Pastoral Perspectives

Is Morality Still Relevant Today?

What is the meaning…? Then you shall say…

Every community has a unique culture and a related set of norms. Norms and values refer to what a society sees as proper, right and desirable. Culture plays an important role in this regard and this can lead to problems in a multicultural country like Singapore. Cultural and social norms are rules or expectations of behaviour within a specific cultural or social group. Often spoken, these norms are social standards of appropriate and inappropriate behaviour, governing what is (and is not) acceptable and co-ordinating our interactions with others. Cultural and social norms persist within society because of individuals’ preference to conform, given the expectation that others will also conform.

Common synonyms include ethics, principles, virtue, and goodness. Morality has become a complicated issue in the multi-cultural world we live in today. Let’s explore what morality is, how it affects our behavior, our conscience, our society, and our ultimate destiny. Today, we can ask whether it is immoral for:

  • Homosexuality
  • Euthanasia
  • Abortion
  • Sex before marriage
  • Multiple partners
  • Cheating the taxation department
  • Corporate lies
  • White lies
  • Ruthlessness to get to the top
  • Deliberate incorrect political statements

We are entering a stage where true morality is being obscured in the name of pragmatism especially in the corporate world, politics and world affairs.

The recent Pink dot movement and the NLB saga are indicators of intolerance of a community norm – a warning sign of moral decline. Fifty years ago, Omar Bradley said: “We live in a world that appears to have lost its moral moorings.” Ravi Zacharias sums up his analysis of the situation today:

“The logic of chance origins has driven our society into rewriting the rules, so that utility has replaced duty, self-expression has unseated authority and being good has become feeling good. These rules plunge the moral philosopher into a veritable vortex of relativisations. All absolutes die the death of a thousand qualifications. Life becomes a pin-ball game, whose rules, though they are few, are all instrumental and not meaningful in themselves, except as a means to the player’s enjoyment. Having come loose from our moral moorings in the brave new world, we find ourselves adrift in uncharted seas and have decided to toss away the compass.”

For those of you following the NLB saga, it is not about removing and to pulp the books or even leaving the choices to parents. The issue is what’s the “hidden” agenda? Someone appropriately expressed the vagueness that exists about moral values today in the following verse:

It all depends on where you are;
It all depends on who you are;
It all depends on how you feel;
It all depends on what you feel;

It all depends on how you’re raised;
It all depends on what is praised;
What’s right today is wrong tomorrow;
Joy in France, in England sorrow;

It all depends on points of view;
Australia or Timbuctoo;
In Rome do as the Romans do;

If tastes just happens to agree,
Then you have morality;
But where there are conflicting trends,
It all depends, it all depends.

What happens today is that many are trying to replace tested values and community norms by free market instincts. Looking at the world around us, we can see that growing crime rate in many countries is one of the consequences of this lack of moral values in Society. A 17 year-old research on inmates in the District of Columbia discovered that the cause of crime cannot be traced to environment, poverty or oppression instead it is the result of individuals making a wrong moral choice.

The UNESCO report on Education for the 21st Century contains the following statement:

“Often without realizing it, the world has a longing, often unexpressed, for an ideal and for values that we shall term ‘moral’. It is thus education’s noble task to encourage each and everyone, acting in accordance with their traditions and convictions and paying full respect to pluralism, to lift their minds and spirits to the plane of the universal and in some measure to transcend themselves. It is no exaggeration to say that the survival of humanity depends thereon.”

NLB’s decision is guided by community norms, while others mention of protecting the family core values. Do we all know our community norms and family value? The question is: “Where do we find a solid basis for teaching morals, even if we can agree on what those morals should be? Moses reckon that the Israelites were forgetful and stiff necked people and so time and again he have warned and reminded them this: “When your son asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the Lord our God has commanded you?’then you shall say to your son,” (Duet. 6:1 – 25) We are given the mandate and the blueprint for the family but as parents and believers in Christ, how diligent are we to teach them to our next generation? God help us!