Values Or Morals?

by Rick Shrader

May I express my opinion about you being so fat? Not according to a recent interview I heard on the radio! It seems a woman journalist adorned her averaged sized frame with a ‘‘fat suit’’ that made her appear 150 pounds heavier than normal. She then spent the day mingling among the unaware, expecting to feel embarrassed and awkward. Instead, the journalist was outraged at the comments and innuendoes made about her obvious obesity. In the interview she called such comments as much ‘‘racist’’ and ‘‘bigoted’’ as ethnic comments might be about blacks or Hispanics. Uncalled for, yes, but bigoted? Racist? If I make a value judgment about obesity and conclude that such is not good, even wrong, am I not allowed to express such a conclusion? Now perhaps the way in which I express myself is right or wrong, but is the opinion itself wrong? This is a case of society, when it wants, making a simple value into a serious moralism.

But let’s turn the coin over. Again, on the radio, I heard a reaction from a pro-homosexual to a ‘‘right-wing fundamentalist type’’ being delivered as ‘‘who made your set of values better than anyone else’s set of values?’’ Now we have the case of society, as it wants, making a serious moral issue into a casual ‘‘set of values.’’ As we all have experienced, it is getting more and more difficult to conform to the standard of the politically correct thought-police.

Where did we lose such a good word (excuse me for making a judgment) as ‘‘value?’’ And where did we lose any connection to what is really moral or not? Can we really exchange these two words at will? Perhaps even the church has been so enamored by society’s use of ‘‘value’’ that we sold the word to them at a high price. There were some among us years ago who thought ‘‘values clarification’’ in the schools was a good and noble thing. ‘‘At last we will teach good values to our kids.’’ Did we?

My 1976 American Heritage Dictionary does an acceptable job of defining ‘‘moral’’ and ‘‘value.’’ Something that is ‘‘moral’’ has to do with ‘‘the goodness and badness of human action, the discernment of good and evil.’’ Something that is of ‘‘value’’ has ‘‘utility or merit.’’ It means to ‘‘rate according to relative estimate of worth.’’ In other words, Something that is moral is absolute, totalitarian, black or white, whereas something that is of value is utilitarian, good only because it serves you well. The value to you of a certain object or even concept might be great at one point but poor at the next. It is the circumstance that dictates value.

Is it no wonder why our society likes the word ‘‘value’’ but hates the word ‘‘morals?’’ Morality (Victorian, legalistic, Puritanic) is a barrier to self-expression and man’s basic drives and desires. Values, on the other hand, reduces an adulterer to a sexual partner, homosexuality to an alternative life-style and abortion to a choice. And in case something is left in the philosophical middle, we have what the Rev. Charles Curran called ‘‘proportionate reason,’’ that there may be a compelling reason to do something even though it is wrong.

What will be the result on our society as we have known it? Is this what C. S. Lewis said in The Abolition of Man,  would finally produce the destruction of humanity? Oliver Wendell Holmes envisioned this type of society in his The Common Law when he wrote, ‘‘Truth is the majority vote of that nation that can lick all others.’’ Holmes also wrote in a personal letter, ‘‘So when it comes to the development of a corpus juris the ultimate question is what do the dominant forces of the community want and do they want it hard enough to disregard whatever inhibitions must stand in the way.’’ Alan Bloom traced the word ‘‘values’’ as we have been using it, back to Nietzsche. Nietzsche’s influence on Adolf Hitler is common knowledge. In Auschwitz today, the words of Hitler are recorded: ‘‘I freed Germany from the stupid and degrading fallacies of conscience and morality . . . we will  train young people before whom the world will tremble. I want young people capable of violence–imperious, relentless and cruel.’’ The results of a Germany where the elite ruled without morals and with only relative values is all too familiar.

Opinions as to what the church ought to be doing in this kind of society are varied. Some hawks are out in the streets, city halls and abortion clinics crying the message of morality to a sinful society. Some doves are withdrawn into the security of their closets, waiting for the end. It seems to me that the early church was somewhere between the hawks and the doves. The Roman church was not advised to line the streets of Rome holding hands and protesting abortions, homosexuals and child abuse. But neither did Paul neglect to have morality taught to the church or to speak personally to Roman guards to whom he was chained. The early church worked on society from the inside out and on the church from the inside and the outside. Paul did not command the church to take judgment of the lost into its own hands. He did, however, command the church to ‘‘judge those who are within’’ (1 Cor 5:12) so that at least the church would be a testimony of morality and virtue.

But are we distinguishing between morals and values in the local church? Can we still talk about absolutes and commitment to the truth or are we simply making a bid for a sizeable market? The nineties is not the decade for commitment nor for behavioral absolutes. We may laugh when we mistakenly sing the old song, ‘‘Take my life and let me be’’ but that is truly an accurate expression of today’s average Christian. When people come to our church do they bring with them, as Dave Breese wrote, ‘‘The refusal to belong to any school of thought, the repudiation of the adequacy of any body of beliefs whatever, and especially of systems, and a marked dissatisfaction with traditional philosophy as superficial, academic, and remote from life.’’ Then he concludes, ‘‘That is the heart of existentialism.’’ Utilitarian values fit well into the thinking of such people. Morals are frightening, restricting and inhibiting to the deeper cultivation of self-esteem.

I have no doubt that preaching on moral issues such as fornication, cursing, drunkenness, modesty or being unequally yoked to unbelievers will not be popular to some. For popularity, we must put all of these issues into the context of ‘‘values’’ as they relate to each person’s situation. Give them an ‘‘out’’ in case their situation becomes too tough. In this way we can say we have upheld a standard and also been on the cutting edge. ‘‘Conversely,’’ as Ravi Zacharias writes, ‘‘upholding the moral law as an expression of his love, in response to the love of God, is the sound of the Christian worshipping his Maker. The moral law, then, is not seen as an imposition upon him from without; rather, it is a commitment born out of gratitude to the God whose love he has experienced. This relationship, undergirded and motivated by love, in recognition of who God is, forms the foundation of right and wrong.’’