ETHICS - Christian Ethics
(PD) William-Adolphe Bouguereau Compassion
Copyright ©2009-2020 — updated August 23, 2020
"Compassion literally means to feel with, to suffer with. Everyone is capable of compassion, and yet everyone tends to avoid it because it's uncomfortable. And the avoidance produces psychic numbing — resistance to experiencing our pain for the world and other beings." — Joanna Macy
A brief definition of Christian Ethics: (1) A system of values based upon the Christian Scriptures, (2) principles of behavior in concordance with the behaviors of Christian prophets, (3) standards of thought and behavior as taught by Jesus.
Of the three main branches of Christianity (Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant), there are reportedly over 33,000 denominations of Protestantism, but the unreasonably high number is likely due to most of the churches being established under different names to meet the regional legal needs of independent nonprofit organizations. Typically there will be few sizable differences of beliefs between the many protestant denominations.
A similarity among all three branches is the belief that the Christian Bible is the primary guide to what is ethical and moral. A standard among many Christians is the belief that the Bible's books were inspired by God, and thus the Bible is the major or only source of knowledge of what is right and wrong. The ethics themselves are those derived by interpretations of the behaviors of individuals in Bible stories, and not from the Bible stating specifically what is ethical. There is no known mention of ethic, ethics, ethical, moral, morals, or morality in the Bible. There exists the Greek "ethos" as "customs" in Luke 1:9 "According to the custom of the priest's office," but customs are not ethics.
Generally, in Christianity the behaviors and teachings of individuals in the Bible stories are subjectively interpreted as good or bad — or the stories are said to be holy or evil within the eyes of God, which then leads the reader to conclude which specific acts are deemed right or wrong — and then the interpretations of good and bad are given the names of ethical and unethical. Some Christian universities have followed the secular western philosophy method of using the term ethics to signify an academic study of the concepts behind right, wrong, good, bad, virtue, morality, moral relativism, etc..
It is normal for humans to place numerous memories into a mental classification, and to then give the classification a name. As an example, people have many experiences with dogs, cats, and other mammals, and the memories are placed within a mental classification named "animals." Some people include insects, reptiles, and other creatures within their animal classification, but the point here is that it is common for humans to create mental classifications that hold within them the thoughts of numerous different objects. It appears that the majority of humans have created a mental classification that is named "ethics" — or whatever a similar word might be in a language other than English — and placed within the classification the person's interpretations of right, wrong, good, bad, and numerous other interpretations of what the person has experienced and believes to be correct knowledge of right and wrong.
To hold within one's mind a classification of ethics, the individual first must have created thoughts of right and wrong, and then encircled the thoughts within the classification named ethics. Since the philosophical concept of ethics most commonly relates to the judging of whether the behavior of people might be right or wrong, then it is assumed that everyone who holds the philosophical view of ethics has judged the behaviors of people.
Matthew 7:1-5 : "Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye."
Romans 14:10,13 : "But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way."
It is almost unavoidable that if a person dwells on the philosophy of ethics that the person will judge other individuals' behavior. It may appear to be a perplexing problem, because if all intelligence is built upon the need to judge things right or wrong, then how might it be possible to not judge a thing right or wrong? There are several different angles of judgment, including those that only look at the facts without a judging of the thing itself, and those of judging the thing without first knowing the facts. As an example, an individual might gather facts and judge that another person is addicted to colas, but the individual judging the facts does not blame the addicted person nor in any manner judge the addicted person's heart for having become addicted. Compassion might rise for the addicted person's wellbeing, but never would a fault be found within the addicted person's heart. Another individual might judge that cola addiction is wrong and that therefore the addicted person's personality is of a low grade; that the addicted person has faults. Judging facts is an acceptable thing, but judging the value of another person is not acceptable. Generally, the judging of facts is good because it demands accuracy, which further strengthens the mind. The judging of personalities is too often committed emotionally through the subconscious, and the act dirties the inward self with lowered intellect and unsubstantiated beliefs.
All things in the Universe are composed of components, and if a person's components include those of invented beliefs and false accusations, then that person has no potential to achieve high levels of intelligence, personality, nor spirituality. The choice and act of achieving a cleanliness of thought is one of the numerous components taught in Christianity as well as in all other coherent religions and philosophies. The punishment for not living the teaching is that the individual will punish themselves by growing increasingly less intelligent and desirable.
