In a key scene from a provocative movie that came out almost thirty years ago, Grand Canyon, featuring Kevin Cline and Danny Glover, the main character, played by Kline, has been to a professional basketball game and veers off the crowded interstate to take a shortcut to get home. Unfortunately, in the process, he soon finds himself in a pretty rough area of town, lost. When he pulls to a stop, the Lexus he’s driving, suddenly stalls. He immediately calls a wrecker service and, while he’s waiting, you see these teenage thug-looking guys come out of the shadows. They see what they’ve found and they’re getting ready to . . . well, we don’t know exactly, because right when they’re going to do some serious damage Danny Glover comes to the rescue. Glover drives up in the wrecker, and, as he steps out to hook up the car, the teenage thugs begin to protest because here they have a guy at their mercy. He drives an expensive car, he’s a well-dressed lawyer, and he appears to be someone who could be carrying a great deal of money. Glover takes the leader of the group aside and announces firmly,
Man, the world ain’t supposed to work like this. Maybe you don’t know that, but this ain’t the way it’s supposed to be. I’m supposed to be able to do my job without asking you if I can. And that dude [referring to Kline] is supposed to be able to wait with his car without you ripping him off. Everything’s supposed to be different than what it is here.
Life the way it’s supposed to be. Danny Glover’s character was referring to a type of moral behavior that we expect from human beings. There seems to be a right way to live.
Of course the question that naturally arises, “Who is it that determines the right way to live?” Historically in our country the majority of people believed there was a divine moral order that governs life, and that God is the moral lawgiver. His moral law is revealed in the Bible and it is from it we determine “the way life is supposed to be.”
However, that has all changed. The Biblical moral standard has been discarded. Our individualistic culture rebels against the idea of living under God’s authority as revealed in the Bible. However, the challenge then becomes how does one come up with their own moral code to live by. You have to come up with something, and it promises to leave you uncertain and conflicted. This is why David Brooks, in a New York Times op-ed piece says that people today are groping to say anything sensible on matters of morality. The reason is because if you do not have an established moral code, you will not have the categories or vocabulary to be able to coherently discuss morality.
A number of years ago, a popular author and speaker, James Sire, was invited to be a guest speaker in a classroom at Kent State University. He addressed this issue of morality and how it is subjective in the eyes of so many. He spoke of how a person’s final authority today is their emotions (how I feel, what I desire, what I like). He spoke of the problems this view of life creates and proposed a biblical view.
He then opened the class for questions and said that pandemonium broke out. Students took sides and the classroom became highly charged.
One of the female students said, with no reservation, that she was having an affair with a married man. She remarked:
“I’m a good person. I don’t like the Ten Commandments [though she did say some were okay]. I don’t see anything wrong with sleeping with a married man if it doesn’t hurt anyone.” And then she asked, “Are you trying to tell me I’m immoral?”
From these remarks by this young woman you can see why David Brooks contends that modern people have a hard time saying something sensible about morality.
I think some of the most powerful words about morality come from the research of Guenter Lewy.
An author and political scientist, Lewy has been a faculty member at Columbia University, Smith College, and the University of Massachusetts. Back in the early 1990s, he set out to write a book on why America does not need religion. He saw so many of his conservative colleagues taking the position that religion is foundational to morality and social stability. He intended to prove they were wrong. In his own words, he intended “to make a defense of secular humanism and ethical relativism.” He wanted to prove that they were “damned wrong.” After extensive research, the sheer weight of the evidence caused Lewy to change his mind. Instead, with academic integrity, he ended up writing his book, Why America Needs Religion, arguing that religion, particularly Christianity, leads to lower rates of almost every social pathology— including crime, drug abuse, teenage pregnancy, and family breakdown. He clearly recognized the positive influence Christianity makes on people’s attitudes and intentions. He saw unmistakably how it instills responsibility, moral integrity, compassion, and generosity. Lewy concluded,
Contrary to the expectation of the Enlightenment, freeing individual from the shackles of traditional religion does not result in their moral uplift. To the contrary, the evidence now shows clearly that no society has yet been successful in teaching morality without religion.
Lewy makes a strong argument that biblical morality makes a difference when it is followed out in the real world. The only way to explain the outcome of his research is to recognize that when people’s lives are lined up with the objective structure of God’s moral law, they are happier and healthier, because, this is the way life is supposed to be.