Full Text for New Morality -- An Attack on the Church (Text)

New Morality-An Attack On The Church? T HE I'fiOGl?AI\I COAII\lIrr'TEE askecl if I would discuss "situa- tioil cthics" as part of our stud\- this !ear about thc t.nviron- mental infiucnccs affecting tile cliurcl~ ancl ministry. I agreed .rvit11 one membcr of tlic faculty \vho suggested that "situation c.ri1ics" was rather "old hat.'' I11 the t\vcntieth centiirv it docs not taLc long for somcthiiig to bcbcon~c outdated. Surel!-, all of us have long si~lce read Joseph Fletcher's Siti~n- tiou EtJlics: 'l'llc Serr ;\Ioralit) (Tlic ll'estn~instcr Press, 1966) and i~erhapsalso his secjuel i\lorcll Resl~onsi!~iiit?r: Sitzrrrtioll !-;-:-lllics at 11'0r3: (The \Vestminster 1'rcss, 196 7). Flctcher has an crigaging stvle of writing. lloreovcr, he is able to spice his books, by the t-er? nature of his s~ibject, ~vitll Iittlc niorscls of scs exploits. He has hael, and continues to ha1.c. a 11-idc audience. 111 addition, those ~vho find Flctcher too acadc~llic can resort to Hugh Hefiler's ~~opu- larization of the new illoraliti. I-lefner's secmingl!- endless e'liicida- tion of "The l'la\.bo~r ~hilos6~hv" ~vill sun ive in human 1itcr.lture as an c\amplc of thk ultimate. i'n baring repetition, if for 110 other TC3SOlI. Fletcher, of course, provides an interesting csaml~le of catch- ing pcoplc 011 thc horns of a new and lnore vicious dilcnl;~~a under thc guisc of extricating them from n previous dilcmma. Tllcre are, decrees Fletcher, onlv three wavs of approaching ethical decisions. 111 mo~,ing fro111 the- "is" to thb "ougllt," fi-om dcscriptivc to pre- scriptive statemcnts (that ancicnt bug-a-bear) I\-c ]nust be anti- nomian, legalistic or-you guesseel it-Eletcherites! Legalis111 is solneho~v cc1uatcd \vith fu~~dan~entalis~i~, Biblical literalism, etc. so that ivc arc immccliatel\ plit off from it. \Yho wants to bc: a legal- ist? Espcciall!- if it iicludes one among the benighted, stuffed- shirr, sexually frustrated clan \vhich Fletchcr pictures. TIe docsn't quite gct to it, but one catches on after awhile that hc is talking about good old I'astor Gutachtcn who is teaching the Ten Conl- n~antlments to his confirmation class in the church bascment on a Saturda!. niol-ning-ant1 teaching thcm as if God reall!. meant His prohibitions ancl co~nmandnients, and as if thcre are moral absolutes. lfTcll, what kind of a gll.rr is this foriiicr Episcopal Dean turned social cthics professor? Is 11; a libertine? Hca\ren, savs Fletcher, forbicl! He refuses to play the Scylln to the legalistic' Charybdis. Hc does not want to be an antinomian. Hc does not seem to haw Xgricola in ininc-I as much as Jean-Paul Sartre. He c~ridcntlv has read Sartrc and perhaps soine of tJic other radical e~istcntialists ancl has been fri~htencd b\. his lcok into the ah!-ss of thc total and ab- solute contingcncr of hulnan Iifc. In rejecting an cssencc which humans are obliied to "fit," the existentialists adillit onIy thc bare fact of existence- Hcidegger's "Daseil~." If any choice could be shown to be rational, we would bc bouncl to it. Inasmuch as noth- ing is rational, me arc free, but unfortunatcl~ free in a nwrlcl which 11i longer has meanilig. All of this gets a-bit heady for Fletcher and he shrinks back fro111 the an~fulness of absolute contingency, Having established his credentials as a rejector of ioy-killing old Biblicisni as \\ell as rootIess "aiiti~io~~lianisni," Fletcher offers thc great new answer. Situation ethics, that's what it is. Oh, he uses rules and laws. That is, lic recogiiizcs that the)- once had valid it!