Saturday, November 9, 2013
Christopher Hitchens’ challenge: ““Name me an ethical (moral) statement made or an action performed by a believer that could not have been made or performed by a non-believer.”
Answer: A non-believer can neither make an ethical statement nor perform any ethical action.
Rational: First let’s try to get our heads around some working definitions. Since Christopher is secular, then we will go with secular sources for the key definitions. We will take ethical to mean - of or relating to moral (concerned with the principles of right and wrong behavior and the goodness or badness of human character) principles.
Now, let’s suppose that non-believer Chris wants to do something ethical. The first thing he needs to do is determine some wrong or bad behavior. Let’s suppose that Chris decides that in general lying is wrong or bad. Chris then states: “Lying is wrong or bad.” Chris goes for 100 days and states only the truth. On the 101st day a situation comes up that Chris did not think about before where he determines that lying in this case is the right thing to do. Chris modifies his ethics and now lies only in the cases where he determines lying is not bad. This will quickly become confusing for Chris and others to follow but let’s say we can all live with this as ethical behavior; Chris’s set of principles are just complicated but he manages to live by them for another 200 days. On the 301st day a situation comes up where Chris is tempted to lie, let’s say for personal gain or convenience. Now, Chris knows this is wrong. He has had someone lie to him before because it was convenient for them and Chris did not like that one little bit; yes, it is wrong by Chris’s standards and Chris is fully aware of it. However, there is so much personal gain or convenience at stake for Chris that he does it; he lies. Most would say, yeah ok, Chris messed up but he is still ethical, or, more to Christopher’s point, Chris has stated and done ethical things in the past.
Wait just a minute. This one act erodes all of the efforts Chris has made in the past and all of the efforts Chris will make in the future with respect to telling the truth. It uncovers the true basis of his schema. Chris does not tell the truth because lying is wrong or bad; Chris tells the truth when it is convenient and lies when it is convenient. That is all Chris has ever done that is all he, by himself, will ever do. Chris has not lived the past 300 days by his ethic of lying is bad. Lying, to Chris, is only bad in theory. In practice, it can be very convenient.
You might be now ready to beg that Chris does have an ethic: Inconvenience is bad. I caution you. For if so, you have come to the description of human character summed up in Romans 3. You might be comforted at this point by the fact that believers, of their own strength and will can neither make an ethical statement nor perform an ethical action. We all have the same problem. The solution? There is one; Jesus. John 15: 5 – 8. So, the believer can make ethical statements and perform ethical acts by the power of the Holy Spirit in him or her. The non-believer, at best, can only do what is convenient.