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David Hegg: The fundamental ethical question

Posted: July 22, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: July 21, 2012 6:28 p.m.

For most of human history, philosophy and ethics acted upon what is known as the “axial” view of human existence. This view holds that this life is not all there is; there is another level of existence that encompasses this one and holds out the promise of fulfillment.

In the axial view, this life is a journey toward the next, a journey from darkness to light, from brokenness to health, from shame to honor, and from guilt and estrangement to perfection and unity.

This theory also asserts that there are powers at play in this life that emanate from the spiritual world, and that the central challenge of this life is to understand these powers, submit to them, and through it all be prepared to enter the next life well.

Most, if not all, religions are based on the axial view, although they differ greatly in how they define the future and how they prescribe the proper way of life today.

But underneath this discussion is the most vital question in ethics: Are we as humans accountable to a higher being — vis-à-vis God? — or are we free and unaccountable to anyone or anything other than ourselves?

Before Darwin, the general view of existence was that God was in control — in some way — of creation and human history. This was how human society explained the reality around it.

But with Darwin came a sweeping change. Through his theory of evolution, Darwin said, in effect, “I can explain reality without God.” And while this sweeping assertion has had major effects on almost every area of learning, perhaps the one most overlooked is its effect on personal ethics.

Today in our country, we can recognize the effect Darwinian evolution has had on personal morality and ethics. The institutions that once were considered foundational are being minimized at best, and discarded at worst.

Marriage is a primary example. In the axial way of life, marriage was ordained by a higher power for a set of purposes that were considered essential to ordered society.

A father and a mother, bound by commitment, provided a stable base for the raising of children and the furtherance of societal values. Today, marriage has been pushed to the margins even as the raising of our children has become a corporate event through the use of professional day care entities.

By cutting the cords of responsibility and accountability to the divine, Darwin freed mankind from the restraints such as marriage, and the responsibility of raising children. If humanity was not dependent upon God for existence, then mankind need not live to please him.

But this demands that we ask a serious question: Who are we to live for?

Unfortunately, this question is being answered in increasingly self-centered ways today. We have been captured by the twin gods of personal comfort and convenience.

Politically, we have lost the will to suffer pain to fix our economic problems. In relationships, we are increasingly putting pleasure before commitment in our marriages and with our children.

Spiritually, we have re-imagined a god that is in our image and then scolded him for being too weak to assist us. In our freedom from accountability to anything, we have thrown open our lives to everything that appeals to us, and it is killing us.

As a pastor, I have lived my life in the axial mode. And along the way, I have found that it has brought a balance to my life — what the Jews call “shalom” — that is satisfying every day in innumerable ways.

If you play with an open mind and open eyes, you’ll have to agree that mankind’s evolutionary freedom hasn’t solved our problems. A serious and truthful look at our world will prove that every evil known through human history is as prevalent today as ever.

The god of evolution apparently can’t stem the tide of human weakness. Fortunately for us, God isn’t dead and he continues to grant peace to those who walk in his ways.

David W. Hegg is senior pastor at Grace Baptist Church in Santa Clarita.


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