The Dilemma of Imposed Morality

Flickr (by chrisnicolson)

Flickr (by chrisnicolson)

Well, in addition to missing yesterday’s post, I’m starting early today so that I can reread and edit what I say in this post.  So, that’s two rules I’m breaking in my Lent writing project.  I’m guessing we will all get over it; however, some events happened recently that have me thinking and I wanted to communicate my thoughts both clearly and effectively (well, as effectively as possible).  Hopefully my thoughts will help at least open your thoughts to these ideas and give you something to consider even if you don’t agree.  With that in mind (my desire for thought provocation) I’m also going to break another “rule” and share this on Facebook.

We all have some level of a desire to see a certain morality imposed on others.  In some sense, this is a good thing.  We each appreciate the ability to go about our daily activities without murder, assault, and rape awaiting us when we venture outdoors.  We value the appropriate use of legislation in many aspects of our life.  And yet, we carry our own code of personal morality that we wish to see in our lives and those around us.  Generally speaking, Christians would consider this morality to stem from the Bible and we would classify violations of Biblical moral codes as sin.

In our attempts to elicit conformity to this moral code, we use many different means.  Some advocate for a return of civil legislation to mimic the morality of the Bible.  While there are a plethora of problems with this mentality (beginning with “whose interpretation?”), that isn’t the focus of my thoughts.  Rather, I’m considering non-legislative, personality morality that we try to elicit in the behavior of others.  Whether speaking of our children, our spouse, our friends or our coworkers, we often try to impose our morality through guilt inducing statements and actions.

We “tsk” behaviors we aren’t happy with or withdraw from others who may sometimes be offensive.  We express our heartbreak or simply roll our eyes as we look away.  Whatever the method, we’ve discovered that often we can elicit a change in behavior by inducing guilt in someone else.  We decry, verbally or via actions, the offensiveness to which we are subjected and explain (again verbally or via actions) how horrible the other person is to make us feel this way.  We create a sense of shame about how their actions make us feel in hopes we will convince them into changing their behavior.

Surely, it is sometimes the case that the behavior we find offensive, the behavior we consider to be immoral is indeed a violation of God’s clear commands.  In these cases, we take some amount of pleasure or pride that the other person has turned from sin.  But have they?  Jesus himself gave us the origins of both good and evil behavior.  Luke 6:43-45 clearly shows that it is out of our heart, good or evil, that our words and actions proceed.  So what of the sinful person conforming because we have induced guilt?

While it is surely possible that a feeling guilt over having offended someone we know may possibly lead to a change in heart, that is no certainty.  Indeed, the more common outcome is simple conformity for the sake of peace or appeasement.  So what?  At least they aren’t committing that sin any longer, right?  Isaiah 64:6 says that even our righteousness is filthy (KJV) or polluted (ESV).  Jesus harshly condemned this faked righteousness in Matthew 23:27, saying it was like a tomb that looks clean and polished on the outside but is still full of dead bones.

You see, the dilemma of imposed morality is simply this:  Imposed morality, when conformed to,  is no less immoral, no more righteous than our original sinful behavior.  That’s right, our outward conformity to rules, whether legislative or those imposed by someone else, serves no purpose in our fight for personal righteousness.  So our methods of inspiring moral behavior through induced guilt serves no purpose than to clean the outside of the tomb.  Worse, it can even create a false sense of righteousness in the person submitting to our pleas.  They can assume that everything is right since they are no longer creating offense or turmoil.

This leaves us in a very difficult and uncertain place.  We desire to see those around us do what is right and moral.  We desire to see our friends and families avoid sin and follow after righteousness.  Our actions to conform someone via guilt are at best immaterial and at worse destructive and deceptive.  What are we to do?

There is only one answer.  The only real change stems from a heart change.  The only true transformation (not conformation) comes from a heart and mind that have been converted by the power of God, because only God has the power to genuinely change the heart.  We must trust God to work the genuine transformation needed in our friends and family.  No other source can create the result we truly desire (if we desire genuine change and not simply outward conformation).

I hope to discuss more about this topic, including what we can do, working with God, to see the genuine transforming power of His conversion take place.








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