Christian Ethics (Geisler)

Geisler, Norman. Christian Ethics. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker.

Geisler’s work is divided into two parts: a survey of the different positions (including a defense of his own, graded absolutism) and a treatment of different issues in ethical reasoning. While one can quibble with some of his exegesis, his larger arguments are compelling. His treatment of defective ethical positions, such as Joseph Fletcher’s Situationism, is masterful.

Situationism

The situationist has the one law of love, the many general principles of wisdom, and the moment of decision (Geisler 45). Fletcher repeatedly asserts that the rule of Christian ethics is “love.” So what do I do in a specific situation? The “what and why” are absolute and the how is relative.

Geisler does note a number of legitimate strengths of situationism, but nonetheless there are gaping inadequacies.
*One norm is too general (57).
*Unless there is advanced cognitive content to what “love” is, then one doesn’t really know what I am commanded to do!
*There can be many universal norms.
*Fletcher hasn’t given any substantial reason on why axioms deduced from other axioms can’t be universal.
*A different universal norm is possible.
*Why do we privilege Christian love and not Buddhist compassion?
*On what basis do we choose one single norm as binding?

Utilitarianism

Greatest good for greatest number.

Problems and ambiguities:
(1) who gets to determine what “good” means?
(2) Offers no protection to minority viewpoint, since by definition they will never been in the “greater” number.
(3) The definition of “end” is unclear. Do we mean a few years? Lifetime? Eternity? In that case, only God could be a utilitarian and he is not (77).

Unqualified Absolutism

premise: all moral conflicts are only apparent; they are not real (79). Held by Augustine, Kant, Charles Hodge, John Murray, and Puritanboard.

hypothetical problem: Lie to the Nazis at the door?

Augustine: cannot gain eternal life by temporal evil.

John Murray: Sanctity of Truth and Truth is the essence of God. However, he does not believe every intentional deception is a lie (e.g., a general’s movements in war).

Negative Aspects

Disputed premises:
(1) Are sins of the soul necessarily worse? Perhaps, but the Platonic premise here should at least by acknowledged. On this view, a “white lie” is worse than rape.
(2) Can the lie to save lives be separated from mercy? “God blessed the mercy but not the lie.” But is this really coherent?
(3) Will God always save us from moral dilemmas? 1 Cor. 10:13 only promises victory from temptation, not deliverance from moral dilemmas.

Fatal qualifications

Even one exception to this rule kills Unqualified Absolutism–and Augustine allows for exceptions in the case of Abraham and Isaac/Jepthath and his daughter.

*John Murray doesn’t believe we should be truthful in all circumstances (Murray 145).

“Punting to Providence”

God does not always spare his children from moral dilemmas. In fact, obedience often puts the believer in dilemmas!

“Third Alternatives are not always available.”
e.g., Tubal pregnancies

Conflicting Absolutism

Premise: (1) Real moral conflicts do occur in this fallen world.

(1.1) Yet when faced with this conflict, man is morally accountable to both principles. In other words, sucks to be you.
(1.2) Yet, sin is conquerable through the cross.

Popularized as “Lesser-evil” approach. Best seen in Lutheran Two-Kingdoms. Also, Lutherans will (correctly) praise Bonhoeffer’s attempt to kill Hitler but also say it did violate a norm.

Criticisms

As Geisler notes, this position is basically saying “we have moral duty to sin,” which is absurd (Geisler 103). Another problem, whatever God commands is ipso facto good, so it can’t be a “lesser evil.”

Here is Geisler’s own position, Graded Absolutism:
Explained:
(1) There are higher and lower moral laws.
(2) There are unavoidable moral conflicts
(3) No guilt is imputed for the unavoidable.

Illustrated:
(4) Love for God is more important than love for man.
(5) Obey God over Government
(6) Mercy over veracity (Nazis at the door).

Options and Applications:

Issues

The second section of the book deals with problems in Ethics.

