(This essay is inspired by the NY Times essay; If It Feels Right…)
How on earth do we determine what is right? How do we decide right from wrong? Can this be possible when so many people in the world view what is right in so many different ways? Is it conceivable that everyone can agree upon a definite definition of what is right? These are questions that people have been wrestling with for several hundred years now. And today with so many people defining what is right for them, it becomes important to look at whether there is a way to define what is right for everyone.
Up until a couple hundred years ago, people in Europe and in the colonial America’s knew the difference between right and wrong. Doing right was defined by the state through enforcement of laws. The church through doctrine also defined moral codes with the state enforcing them as well. In the fourteenth century the King of France decided he didn’t like a secretive group in his country named the Knights d’Templars. He declared them to be heretics, arrested them, and tortured them until they confessed, brought the church in to verify how bad they were, and executed any whom refused to cooperate. He also, very conveniently confiscated their possessions, which added up to a tidy sum. In those days the King decided what was right, and that was that. The average person didn’t have a choice, unless they wanted to go to jail.
Today, the concept of right and wrong has changed quite a lot. People in the United States consider an individual’s right to choose to be almost sacred. Individual freedom is lifted to very high levels. The concept of what is right becomes one of personal choice. I define what is right for me. So defining what is right in the larger community sense becomes a lot more difficult when everyone has different opinions of right and wrong. Consider this; the last time I read an opinion poll on abortion around sixty percent of people in the US consider abortion morally wrong. And yet the same poll also said that around sixty percent of people think a woman should have a choice. The two opinions seem to contradict each other, but holding contradictory opinions doesn’t seem to matter today. Most people accept choice as a fact of life. Everyone can choose what he or she thinks is right, as long as this choice is not imposed on anyone else.
What makes this even more difficult to figure out is that in our current culture every opinion is valued. Along with this is the right of everyone to express his or her opinion. We sure like to tell people what we think in this country. This comes across most when I watch TV shows that allow people to call in. Now I can’t imagine why anyone would care one little bit about the opinion of an auto mechanic from Kansas on the handling of the Kosovo crisis by NATO. Why would his opinion interest us so much? And yet it must, or else the show wouldn’t be on the air. With so many people expressing opinions that contradict each other, not to mention having contradictory thoughts of their own, sorting all of this becomes very confusing. How is it possible to sort out a universal concept of right and wrong when so many opinions and ideas are being circulated?
And so we come back to the original problem, how do we know what is right? In a world in which everyone’s opinion is valued, is it even possible to judge between right and wrong?
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8
Because of my faith in God, I know the difference between right and wrong. I know what justice and mercy looks like. I know that humility leads to a better and happier life than self-centeredness. And I know that the greatest commandment, and thus the true secret to a wonderful life is this;
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-40
If you want to know right from wrong, Love God and Love People.
And then you will know.
God bless you,