The Reality of Modern Morality: How Did We Get Here?
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The Reality of Modern Morality: How Did We Get Here?

We see the disintegration of our countries moral compass daily. Many argue that there are no such things as objective moral values and duties, but rather each one is free to do as they please. Such an ethical framework begs two critical questions: How did we get here? Does Christianity offer a better "moral compass" than what we see in our day-to-day lives?

The genesis of modern moral philosophy is traced back to the movement of the existentialist[1] philosophers, postmodernist, the Enlightenment, and 19th-century atheism. In the late 19th century, German philologist, Friedrich Nietzsche, made the statement in his book Thus Spoke Zarathustra, that “God is dead, and we have killed him,”[2] leaving it open for man to be a god unto himself. The death of God then, according to Nietzsche, allows humanity to carve out values and duties primarily motivated by the “will to power” as the Übermensch (or the overman who is to replace God). While God seemed to stand over humanity with a "thou shall not,” Nietzsche proposes "a celebration of a new greatness of man,"[3] in which, humanity was free from such imposed objective values and duties. As much as Nietzsche celebrates this supposed freedom, there is a dangerous dilemma: with the loss of an objective value system, where are morals grounded? Ultimately, we are left with a subjective reference point, humanity. ISo what is the problem? Big deal, right?! If true, Nietzsche, stated morality is a matter of one person or persons imposing their will on others based on the subjective assertions fashioning subjective mores.

Christianity offers something radically different. Famed Christian apologist of the 20th century, C.S. Lewis developed a moral argument for God's existence. Lewis argued that morality is objective, grounded in a divine source who was outside the natural order. Thus, on Lewis’ view, mankind cannot fine moral answers in-and-of themselves but should recognize their fallen nature and turn to the all-knowing, all-loving, and all-just God for a transcendent anchor, for real objectivity of value and purpose.

Nietzsche, while he opposed this idea, agreed that Christianity provided such an anchor when He wrote in his notes entitled European Nihilism[4]:

What advantage did the Christian morality hypothesis offer? It conferred on man an absolute value…it posited a knowledge of absolute values in man and thus gave him adequate knowledge of precisely the most critical thing…it prevented man from despising himself as man, from taking against life…in sum: morality was the great antidote against practical and theoretical nihilism.[5]

For those who ascribe to Nietzsche's philosophy, life is purposeless, meaningless, and does not bring freedom. Instead, they are a prisoner of having to ground morality subjectively, with no anchor for value, and purpose.

While Nietzsche proclaimed the death of God, it is impossible to kill God. The Bible teaches that God has revealed himself personally to us through his word and his Son, Jesus Christ. Who took upon flesh (John 1:1-3,14), came to rescue us as he died for our sins, reconciling us to our creator so that we can have meaning, purpose and embrace life as he designed it to be. Thus, We have good reasons to hold onto the existence of God as the grounding of all reason, objectivity of moral values, meaning, and purpose in life.


Photo Credit: CPS Blog University of Michigan

[1] "The notion in existentialism is that man spends his life-changing his essence. There is not any objective form of truth, but the truth is formed by personal choice" Akram Amiri Senejani, International Journal of Studies in English Language and Literature. 1:3 (September 2013), 16. Also, "What is important in existentialism is that human being is free and his nature is made his choice." 16. As a philosophy of man having free will, objecting to the sciences for a better life and traditional values of morals. According to the French philosopher Camus, what is absurd is trying to find meaning in an illusory, irrational and meaningless world. For Sartre, giving man's existence he is free to decide whatever it is that he must make of himself, and so, in that is also free to choose values his values. In contrast to Sartre's dilemma of human freedom is dependent upon the existence of God the Danish Philosopher, Kierkegaard taught that to embrace God, and the real truth is to have real freedom. See his "The Concept of Dread" trans. Walter Lowrie. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968), 123 and 125

[2] Also at the beginning of book five of The Gay Science, “what our cheerfulness means-the greatest recent event- that “God is dead,” that the belief in the Christian God has become unbelievable.

[3] Walter Kaufmann. Existentialism, Religion and Death: Thirteen Essays. (New York: Meridian Book, 1976), 31.

[4] Nihilism from the Latin nihil ‘nothing.' is the view that life, being, has no intrinsic value or purpose. There is no objective meaning; values are baseless.

[5] Friedrich Nietzsche. "European Nihilism.” Cited in The Nietzsche Reader, eds., Keith Ansell Pearson and Duncan Large. (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2006), 385.

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