BioMedical Issues.
(1) Nothing groundbreaking here.
(2) Most of the criticisms against utilitarianism can be employed against secular humanism on this point.
(3) Nota Bene: Geisler doesn’t come out and affirm birth control. However, he does note that birth control methods that kill a fertilized ovum are murder. Condoms, however, do not kill fertilized ova. And whatever the merits of NFP, the couple is still in the “controlling” aspect, so it is a form of birth control.
(4) He is against cloning.

He defends capital punishment by asking the question: Is punishment supposed to be “retributive” or “rehabilitative?” The Bible clearly supports the former. Punishment is to punish the offender. Nothing more, nothing less. And common sense shows how tyrannical the latter can be. If the offender is just a patient, then when he is “cured?” (Hint: whenever (if at all) the state says he is).

Geisler gives good responses to the opponents of capital punishment. In fact, if “rehabilitative” models of justice are necessarily suspect, then capital punishment wins by default.

Geisler defends the possibility of just war, including tactical nuclear strikes. A tactical nuclear strike against a larger army is not the same thing as launching thousands of ICBMs and will not destroy planet earth.

Civil Disobedience

Makes a helpful distinction between “Antipromulgation” and “Anticompulsion” (241-242). The former advocates rebelling against the government when it passes a law that permits evil or limits freedom. Schaeffer took this position in A Christian Manifesto. Not only is it unworkable, it is negated by much of Christian history. The latter position means disobeying the government when it commands you to do evil. Geisler categorically condemns armed revolution.

Marriage and Divorce:

As marriage is more than sex, so sex is more than procreation. Its purpose is threefold: (1) propagation (Gen. 1:28), unification (Gen. 2:24), (3) recreation (Prov. 5.18-19).

His take on divorce is a bit complicated.
(1)It is always wrong
(2)That does not mean remarriage is not permissible under certain circumstances.
(3) There can be situations where it is allowed (abuse, desertion)

Unfortunately, Geisler’s “Graded Absolutism” doesn’t save his position. (1) and (3) are contradictory, unless you add another premise:

(3*) Where the necessary situations obtain, divorce is not wrong.

Except Geisler doesn’t actually say that. That’s my position and I think if you pressed him, he would agree, too.

Conclusion:

This is a fine intro to Christian Ethics and will serve nicely in a college or seminary classroom

Cicero: Selected Works

Selected Works (Cicero, Marcus Tullius)

Cicero.  Selected Works. Ed. Michael Grant. New York: Penguin Classics, 1971. 

The selection of these works goes in order of ascending quality.  His “Against Verres” is an early snapshot of his rhetorical career.  His letters, while often whining in tone, are a remarkable glimpse into late Roman Republican life.  The real quality, however, are the two final works, “On Duties” and “On Old Age.”

“On Duties” is that work that college students should read in their ethics classes.  At my liberal arts college, ethics meant simply reading about “hard decisions” and then justifying which decision best fit with late modernity’s loose sexual mores.  Cicero, by contrast, actually helps you think through the problem.

Here is the problem: given that the Good exists, what do we do when what is good conflicts with what is advantageous?  Cicero’s answer is that any disagreement is only apparent, since nature and goodness cannot be at variance.

As a Stoic, his argument is that there “can be no advantage in what is not right” (III.II.8).  He then runs this template through several test cases. He defends property rights because violating these would cause the collapse of the human community, “the brotherhood of man.” This is the natural law, or nature’s rational principle.

Case study 1: Can a starving man take food from someone who was completely useless?  Robbery is unnatural, but if the case were such that your robbery rendered benefit to the community of men, then it isn’t wrong provided it is done for that reason.  Nature’s law coincides with the common interest, and the common interest ordains that the means of subsistence be transferred to the starving.

Case study 2: Can you steal from a tyrant?   Cicero’s answer is chillingly simple: there is nothing wrong in stealing from a man whom it is morally just to kill.

Another reason that the morally right cannot conflict with the advantageous is that doing wrong damages one’s soul.  Wrongdoing leads to personal degradation.