John 7:22-24 : "Moses therefore gave unto you circumcision; (not because it is of Moses, but of the fathers;) and ye on the sabbath day circumcise a man. If a man on the sabbath day receive circumcision, that the law of Moses should not be broken; are ye angry at me, because I have made a man every whit whole on the sabbath day? Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment."
The logic behind the words of Jesus' appears to say that if the law of doing no work on the Sabbath is a holy law that is to never be broken, and yet it is acceptable to make exceptions to the law if another important law (circumcision) must also be obeyed, then the law of the Sabbath is flexible, and if the law of the Sabbath is flexible enough to bend for a minor thing like circumcision — which is not itself a necessity for life — then the law of the Sabbath is flexible enough to bend for an act more important than circumcision, an act that saves a life. In this tense, judgment is simply applied logic.
Perhaps a sensible interpretation of righteous judgment is that it points to the reasoning of facts and of what is fair, equitable, and just. The main idea of judging is for an individual to think smartly, to strive for correct thoughts that are accurate, to only weigh the facts, to behave in logical agreement with the facts, and to do so requires that the individual not dirty his/her mind by inventing emotional judgments of personalities. No one can know the heart and mind of anyone except themselves, and so therefore it is not smart to judge another person's heart because we cannot know the facts behind why the person is behaving as they do. If an individual's act is wrong, then it is useful to recognize the error, but it is not useful to judge the person's inward self because all such judgments must arrive from invented beliefs.
If ethics are the judging of right and wrong, and if it is known that the judging of other people's behavior is detrimental to one's own heart and mind, then might the study of ethics be good or bad for a Christian or anyone else? The ideal is to place one's attention on acquiring the natures of truth, patience, correctness, and all of the other good inward traits, while the individual allows a distance to be created between themselves and the topic of ethics as it might apply to judging people. To become a good thing is good, but to only know of the good thing's name is not of value.
Typically, since good and bad are portions of the items within the mental classification of ethics, in time the person's mind will repeatedly associate the terms as being connected, and the individual will begin to think that ethic and good are synonyms, as would unethical and bad also be synonyms. If the person held a clarified definition of what is right and wrong, then perhaps the use of the terms ethical and unethical might also have meaning, but since it is well-known that there exists no clarified public definition for right and wrong, therefore the classification of ethics must also be fuzzy, and the word ethics itself has no firm meaning.
To better clarify the above paragraph, and as mentioned before, the mental classification "ethics" is composed of numerous components that are placed together to form the thing called "ethics." An analogy is that of a cell within the human body; it might be known that the concept of cells exists, but if the person does not also know of how the components of the cell combine to create the cell, then the person can only have a vague concept of what cells might be, and the person cannot know with certainty whether a cell's behavior is correct or incorrect. Similarly, though a person may hold a mental concept of ethics, if the person does not have a firm comprehension of what is right and wrong, then the person cannot know with certainty if a behavior is correct or incorrect, and therefore the person cannot with certainty declare a thing ethical or moral.
The advantage of Buddhism and Christianity is that they speak of a behavior that is in agreement with what is most often interpreted as being ethical and moral. As a male cannot know the nature of a female without the man being a woman, likewise a philosopher cannot know the nature of ethics without the man first being ethical, and so it is judged that although Christianity and Buddhism may not be a source of knowledge of what clearly distinguishes an ethic, still will the accomplished Christian and Buddhist understand what moral behavior implies, and as is often voiced as the preferred state of a man, the individuals will become the thing without their first knowing the thing's word.
Matthew 22:37-40 : Jesus said to him, "'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets." (New King James version)
If love is the greatest commandment of Christianity, then it becomes an important thing to better understand what love might be. It is not desirable for a person to learn too much about how and why love comes into existence — the knowledge will lessen the person's pleasurable experience of love and possibly rob the person of the ability to love — but since the concept of Christian ethics is bound within the concept of love, then it is useful to lightly touch on the nature of love so that Christian ethics might be better understood.
