“Moral experience—the actual possession and exercise of good character—is necessary truly to understand moral principles and profitably to apply them..”

— Aristotle, Ethics

When people use the term “values”, what they are likely referring to is objective morality. Such a person is communicating that they believe there are moral facts that tell us what one ought to do and what one ought not to do. The assumption, then, is that morality exists out in the real world and that it is not something that belongs only to the whims of the person. In short, one’s behavior can be compared with these existent facts.

However, secular forces, informed through an epistemology of Empiricism, have dichotomized what can be deduced and inferred from the senses as the only facts that can be known. On this view, all other truth claims are personal values which are cast into the realm of subjective apprehension and relativistic understanding.(1) This includes moral statements. Thus, moral values have been transformed from standards that are part of reality to matters of personal taste and preference which are informed from one’s pleasure or pain (i.e., emotions).(2)

With this fact/value split in mind, I think it is important for people, and Christians in particular, to communicate effectively regarding moral positions. This is true because Christians hope to impact the culture and convey gospel truths which require a moral terminology for understanding human nature. Therefore, using terms like “values” or “Christian values” should be used with care or avoided with a preference for more concrete terms like what is “universally wrong” and what is “universally right.” This type of communication needs to convey the message that any discussion of moral positions requires that ethical facts be either true or false. We are presenting moral cases with the assumption that these terms are mutually exclusive (right and wrong)- this is important to convey first before making the moral argument.

By Raphael – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=100874

Christians also need to be guarded that they do not accept or teach the views of a secular society. Not only does language need to be clear to convey the reality of objective morals, but they must also not fall into the trap laid by this secular philosophy. In an effort to be kind, show love to neighbor, and/or fit in with expectations of the culture, Christians may find themselves accepting the fact/value dichotomy. Even in preaching, one might hear an emphasis on the “heart” and a deemphasis or even a disdain for the “head,” as if these two organs do not exist in the same body. Here, the preacher might as well agree with the shocked young woman whose theology teacher claimed, “the heart is what we use for religion, while the brain is what we use for science.”(3) We cannot accept this split because it is an affront to what is reasonable, what exists in the reality we live in, what is moral, and what ultimately comes from God.

Finally, the best witness to objective morality is to live a life according to the objective morals one professes. This not only includes personal integrity but also not falling into the trap of fighting with secular tactics. Secular values ultimately reduce to political positions, which are enacted through political power. Christians make a mistake when they fight for moral positions using power instead of persuasion. By doing this, one may win a battle but would have already lost because the toolset of modern political positioning arises from the postmodern/modern split between fact and value.(4) Instead, Christians should demonstrate that such a philosophy is unlivable, that all people behave as if morals exist in reality and that everyone should be held to certain standards, and that the fact/value dichotomy leads to absurdities. We can challenge worldview assumptions on multiple fronts. To paraphrase C. S. Lewis, writing about this very topic, our task here is to irrigate deserts, not cut down jungles.(5)

To Him Be All the Glory!


Notes:

  1. Nancy Pearcey, Saving Leonardo (Nashville, Tennessee: B&H Books, 2017), 2.
  2. Ibid, 2.
  3. See this article in which the author describes the scenario from an actual occurrence: “Total Truth – Summit Ministries,” accessed May 20, 2021, https://www.summit.org/resources/articles/total-truth/#3.
  4. Ibid.
  5. C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (HarperOne, 2001), 13-14.
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