^ for someone and we had bettcr not ignore tlienl. In the final analysis there is on117 one absolutc (strange that Fletcher never scems to catch on to the fact that Ilc HAS an absolute): act in Iove. Fletcher is a master of thc art of concocting casuistry cases. He brings tears to our eyes. Tlicre's tlie rainmaker \\rho stops his son from sliooting the traveling salesman 1~110 rompetl in the ha! with thc spinster daughter. \\'Iiy, that iva\ an act of love! The clear man was 01ily releasing the spinster's feiiiininit)~. "Noah," thunders the rainmaker, "you're so concerned about what's right that you don't Icnow what's good," Or therc is the dear mother in a prison camp who discovers that if she beco~iies pregnant she \vilI be released to care for her fainil! which needs her Irer!l much. The guard who concents to assist hcr in the plan becomes a family hero and the resulting baby is cspcciallv loved. And yon thought adul- tery was evil! Thc trouble with Fletcher's clcvcr cascs of casuistr! is that one is led to consent to them on the cnlotjonal Ie~rcl and the more basic issues bccomc obscured. To refute FIetclier has become a fashionable pastime. That is not the intended thrust oi' this paper. Adequate refutations gen- erally move in tlie direction of sho.rving that Fletcher and his ill< have an incomplctc notion of the significance of sin. Or they clis- lda!. a naive and nat~~ralistic approach to the meaning and purpose of human life. Or ther miss tlie point of the spirit behind the letter of the laws of ~oci in the Bible. h4oreovcr, they cxhibit ail unsupl~ortcd confidence in man's unaided abilit!. to chdosc the lov- ing reslJonsc. Fletcher has some peculiarly universalistic idea., espcciall\ in his confusion of thc Holv Ghost with lore. He in- dicatcs in at least one ~>l:jcc that anl.onc-who displavs a loving choicc tlicrcb~. has the Hol! Spirit. The place of the atoning power of the hl(;od of Christ sllort shrift. If situation cthic; is intended to be a system-or perhaps its esponcnts would prefer to call it a non-SF-stem-it is open to end- less ~srangling in tlic arclia of ethical thdorv. This .r\~ould take us far aficltl, hit we can point out some very - simple, yet devastating objections. If this is n value tlieorv, itsis untcnablc because it establishes the base for the n~ctliodol~~ical model upon the excep- tioiia! caw. 4lorcovcl-, Fletcher's own procedure contl-adicts his o.cvn principles. He is a contextualist. Yet, in the unus~~al story of the two mothcrs in the wagon trains, he has the nerve to ask, "II'hich wonian made the right dccisionl" Hc asks us to generalize moral judgments without careful examination of the whole range of con- textual confi~ui-ations. That's the basic trouble with 011 of his illustrations which are supposed to prove his case. Ethical thcory through the ;igcs 11;is had grcat respect for the csperiencc of the hliman race and the j~idgmcnt of the Christian community. So- where does Fletcher urge readers tllat they had better not leap to conc1usions .tr-hich contradict that exlm-ience and n-itness .trithou t long pondering. He leaves the in~pression that we can quielcly make a illoral judgment and s~vecl~ aside the accumulated experience. His isolation of cascs fro111 the ivhole networlc of relationships and in- volved structure of human l~ersonalit\, is simplistic in the extreme. Hc assumes that people who arc in;n~ediately in\-olrcd and cmo- tionally cntangled are in a l~osition to dcterininc that a certaii~ act is "the loving act." Most of his illustrations are in a sexual con- text. hlost of the applications have been inadc to young pcoplc. It is naivitc run wild to ascume that a young nlan fired hr the pas- sion of the mon~ent is in any positio~i to 1,e a clear-lleadccl conteut- ualist, cvcn if con tcstualism n7ere \lalid. The most-used an(1 least- defined word ill all of the con testualist writings is the word "love." Son~eonc has said that the ~vord rllns through all of Fletcher's writ- ings like a greased pig. \\Tell, it be fun to refute Fletcher, Robinson, Sittler, et nl., but we are reallr intending to discuss the problcln which this whole movenlent crcatds for the church today. Thc prol,lein, as I sec it, is that context~ialism looks so good, so kind, so loving, so freeing, so fresh and good that IT hlAI(ES INTRIhTSICrlLISRI LOOK BAD. TT7e hare a new game. Prior to contextualism, immoral it^. certainly existed. But it was recognized as inin~oral by those who conlnlitted it. 