There are other case studies dealing with insider trading, etc. Cicero’s conclusion is balanced: “Holding [knowledge] back doesn’t always amount to concealment; but it does when you want people, for your own profit, to be kept in the dark about something which you know and would be useful for them to know” (180).

Why?  Nature is the source of law, and it is contrary to nature for one man to prey upon another’s ignorance.

Later he defines the four cardinal virtues as subdivisions of right.

On Old Age

This is a rather charming treatise on how to live out your older years. Cicero developed his memory by reciting everything he had learned each day.

His comments on the after-life, while wrong, are interesting in what educated Romans would have believed.  He argues that our souls came from heaven, and the earthy is alien to their divine nature (214). The soul functions at lightning speed

Conclusion

Even in translation, and even when I disagree with him, Cicero wrote with an easy calm.  I especially recommend his “On Duties” to every college student.

Geisler vs Fletcher on ethics

1 Cor. 10:13 only promises victory from temptation, not deliverance from moral dilemmas.  In fact, the very fact of martyrdom means the martyr isn’t delivered from at least one bad consequence.

Degrees of Absolutism

Explained:

  1. There are higher and lower moral laws.
  2. There are unavoidable moral conflicts
  3. No guilt is imputed for the unavoidable.

Illustrated:

  1. Love for God is more important than love for man.
  2. Obey God over Government
  3. Mercy over veracity (Nazis at the door).

 

  1. Can one really define agape-love without recourse to revelation? Why can we privilege the term agape, itself drawn from revelation, while saying the rest of revelation is off-limits?
  2. Unless there is some cognitive content to what “love” is, then one doesn’t really know what I am commanded to do.
  3. Fletcher says we can’t “milk universals from a universal” (Fletcher 27). What he means is we can make principles from “the law of love,” but not rules. But why not?
  4. who gets to determine what “good” means? Fletcher himself? From where does he get this knowledge? From Jesus and the Bible? That sounds like literalism. Even worse, his position offers no protection to minority viewpoint, since by definition they will never been in the “greater” number.

Situation Ethics (review)

You can summarize Fletcher’s ethic as “Claim love, and then you can use it to fornicate and stuff.”

Even though this book is bad, it isn’t completely bad. The beginning of the book is fairly well-written. I will do my best to outline Fletcher’s position but I will follow with an extended critique.

While Fletcher’s ethics is formally empty, he does explain it (sort of). Situationism: the mean between legalism and antinomianism (Fletcher 26). It has an absolute “norm” (love) and a calculating method (27). All rules are contingent provided they serve agape-love.

What is its method? Fletcher helpfully outlines (33).
1. Only one law, agape.
2. Sophia of the church and culture, containing “rules” which act as illuminators.
3. Kairos: the moment of the responsible self in a situation.

Fletcher identifies his historical pedigree.

1 Pragmatism. In short, he focuses on “satisfaction” as a criterion for truth (41ff). Of course, works toward what? This is the value problem 2. in ethics. Not surprisingly, Fletcher lists “love” as his value.
3. Relativism. To be relative means to be relative to something (44).
4. Positivism. Faith propositions are posited a-rationally. “Every moral judgment is a decision, not a conclusion” (47).
5. Personalism. Love people, not things (50).

First Proposition: Only love is intrinsically good (57).
Second Proposition: “The ruling norm of the Christian decision is love: nothing else” (69).
Third Proposition: Love and justice are the same, for justice is love distributed (87).
Fourth Proposition: Love wills the neighbor’s good, whether we like him or not (104).
Fifth proposition: Only the End Justifies the Means; nothing else (120).

*Fletcher isn’t all bad. He exposes the false promises of historicist ethics. Simply by noting the past one cannot anticipate the right action in the present, given the inevitable unfolding of the past. Basically, Hegel is wrong.

*True, ethical decisions always take place in a situation and context.

*Fletcher reminds us that Victorian social mores are rarely biblical (even if he has the unfortunate habit of labeling his critics as such). Further, though not always called out by him, most of the “horrid” puritanical legalism (in this book) derives not from church law but from secular ethics.

