Friday, February 9, 2018

Ethics and Morality

"In my dismay I said, “All men are liars” (Psalm 116:11).

The issue of the weaker brother in Romans 14 (discussed yesterday) demands that we focus some attention on the subject of conscience. 

Most people use the words ethics and morality interchangeably. There is, however, an important difference between the two. The word 'ethics' comes from the Greek word ethos, while morality comes from mores. The ethos or ethics of a society concerns its underlying philosophy and its concept of values. Mores or morality, by way of contrast, has to do with customs and habits, the normal forms of behavior that are found in a given society.

Ethics is concerned with norms and standards, while morality is merely descriptive. Ethics tells us what “ought” to be, while morality simply tells us what “is.” Thus, morality tells us what people actually do, while ethics tells us what they ought to do. People tend to use the two words interchangeably, and in a subtle way, many think that what is customary is the same as what is right.

Out of this confusion has come what we can call “statistical morality.” We take a poll and find out what people are thinking and doing. Let’s say we find out that most people are using marijuana from time to time. Thus, the conclusion is that it is normal in our society for people to smoke marijuana occasionally. Then, because of this confusion, we move on to think because most people do it, it must be all right. What is "normal" is seen as normative. Right and wrong are determined by majority practice. This way of thinking is obviously wrong from the Christian standpoint. The Bible tells us all men are liars, and very often the multitude is engaged in evil. We must be very careful to resist the modern trend toward statistical morality, and firmly maintain the difference between ethical standards, and fallen human behavior.

People begin to think that what is customary is the same as what is right. Such statistical morality once embraced threatens to pervade the church and believers. Where in your life have you determined your ethics in this manner? What is another area in which you are thus tempted?