“To deny God is to deny law, for man’s law is ungrounded and forever changing.”
hen we speak of ethics, we are inevitably speaking of religion. Any discussion on morality is inherently religious. In fact, all ethical dialogue is merely the comparison of two opposing religious commitments: the religion of Christianity and the religion of humanism. As Gary DeMar wrote, “There are only two worldviews: the Christian (biblical) worldview and the humanistic (man-centered) worldview. There are, however, worldviews within worldviews because no one is totally consistent. Even so, these worldviews within worldviews still rest upon the basic presuppositions of a biblical or humanistic worldview.” The real question we must ask is which religious commitments are (1) consistent with that religious system, and (2) can account for the preconditions of intelligibility. The objective of this article is to present a positive account for the Christian worldview as the only system on which to build a consistent ethical theory, while simultaneously exposing the humanistic moral theories for what they are—incoherent and ungrounded.
The Christian’s Starting Point
The Christian’s starting point in every discussion must be God’s revealed written word to man, the Holy Scriptures. For “the Scriptures alone provide us with the only objective link to an infallible record, not just of the nature, content, and events of revelation, but of the ultimate purpose of revelation as it pertains to the plan of God in the history of redemption.” It must be noted here that the Christian doesn’t claim to have some empirical proof of the Scriptures being infallible. This isn’t to say that history doesn’t defend the legitimacy of the Bible—it does. It is rather to say that the Christian isn’t interested in providing an epistemologically inconsistent standard, such as empiricism. The Bible teaches that God is the judge over all of creation and that man is to submit to His revelation as the standard for knowledge. For this reason, the epistemologically consistent Christian doesn’t seek to bring the knowledge of God under man’s autonomous standards. The Christian therefore understands knowledge in light of a revelational epistemology, starting with the presupposition that the scriptures are divinely inspired. To do anything else is to deny the Lordship of Christ and to make man the final authority over God.
The Humanist’s Starting Point
In general, all humanistic moral theories start at the same point: man’s autonomy. But each moral position derives its authority from different sources. The cultural relativist, for example, defines his moral standards from the majority opinion of a given society, while the egoist defines morality based upon his own emotions and opinions. What is important now is that we understand the foundational problem with all humanistic worldviews: the denial of God’s authority and the claiming of man’s authority, in one way or another. It is meaningless to discuss the humanist’s initial appeal for his moral framework, when he has made himself the god of his own system. For such a system is internally inconsistent and must collapse. The person who starts first with man’s autonomy in an attempt to build an ethical system has failed before the trigger can be pulled. The reader must understand that before refuting such a system, the humanist has already shot himself in the foot by denying the Triune God. In doing so, they have sought to do the impossible: to account for morality without the eternal lawgiver. Dr. R.J. Rushdoony said, “When we turn to non-Christian thought, we find that all the various systems have in common a conception of existence as it is today as being normal. There is a denial of the biblical concept of original righteousness, of created character, and of the fall. There is a denial also of any ethical ideal given by a self-sufficient God by means of which all systems of ethics must be judged. Behind this denial lies a radical hostility to God.” All humanistic systems seek first to suppress the reality of God’s world by denying their own nature and the existence of the eternal God. Such a system cannot build a comprehensive moral theory.
Cultural relativism is perhaps the most common secular moral theory. The cultural relativist would argue that any discussion of morality is inherently subjective. He argues that each society, community or collective defines their own moral standards for themselves and that any ethical commitment is just as valid as any other society’s ethical commitments. Morality then, for the cultural relativist, is derived solely from man and his culture, not from any deity or universal ideal.
Cultural relativism fails in three main ways:
If it is true that every ethical stance is as equally valid as any other ethical stance, then the position that NOT every ethical stance is as equally valid as other ethical stances would also be as equally valid. To put that in simpler terms, the claim “all truth is relative” is itself an absolute statement. The statement “all ethical positions are relative to one’s society” is itself an absolute ethical claim. Ergo not everything can be relative if the fundamental claim for relativism is an absolute claim.
2. The Immorality of Social Reform
If what is right and wrong, just and unjust, moral and immoral is dependent solely on the decree of a particular society, then any stance rising up against the current social law is immoral. To put it bluntly, any form of social reform is by definition immoral given cultural relativism. It is truly absurd to think the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was immoral, the Emancipation Proclamation was immoral, all the while affirming Hitler’s Nazi Germany as a just and moral nation. The liberal left in the United States that is quick to take a stand and protest for “women’s reproductive rights” and “LGBT rights” are by their own standard immoral.