*Fletcher exposes some incoherent moments in Barth’s ethics (62, cf. CD III/4, p. 416-421).

*Fletcher notes some difficulties in Roman Catholic birth-control positions along with some difficulties in NFP (80).

* calls classical pacifism legalistic (83-84). In fact, he has a very perceptive critique of Tolstoyanism: they want love but deny order.

*Says the social gospel is “pietistic” about love (91).

*His criticism of Catholic moralism’s separation of love as a supernatural virtue but justice as a natural virtue is interesting and should have been more developed (93ff).

* He helpfully outlines Chrysostom’s ethics as not confusing ends and means. Fletcher just sinfully rejects it.

The Critique:

(1) Fletcher says we can’t “milk universals from a universal” (27). What he means is we can make principles from “the law of love,” but not rules. But why not? He just asserts this. He doesn’t prove it.

(2) Although this is a minor point, it is worth noting. Fletcher holds to the (debunked) “Biblical vs. Hellenistic” dichotomy (29). The Hebrew is “verb-minded” while the Greek is “noun-minded.” “It doesn’t ask what is the good, but how to do good” (52). But if I don’t know what the good is, rather just labeling it x, then how will I know if I am doing not-good?

(3) Can one really define agape-love without recourse to revelation? Why can we privilege the term agape, itself drawn from revelation, while saying the rest of revelation is off-limits? The apostle John defined love by God’s commandments. Fletcher wants to reject the idea of “unwritten rules from heaven” (30), but without any specific content to “love,” that is just what he has.

(4) Fletcher rejects legalism because of the bad things legalism has done. Francis Kovach draws the following devastating conclusion: “Human laws happen to have had certain undesirable effects; therefore, let’s do away with all human laws” (Kovach 99).

(5) When faced with the obvious question, “So what do I do in situation x,” Fletcher admits the best he can say is, “It depends” (80). Which is another way of saying, “I don’t know.”

(6) Fletcher’s arrogance is obvious. He routinely scorns his opponents as “fundamentalists,” “literalists,” “legalists” and the like. He ridicules those who “Believe in a Fall” (81).

(7) Fletcher holds to utilitarianism and so his position is suspect to all of the critiques of utilitarianism. But more to the point: in his calculus do we evaluate neighbor-good qualitatively or quantitatively? Unbelievably, he even says we can use numerical factors for issues relating to conscience (118). He is actually serious. Even worse, he tells a tale of the god-demon Moloch and sides with Moloch on how many to kill!

(8) More on utilitarianism: who gets to determine what “good” means? Fletcher himself? From where does he get this knowledge? From Jesus and the Bible? Sounds kind of “literalist” to me! Even worse, his position offers no protection to minority viewpoint, since by definition they will never been in the “greater” number. Fletcher defends racial minorities. Good for him, but it’s not clear on his ethics why he can do so, since they are never “the greatest number.”

As Norman Geisler points out, “The definition of “end” is unclear. Do we mean a few years? Lifetime? Eternity? In that case, only God could be a utilitarian and he is not.”

8.1) Another problem with utilitarianism, as noted by Arthur Holmes. What does it mean to “maximize the good?” Do we take the sum of the surplus good or do we just average it across the population? If we talk about the “Greater good,” can we ignore minority rights as long as we maximize the greater good?

“If 100 people each receive 10 bens (units of benefit), then the sum total is 1000 “bens” and the average is 10. But if we increase the benefit for 10 people to 100 bens each, give the next 60 people their original 10 bens, and the remaining 30 no bens at all, then the total benefit is 100 + 600 + 0 = 1600 bens; and the average is up to 16. But the distribution is now extremely unequal. Which of these two is the morally better distribution of benefits” ?

Can the utility principle by itself tell us how to best distribute benefits?

(9) Says Paul was “obscure and contradictory” about the problem of the justice of God (122). In fact, Fletcher formally disagrees with Paul on Romans 3:8. That’s because, per Fletcher, Paul erred in seeing “good” and “evil” as properties, not predicates.

