found in the question: Why are we still in Iraq and Afghanistan? What is our national security interest that is at stake?