Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Unfortunately many people tend to think of the world in either/or ways.  That is people see events in the world and acts by others as good vs. bad.  Life is never so simple.  
My wife hates seafood of any kind.  I love it.  She eats peanut butter.  The very idea of eating peanut butter in any form gives me the shudders.  Of course I am allergic to the stuff.
From the Sunday after Labor Day to Fathers' Day I am expected to wear a robe and either a tie or a clergy shirt.  Over the summer I can wear a dress shirt or a polo shirt.  Colleagues of mine wear polo shirts and jeans all year long.  No robes.
We use traditional worship and traditional hymns.  Others use contemporary worship and contemporary Christian music.
The Session of the congregation I serve chooses to give directly to mission causes.  Others choose to give by general giving through the presbytery.
As a Christian I choose to make my ethical choices according to the Scriptures – or I should say according to the best interpretation of the Scriptures I can do.  I would call this ethics of divine command.  Others, non Christians choose other sources as a basis for ethical decisions.  Atheists may choose a humanist method of ethics.  While the various decisions we make can be good or bad, good or better or bad or bad or even bad or worse the means by which we make the decisions can all be good.  This doesn't mean that I don't think all should be Christians.  It does mean that living the good ethical life is more dependent on particular acts rather than the means by which one comes to a conclusion about which act is good. 
Exercising is good, based on your ability to do so.  (Always consult your doctor first!)  But walking, running, riding a bike, lifting weights, pilates and other means can all be good. 
All good is not equal.  Cutting back on your use of oil is a good.  We’re going to run out of the stuff sooner than most people think.  It should be used for fixing roads, clothing and medicine, not to keep our cars running.  So driving less and buying a more fuel efficient car is good.  Taking public transportation to the extent that it is available better.  Turning the temperature in your house to a lower setting in the winter and wearing sweaters is good.  Putting solar cells on your roof or running a wind mill is better. 
Paying your credit cards bills and all your other bills on time is good.  Taking a look at what you really need as opposed to what you want is better.  If we Americans take a look at what people around the world survive on we in comparison are all rich.  Do you really need that new computer, cell phone, car, suit, shirt, etc., etc.?  Buying less is better no matter what people say about stimulating the economy by going out and buying.
Let's face it we are going to disagree about some of this.  Can fighting in a war ever be good?  Was killing Osama bin Laden good?  But I think there are things we would all agree are good and all agree are bad.  Putting your trash in a trash can and recycling are good.  Throwing your trash on the ground and throwing recyclables away is bad.  Robbing a bank under any circumstances is bad.  Talking things through with someone is good.  Calling the other names or refusing to listen is bad.  Ending arguments when you disagree with the other with politeness is good.  Stabbing the other with a knife or shooting the other is bad.  Rearing you children to respect others is good.  Rearing your children to hate others because of their religion, race or ethnic origins is bad.  Our list could go on and on in this area.
Can two actions be equally bad?  I think so.  Shooting someone in the head as compared to beating the other to death is equally bad.  Failing to feed the hungry yourself or failing to give to organizations that feed the hungry might be equally bad.  I suspect we could make a rather long list of this. 
Some will disagree with me about this.  I think war is always a choice between bad and worse.  I use the just war way of deciding whether it is appropriate for a country to go to war or not.  I believe that there have been very few justified wars of late.  That would include both the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  But there can be wars in which choosing to go to war is bad but better than choosing not to go to war.  A war to protect the innocent would be an example.  A war to stop an unprovoked attack on one's country is bad but failing to do so would be worse.
This statement is also going to be controversial.  I believe all abortion is wrong.  Abortion can't be right.  But there are limited instances when abortion is better than not aborting a baby.  The one on which we would all agree is when the baby threatens the life of the mother.
Ethics are a lot more complicated that many people think.  You can hear politicians talk about either/or ethic when running for office.  Curiously the better politicians will switch to a more complicated ethic while ruling.  So let's think things through rather than reacting from our guts.  The sinner you prevent from sinning may be you.


Alan said...


You've gotten all wishy-washy and postmodern.

Tsk. tsk. tsk.


Pastor Bob said...

Gee thanks Alan. I'll have to get back to normal and condemn a few people to death.

Pastor Bob said...

To be serious I think it was Luther who said that he would rather have a just Turkish sultan than an unjust Christian ruler. I am willing to cooperate with those I believe are theologically wrong, including atheists if we agree on what is ethically right.

Alan said...

"I am willing to cooperate with those I believe are theologically wrong, including atheists if we agree on what is ethically right."

Working with people who are theologically wrong? You're just spouting blasphemy now. ;)

Pastor Bob said...

Please don't tell my Presbytery! I have a wife a dog and a cat to feed! PLEASE!


Alan said...

Well, when it comes to reporting you to your presbytery, you can be assured that it isn't me you have to worry about. You've got some friends who are much better at that. They're trained professionals when it comes to tattling. ;) If they need this, you may need to stock up on Alpo.

And while I've been trying to get brought up on charges for 15 years and it's never happened, but that's because the evil heretical international liberal PCUSA conspiracy protects me.