Moral dilemmas – Does anyone know what is right?
(Presentation by Livius T. Percy, at the RBYA Missions Conference, April 18, 2009 – Hickory, NC)
Just because we have the technological capability to do something, should we do it?
Is morality a matter of personal preference or are there absolute standards?
In a pluralistic society, like ours, whose morality should prevail?
The importance of your worldview
• Compare two ancient civilizations and draw some lessons for our modern times
• Who lives and who dies in Sparta?
• Who lives and who dies in Athens?
• Who lives and who dies in Israel?
Sparta – military state – men were trained to be warriors
• Selection of potential warriors
o The parents would take the child before the City Council for official inspection and formal approval
o The City Council decided whether a child would live or die
o If deemed unworthy to live, the child would be taken to a cliff on Mt. Taygetus and tossed over the edge
• Boys – from age 7, removed from families and trained in harsh conditions to be warriors
o From age 12 they slept in the open air, on a bed of broken rushes from the river banks
o From age 30 accepted in the society as a citizen – with the elders; common meal
• Girls – trained to be strong – running wrestling
o Selective breeding – their most important role was to provide children for the state’s army – it was a crime not to marry
o Bold and masculine
Plutarch, the historian – in Sparta “no one was allowed to live after his own fancy; but the city was a sort of a camp, in which every man looked upon himself not so much born to serve his own needs as the interests of his country”.
All this originated with Lycurgus, a lawgiver in Sparta
• There was no greater good than the good of the group
• The state sets the standards of value – the state decides what is good, moral, honorable, just
• The individual’s worth is found in his contribution to the strength of the group as a whole
• Example of statism to the max!
Their worldview was summarized by Pericles: “Each single one of our citizens, in all the manifold aspects of life, is able to show himself the rightful lord and owner of his person, and do this with exceptional grace and exceptional versatility.”
Individualism to the extreme – the unbridled pursuit of personal pleasure.
A child born into an Athenian home was formally accepted into the family within the first 10 days after the birth.
The father had the right to reject any child, for any reason – fear of overpopulation, threatening the “good life”.
Undesirable newborns were put in earthen vessels and left to die, often in the temples of pagan gods!
Sparta and Athens had different views – statism vs. individualism – but their fundamental premise was the same, as Protagoras had put is: “Man is the measure of all things.”
Hebrew or Jewish families
1. Parents viewed children as entrusted to them by God
• All children were accepted
• Large families
• Even when Pharaoh wanted to kill the children, the parents resisted
2. The father had an active role in instruction of the children
• Abraham – Gen. 18:19
• Ephesians 6:4
3. Children were not the center of the home – GOD was!
• “honor your father and your mother…”
For the Hebrew, moral values were derived from God’s revelation
For the Greeks, moral values were defined by man’s philosophy!
Current moral dilemmas
Abortion – ending the life of the unborn (preborn)
Euthanasia (“good death”) – ending the life of the living, primarily elderly and terminally ill people
• Active Euthanasia (“mercy killing”) – administering some medication that would end the life of a person
o Legal in some states (Oregon)
• Passive Euthanasia – withholding medical treatment resulting in the death of the person
Eugenics – “un-natural selection” – manipulating the genetic material to breed “superior” specimens and to eliminate “inferior” members of the species.
Cloning – artificially producing a genetically identical organism from a pre-existing one.
• Reproductive – babies with the same genetic makeup as another person
• “Spare parts” – producing an organism whose internal organs (or parts of organs) could be used for another person
Stem cell technology – stem cells are undifferentiated cells that can develop to become any type of cell in a body.
• Embryonic stem cells – harvested from embryos (after undergoing a few cycles of cell division) – the embryo is killed in the process
• Adult (Somatic) stem cells – harvested from full-grown people. They have the advantage of being suitable for “auto-transplant” since they would not be subject to rejection by the body.
Low regard for human life – based on philosophical naturalism
Peter Singer, a biomedical ethicist (teaching at Princeton) whose commentary appeared in the July 1983 issue of Pediatrics (72:128-129):
Whatever the future holds, it is likely to prove impossible to restore in full the sanctity-of-life view. The philosophical foundations of this view have been knocked asunder. We can no longer base our ethics on the idea that human beings are a special form of creation, made in the image of God, singled out from all other animals, and alone possessing an immortal soul. Our better understanding of our own nature has bridged the gulf that was once thought to lie between ourselves and other species, so why should we believe that the mere fact that a being is a member of the species Homo sapiens endows its life with some unique, almost infinite, value?
Once the religious mumbo-jumbo surrounding the term “human” has been stripped away, we may continue to see normal members of our species as possessing greater capacities of rationality, self-consciousness, communication, and so on, than members of any other species; but we will not regard as sacrosanct the life of each and every member of our species, no matter how limited its capacity for intelligent or even conscious life may be. If we compare a severely defective human infant with a non-human animal, a dog or a pig, for example, we will often find the non-human to have superior capacities, both actual and potential, for rationality, self-consciousness, communication, and anything else that can plausibly be considered morally significant. Only the fact that the defective infant is a member of the species Homo sapiens leads it to be treated differently from the dog or pig. Species membership alone, however, is not morally relevant.
We are conditioned to accept naturalism as the “scientific thinking” without considering its moral implications
“Quality of life” – a common phrase in discussions related to euthanasia.
Oklahoma Children Memorial Hospital (1977-1982)
“Quality of Life” – QL = NE x (H + S)
69 babies born with spina bifida – 24 were left to die – “selective treatment program”
• Becky Oprean was born with spina-bifida – her parents chose life for her, and she is a blessing for many!
Our culture shifts more and more away from the Judeo-Christian framework, and more and more in the direction of the Greek thinking.
Within the framework of the Christian worldview the above moral dilemmas can be addressed in a redemptive way because it views people as having value by reason of being created in the image of God, endowed with intrinsic value by the Creator.
The times when people face moral dilemmas are times when they need guidance from God – be prepared to share the Word – be sensitive, compassionate and Christ centered!
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