Saturday, May 20, 2006

Situation Ethics is a Trap (Part 2)

If you have read The Effect of Situation Ethics Upon Moral Values by Burt Thompson, Ph.D., then you will have a greater understanding of what is being discussed here in part 2 in this series of posts.

In Part 1, we established that situation ethics is a trap for two reasons.

1. It leads to moral and ethical dead ends.
2. Situation ethics leads to spiritual dead ends.

Ridenour continues:

Of course, Paul tells the Colossians to cool it on dirty sex, cheating, hating, filthy talk. These and similar pastimes are definitely no-no's because of the big YES - Jesus Christ.

As Paul puts it: "You are living a brand new kind of life that is continually learning more and more of what is right, and trying constantly to be more and more like Christ who created this new life within you" (Col. 3:10)

To this most Christians reply: "Yes, that's what I want...a new kind of learn more of what is be like Jesus Himself. But...HOW? JUST WHAT IS MORALITY? WHAT MAKES SOMEONE OR SOMETHING MORAL OR IMMORAL?"

According to Webster, to be immoral is to fail to conform to a standard of what is good and right. Scripture says the same thing, but in more graphic terms: "All have sinned; all fall short of God's glorious ideal" (Romans 3:23).

Scripture defines sin in an active sense: "Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness" (1 John 3:4); and in a passive sense: "Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do, and does not do it, to him it is sin" (James 4:17).

If you wanted to sum it all up in one sentence, you could say:
"Immorality is the use and/or abuse of God and others in a selfish, calculating, unloving way."

Thompson's paper gave examples of "sticky situations" in which he indicated what author Fletcher felt could be solved only through the use of situation ethics. (See pages 7 and 8 at the link above). Fletcher's views include the belief that there are some circumstances that militate against absolutism. However, Thompson answers back most forcefully when he asks,
"How can the situation determine in one instance what is “right or wrong” while at the same time allowing the individual to remain “autonomous” by determining for himself what is “right or wrong?”

As was demonstrated in a quote from Gilbert in Philosophy and New Testament Faith:

"It is not too difficult to see that, on the subjective view, there cannot be clear right and wrong. Two apparently contradictory judgments both can not be correct. All we can say is that one judgment arouses a feeling in us of approval while the other arouses the emotion of disapproval. There is no real basis for absolute right and wrong, only feelings conditioned by unseen influences. This leaves man floating around in a turbulent sea of moral uncertainty (1977, p. 44).
(bold mine)

Courts have to grapple with situation ethics all the time. No doubt about that. A jury could be swayed one way or the other based on their subjective opinions on what is right or wrong in any given situation. They are admonished to follow the law, and most law-abiding citizens involved in the difficult task of making "guilty or innocent" decisions, do all that they can to follow that law. However, personal convictions can often be at play and determine an outcome that others would not agree with.

For instance. The Moussaoui trial. It is now known that only one juror disagreed with sentencing him to the death penalty. Because of that one juror, Moussaoui will spend the rest of his life in a maximum security prison rather than facing a lethal injection for his crimes.

In the Michael Jackson child molestation trial, it is now known that the mother of the child is alleged to have participated in welfare fraud. When this came out in the trial, several jurors used that information in deciding that she was not a credible witness regarding her son's alleged molestation. Jackson went free.

Just last night I watched an episode of Law & Order, SVU. The story was about a "female" who was attacked during an attempted rape by her boyfriend's brother in the bathroom at a party. The brother was killed and the boyfriend came into the bathroom to see what the commotion was all about. The "female" said his brother raped her and in her struggle with him, she killed him. The boyfriend fled out the bathroom window.

During questioning, the SVU group discovered that the "female" was a transgender person who had female breasts, but did not yet have the sex-change operation. (Yeah...very complicated...and tragic). It is difficult to shorten this story without leaving out important details.

When the boyfriend (who had been going out with the "female" for two months but hadn't had intercourse yet) found out she was transgender, he overdosed on his heart pills due to the stress and grief over the entire situation. He lost his brother because his "girlfriend" killed him. The only reason she felt the need to kill the brother was so that he wouldn't tell the boyfriend the truth about his/her male to female sex change plans. She/he thought she/he would lose the lover if he ever knew. She wanted to have the operation before the boyfriend discovered the truth so that he would (perhaps) never need to know. Talk about a complicated situational ethics dilemma!

Throughout the trial, the defense lawyer tried to gain sympathy for the transgender person who murdered the brother to conceal her identity from the boyfriend. When details were shared, anyone with a heart could not help but have sympathy, empathy and sorrow for what this person had to go through in his/her life! However, the fact remained that she killed someone. Justice needed to be done. The jury would need to decide.

Meanwhile, the prosecutor developed much sympathy for the defendant. She met her at a restaurant and asked her why she didn't take the lessor charge (second degree manslaughter, I think) that she offered through her lawyer. We find out that the lawyer never told the defendant about the offer! The defense lawyer was confronted by both of them, and after a lawyer fight, the defendant said she wanted to take the plea deal. It meant 5 years in prison rather than 15 to life (if I recall correctly).

The jury verdict came back guilty. The defendant was sent to prison. "She" requested that she be sent to an all-women's prison, but because she is actually a male, this request could not be granted and added to the dilemma. In the final scene of the show, the SVU group gets a phone call. We find out that he/she was gang raped in the cell block. We see his/her battered, beat up body being wheeled away on a gurney.

This story is truly tragic...just awful! I realize that it's only a T.V. show, but many of the episodes are often similar to real life situations. It certainly tugged on my heartstrings and made me realize what horrible circumstances can occur when people go through such tragic dilemmas in life.

I am curious whether or not any readers here would like to comment on this story. Do you see this as an example of the need to rely on situation ethics? Or, is it an example (tragic one, to say the least) of the need for moral absolutes?

(Please note: I am not using this example to bash any person or group of people. If my choice of words for identification seem offensive, please understand that I was only trying to be descriptive.)

A while back, I got into a discussion about the illegal Mexican immigrant who brutally beat and killed a transgender man who was made up like a woman. He got a far too light sentence (IMO) because his lawyers used the "gay panic" defense. I think that THAT law and defense argument should be changed! As I stated back then, yes, the hispanic man was deceived into thinking that a "woman" whom he wanted to have sex with was actually a man. But he didn't have to kill him!!

Since I am personally against "hate crimes" laws precisely because they can be easily misused in many instances, I must say that there are certain laws on the books that need to be changed and/or strengthened. The "gay panic" defense excuse and the implementation of Jessica's Law in every state are two examples.

I didn't intend to go so far off topic. But I felt the need to explain my position a bit more thoroughly.

In the next segment, I will share more regarding what a Christian should do with what the public sometimes deems those "sticky, neither black nor white" situations. We will examine: What is selfish?" What is calculating and unloving? What is impure? What is dirty?

Ridenour tells us that there is no guarantee that you will always have the right answer for every situation. But he does share the fact that there are five specific questions that can help you evaluate the situation, analyze it, take it apart and get a better perspective based on God's wisdom, not just your own.

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