A girl from youth group asked me during class the other day, “Is there a such thing as objective morality? Why do Christians insist there is?” Or, something like that.
In short, YES. There is a such thing as objective morality, and we Christians do insist that our way is right. We believe our way will create the most happiness for the most people. Now, I’ll share the long version. It’s not just Christianity. While science will always be at odds with God, I think it would move a lot faster if they started assuming Christian ideas were correct, instead of starting over from nothing.
I study happiness. Meaning, I want to be happy, and I think about what that means, a lot. That led me to study psychology and try many things, for the sake of, like, science and happiness. Lots of my actions, especially early on, were hedonistic. Happiness isn’t’ hedonism. Not exactly.
What is hedonism?
Hedonism is maximizing good feelings and minimizing bad feelings. While this sounds pretty great, I think – it ignores morals, and therefore is an inefficient way to think about happiness. Ignoring “morals” is circular in reasoning. With hedonistic action we are led back to morality, what makes us not feel bad inside.
What is morality? An online dictionary says: principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior. Who cares about morality, if all we really care about is happiness? I do. There’s also societal – political implications. Institutions, like governments and churches, retain order, so we can’t harm others.
Within us, there are also considerations of order. Our values allow us to make decisions with confidence and to not feel bad when we act. Without having these values in place, we are lost. We are in chaos. It’s these values that give us solid ground to stand on.
Here’s where we get to the objectivity of values. It’s still going to be objective, but it’s tough because objectivity requires finding out what makes, and this is important, a mature person feel good or bad.
The issue with sin is that an immature person can sin and not feel the consequences until later in life. That happened to me. I didn’t know I was sinning, back then. Now I have to pay for that. Other people are similar. Prisons aren’t full of old people that are full of hate. It’s mostly young people are full of hate. People come to a maturity and settle down from their violent ways.
What is morality without God?
Without God, morality is just important. We feel bad when we lack the courage to act. As we mature, we feel bad when we are dishonest. As we mature further, we feel bad when we lead others to want more – through advertising or sex. This is where chastity becomes a virtue. As we mature even further, we feel bad when we aren’t doing the right thing. This is what honor is. We bring honor to ourselves and, as Christians, to God.
Pericles, general and speaker in ancient Athens, said, “It is only the love of honor that never grows old; and honor it is, not gain, as some would have it, that rejoices the heart of age and helplessness.” No need to wait for old age to start practicing and enjoying this glory.
Why God? And why Christianity?
Several reasons – there’s the theological virtues. Faith, hope, charity. These are things that make us feel good. Faith that we’re doing the right thing by God. Hope in better things to come. Charity – looking to do good for others and not just our selfish efforts. It’s wanting others to be happy, not just stopping at ourselves.
Christianity is more beautiful than coming up with virtues on our own. We can write an academic paper linking our actions to our hormones like dopamine and serotonin and link that to our feelings. That paper would be a lot less fun to read than the poetry in Psalms or Ecclesiastes or Matthew. The Bible is more beautiful than the academic writing, even though it contains the wisdom only the most courageous academics are willing to address, and it was written by people 2000 years ago who were relative nobodies. It wasn’t Ovid or Virgil or other famous authors of the era – it was authored by fishermen and accountants. Now, I think all great artists have God-inspired creativity, but it’s really impressive that these nobodies wrote what became the Bible. That’s part of what made me Christian – the most wise writing, more than 2000 years before academia can catch up.
Then there’s the communal aspect of Christianity. We have a community of people with similar values, or at least exploring and considering similar values. We all believe in Jesus and look to him as a source of goodness.
All this is really about happiness, and whether it varies from person to person. Does it?
I think happiness is a complex equation. It’s self esteem plus good feelings plus purpose plus not wanting things. Self esteem is the achievement of our own goals – not those of others. Good feelings come from pleasure, but also, like the hedonist discussion, from doing the right things and not doing the wrong things. Having direction, or purpose, in our lives can go with self-esteem. It’s important that we’re working towards something. Last, not wanting things. Living virtuously is living to not want things. This is what the Beatitudes are all about.
All of these are satisfied by morality. Morality gives us something to work toward. It gives us good feelings. It gives us a goal to set – not one from a corporation, but something to work toward and accomplish over time. This also gives us direction – to do the right thing, and to follow our gut to determine where that will lead us. We practice virtue, not wanting things, and in doing so we transcend above worldly interests to those that are more spiritual and Godly.
A secular student would view God as an ideal – an image of perfection made up of the previous great things. Eternal happiness, not reliant on other people or things. Jesus is our example of that, and the Bible, God’s word, is our “how to.”
The Christian student believes in the truth of these as well as heavenly reward. It’s more fun that way. I think.
People say YOLO, usually in the context of go out and have fun. I agree that we only have one life on Earth, but my advice is to, because we only live once, find wisdom fast. There’s no time to waste if we’re going to avoid the suffering and problems so many people face. Trying to have more fun is the way most people try to escape problems, but yet most people have these problems. Should we listen to them, who are trapped in a cycle of repeating their mistakes?