Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Situational Ethics

In a world without moral absolutes, right or wrong depends on the situation. What may be absolutely fine in one set of circumstances would be totally unacceptable in another.
Trumpet ice cream have a great add here called Togs or Undies which illustrate the idea perfectly.

The basic premise is to decide when togs (swimming trunks) become undies (underpants).

The commentary goes:

“How far away from the beach do togs become undies?
Skin tight swimming togs an item of clothing you’d happily wear in public but not in public.
So how far is too far? So let’s begin…
Togs togs togs…
Togs togs togs…
Togs togs togs…
Togs… Undies.
Undies undies…
Undies undies…

If you can’t see the water you’re in underpants.
Local supermarkets.
Pedestrian crossings.
Office buildings.
Public transport.
Anywhere more than 300 metres from the water’s edge, all underpants transformation areas.”

You might be able to see it here.

The key, deciding factor to the issue is if you can see the sea you are wearing togs. If not the same garment has to be classified as underpants.

When does consumption become exploitation? When does sex become abuse? Is there a basis for universal human rights or does it just depend on the circumstances?
Probably the most common view of morality is that it depends on consequences. Something is right or wrong according to its outcomes. It is okay to do whatever I like as long as it does not hurt somebody. Not easy to assess objectively how my pleasure and somebody else’s pain should be weighed.

Joseph when facing seduction by Potiphar’s wife in Egypt exhibits a morality which is not just to do with circumstances and consequences.


He determines not to sleep with her because it will be an act against his Master, Potiphar and will be a sin against God. Not only will the act betray the trust and rip the social fabric of his human relationships it will have spiritual consequences.

Biblical morality does not consist of absolutes, which are contingent only upon themselves. It has its origins in being made in God’s image and God’s character being the source of whatever standards of behaviour we practice and advocate.

There is a God who does not change from situation to situation; geographically, historically or culturally.

The big moral questions are decided not by reference to the beach but by reference to God. Which may not help you decide if you are wearing togs or undies but it may help with truth or lies, selfishness or sacrifice, freedom or oppression, activism or pessimism, indulgence or restraint, tolerance or prejudice and other important issues.

Barely a third of all Americans believe in absolute standards of right and wrong, and far fewer hold to a biblical worldview, according to an August 2005.
The poll by The Barna Group, a Christian research organization, shows that only 35 percent of Americans believe in absolute standards of morality -- that is, believe that right and wrong do not change with time or circumstances.
Thirty-two percent of Americans say that morality depends on the situation and the circumstance, while 33 percent say they do not know if morality is absolute or relative. The poll involved interviews with 1,002 adults in July 2005.
Moral relativity is often reflected in such statements as "that might be true for you, but it's not true for me" and "who are you to judge?"
"The fact that only 35 percent of all Americans believe in moral absolutes provides some frightening insight into our culture and the future of this country," Craig Vincent Mitchell, instructor of Christian ethics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, told Baptist Press.
"This statistic translated means that most people are willing to do whatever they can get away with. ... With so many rejecting the idea of moral absolutes, it is only a matter of time until our society collapses. A moral society is a happier society and a more successful one. An immoral society is one that destroys itself and its citizens."
But despite the outward rejection of moral absolutes, people still believe in absolutes "when it involves them or what belongs to them," Mitchell said.
"It is also interesting to note that most people who reject moral absolutes believe that Hitler was evil," he said. "No one believes that Kenneth Lay did the right thing for his employees or investors when he was the CEO of Enron. In other words, what people say or profess is often one thing, but what they really believe is another."