3. An Arbitrary Law
If cultural relativism is true, then every secular social theory becomes arbitrary. There can be no standard of justice, no standard for currency, no standard for education, and no standard for personhood. For what is just and moral today is one stroke of the pen away from becoming immoral and criminal tomorrow. If there is no eternal, universal moral standard and all of our laws are based on the will and decree of a fallible people, then I dare say we could have no society.
The utilitarian argues that the “good” is that which evokes the most happiness for the greatest number of people. That morality is based on utility and the satisfying of one’s needs. Yet once again, we find that the secular thinker has fallen short of a workable ethical system.
1. Obligations Given Utilitarianism
Utilitarianism first seeks the self-interest and happiness of the individual and then demands that men seek that happiness for others. As Dr. Greg Bahnsen noted, “It moves from the observation that all men seek happiness or pleasure to the dictate that men ought to do so. This expression of autonomous ethics is obviously self-serving and duty-dissolving. Although utilitarians have held that man ought to work toward the happiness of others, one can critically inquire as to why he should be thus obligated.” To put it simply, there is nothing in utilitarianism that universally obliges people to seek the happiness of others. At best, the utilitarian has an answer for personal ideas of right and wrong. It is, however, presumptuous to expect others to bow before such a standard and raise general happiness to the status of God. Therefore, at its root, utilitarianism is nothing more than universal egoistic hedonism.
2. No Standard for Justice
The utilitarian ethic would lead to the deconstruction of society and the justice system.
For example, suppose there was a serial killer working in a small rural town. The police have focused on the case for months with no leads. The case goes cold. Six months go by and the murders have ceased. The police are certain that the crimes have stopped and that the man has left town. The community, however, isn’t as certain, and the majority of the citizens have grown to distrust the police. In an attempt to regain the community’s trust and lay the case to rest, the police department finds a homeless man, a loner, an outcast who has no family or friends, and frames him for the murders. They arrest him, take him to court where he is found guilty and sentenced to death. As a result of his conviction, the community once again trusts the police department and feels at peace in their town.
Given a utilitarian ethic, such a scenario would be just. My question is, how can we be expected to build a working justice system when the utilitarian ethic isn’t concerned about true “justice”?
3. The Unknowability of the Future
I believe, however, that the problem of the unknowability of the future is the greatest problem for the utilitarian. You see, every action, every decision we make has an effect on our lives and the lives of others around us. Utilitarianism fundamentally fails because we, as finite creatures, cannot see the long-term effects of our actions. What we view as moral today (leading to great happiness) could lead to great immorality (great sorrow for many) in the future. This, of course, isn’t a problem for the Christian who puts his/her faith in the God that not only knows the future exhaustively, but has predestined the future for His glory according to His will. The problem of the unknowability of the future isn’t so easily solved by the humanist. Any action, no matter how small, could make a greater number of people unhappy tomorrow. Utilitarianism, then, must forever redefine what is moral. The United States’ War on Terror, for example, which evoked a great deal of happiness immediately after 911, is now viewed as an immoral and unjust war. Are we really to say that the U.S. War on Terror was at one moment just, in another unjust, and for all we know may become a just war in the eyes of history once again? I hardly think so.
Empathy and Evolution
A common appeal form the naturalist today is that morality has come about from evolutionary processes—that man has evolved to develop “empathy” which leads us to care for the wellbeing of others.
1. A Standard for Sanity
If morality is truly derivative of man’s empathy, then the naturalist has a greater problem to overcome than ethics. Such a moral theory would demand a standard for sanity, a standard I would argue that cannot be accounted for given naturalistic evolution. Suppose with me for a minute that I were a masochist. If that which is moral is based merely on man’s empathy, then why would it be immoral for me to inflict pain onto someone else? The naturalist will of course rise up at this moment and question my sanity. But to question my sanity would be to presuppose a standard of sanity (moral objectivism), which is of course absurd given naturalism. The naturalist would now have to venture off outside of the self in search of a standard by which to judge one insane.
