THE NEW MORALITY
It is apparent to everyone that our generation is characterized by a serious and frightening decline in morality and a consequent increase in crime, lawlessness, immorality and dishonesty. While no doubt many reasons for this can be mentioned, one major factor that must be considered is the increased emphasis on “the new morality.”
This new morality is a complete about face on the question of Christian ethics. What has been taught for generations is now abandoned; something new has been substituted in its place. This new theory of ethics has come not from the world, but sadly enough, from the Church.
What is this “new morality”?
There are several aspects to the answer.
First of all, the new morality advocates that the entire law of God is of little or no value to us in this modern 20th century. The entire law as given in Scripture (including especially the ten commandments) is to be abandoned as hopelessly out of date. It cannot possibly serve as a rule of life and conduct. This is not to say that the law of God can be burned. We ought to keep some record of it. But its importance is something quite different from the rule of our life which Scripture insists that it is. This law is really only an opinion of what some ancient people once thought was, good and proper to do. Many years ago the Hebrews were convinced that acceptable conduct could be defined in this law contained in the Scriptures. But this was merely their opinion—one opinion among many. And, while perhaps it was adequate for those days, we err seriously if we think that this law is equally binding upon us in our day. We can perhaps profitably study this ancient body of legislation; but not in order to find in it regulations for our life. It is merely a historical curiosity which aids us in discovering what ancient people believed; it is an old bit of lore from bygone years which has approximately the same value as an Egyptian mummy exhumed from some dusty tomb.
It is apparent that such a view of the law stems from a particular view of Scripture. Scripture is not, according to this view, the infallibly inspired record of God’s revelation. It is only a very ancient book filled with myths, superstitions, stories, teachings and lore of a people who lived in the misty past and who recorded their religious experiences, their beliefs and opinions in a collection of books preserved till today. The Bible has about the same value as Homer’s “Iliad.”
And this view of Scripture comes in turn from a particular view of God Himself. We have more than once mentioned in these columns that modern theological liberalism denies the very basic doctrines of the truth. It denies the trinity, the divinity of Christ, the blood of atonement, the existence of heaven and hell, the resurrection and ascension of Christ, the return of Christ upon the clouds of heaven. This new morality comes to us hand in hand with this kind of heretical theological thinking. Those who maintain that this new morality is the only kind of ethics which can speak to our modern age are the same ones who deny all that the Church has ever confessed.
Hence we find a man like Bishop Robinson who shook the ecclesiastical world with his book “Honest To God” promoting this new morality. He insists, for example, that “there is not a whole list of things which are ‘sins’per se;” that any conceivable act is right if only the situation is right; that there are “no unbreakable rules” in all the world. And he is also the one who so openly denied every truth of Scripture.
But to return to this new morality and its views; what does this theory put in the place of the law of God as a norm of conduct? The answer to this question is, negatively, that no single act of which man is capable is, of itself, right or wrong. Any given act can be, under the right circumstances, perfectly proper and good. Stealing can be right; murder can be right; lying can be right; civil disobedience can be right; idolatry can be right; even prostitution, fornication, adultery, incest can be right. What counts is not the act, but the circumstances under which it is done. The situation must determine the rightness or wrongness of what man does. The question must be asked: Why does a man steal? Under what circumstances does a man murder? What is the reason for his civil disobedience? What is the occasion for his fornication? In what situation did he commit adultery? And the answer to this question will determine whether what he did is right or wrong, a sin or a very good thing.
Thirdly, this brings us to the question: What determines the right circumstances? What proper occasion is there to commit murder or to steal or to fornicate? The answer to this question is very simple: one must love. That is all. If one loves enough, anything he does is good. Love determines whether his deed is sin or a good work. If one love, no matter what he does, it is well. If on the contrary, he hates, then he does bad. Love enough and prostitution, murder, gross immorality, crime becomes legitimate and acceptable conduct. We must not condemn stealing and lying as sins in themselves before a man ever does these things; we must wait until he does them and then ask whether the man loved. We must not condemn fornication among young people before the thing is done; we must ask only if they love. Under the right circumstances all these acts are in perfect keeping with the genius of Christianity.
Presumably this also means that the worst crimes of history can pass muster by the Church if only they were done for the right reasons. The terrible persecutions of the Church which history was written in the blood of countless martyrs is evidently good conduct on the part of those who did the butchering. The slaying of thousands by the Nazi regime in Germany is acceptable provided it was done out of love. The godless atheism of Russian communism is not to be condemned per se; the question that needs asking is: Do the Russians love? Idolatry and worship of images, Sabbath desecration and cursing are perfectly proper if the occasion is proper and the circumstances are right.
It is almost inconceivable that such a view can gain any kind of a hearing. But the hard facts are that it does. Leading theologians, prominent ministers in the churches, important professors and teachers in the schools have adopted this view in one form or another. It is gaining ground rapidly and becoming more and more the accepted teaching in the field of ethics.