If all things in the Universe are composed of components, then what is love composed of? In part, love is the created thing that comes into existence when there first exists compassion, sympathy, a weighed importance of the other person's welfare over one's own, and a relationship — even if one-sided — that increases one's own sense of quality and usefulness in life. Other components of love include those that create the sense of beauty, but in neither love nor beauty are the sensations singular, but rather each are metaphorically as specific hues and pastels of colors, with each component being of a specific color and intensity that blends with and enhances the final shade of color.
Within Christianity, an individual's personal quality — and their ability to love — are created when the individual attains the necessary ingredients of compassion, sympathy, patience, gentleness, and the several other traits. The teachings of behaviors by the masters of a religion are not intended to imply rules and laws that a person must obey — as if following external laws were somehow able to force a man to inwardly become what he is not — but rather the teachings are as the directions of how a person might attain the desired goals of the religion.
For over thirty years I experimented with the combining of various attributes, to determine what might be correct or incorrect in various philosophies and religions, and to my knowledge no other person has performed a similar research, although I do hope that others have. I have experienced many things that were the creations of specific components, and though several of the creations were quite nice, there were a few experiences that are simply incapable of being explained with words, and it would seem to be vulgar to even try. What I will say is that within some of the teachings within Christianity there is a desirable product, one that is created by the components spoken of in Christianity, a product far more enlightening than what Buddhism might permit, and the product exists whether or not an individual believes in the religion. The point here is that the ideals of Christianity are for the individual to become of specific natures which will then create a specific end-product.
At present, modern science does not appear to know what love is — nor beauty — but there have been numerous classifications invented that hypothesize what love might be. Of the classifications of love, there are attachment relationships, caregiving relationships, marital relationships, and of the many other classifications they are almost all universally structured upon a founding belief that whatsoever love might be, it must be the result of an evolutionary neural mechanism that promotes the survival of the specie.
It is useful to take a brief look at a few of the modern theories so as to gain a small idea of where current scientific research is leading. Robert J. Sternberg is a popular writer of psychology topics, and he has proposed a theory that love is composed of components: "...the triangular theory of love... comprises three components: intimacy, commitment, and passion."(1) It is admirable that modern research is approaching the topic with an idea to weigh the final product (love) by what components are within the product, but without my first knowing what other information may be held within the research projects, it currently appears that the components may not yet themselves be well-defined. Different people will define words differently, so know beforehand that my definitions may not be similar to Sternberg's.
For some of us, intimacy predominately implies a close relationship between an individual and any other thing, a relationship that evokes emotional and physical responses of enhanced mental attention towards the thing. For myself, one example of intimacy was found in a reciprocal bond formed between myself and a wild cotton-tail rabbit: we walked together, shared much time together, we cared for the wellbeing of each other, and the world around us was a thing external to our central theme of friendship. Perhaps the greater percentage of people interpret intimacy as being of a marital nature only, and so it is known from the beginning that a fuzziness of definition will exist in the concept of love if the word "intimacy" has not yet been defined. Nevertheless, I believe that the general concept of intimacy does have the validity of it signifying a preexisting choice of a person having bonded with another thing. A difficulty with such a definition, however, is that the act of intimacy has already occurred, which implies that the reason for the bond still remains an unknown within the theories of love, and it would appear that the reason for the act of intimacy ought to be the component of greater interest.
Similarly with commitment and passion, the words appear to point to things that have already occurred, things that do not create love but rather are external measurements of how love might be gauged, which appears to be what Sternberg's triangular theory of love might be designed to measure.
A well-known theory of love is that it is caused by the brain releasing chemicals — such as oxytocin — into the blood stream, and it is the chemicals that are the cause of the sensations of love and other emotions. While there might be some truth to the theory that the body produces certain chemicals to maintain a uniform sensation — sensations that do not simply jump off the scales one second and then plummet to nothing the next moment — there is a sizable reason why the theory cannot be the sole answer, and the reason is that it takes about one minute or so for the blood to circulate throughout the body, and since most all of us have had the firsthand experience of feeling immediate emotions upon seeing a danger or an attractive person, then we are fully confident that the sensations could not have been the result of the brain releasing chemicals into the blood stream, because the chemicals would not have yet had time to circulate throughout the body and to cause the emotional response. Nevertheless, and written with a bit of humor, if the current theories might be discovered to be true, then most all humans are psychic, and their brains know what is to happen about a minute into the future, and the brains begin releasing the chemicals into the bloodstream with an exact precision to enable the sense of beauty and love to occur upon the very instant that we first see a beautiful person. If the scientific theories are correct, then we are almost all psychic, but if we are not psychic, then the theories cannot be a full answer to the nature of love.