(10) If love is to do the greatest good for the greatest number of neighbors, and Fletcher lists the situation where a group of people are hiding from murderers and a baby starts crying, which would expose the group, then the most loving thing to do is kill the baby. Okay, what if I refuse to kill my baby, did I sin? Corollary: Does Fletcher say I must kill my baby? Corollary #2: What if I refuse? Should the group make me?

(11) Throughout the book Fletcher makes a number of category confusions. This is not surprising, given his lack of ethical knowledge due to his only reading Neo-Orthodox and death-of-God theologians. For example, ethical theories like graded absolutism do not see deception in war as lying.

(12) Fletcher is guilty of circular reasoning:
P1: The end justifies the means
P2: The end does not justify itself
C1: Only love does.
Yet, how can I know the loving action?
P3: Love = greatest good to greatest neighbors. Yet, this is materially the same thing as P1.

Therefore, his argument runs:
P1
P2
Therefore, P1

(13) Fletcher openly ridicules Middle-Class America (137).

(14) He wants to say that “law-based” citizens would have rejected Dr King, yet on what grounds can Fletcher say that? Why can’t the evil-capitalist-white-man say, from his perspective, that the most loving thing to do is uphold segregation? Now, I believe the segregationist is wrong, but I can say, unlike Fletcher, that he is absolutely wrong.

(15) Unless there is advanced cognitive content to what “love” is, then one doesn’t really know what I am commanded to do.

(16) Let’s go back to his consequentialism in ethics. The mainline Protestant denominations more or less adopted Fletcher’s position? How are they doing today, membership-wise? The PC(usa) and TEC are losing members by the tens, if not hundreds of thousands. Seems like they failed Fletcher’s consequentialist test.

Conclusion:

While Fletcher highlights some interesting and difficult issues in ethics, he rarely gives solutions (unless it involves extra-marital sex, in which he is always for it). This is not surprising. He cannot give solutions. He cannot give solutions because his criterion for value, “love,” is empty and meaningless.

Fletcher likes to tell “bleeding-heart” stories to show how wrong his critics are. Okay. Two can play at that game, as one reviewer notes. Fletcher tells the story:

A young woman, jilted by her lover, is in a state of great depression. A married man, with whom she works, decides to have an affair with her in order to comfort her. Some, like Fletcher, would argue that what he did might well have been a noble deed, for the man acted out of concern for his friend. What a perverted viewpoint! Here is the rest of the story. The man’s wife learned of his adulterous adventure, could not cope with the trauma, and eventually committed suicide. One of his sons, disillusioned by the immorality of his father and the death of his mother, began a life of crime, and finally was imprisoned for murder. Another son became a drunkard and was killed in an automobile accident that also claimed the lives of a mother and her two children. Now, who will contend that that initial act of infidelity was the “loving” thing to do?

At the end of the day, not only is Fletcher’s ethics morally depraved, it is logically useless. As Erwin Lutzer notes, “It’s like saying, “The only rules to the game is “Be fair!”” (less)

Situation Ethics, Part 1

Towards a full review.  Joseph Fletcher’s Situation Ethics was the theological justification (ad hoc, no doubt) of the Sexual Revolution during the 1960s.

Three Approaches

Situationism: the mean between legalism and antinomianism (Fletcher 26).  It has an absolute “norm” (love) and a calculating method (27).  All rules are contingent provided they serve agape-love.

What, then, is the place of rules?  Fletcher calls them “illuminators, not directors” (31).  There is an element of truth to this, as it echoes some wisdom literature.

What is its method?  Fletcher helpfully outlines (33).

  1. Only one law, agape.
  2. Sophia of the church and culture, containing “rules” which act as illuminators.
  3. Kairos: the moment of the responsible self in a situation.

Some Presuppositions

In this chapter Fletcher identifies his historical pedigree.  