2. A Collapse of Justice
If the naturalist in such a situation bites the bullet and affirms that it is moral for the masochist to inflict pain onto others, then the question must be asked of the social and judicial implications of such a stance. Empathy, sane or insane, isn’t concerned with justice, and therefore it is impossible to build a theory of justice on such an absurd ethic. If all we are interested in as a society is to understand another person’s feelings and treat them according to our own subjective likes and dislikes, then justice is unattainable and law is irrelevant.
I hope you can start to see the recurring issues with all secular ethics. Every humanistic moral theory has a flawed authority (man over God), holds self-destructive presuppositions, and is internally inconsistent.
The Triune God Who Lives
There is however a hope for a consistent appeal for morality, but the humanist doesn’t have it. The Christian has it. The Christian alone can justify and account for a comprehensive morality because the Christian’s foundational appeal isn’t to man, but to the Triune God of Scripture. The key point of division between a Christian ethic and a humanistic ethic is each system’s starting point. Do we start the discussion with a moral standard that defines law for us? Or do we start the discussion with a decree from man that then defines morality for us?
If law is to define morality, then both law and morality become arbitrary and forever changing. But if there is a universal moral standard that then gives us law, then both morality and law are unchanging and absolute, thus solving the problem of an inadequate justice system. To quote Dr. R.J. Rushdoony “Morality is either universal or its nonexistent,” and I tend to agree. The only question left is, why does Christianity alone account for universal morality? The Christian’s basis for universal morality comes from the very nature of God—the Trinity. The God of Scripture is by His own nature an eternal community/society (3 persons). This is an extremely important point, as all societies must have a standard for morality. The Triune God’s moral standards are eternal and perfect because He is eternal and perfect. Given the Christian worldview, morality is universal (God is universal), unchanging (God is unchanging), and necessary (God’s Triune nature). No other worldview can account for a consistent moral theory because every other worldview lacks the doctrine of the Trinity. Ethics for the Christian God must be universally binding and absolute by necessity. No other god can make this claim. The Christian can therefore have a foundation for law and justice, for when God decrees a law it is necessarily moral and just because it springs from His very nature. To abandon the Trinity is to abandon any hope for a comprehensive ethical system. For example, the Jehovah’s Witness who has distorted the truth of God’s word and the truth of God’s nature is without a defense for morality as well. They may have the correct law and moral guidance (it has been stolen), yet they fail to justify why such a standard is necessary. The Jehovah’s Witness god is not by nature Triune, and therefore does not necessarily need an ethical system. He may decree such a system for his creation, but it doesn’t follow that such a decree would be binding and unchanging. If morality is not rooted in the eternal nature of God, then it cannot be universally binding. The humanist has the same problem, attempting to root morality in man instead of in He who is eternal. When man denies the Triune God of Scripture and puts his faith in anything else for moral guidance, all we are left with is the deconstruction of society, law, justice and morality.
To deny the God of Scripture is to deny justice, for man’s justice system is not interested in justice but instead seeks to reform, to limit, or to strike fear into society. To deny God is to deny law, for man’s law is ungrounded and forever changing. To deny God is to deny morality, for man’s morality is dependent solely on his ungrounded, forever changing law. It is Christ who offers moral consistency and gives to man an objective standard by which to live. It is Christ alone who frees humanity from the bondage of tyrants. It is Christ alone who has the authority to decree a law as just. It is Christ alone who satisfies the necessary preconditions for ethics—a personal, universally just Triune God.
 DeMar, Gary, “God and Government”, AV Press, Powder Springs, Georgia, 2011, p. 227.
 King, David, “Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of Our Faith, Volume 1”, Christian Resources, Battle Ground, Washington, 2001, p. 41.
 I would argue that holding to a revelational epistemology (in the Holy Scriptures) is the only basis for true knowledge. Empiricism is fallacious because of the problems of sensory imaging and of induction. Rationalism is fallacious because it has its foundational roots in a faith commitment to reason’s validity, for one must presuppose reason to hold to rationalism.
 Rushdoony, R.J., “By What Standard?”, Ross House, Vallecito, California, 1958, p. 92.
 Bahnsen, Greg, “Theonomy in Christian Ethics”, Covenant Media Press, Nacogdoches, Texas, 2002, p. 281.
 Rushdoony, R.J., Lecture “The Kingdom of God and Ethics,” 54:40.