'Thcre n-as a defiancc, and a cronyism of those who rejected Biblical inoralitjr, but there was not this devastating self-righteozisltess about 1,eing immoral. This is the maddening part and that which creates problems for the church. None wants to be legalistic, ui~loi-ing, lacking in patience and under- standing. And the situationi~ts put all exponents of objective, in- trinsic morality into that hag. il number of !cars ago CPH pub- lished a hook entitled The Ten Conz~rza~zdnze~zts Will Not RztRge. In the light of the misuse of the phrase "God is Lore," that is made to sound like a collection of dirt\- words today. Those who still be- live in an absolutisin which holds that some things arc .tr7rong no matter who does tlle~n and under what circunistanccs look like haters of mankind in the light of the liberating new gosycl. Years ago I heard one of Fulton Sheehan's seriilons in which he thundered with grcat authority: "Right is rigpt if nobodr, is right. TVrong is wrong if crersboclg is wrong." Principles are 'not merely "ill~imina- tors" but "dir&tors." Right is ~iltirnately nsrlzorcrl in the revealed will of God. Scripturc contai~~s not merely descriptio~ls of what other people in other circlln~stances considered right and wrong, but actual ~ITCSCJ-Z~~~OI~S which are universally and cosmicallj7 valid. X few indications of our response in this difficult situation f ollo\vs : 1. \\;e nccd to re-exa~nine our system of Christian ethics to iilake sure that we ha\-e not "taught for doctrines the coinmand- merits of men." It is possible, and it has happencd, that human prescriptiolls do get mingled in. Tliis will only weaken our stand. Sabbatarian laws are bat1 if they breed tlisrespcct for genuine tli- line lam-. 2. \\'e need to place inore stress on the tloctrinc of Christian suEerii~g and cross-bearing. It is not true that we 111ust always look for the will of God to relieve suffering oi' a human being. Tf we teach that doing the right thing will always bring peacc ant1 happi- ilcss in this life, we will soon run into trouble. 3. \\ye need to draw firmer conl~ections between Christian ethics and Christian eschatology. In the light of the brevity of hunlan existence on this earth and the inevitability of the hereafter, the need for bearing of pain inakes sense. 4. \Ire need to emphasize alld admit the difficulty of moral decisions and relate them tlirectly with the central doctrine of the faith, justification by grace. There will bc times when it will be very difficult for a Christian to make the "right" choice. The basic motive is not lore of Inan, but first of all fear and lore of God. This is a truly Lutheran accent and a great heritage from Dr. Luther. It is a bad step to place the love of man-even of our dearest ones -at the heart of our ethical s~.stem. The fear and love of God is n firmer anchor. \Vith ~oseph~ we need to sa!., "Ho~v can I (10 this great wickedness and sin against God." 5. On the other hand, \tre need to stress that love and fear of Got1 wili not often lead us to actions \vhich even remotel\- seem to disregard love of man. The horizontal relation to nlan *flows na- turallv out of the vertical relation to God. IT'hilc the Christian church has much to be ashamet1 of because of the selfish and hate- ful actions of men who bore her name, nevertheless, she also has inuch to bc proud of. Christians illoved bv the love of Christ have not been the blue-noses of thc world who have sought to spoil ever~one's fun. Thcv have been the kind and joyful healers of mankind. ITTe need not sublnit to slander in this debate. 6. \Ve must stand firm in our preaching of the Christian ethic. The Bible does have clear indications of God's will. Those indications are universal. It is not difficult to separate the moral froin the ceremonial laws or the descriptive from the prescriptive in St. Paul. In all the emphasis upon the Gospel as the centraI n~essage of the church, \\re must not neglect the law which is God's IVord and which does God's work.