  1. Pragmatism.  In short, he focuses on “satisfaction” as a criterion for truth (41ff). Of course, works toward what? This is the value problem in ethics.  Not surprisingly, Fletcher lists “love” as his value.
  2. Relativism.  To be relative means to be relative to something (44).  
  3. Positivism.  Faith propositions are posited a-rationally.  “Every moral judgment is a decision, not a conclusion” (47).
  4. Personalism.  Love people, not things (50).
    1. No such thing as value as inherent good.  A value is what happens to something when it “works.”
    2. Values are relative to persons and persons are relative to society.  (Dr Mengele, call your office).  
    3. If all he means by that is persons are persons in relationship—no, I am still uncomfortable with it.
    4. Fletcher says it is bad to “use people,” but what does he mean by “use”?  People are means in one sense–no person is to be loved for that person’s sake, but for God’s.  
  5. Conscience

Love is Always Good

First Proposition: Only love is intrinsically good (57).

Fletcher is a nominalist (57ff).  He continually asserts that love is a predicate, not a property or universal.  As a result, values are extrinsic to a person or thing.

Fletcher’s target in this chapter is Kant’s extreme deontological ethics.

What is a good action:  “whatever is the most loving thing to do” (65).  So what is the most loving thing to do?  Well, it depends on the situation.  Okay, so in Situation (S₁) what should I do?  No answer.  Probably fornicate.  

Love is the only universal (64).

Love is the Only Norm

Second Proposition: “The ruling norm of the Christian decision is love: nothing else” (69).

Fletcher now moves towards a definition of agape-love: goodwill at work in partnership with reason (69).   The essential spirit of many laws has been distilled into love. Fletcher points out that Christian love is not desire (79).

The Good in Fletcher’s Approach

*Fletcher isn’t all bad.  He exposes the false promises of historicist ethics.  Simply by noting the past one cannot anticipate the right action in the present, given the inevitable unfolding of the past.  Basically, Hegel is wrong.

*True, ethical decisions always take place in a situation and context.

*Fletcher reminds us that Victorian social mores are rarely biblical (even if he has the unfortunate habit of labeling his critics as such).  Further, though not always called out by him, most of the “horrid” puritanical legalism (in this book) derives not from church law but from secular ethics.

*Fletcher exposes some incoherent moments in Barth’s ethics (62, cf. CD III/4, p. 416-421).

*Fletcher notes some difficulties in Roman Catholic birth-control positions along with some difficulties in NFP (80).

*calls classical pacifism legalistic (83-84).  

Critique

  1. Fletcher says we can’t “milk universals from a universal” (27).  What he means is we can make principles from “the law of love,” but not rules.  But why not?  He just asserts this.  He doesn’t prove it.
  2. Although this is a minor point, it is worth noting.  Fletcher holds to the (debunked) “Biblical vs. Hellenistic” dichotomy (29). The Hebrew is “verb-minded” while the Greek is “noun-minded.”  “It doesn’t ask what is the good, but how to do good” (52).  But if I don’t know what the good is, rather just labeling it x, then how will I know if I am doing not-good?
  3. Can one really define agape-love without recourse to revelation?  Why can we privilege the term agape, itself drawn from revelation, while saying the rest of revelation is off-limits? The apostle John defined love by God’s commandments.  Fletcher wants to reject the idea of “unwritten rules from heaven” (30), but without any specific content to “love,” that is just what he has.
  4. Fletcher rejects legalism because of the bad things legalism has done.  Francis Kovach draws the following devastating conclusion:  “Human laws happen to have had certain undesirable effects; therefore, let’s do away with all human laws” (Kovach 99).
  5. When faced with the obvious question, “So what do I do in situation x,” Fletcher admits the best he can say is, “It depends” (80).  
  6. Fletcher’s arrogance is obvious.  He routinely scorns his opponents as “fundamentalists,” “literalists,” “legalists” and the like.  He ridicules those who “Believe in a Fall” (81).

Analytical Outline Geisler’s Ethics, pt 1

Begins with a survey of different ethical options, briefly noting their shortcomings (Geisler 17-22).

Christian View of Ethics

  1. Based on God’s Will
  2. Is absolute
  3. Based on God’s revelation
  4. Is prescriptive
  5. Is Deontological

Antinomianism

Not simply that there are no norms.  Also includes that norms aren’t real, but just in the mind.

