Amy Hall: Will right and wrong always be obvious?

Here’s a post from Amy Hall of Stand to Reason that will cause you to think.

She writes:

A person doesn’t have to know the Bible in order to know right and wrong, right? Well, yes and no. It all depends on what value system is being fed to that person by society. A society saturated in a Christian understanding of morality will reinforce that understanding, even among its atheists. A society without the background of Christianity behind it will enforce a different understanding of morality. Atheists have the mistaken idea that objective morality is simply obvious to everyone, but the truth is, it’s not. All one has to do is look back through history (and in other cultures today) to see that this is so. Our damaged consciences are malleable.

Is murdering your child right or wrong? Ask these mothers in India, where it’s commonplace in some areas to let your girl die if you prefer a boy. Ask pre-Christian cultures. This is why I think atheists are being far too hasty when they argue that Christianity is expendable—unnecessary for a good society. If we see atrocious moral crimes in cultures not influenced by Christianity, we have no reason to think our current standards will continue in a culture that rejects Christianity.

[…]As I’ve written before, intrinsic human value has to be taught. A society’s view of the human person and its value will affect what that society views as being moral: We are just animals. Imperfect animals aren’t worth the trouble. Therefore, there’s a case to be made for killing them rather than caring for them. That conclusion reasonably follows from the non-Christian premise. As Christianity fades in influence and a different view of the human person gains acceptance, don’t expect that our society will continue to recognize that conclusion to be immoral. At that point, people will still consider themselves to be perfectly moral…but only because they’re judging themselves by a different standard of morality.

It’s difficult for us to recognize the depth our depravity when “everyone else is doing it.” Ask Gosnell’s nurses.

I like this post because it connects an apologetic concern to real life. This concern about right and wrong isn’t merely theoretical. It’s practical.

Think about the abortion really means, in practice. Basically, you have two-grown ups who are engaging in a recreational activity. In the course of that activity, they create a new innocent life that is distinct from their lives. A new human genetic code. This new person is weaker than either of her two parents. And her life imposes certain obligations on them. She needs food, and safety, and care. Like a baby bird who has fallen out of her tree. But when there is no God, there is no purpose to putting your needs second, and someone else’s first. You could do it, if it makes you feel happy. But having to take care of a newborn doesn’t normally make people who are have risky recreational sex happy. After all, people who have recreational sex instead of procreative sex are looking for recreation not responsibility.

And so what do these powerful people do to the new life they have created? Do they let this new life impose obligations on them? Do they let this new life lower the amount of happiness they themselves will have? No. They kill it. For the strong to refrain from killing the weak when the weak impose obligations on them, there has to be a design for human nature that makes moral obligations and selflessness rational, instead of merely pleasurable. Because we all know that being saddled with a newborn baby is not fun. There has to be something more going on than the pursuit of pleasure if the baby is going to live.

Similarly with no-fault divorce and gay marriage. First, we enacted no-fault divorce, which weakened the stability of marriage so that many children now grow up fatherless.  No one is careful about marriage anymore in order to provide children with what they need. Instead, we just “marry for love” and then dissolve it when it doesn’t feel good anymore. Same-sex marriage is the same thing again. The voluntarily removal of the biological father or mother from a child’s life. And why? Because the needs of children don’t matter. They’re smaller than we are, so we don’t care about them.

Is there anything more going on in our society other than the seeking of pleasure? I think that the seeking of “happiness” instead of goodness is now the dominant view. No one wants to be responsible for anyone else. No one wants to be obligated to anyone else. We all seem to want to be free of feeling bad. If we do wrong, we don’t want to be judged or reminded about what we did. If we hurt someone else, then we don’t want to have to make restitution for what we did. We try to hand our children off to strangers so that we don’t have to teach them ourselves. We don’t want to learn anything that might make us feel obligated to do the right thing instead of what we feel like doing. Other people are  just there to give us pleasure. It’s sad.

All of these concepts had meaning in a Judeo-Christian society that encouraged marriage and families. But those days are drifting away. Once upon a time, we had a social consensus that what mattered was doing the right thing – what we were designed to do. And it was OK to not feel good and to not feel happy, if you were doing the right thing. Happiness wasn’t the main goal of life. Now things are different.

8 thoughts on “Amy Hall: Will right and wrong always be obvious?”

  1. Excellent analysis, Wintery! There once was an atheist physics professor who, after many years of discussions with a friend concerning Christianity, came to the point that he was absolutely convinced that Christianity was true. When his Christian friend asked him if he was going to act on it, he said, “No.” The Christian asked him why, and he said “Because then I can’t have sex with whomever I want.” Now, THAT is an intellectually honest atheist!


  2. Amy Hall writes, “And it was OK to not feel good and to not feel happy, if you were doing the right thing. Happiness wasn’t the main goal of life. Now things are different.”
    I can’t count the amount of times while growing up in the 80’s I would hear someone say, ‘you have to find a career in which you are happy.’ ‘Your job has to be something that makes you happy’ etc. That was a pretty popular view in those yuppie ruled days, and I guess is today also, but I never really looked at it that way. I always saw my job as a part of my life, not what defines it. I go there, I do it well, I go home. I try not bring stress home with me or family problems to work. In fact the only people I know that are really HAPPY with their work are artists or film makers, those who create beautiful things. Most don’t like their jobs but find some happiness or satisfaction in the fact that they do it well or that it is a means to care and provide for their families. I think happiness is a good important thing, but if we make it the overriding priority we will began to exclude others in it’s pursuit. Find a hobby, have fun with your spouse/kids, let the Lord know you appreciate what he has given you. Even if your job stinks.


    1. James, you have a fantastic attitude. I just wanted to add, as a small point, that there are folks other than artists and film makers who love their work. I was blessed to work for 25 years as an engineer designing spacecraft and I loved just about every minute of it. (There was some stress involved, obviously, but I know artists and film makers who are clearly stressed too – by deadlines, lack of success, budget overruns, etc.) Frankly, I couldn’t believe my good fortune to be getting paid to do my job, and I was really blessed to be able to spend a great deal of time with my family and kids – not always, but usually. I originally went into this field because I was good at it and wanted to get paid :-) – not because I thought I would love it. But, I ended up loving it.

      I think maybe it’s possible to learn to enjoy the work you do by tring to be really good at it as a way of pointing to God’s Glory for giving you a gift and an opportunity. I think that can be true for being a janitor too (I was one in high school and college) – it doesn’t have to be spacecraft design. I also think that it’s neat and admirable that your happiness is more determined by your relationship with the Lord than by your attempt to ‘be happy.’


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