On this blog I have been posting quite a lot on morality, reasoning about morality, and behaving morally. I admit that this is inspired by it being an election year. We Christians in the United States are asked to participate to some extent in the rule of our government by means of voting. We don’t have direct control (and some may argue much control), but we do have some. When we vote we chose people who may have a say in how our nation practices abortion, economics, public sexuality, social services, warfare, and much more. Our efforts to think clearly about tough subjects is virtuous in my estimation because “ignorance is bliss” is a lie.
I’d like to hear your thoughts on making decisions regarding morality from the starting point of “the greater good”. I don’t mean “the greatest good for the most” like utilitarianism argues, per se. Rather, let’s ponder two examples:
(1) If you have a Jewish family in your home in WWII Germany and some Nazi soldiers come to your door asking whether or not you have Jews in your home are you obligated to preserve their lives or tell the truth? Some argue that you should tell the truth because it is your moral responsibility. If the Nazi soldiers kill the Jews this is not something you have done, but something they did. Yet it is quite difficult to make this sequence all about the autonomous behaviors of the various people involved. Many realize in their gut that there is something intuitive about saving human life even if it means lying.
Could we suggest that this isn’t about “doing the lesser evil” (i.e. lying), or pure autonomy (i.e. what the soldiers do is their responsibility alone), but “the greater good”. In other words, could we argue that saving life makes the lie a good deed? If we were to lie for our own sake to gain or defraud others this would make a lie an evil deed, but this lie was to (A) save life and (B) prevent another from taking life–both good things.
(2) If someone enters your home seeking to harm your wife and children and you harm them (even kill them if it seems that murder was their intent) could it be argued that murder for many reasons is evil, but in this case it was good because it saved the life of those for whom you are most responsible? Obviously, you will notice that this scenario shifts a bit because your action is technically the same as the action you sought to prevent (taking human life) and objectively you chose one human’s life over another.
What do you think? In scenarios 1 and 2 does a “greater good” emerge? Does it nullify the deed that would have been evil (a lie, a killing) because it is submerged into the good action? Can we think about morality this way or do you see potential problems?
Some who have discussed the merits of Christians in the military with me may see this as a softening of my stance, but I maintain that it is unwise for a Christian to give permission to the state to control their decision making to the extent that a soldier must submit to the state. On the other hand, this may allow for Christian participation in law enforcement where you usually are not placed in a position where a superior asks you to kill another human on the mere authority of the superior’s position.