Nominalism is a form of antinomianism.  If applied to ethics, it’s hard to see how there can be a concept of justice independent of the human knower.

Situationism

The situationist has the one law of love, the many general principles of wisdom, and the moment of decision (Geisler 45).  Fletcher repeatedly asserts that the rule of Christian ethics is “love.”  So what do I do in a specific situation?  The “what and why” are absolute and the how is relative.

Geisler does note a number of legitimate strengths of situationism, but nonetheless there are gaping inadequacies.  

  1. One norm is too general (57).  
    1. Unless there is advanced cognitive content to what “love” is, then one doesn’t really know what I am commanded to do!
  2. There can be many universal norms.
    1. Fletcher hasn’t given any substantial reason on why axioms deduced from other axioms can’t be universal.
  3. A different universal norm is possible.  
    1. Why do we privilege Christian love and not Buddhist compassion?
    2. On what basis do we choose one single norm as binding?

Generalism

Utilitarianism

Greatest good for greatest number.

Problems and ambiguities:

  1. who gets to determine what “good” means?
  2. Offers no protection to minority viewpoint, since by definition they will never been in the “greater” number.
  3. The definition of “end” is unclear.  Do we mean a few years? Lifetime? Eternity?  In that case, only God could be a utilitarian and he is not (77).

Unqualified Absolutism

premise:  all moral conflicts are only apparent; they are not real (79).  Held by Augustine, Kant, Charles Hodge, John Murray, and others.

hypothetical problem:  Lie to the Nazis at the door?

Augustine: cannot gain eternal life by temporal evil.

John Murray: Sanctity of Truth and Truth is the essence of God. However, he does not believe every intentional deception is a lie (e.g., a general’s movements in war).  

Negative Aspects

Disputed premises:

  1. Are sins of the soul necessarily worse? Perhaps, but the Platonic premise here should at least by acknowledged.  On this view, a “white lie” is worse than rape.
  2. Can the lie to save lives be separated from mercy?  “God blessed the mercy but not the lie.”  But is this really coherent?
  3. Will God always save us from moral dilemmas?   1 Cor. 10:13 only promises victory from temptation, not deliverance from moral dilemmas.  In fact, the very fact of martyrdom means the martyr isn’t delivered from at least one bad consequence.

Fatal qualifications

  1. Even one exception to this rule kills Unqualified Absolutism–and Augustine allows for exceptions in the case of Abraham and Isaac/Jepthath and his daughter.
  2. John Murray doesn’t believe we should be truthful in all circumstances (Murray 145).

“Punting to Providence”

  1. God does not always spare his children from moral dilemmas.  In fact, obedience often puts the believer in dilemmas!

“Third Alternatives are not always available.”

  1. Tubal pregnancies

Inconsistencies

  1. We leave our lights on when we aren’t home to trick robbers.
  2. The unqualified absolutist often commits unmerciful acts.
  3. Tendency to legalism (e.g., Puritanboard).

Conflicting Absolutism

Premise: (1) Real moral conflicts do occur in this fallen world.

(1.1) Yet when faced with this conflict, man is morally accountable to both principles. In other words, sucks to be you.

(1.2) Yet, sin is conquerable through the cross.

Popularized as “Lesser-evil” approach.  Best seen in Lutheran Two-Kingdoms.  Also, Lutherans will (correctly) praise Bonhoeffer’s attempt to kill Hitler but also say it did violate a norm.  

Criticisms

As Geisler notes, this position is basically saying “we have moral duty to sin,” which is absurd (Geisler 103).  Another problem, whatever God commands is ipso facto good, so it can’t be a “lesser evil.”

Graded Absolutism (This is Geisler’s and my view)

Explained:  

  1. There are higher and lower moral laws.  
  2. There are unavoidable moral conflicts
  3. No guilt is imputed for the unavoidable.

Illustrated:

  1. Love for God is more important than love for man.
  2. Obey God over Government
  3. Mercy over veracity (Nazis at the door).