While sitting at my work desk, I’ve been pondering a statement from an email I received about a month or so ago:
- Ethics (from ethos – the steady state of the atmosphere in a cave) is distinct from moral (from descriptive practices or mores of a culture).
The email had come in a discussion on servant leadership for churches. In the discussion, some questions had arisen, expecially the matter of truth in a relativistic society. In the midst of that discussion the ethics of what we do became a question to be examined.
For years I have equated ethics and morals. Maybe I have been too simplistic. The statement above made me evaluate my own approach.
In our society I can quickly point to things I think are wrong — to morals that stare me in the face every day. Abortion, homosexuality, rape, murder, stealing, fraud, hypocrisy and much more. These are very much the practices of our culture. I can categorize and synthesize and even analyze them.
But in the end, when I have all this laid out in front of me, these are just desciptions. The real question that we need to examine as a society is the matter of what the prevailing atmosphere is around us — the steady state of the “air”.
Take the case of a cave that is full of carbon dioxide (CO2). The culmination of many observations of CO2ness within a cave leads you to conclude that this is a CO2 cave. Where carbon dioxide is in greater supply than oxygen we have an ethic of CO2.
Now arises the matter of a way of life. Or more rightly put a way to life. You can state that your “cave” is a CO2 cave. But is that healthy? Is that life? You thus must come to a concensus of the “truth” — of what is healthy and what is life.
Most people around us are content to merely describe the ethics and morals of what is happening around them. They will “live with it”, or as some say, “if it feels good, do it”. But as a Christian, I am called to be a change agent — to be leading people to be reconciled with God — to know truth, to come to life, to find the way — the way that brings life and not suffocation and death.
And in the end, the old cliche from the ’60’s still stands — “Jesus is the answer.” What is looked on as a simple answer is actually the most complex, fulfilling and inexhaustible answer for our society and for each individual in it.