Black and white morality
I recently let slip (in front of an aunt of mine) that I’d been exploring Protestant churches, so she’s gone on a mini-crusade to get me back on that good ol’ Catholic path. Part of this mini-crusade involved passing me a little booklet to read, summarising the main beliefs of Catholicism.
This isn’t an inter-denominatory comparison, though. While looking through the booklet, somehow I’d started thinking about the issue of morality, especially in the context of Christianity. Specifically, I thought back on a lesson on the Ten Commandments I had a number of years ago – to make a long story short, they were taught in the context of absolute morality, as rules that must never be broken (or you would have sinned)! I was apparently a bit of a contrarian even back then, because I remember asking if there were exceptions to this. As an example, I brought up the hypothetical example of a crazed gunman holding hostages, threatening to execute them unless you were willing to tell lies. I suppose a more real-world scenario might be how a police officer/negotiator might state some non-truths while in the process of persuading the gunman to release the hostages. Basically, was it acceptable to break these laws in order to save lives?
My hypothetical scenario was at the time dismissed as being too extreme and impractical, and the underlying question was essentially ignored. Even in the case of the police negotiations, Christians might argue that negotiations can be conducted without any explicit lies being told. More recently though, I’ve read the novel Silence in which a similar scenario pops up. Granted that the story is a fictional one, but it was based on historical events and it isn’t too hard to imagine the events happening in real life – basically, Japanese believers were being tortured in a bid to make a foreign priest publicly renounce his faith, with the promise of the torture being halted if he were to do so.
I’m sure there are many arguments against caving in to such a demand, but it seemed to me that in agreeing to make a public display of renouncing one’s faith (even if privately that faith is still adhered to), lives would be saved. Although there are other implications at work here (e.g. the effect of a religious leader renouncing his faith), in my head the possibility of lives being saved by deviating from “God’s law” is indication enough that there cannot be a simple black and white morality, that there are always exceptions to rules, that it is impossible to come up with a definitive list of rules that one might follow in order to lead a good life.