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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Ethics No More: Why Moral Absolutes Matter

The title of this blog seems to have an apparent contradiction but it does not. Let me explain. The first part is what I believe is our current condition as a society in the United States, whether you are religious or not. Ethics, what is right and wrong has become obfuscated in the vast sea of moral relativism. Expediency has become the norm and not the moral absolute. In colloquial terms, it is what “makes me happy” that matters ultimately and not what I “ought” to do. Everything I do is not guided by any moral compass, except that which is relative to my circumstances. There is no hierarchy of values that guide my life just a selection of choices all at equal level. Only those that benefit me the most are valuable for a period of time. But nothing is absolute. This is where I think we are now. I don’t really have to prove this, just watch the news, observe people and see how they make their choices.
The second part of the title is what I think we need. We need to understand the basics of moral absolutes. Moral absolutes derive from a source. That source is a Being that is transcendent and who has literally put a moral compass inside each one of us (I think C. S. Lewis has a more thorough examination of this concept in Mere Christianity ; audio here (in parts)). Whenever, we make a wrong or right choice, our conscience convicts us or confirms that we have done what is right or what is wrong. I also believe that our choices have a hierarchy. In other words, there are some absolutes that are above others. In the hierarchy of ethics, life is at the top. Life is God’s basic gift to all of us no matter what our part is in the creation of it. Thus, I believe that killing another life whether it is through abortion and/or euthanasia is morally wrong and should be at the top of the list of the things that are wrong. Any justification to end life in such cases, I believe, is morally reprehensible. Our duty as ethical beings is to protect life no matter what the cost may be or how much it may cause us to be uncomfortable. Anything that conflicts with protecting a life should be relegated to a secondary position for the option of protecting it. Out of this basic principle everything emanates.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

A Fictional Theodicy: A Review of the Shack

I finally finished the book The Shack by William Young , the book that has remained on the top ten books on Amazon and has taken Christians captive. When I started the book I had a lot more enthusiasm but half way through I stopped reading it. I did not get why this book was being called the new Pilgrims Progress. I saw no parallel. I pushed myself and finished the book and here are a few thoughts. Before getting to the book, I have to say a few things. First, I believe that America lives in fiction. Fiction books are best sellers. Stores are packed with fictional volumes that take most of the space. I have come to believe that most Americans live in this fictional world. Second, I think the Church in America is one that lacks discernment and biblical literacy.  The Church has become part of the world and it is no surprise that many Christians live no different that non-Christians. So it is no surprise that a book like The Shack would be so popular among Christians.

Now to the book. The basic plot revolves around Mackenzie Allen Philips' daughter abduction and killing and how Mackenzie deals with what the author calls “The Great Sadness.” Mackenzie gets a note that apparently comes from God to meet him in a shack. It is in the Shack that Mackenzie meets God or Papa who anthropomorphically appears as an African American woman, Jesus who is a typical Middle Eastern guy and the Holy Spirit, Sarayu, who is of Asian background. It is during this weekend with the “trinity” that Mack learns that God is not the author of evil but is a loving aunt Jemima who understands his pain. Papa shows Mack that he was present with his daughter Missy during the abduction and killing. She shows him “heaven” where Missy is now enjoying her company. Mack is able to see her but is unable to speak to her, but through God himself, lets him know that she loves him. In the end, Mack is able to forgive the man who killed his daughter and acknowledge God’s sovereignty. He finds closure and the Great Sadness disappears. The end has a twist that leaves the reader thinking if it was only a dream but the author shows that it actually happened. Mack is changed forever and becomes a fervent believer sharing God’s goodness to everyone he knows.

The book itself is a theodicy, a defense for the goodness of God (in other words God is too good to condemn anyone) and strong critique of many institutions, including the Church. In its fictional characterization of God, it deviates from the “orthodox” view. It has a created a lot of controversy over it. But the bottom line is that this is a work of fiction. There is much that can be disputed biblically, but it begs the question. Why would we want to do this when we know the book is a work of fiction, which reflects the author’s view of God? To argue more only gives more credibility to this fictional theodicy. Christians who take it as theology are just proving my point that Christians are biblically illiterate and are virtually indistinguishable from non-Christians.

If you are interested in the discussion around this book, just Google it or read the reviews at Amazon. If you want good fiction dealing with God’s character, this may not be the book to start with. Try C.S. Lewis or even John Bunyan. You’ll get more bang for your buck.