A Personal Apologetic: Morality and Justice

{Again, I have a two part argument. This first part is about man’s moral inclination and a general desire for justice. I don’t consider it as strong an argument as that from consciousness, but I feel it is strong enough to include here. The second part will be about the difference between what man believes morally and how he acts.}

Man is a moral being. Regardless of a belief in the existence of God, everyone believes some things are right and other things are wrong. We might have significant differences of opinion on these things, but we do have opinions.

If God does not exist, there are no absolute moral standards. Each of us can then define right and wrong however we please. What is moral to you may be immoral to me, or vice versa, and each of our opinions would be equally as valid.

Unfortunately, society tends to self-destruct if everyone acts on his own personal mores. If I intend to kill you, believing it is my right, but you believe it’s wrong for me to kill you, there is no absolute standard you can appeal to that says you’re right and I’m wrong. Your belief that I am wrong has no more weight than my belief that I am right. (Lest you think this is an extreme example, it is exactly the case with those who promote genocide or abortion today.) It’s pointless for one side to convince the other to do the right thing if the right thing is purely man’s opinion.

To prevent the breakdown of society, each nation has a government that enacts laws and subjects its citizens to those laws. Everyone operates under the same moral code. This sounds like a good solution in theory, but it raises some questions in my mind.

Where does a government get its authority from? Generally, authority is passed down from a higher to a lower. In the United States, the federal government gives authority for individual states to rule, and states give authority to town and city governments. But where did our federal government get its authority from? Our founding fathers believed it came from God 1. However, if there is no God, authority can only come through consensus of the people or rebellion against a previous government.

Concensus might appear to be good grounds for authority, however every sizeable nation is going to have citizens who oppose the rule of their government. (Subjective morality implies there will be differences of opinion on moral matters.) What makes such opposition wrong if right and wrong are subjective? If man can make up his own mind on moral and ethical issues, then the actions of rebels are no more wrong than the actions of those who obey their nation’s laws.

With no God, eventually even consensus fails, and authority can only be obtained or retained by force. The stronger party gets to make up the rules: might makes right. With subjective morality, we eventually end up with oppressive governments like China and North Korea.

Even if every citizen supports their government and obeys its laws, this world consists of more than one nation, each having their own set of laws. One nation has one law, another has an opposite law, and who’s to say which one is right? What is good in one culture is seen as evil in another, and vice versa. If the majority of nations say slavery is good, what right would the minority have to condemn the majority? If there is no authority higher than man, then one person, as well as one nation, has no right to condemn another for slavery, murder, genocide, or any other moral or ethical issue. Whatever man says is right at the moment becomes right… at least until he changes his mind.

So far, I’ve only mentioned a few problems I see with subjective morality. None of these require the existence of God to somehow make everything right. We could be living in a world with unsolvable moral dilemmas. Neither do these problems disprove the existence of God. It only says man chooses to ignore Him if He exists. However, my argument really doesn’t center on such dilemmas.

The big question in my mind is if man is a product of chance, not having been purposely created by God, why should he have any sense of right and wrong at all? Why do virtually all people agree on certain moral issues? And why is it, when we see what we believe is wrong, we want to see justice done: we want it made right?

What does it matter if somebody steals something from you? Why do you get upset? Surely, there is more to it than just because, “It’s mine!” When people are wronged, they naturally want to see justice done, not just have things restored to normal. (Spend some time in a room with several young children and one toy and see how their sense of justice expresses itself!) This is our normal way of thinking, and if we don’t think this way now, it’s only because we had to unlearn it in the past.

True, different cultures have superficially different ideas of what is right and wrong. Not too long ago, betrayal and murder even of friends was considered normal in one culture in Papua New Guinea 2. Killing a friend was a sign of coming of age. However, even this culture knew murder is wrong. If you were to ask the person being murdered if it was morally right, I’m sure you would get an enthusiastic “Of course not!” for an answer. He certainly didn’t think the “right thing” was being done to him. And deep down inside, the one doing the killing believes the same, for he would also think it wrong if the tables were turned and someone tried to murder him. Whether we’re talking about murder, theft, adultery, or whatever, the victim almost always has a truer sense of right and wrong than the perpetrator.

This sense of fairness can be changed or perverted, but not eliminated.

The materialist believes our universe came about by chance, not by the will of God or for His purpose. So what does it matter to a materialist that other people believe in God and want to share their beliefs with others? If the universe is purposeless, what does it matter if everyone becomes a Christian, a Muslim, or whatever. Everybody dies in in the end. If you’re happier believing a lie, what’s the problem? And yet, it angers an atheist to see a Christian promote his ‘dogma’. In an age of moral relativism where an increasing number of people insist there is no absolute right and wrong, what gives them to right to judge Christians?

The Bible, on the other hand, portrays men as moral creatures, created in the likeness of God. Since God is righteous, we were made to reflect His righteousness. (Right and wrong are not really a matter of opinion.) Our likeness to our Creator has since been corrupted, and our sense of right and wrong has been perverted through our disobedience to God. But we are still moral beings: we still have a sense of right and wrong. And we prefer the right, desiring wrong-doers to come to justice. Even in secular books and movies, we want to see the good guy win. This desire is evidence we were created by God. C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity:

“Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists. A baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim; well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire; well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

Although we do not always see justice fulfilled in this life, there will eventually come a time when justice will happen and all wrong will be punished. Everyone will eventually appear before the judgment seat of Christ to receive the results of what they have done here on earth.

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

– 2 Corinthians 5:10

Notes:

  1. Notice in the Declaration of Independence how they appealed to God in justifying their secession from England: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights … appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions…”
  2. Peace Child, Don Richardson

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