Nor is it difficult to imagine what consequences these teachings have in the morals of the country. When a totally depraved man hears all this, it is like music to his ears. He loves sin and cherishes evil with all his heart. He is only restrained from a full breaking out of the vile corruption of his nature by the laws of the land and by the opinion of his fellow man who frowns upon such disorderly and vicious conduct. But if now suddenly the laws are changed and one’s fellows begin to talk this way; if such a view is taught him in the school and is preached from the pulpit where he goes to church, what this man is going to do is rather obvious. If he is only told once that he can do as he pleases if only he loves enough, he will do what he pleases—and what he pleases is beyond mention. He then has his excuse to sin handed to him by his leaders. He is given a passport to lawlessness which he will not hesitate to use.
There are many objections against this view.
Principally this view is a rejection of God and Christ. This is evident from the fact that this new morality goes hand in hand with a denial of the truth. And, in keeping with all this, it is also a rejection of the Scriptures as God’s revelation to His people. It is a rejection of an objective moral standard of right and wrong given in God’s law. And when this objective moral standard of God’s law is forsaken, anarchy and chaos are the results. Then it will be said of this generation as it was said of Israel so long ago: “And there was no king in Israel, and every man did that which was right in his own eyes.”
Further, it can be pointed out that this view has very serious consequences. As a recent editorial inChristianity Today put it:
. . . an ethic in which love is not authoritatively defined but is left to be defined by each person within the situations of life is only one step from tyranny . . . When the individual is left wholly to himself to decide what legitimate forms his love for another may take, he soon and often becomes a tyrant and his neighbor the victim . . . .
If the new morality were widely adopted, civil law would lose its moral basis and its moral right to bring any man to trial for his deeds. If no conceivable human action is per se sinful, if there is no prescriptive ethics, if no one but the person himself can decide in his own situation whether any act is right or wrong, there is no moral basis for prosecuting any man at law for any act he might commit.
But while all this is true, there is a more fundamental fault with this view. That has to do with this matter of “love.” It is deceitful when the new morality speaks of “love” as the determining factor; deceitful because, taken by itself, this is true. Scripture emphasizes again and again that the very essence of the law is love. Where no love is there is no keeping of the law—no matter how one’s external conduct may conform to the outward prescriptions of the law. Love is the perfect fulfillment of the law. Only by way of love does one walk in the path of God’s precepts. This is Scripture’s emphatic teaching. And, superficially, this sounds exactly like the “new morality”.
But is it?
And here we come to the heart of the matter.
Indeed, love is the perfect fulfillment of the whole law of God—and therefore of all moral conduct. But it must never be forgotten that love is always first of all love of God. It is this point which is so deliberately and maliciously overlooked by the new moralists. There is no love at all in “the existential situation”, no love towards anyone else in any given circumstances of life divorced from the love of God. All love must be for Him first of all if it is to be love at all. Only loving God can one love his neighbor—whether that be his children, wife, employer or fellow man. Only out of the wellspring of overflowing love for Him Who is the only adorable Jehovah can there be any kind of love in any relationship of life. Apart from the love of God there just isn’t any love at all. Anything else is hate.
And if this is right, then the next step must be that love always demands obedience. This is the keystone of love. If a child loves his parents, he obeys them. Any disobedience must be interpreted as lack of love. If a citizen loves his magistrate (with the love of God in his heart) he obeys. If a man loves God, he obeys God. Divorce love from God and obedience is indeed destroyed. But love, as it is so clearly defined in Scripture, means, in its very nature, obedience.
Thus if we truly love, we love God first of all. And then we do not question God; we do not cynically destroy God’s law; we do not destroy what God has demanded of us; we do not even ask for the why of His commandments. We simply obey, nothing else. Love obligates us to bow in humility before God and ask: “What wilt thou have me do?” Love of God is therefore love for God’s law. Love which is truly love is manifested in walking the way of God’s precepts. Love is to sing: “Oh, how love I thy law; it is my meditation all the day.” To speak of love therefore only in an immediate situation in which we find ourselves divorced from the love of God is absurd and insane. It is (all the pious prating of love notwithstanding) very terrible hate. To ignore God’s law and divorce love from obedience to that law is to hate—to hate God; and consequently to hate one’s wife, one’s children, one’s neighbor.
To be a proponent of the new morality is to be an apostle of hate. To preach this kind of love is to sow the seeds of hate, to cherish hate; to fill the world with hate; to make life something horrible and terrifying. And all the talk of love will never alter this in any respect.
Here is where the new moralists tread the path of evil.
A warning is in order. The view is dangerous. It is dangerous just because it is so immensely appealing to man’s baser longings and sinful desires. It so easily becomes the justification (as it has already) for grossest sin. But let it be sounded from the housetops: this is the gospel of hate in every relationship of life.
And it is the prelude to anarchy and moral chaos.