Is morality “findable”?

Is morality “findable”? January 20, 2024


The Lubumbashi DRC Temple
When it’s completed, the temple in Lubumbashi, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, will be that country’s second. (The Interpreter Foundation’s goal is to have “Not by Bread Alone” finished by the time of the temple’s dedication.)  A third temple has been announced for Kananga, a fourth for Mbuji-Mayi, and yet another has been announced for Brazzaville, just across the Congo River from Kinshasa in the distinct nation called the Republic of the Congo. (Fair use image from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)

We held our quarterly Interpreter Foundation board meeting today — technically, it’s our annual board meeting (so, among many other things, we voted to continue our officers as they had been constituted) — and our book committee met this afternoon.  There are, I’m happy to report, some very good things on the horizon.  I’m so grateful for all of those who contribute time and effort to make Interpreter work — notably including the members of our board — and for all of those who have provided the financial support that is indispensable to our efforts.

Last night, in preparation for today’s meeting, I got a first look at the initial rough English version — it is also being produced, simultaneously, in French — of a half-hour segment of our Not by Bread Alone film project.  This particular portion of the project relates the story of Elder Willy Binene, who currently serves as a member of the Third Quorum of the Seventy, and of his wife, Sister Lilly Binene, and of the Church in Luputa, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  They have overcome many almost unimaginable adversities but have remained faithful.  It’s an inspiring story.

“Into the Wild” with the Interpreter Foundation, during the initial filming of portions of “Not by Bread Alone.”  From left to right, Jeffrey Mark Bradshaw, Elder Willy Binene (a Congolese Area Authority Seventy), James G. Jordan, Russell M. Richins, and, in the background, their driver, Leon.

I’ve been reading Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality, by David Baggett and Jerry L. Walls (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2011).  Here’s a very early passage that I marked:

In 1979, . . . Yale law professor Arthur Allen Neff published an essay in the Duke Law Journal that probed the fragile foundations of postmodern morality.  He began his essay by identifying “two contradictory impulses” that he thought were present in most people.  On the one hand, we want to believe that there is a complete set of transcendent propositions that direct us how to live righteously, propositions that he characterizes as “findable” because they exist objectively and independently of us.  On the other hand, we want to believe that there are no such rules, that we are completely free to decide and choose for ourselves what we ought to do and be.  “What we want, Heaven help us, is simultaneously to be perfectly ruled and perfectly free, that is, at the same time to discover the right and the good and to create it.” . . .

Leff’s article concludes on a memorable, if somewhat despairing note as he acknowledges the dismal prospects if we ourselves are all we have when it comes to morality.  His final lines are as follows:

As things now stand, everything is up for grabs.
Napalming babies is bad.
Starving the poor is wicked.
Buying and selling each other is depraved.
Those who stood up to and died resisting Hitler, Stalin, Amin, and Pol Pot – and General Custer too – have earned salvation.
Those who acquiesced deserve to be damned.
There is in the world such a thing as evil.
[All together now:] Sez who?
God help us.

They provide an example:

Consider the analysis of sociobiologist E. O. Wilson, who contends that centuries of debate have left us with just two fundamental options with respect to morality: the “transcendentalist” option and the “empiricist” option.  The former holds that moral principles exist outside human minds and are true independently of our experience, while the latter holds that they are the inventions of human minds, and can be explained in terms of biological and cultural evolution.  (3)

The always interesting and worthwhile Thomas V. Morris wrote the foreword to the book.  Here’s a paragraph from that foreword that (in my judgment) lays the central issue out rather clearly:

To put the question as simply as possible:  What would be the objective, ontological nature of a moral principle, or moral standard, in a world where mind, soul, and personhood were completely reducible to materialistic entities — whether finally spelled out in the language of matter or physical energy?  It is difficult, if not just impossible, for these critics of theism to come up with an answer that seems any less “strange” than the ultimate components of the philosophical worldview they are urging us so passionately to avoid.  But, notoriously, rejecting any objectively metaphysical basis for moral judgments reduces them to some form of “I don’t like it” or “My peer group/cultural context/posse of fellow skeptics doesn’t like it.”  And this takes a considerable amount of the sting out of any moral outrage that’s being shown, to put it mildly.  (x)

DR Congo on a river, from. James Jordan
From James Jordan, a view in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

In closing, I leave you with five chilling reports of unashamed and  fiendish evil from the Christopher Hitchens Memorial “How Religion Poisons Everything” File™:

“Church of Jesus Christ Donates Medical Supplies and Food to Victims of Tanker Explosion in Liberia: 89 killed and nearly 100 seriously wounded in Totota disaster”

“Church Leaders Minister to Liberian Mayor Whose Son Died in Explosion: Last month’s gas tanker explosion killed 89 people and severely burned nearly 100 more”

“World Food Programme and Church Leaders Meet Liberian Officials to Reduce Food Insecurity”

“Church of Jesus Christ Donates Food to Thousands in Cote d’Ivoire: 1,000 families and 8,000 school children in Abidjan and Yamoussoukro are beneficiaries”

“Gallup Poll Finds ‘Strong Association’ Between Religiosity and Well-Being: Data was collected over 10 years from interviews with 1.5 million people across 152 countries and territories”



""Authorized" by whom? Saying that lay members are not "authorized" sounds like speaking for the ..."

Is there a “you” in you?
"It's not really "regardless". It's an important point on how a long-standing belief and practice ..."

Is there a “you” in you?
"Wait, why are they all watching 10 hours of church on a lovely spring weekend ..."

On not looking beyond the mark
"You and I will have to agree to disagree on what constitutes psychological or psychiatric ..."

Is there a “you” in you?

Browse Our Archives