Moral Decision Making and The Fear of the Lord: Part 2 – Acts of Fraud

Moral Decision Making and The Fear of the Lord: Part 2 – Acts of Fraud December 22, 2021

In this series I am arguing that the right starting point for any moral decision is “the fear of the Lord.” The fear of the Lord according to the Hebrew Bible is the beginning of wisdom, or prudential reasoning. Jesus Christ, moreover, is the eternal Wisdom of God (1 Cor 1:18-31). To begin our moral decision making process with the fear of the Lord is to begin by considering the nature of God and our relationship to Christ. This is ultimately the only starting point that will lead us to correct decisions in life. While the Holy Spirit can inspire us directly in a given moral circumstance, it is usually through the gradual and difficult process of learning that we come to be wise people.

At the same time, if God is not the general starting point for our decision making, then the entire notion of moral decision making is itself called into question. A hypothetical moral decision maker may find herself requiring “higher order reflection” on her practical thinking to justify its ultimate purpose. Alasdair MacIntyre explains this problem of moral decision making apart from any higher order presumption:

At certain points in her reflections upon herself, she may well be compelled to resort to higher order reflection upon her practical thinking. She will have to ask how she is to articulate the theoretical presuppositions of her practical stances. It is at such points that she will have to reckon with the theoretical claims of those who have most adequately spelled out those presuppositions, Aristotle and such Aristotelians as Ibn Roschd, Maimonides, and Aquinas.

What their arguments will perhaps bring home to her is that her and their conception of the final end of human activity is inescapably theological, that the nature of her practical reasoning and of the practical reasoning of those in whose company she deliberates has from the outset committed her and them to a shared belief in God, to a belief that, if there is nothing beyond the finite, there is no final end, no ultimate human good, to be achieved. So she may complete her reasoning by discovering that what is at stake in her decisions in moments of conflict is the directedness of her life, if not toward God, at least beyond finitude.

MacIntyre, Ethics in the Conflicts of Modernity

As such, those who do not explicitly recognize God or Christ or even believe in Him, must grapple with the whole idea of pursuing morality and wisdom to begin with. What, in the end, is one shooting for? 

MacIntyre further points out that moral decisions made out of considerations other than practical reasoning, considerations like fear, fraud, bribery or seduction, cannot count as morally good decisions. In the previous post I discussed the difficulties that arise when fear is our starting point for moral decision making. In this post, I look at the problem of moral deliberation that begins with fraud. 

Acting from Fraud

Fraud is deceit. To act from fraud may not be as egregious as acting from fear, as it assumes a more passive role by the moral decision maker. They are not acting knowingly from a place of deception, rather they have been deceived and, in being deceived, are basing their moral decisions on false premises.

However, while acting from fraud as a starting point for a moral decision may make someone less culpable for their actions, it does not make them entirely without responsibility. After all, we have the prior, moral responsibility to do what we can to ensure we are not taken hold of by false beliefs. We must actively resist giving ourselves over to bad information or the charlatans who peddle it.

As Christians, we are called to be watchful, careful and discerning. Jesus said “Behold I am sending you out as sheep among wolves, so be wise as serpents and gentle as doves” (Matt 10:16). He said this knowing full well what kind of sin-fallen world He was sending His apostles into. He knew the kind of resistance that would meet the bearer of “Good News.” Yet, Jesus also knew that they could, with the Spirit’s help, overcome that resistance. But, this takes participation on behalf of the Christian. It takes an exertion of the will and an exercising of the intellect to discern fraud and not fall prey to its trap.

The Problem of Information

Thus, it is incumbent upon Christians, especially in a day and age where dis- and misinformation abound, to be diligent in their collection of data, faithful in the interpretation of that data and careful in their decision making based off of relevant information. This information could be testimony about any kind of cultural issue: political, economic, educational and, yes, even scientific data that might lend in making a moral decision.  

Therefore, Christians must avoid simplistic or reductionist thinking that simply grants authority to some “talking head” on TV, radio or the Internet (including this talking head). This would be regardless of that person’s popularity or the popular narrative that has been spun about them. It also means that as Christians we must have a healthy, but not exaggerated, skepticism about so-called “experts.” We must understand that human reason is flawed and that there is no such thing as “the science” that tells us anything with absolute certainty. There are “scientists” who interpret data and then tell us some things of value. We are called to be humble, not gullible. 

