Moral absolutes make me nervous. It’s not that I don’t acknowledge that some exist. Some certainly do. Killing, for example, is wrong. I don’t see any situation in which I could ever kill and feel justified, unless it was in defense of my children. Rape is wrong. Causing pain is wrong, torture is wrong. These are things I don’t have to think about in order to acknowledge them.
Lying, I feel, is wrong. That is, I feel that it’s almost always wrong. When it comes down to debating the fine points I will say that there are some situations in which a lie is justified. If I were a soldier, I were caught by the enemy and they asked me for information I wouldn’t bat an eyelash about lying. Suddenly I feel my moral absolutes becoming squishy. I also feel that stealing is wrong, but if it came down to steal or starve I don’t know how long I could stand on my moral soapbox.
Then there are things that I feel personally, but I don’t know about their morality. I don’t want to have sex with other women. If I did, I’d be going against my nature. I like men. But I’m not sure if that means that any woman having sex with any other woman is necessarily immoral. It is what I feel about myself, not what I feel about the world. While I find using foul language with the intent of causing offense distasteful, I don’t necessarily feel that cursing is immoral. It’s crude, it could make people uncomfortable having their kids around you, but is it a real offense against God? I don’t know. I doubt it. I was raised by people who believed that tattoos were vile, and yet I have one. I was raised in an area where getting a body piercing or dying your hair an unnatural color was also considered wrong. Yet, check box one and two. I’m guilty there, as well. Some people feel that women wearing “male” clothing is wrong, some people feel that having electricity is wrong. Once you start drawing moral lines it’s really hard to tell where to stop. What is true morality, what is personal preference, and what hinges solely on the dictates of lifestyle choices? Monks may choose to live a life of chastity to honor God, but that doesn’t make it the only way. That doesn’t mean that sex in and of itself is dishonorable. Mennonites may choose to live a life as free from the constraints of the appearance of riches and possessions as possible to honor God, but does that make acquiring worldly goods a sin?
Where are the lines?
I can’t believe that all morality is a matter of personal urges- I couldn’t simply “choose” to believe that taking a life is justified, or that torture is at any point excusable. I also can not go the other way and say that the only path to morality is that which others have illustrated. What they feel to be what God desires simply does not apply to everyone. How could it? While one might argue from a Biblical standpoint that the only path to God is through Jesus, one cannot make that same argument for living a life of meager possessions, dressing a certain way, speaking a certain way, behaving by particular dictates.
Jesus is far more than a list of rules and requirements. Christianity is about more than drawing lines. It’s about renewing your way of thinking, changing not just the way you behave but the way in which you view the world around you. It’s about love and passion, charity, mercy. Those principles seem to be at odds with a mindset in which the way we come to know God is through obeying strictures.
Or maybe I’m a moral relativist, and should be shunned.