Sunday, January 17, 2016

Sunday reflection spot - morals and ethics

I noted a long time ago that when people speak of "morality" they often mean those aspects of morality that refer to sex. Indeed some people use words like "moral" as if they referred entirely to sexual behaviour.

As C.S. Lewis put it when he noted this mode of speaking in a book written before I was born, when such a person says something like "I don't say that this woman is immoral, but I do say that she is a thief" it isn't nonsense, but means "She is chaste but dishonest."

Sometimes this confusion is used as a joke, as in a play which my late mother's amateur dramatic society produced, in which a womanising architect who is frequently found in the wrong bed but would not dream of accepting a bribe or otherwise compromising his professional standards says,

"I may have no morals but I do have ethics."

The allegation of having a view of morality based entirely around sex is particularly common as a charge made against religions by nonbelievers: for example. Richard Dawkins posted an ironic tweet last week,

"The creator of the expanding universe, designer of quanta, relativity and the laws of physics, is really really interested in your sex life."

It has to be admitted that some religious believers do act as if they thought that.

But do the sacred writings of the various religions actually support the suggestion that the God they worship really thinks that way?

I would argue not, particularly if we look at what Jesus said in the New Testament. He didn't say very much about sex and where he did he simply seemed to apply the same principles - acting with compassion and forgiveness, keeping your word and honouring your commitments, not taking what is not yours to take - to that part of human activity as he did to all other aspects of life.

In the context of a society where a man could divorce his wife by "giving her a note of dismissal" for no reason, Jesus's comments against divorce read as a bid to protect women from being lightly and callously abandoned. And when a mob brought him a terrified woman who they said had been caught in the very act of adultery - for which the penalty was death by stoning, he first turned around and wrote on the ground, and then said "Let he among you who is without sin cast the first stone."

When nobody did, and the crowd gradually drifted away, he said  to the woman

“Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”

“No, Lord,” she said.

And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”

(John 8:10-11, New Living Translation)

Either there is a God who created the Universe, or there isn't.

If there is and, as Christians believe, the man who persuaded that crowd to show mercy to the woman taken in adultery was also the son and emissary of the Creator of the Universe, I don't think that Creator is obsessively interested in people's sex lives. But He, if he exists, is very interested in compassion and mercy.

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