The Western world is in a curious position. In centuries past, countries in the West generally relied on a set of shared Judeo-Christian moral values to underpin criminal laws, and enforce public decency and freedom of conscience. You see, everybody has a moral foundation, whether we admit it or not.
Why is it bad to kill somebody, beat up old ladies, or listen to Brittany Spears? Why does virtually every society, in any corner of the world, agree on these three issues (and more)? Does it have something to do with evolution? Are these just generally agreed-upon values, with no objective moral weight? Is there no concrete standard to appeal to?
The law written on our hearts
Christians have always believed men and women are made in the image of God. Among other things, this means God designed, created and fashioned us to be in relationship with Him. This means we’re hard-wired with an innate sense of right and wrong. To be sure, as a result of Adam and Eve’s willful rebellion, we’ve all been ruined by sin, and this isn’t the perfect world God created way back when, in the beginning. But, we all have some residual glimmerings which betray our true Creator, Maker and Sustainer.
This law, which the Bible tells us has been written on our hearts (Romans 2:15), tells each one of us what is right and wrong. This is why everybody knows it’s wrong to cheat on your wife, molest little children, or “like” Michael Bolton on your Pandora app.
So, who cares? Well, in our new “enlightened” age, it’s not “appropriate” to acknowledge our debt to this God-given law. We must pretend it doesn’t exist because, as you know, God and His law have no rightful place in the global public square anymore.
How do courts make laws, when they don’t have an objective moral standard to appeal to, any longer? How do legislatures legislate, when they can’t appeal to any concrete foundation as the basis for the moral principles which undergird laws? Without an objective standard, all you’re left with are the shifting winds of cultural subjectivism. And we how that turns out …
In short, Western society is like a cut flower. We’ve cut ourselves off from the only real moral standard and benchmark there is, and we have no meaningful ability to legislate or interpret laws in a sane matter any longer. We saw this in the recent U.S. Supreme Court case involving homosexual marriage, Obergefell v. Hodges. And, as I’ll discuss later this week, we’ll likely see in another case before the Supreme Court; Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.
Os Guinness, in his book The Global Public Square: Religious Freedom and the Making of a World Safe for Diversity, made some profound remarks along this line:
The willful neglect of this foundational freedom is a serious problem, and unless it is addressed, it will prove consequential to the future of free and open societies. But it has been compounded by an even deeper problem. The Western world, which has been the pioneer and champion of the human rights revolution, is experiencing a grand moral and philosophical confusion over how human rights are to be grounded and justified at all.
At first glance it would seem that human rights need no grounding. Cited on all sides and on a thousand occasions, they are today’s self-evident truths to many people—as obvious and logical as two plus two makes four, as powerful as belief in God in the great ages of faith, and the instinctive resort of all who face injustice or feel hard done by. Indeed, the human rights revolution has become for many a religion in itself. But that blind belief is naive.
Human rights can no more be taken for granted today than belief in God in a senior common room in a modern university. Take the three core notions that many modern people still consider self-evident and unassailable: human dignity, liberty and equality. Along with a whole range of beliefs in the modern world, there is confusion as to how they are to be understood and a yawning chasm as to how they are to be grounded.
Originally pioneered in the West and grounded in Jewish and Christian beliefs, human dignity, liberty and equality are now often left hanging without agreement over their definition and their foundation. There is a cold logic to the present quandary. If the original Jewish and Christian foundations of human dignity, liberty and equality are to be rejected, the ideas themselves need to be transposed to a new key or eventually they will wither. The Western world now stands as a cut-flower civilization, and such once-vital convictions have a seriously shortened life (pg. 65).