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Morality should shape cultural ethics, not the other way around

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TOM LAMPRECHT: New story, Harry, Fox News, the Florida House passed a school safety bill this past Wednesday that includes new restrictions on rifle sales and a program to arm some teachers, sending the measure to the governor for his signature. Governor Rick Scott, at the time this bill passed, declined to say whether he would sign the legislation.   

DR. REEDER: It’s interesting to watch us grapple with the reality of evil in this world and, yet, we have a secular life world and life view that is being adopted by our nation, in general — our culture, in particular. And in that secular world and life view, you leave no room for the role of the spiritual, for the role of the moral climate. You ultimately lose ethics except for what the culture approves.


When you have a God-centered world and life view, then you work off a proper understanding of God’s revelation as to what is right and what is wrong. In other words, the Creator has given us creation laws and revealed laws and those laws then become our ethical absolutes and the most obvious is the Ten Commandments: “You shall not murder; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not steal.” Those become ethical absolutes in which you attempt to moralize a culture — that is, the morality of the culture is the reflection of the ethical absolutes.

Let me again put it this way: ethics is the behavioral study of “ought-ness.” Morality is the behavioral study of “is-ness.” Morality is what is the culture believing and doing. How is it framing itself in terms of its values? Ethics is a statement of how the culture ought to frame itself and it doesn’t say to the culture, “What are you doing?” It says to the culture, “This is what you ought to be doing.”

You can’t have ethics without apodictic law — that is, transcendent law, revealed law — that speaks from the Creator to the creation, “This is what you ought to do. This is ought-ness.” What happens when you move from a culture that says, “We’re under God. God’s laws are to frame our morality and our virtues” — what happens when you move from that sacred view of culture informed by ethical absolutes to a secular view of culture which says, “There is no God to speak to us. Oh, you can privately believe in a God in your home or your house or in your heart, but it doesn’t speak to public policy”?


Well, what happens then is you look at the morality of a nation, you then make your ethical statements from morality. In other words, you look at what people are doing and then you start talking about what they ought to do in light of what they are doing. And so, you look from morality to develop ethics instead of ethics to develop morality.

Let me give you a prime example: the Word of God says you shall not commit adultery so, in all of the framing institutions of society we used to teach our children and our young people, we would teach them that you ought to save sex for marriage. That’s what you ought to do. And then we attempted to speak to the culture, knowing that not everyone would do that, but yet you try to develop the virtue of the culture from “Do not commit adultery.” Now, we move from sacred sex in the context of marriage as defined by God to the morality of “safe sex.”


Well, the same thing happens in terms of evil like this: evil breaks out and people murder and then, when that happens, we automatically ask, “Why did this happen?” and we then create a new morality which is, “Oh, the guy used a gun so we’ll outlaw guns and that will keep these things from happening.”

Let me be abundantly clear. Do I believe there needs to be regulations on instruments of death? Absolutely, and I think there ought to be age limits, I think there ought to be background checks. Will that solve this problem? Answer: no. If people want to bring catastrophes of violence and death, they can find instruments, whether it’s Timothy McVeigh using fertilizer or whether it’s somebody who uses an automobile or whether it’s someone who uses a gun.

Our culture needs to understand you need to go at the heart of the matter and the heart of the matter is the matter of the heart. That’s where our issue is.

Why is our culture producing such, particularly, young men who are in such despair over their identity that they can take, perhaps, what they’ve done in the privacy of a game room with a video and bring it into reality, eradicating nameless people by violent acts on their computer now to eradicating nameless people in a school in order to express their angst and seek their identity in their moment of fame?

What is it in our culture that would draw out such acts that would have been unthinkable? What is it that is eradicating the restraints on evil in the culture?


TOM LAMPRECHT: Harry, let me take you to the other side of that coin because, while you have the Nicholas Cruzes of the world that we look and say, “Where have our morals gone?” at the same time, you have a couple of individuals coming out of this horrific story that truly were heroes. Aaron Feis, the football coach who literally laid down his life to protect students. A young 15-year-old, Peter Wang, who lost his life; he was a member of the high school’s ROTC program. He was last seen wearing his gray uniform with black stripes as he helped open a door so other people could escape.

DR. REEDER: There were others, as well, and that is so inspiring and so encouraging to see such heroism that was displayed: selflessness, sacrificial acts of valor and courage on behalf of other people. Here’s someone who is taking people’s lives and here are people who laid down their life in order for others to live.


Of course, we’re immediately reminded of the virtue of the Word of God that is promoted, “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” And, in some of these cases, these people laid down their lives, perhaps, for people that weren’t necessarily their friends — they didn’t even know them, but they knew these people were made in the image of God and, therefore, their life was sacred and they were willing to will down their lives that others might live.

When we bring in the transcendent majesty of God into a culture, that then lifts people’s eyes up and even restrains those who would engage in such horrific acts. But, when you take a culture and you just teach people, “You are an accidental mutation of germs. There’s nothing meaningful about you. You have no divine purpose of existence that God made you in His image and for His glory,” then you find the despair that begins to work into a culture and the culture in a death spiral of a death culture.

Yet, at the same time, praise the Lord for such stories as the one that you gave. My goodness, that young man in his ROTC uniform, you can almost see him standing bravely at the door, holding it open with the gunfire coming so that others could escape and then his life is lost while others saved. And then this football coach who literally, we are told, flung his body in front of the bullets as kids were trying to escape and, thereby, saving their life.

Jesus, He laid down His life to save those who were at enmity against them. Just think: when I needed Him and did not want Him but was in rebellion against Him, this Jesus Who did not need me, wanted me and laid down His life for me so that I can be saved by the forgiveness of sins when He went to the cross. That coach gave a glorious of what Christ did on the cosmic scale of saving all of His people from all of their sins.

And, when you come to Him, now you’ve got a reason to live — not a reason to kill people, but a reason to live. Then life begins to pervade a culture instead of death.


TOM LAMPRECHT: Harry, on tomorrow’s edition of Today in Perspective, I want to go to Nashville, Tennessee where Nashville mayor, Megan Barry, recently resigned. She admitted to having an affair sometime back with her head of security, but she didn’t resign until finances came into the picture.

DR. REEDER: In other words, “Follow the Money” became the reality of whether corruption was going to be addressed in the governing offices of the city of Nashville and what was the sin of corruption that could remove you and what wasn’t a sin of corruption that would not remove you? It’s interesting. Let’s take a look at that story tomorrow.

(Image: Pixabay)

Dr. Harry L. Reeder III is the Senior Pastor of Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham.

This podcast was transcribed by Jessica Havin, editorial assistant for Yellowhammer News. Jessica has transcribed some of the top podcasts in the country and her work has been featured in a New York Times Bestseller.