It is increasingly difficult in this age of modern media and post-modern ideology to carry out the aforementioned process of data collection, analysis, interpretation and evaluation. One can only do one’s best. Nevertheless, as MacIntyre points out, we must try to do our due diligence when it comes to gathering and considering facts:

Those who deliberate together need to ensure that no relevant voice is either excluded or ignored, that, so far as possible, what is said about both ends and means is true, and that each consideration advanced is given its due rational weight and not assigned too little or too great importance, because of who said it or how they said it or what nonrational inducements accompanied that saying.

In other words, we cannot exclude some data based on who said it or how it was said. And we must weigh the data from the relevant sources carefully. The Fear of the Lord requires that we are not lazy when it comes to matters of truth. For even inadvertent sins required sacrifice under the Levitical law, and the lack of knowledge or falling for some deceit is not an excuse for making bad moral decisions. 

The Devil’s Role in Fraud

Behind any of these false starting points it is important to realize that there are other forces at work than our own sinful nature. There are spiritual forces seeking to deceive and to destroy us through that deception. Yes, Virginia, there is a devil. And the devil of whom I speak is no simple metaphor, he is a metaphysical reality. He is also said to be “like a roaring lion” looking to devour believers. Jesus makes it crystal clear that the devil is a murderer, and has been from the beginning. But, how can a conscious, yet immaterial, entity murder a physical being like us?

The answer since Genesis 3 has always been the same: through deceit. Jesus speaks with absolute clarity and authority about Satan, “He [Satan] was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44). Since the devil or his demons only very rarely interacts with our physical nature (our bodies), his main weapon of choice is the lie. Moreover, lies come through words and words are grasped cognitively. The battlefield of the mind, where truth is either recognized or repressed, is where the Christian must take “every thought captive to Christ.” If we do not, we will be led down a path of making moral choices destructive both to ourselves and others.

Adam and Eve’s originating sin may have included an aspect of creaturely pride, as Augustine pointed out, but that pride was awakened by Satan’s deception. Satan is, in his very nature, fraudulent. He is the great fraud and his lies know no boundaries.

The counter to Satan’s lies has always been, and will be until Christ’s return, the Word of God. It is the truth delivered to us both in the Person and work of Christ and in the words of the Holy Scriptures. It is the Word of God that is sharper than any two-edged sword and that cuts between bone and marrow, soul and spirit and discerns the thoughts and intentions of human hearts. To avoid fraud as our moral starting point, this is where we must turn. For it is the Word of God that judges the truth of statements that may appear morally correct, statements like “love is love,” but which ultimately are false. After all, it is God who is love, not human love that is god (1 John 4:8). 

Ultimately, however, the devil’s best strategy is to stay away from questions of truth or falsehood entirely. He hopes to misguide the moral decision maker by making all claims relative to something other than reason– something like human emotion or experience.

C.S. Lewis alludes to this in his magnum opus on spiritual warfare, The Screwtape Letters:

The trouble about argument is that it moves the whole struggle on to the Enemy’s [God] own ground. He can argue too; whereas in really practical propaganda of the kind I am suggesting He [God] has been shown for centuries to be greatly the inferior of Our Father Below [Satan]. By the very act of arguing, you awake the patient’s [the Christian man] reason; and once it is awake, who can foresee the result? Even if a particular train of thought can be twisted so as to end in our favour, you will find that you have been strengthening in your patient the fatal habit of attending to universal issues and withdrawing his attention from the stream of immediate sense experiences.

In our current social climate, human emotions and personal experience have become the default starting point for our moral decision making. This places many of our moral decisions on very unstable and shifting ground, a ground that the devil loves to play on. Moreover, given what the Scriptures say about the human heart (Jeremiah 17:9-10), to make our emotions or experiences the starting point for moral deliberation is basically to make fraud the starting point for moral deliberation. 

In the next post I will look at bribery, or the love of money, as a starting point for moral decision making.

About Anthony Costello
Born and raised on the South Side of Chicago to a devout and loving Roman Catholic family, I fell away from my childhood faith as a young man. For years I lived a life of my own design-- a life of sin. But, at the age of 34, while serving in the United States Army, I set foot in my first Evangelical church. Hearing the Gospel preached, as if for the first time, I had a powerful, reality-altering experience of Jesus Christ. That day, He called me to Himself and to His service, and I have walked with Him ever since. You can read more about the author here.

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