There are numerous different types of love, with some merely being of physical attraction — which might be said to be a few necessary components short and a few unnecessary components too many to be real love — but I will only point to a favored form of love, one that does not hold within it a conscious desire for self-interests. Within one of the most ideal forms of love that I know of, there is a yearning with the heart, an actual enduring pain that is directed outwardly, an intense longing that the object of the love might receive the very best things that the lover knows to exist, and with that longing there can be a tremendous grief if the loved thing is in any manner seriously harmed (compassion). The ability to create the longing that I am alluding to is made possible by several components including those of empathy, mental rationalizing of the environment and how it influences the loved one, a conscience (which is itself born within the abilities of logic, empathy and others), and a portion of the intellectual rationalizing that also permits the sense of beauty to arise (an ugly thing might still be loved if the thing is rationalized to be of an importance greater than its appearance).
Much of one's ability for compassion will be built upon life experience, the act of observing events in one's own life and then recognizing and intellectually rationalizing how similar events may affect the lives of others. The act of charity — of giving money or necessities to the needy — could be performed with the coldest of hearts, but when a person has the intellectual ability to observe and rationalize his/her observations of the needy, forms of sympathy and empathy arise, which become the building blocks of compassion, and compassion remains as one of the necessary ingredients of a true form of love. Though the Greek word "agape" may sometimes be translated as "charity" instead of "love" in the Bible, still there is value in the English concept of charity, not merely as a good deed, but as one means of living the experiences that enable the creation of compassion and love.
Thayer translates the Greek word "splagchnizomai" as "to be moved as to one's bowels, hence to be moved with compassion, have compassion (for the bowels were thought to be the seat of love and pity)." In the Strong's it means "to have the bowels yearn, that is, (figuratively) feel sympathy, to pity; — have (be moved with) compassion." The memory remains within me of a book I read almost thirty years ago, of how it was said that a Buddhist child, when asked where his thoughts came from, he would point to his belly, signifying in the book's view that the child possessed a manner of perception that was superior to the manner of 'brain-only' thinking. The book was correct in that the child may have held a greater portion of intellectual qualities that enabled the child to feel emotions that a brain-only thinker might not feel, but the book did not appear to recognize that the ability to self-create the sensation of yearning bowels is also dependent on the intellect, even if subconsciously. The importance of the sensation of compassion within the belly is that it signifies that a useful quantity of compassion exists, and it becomes as a measure of one's spiritual progress.
The scientific classifications of love do have the validity that variations of love will exist within the different types of relationships, but still the classifications do not hold within them a depth of explanation of what creates love, and similarly there exist numerous classifications of ethics in western philosophy, but in none is there a depth of explanation of what creates an ethic. Christian ethical behavior as taught in the Bible, or at least taught in the New Testament, perhaps could simply be distilled to the single thought of love, that within love all things are correct, and that love is the sole properness. There is nothing to learn, no words to memorize, and no laws to follow, but rather the one and only thing is to love all. Love is the only ethic. Speak truth, strive for the correctness of logical accuracy, be of a meek spirit, and within these — and others — there becomes a foundation built that can give birth to a quality of love.
1 Corinthians 13:1-8,13: "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing. Love suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Love never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love."
Generally speaking, love is the product of logic, whether the logic be formed consciously or subconsciously. Logic is what judges sensorial perceptions, the perceptions are what enable a width of memories of experiences to occur, it is upon the rationalizing of the memories that judgments are made, it is logic that determines whether a thing is right, wrong, beautiful or ugly, and it is within the accumulations of logical reasonings and conclusions that sympathy, empathy, compassion and the many others are made possible, which of themselves enable the creation of love to exist. Logic itself is composed of its own components, but it is useful enough to simply point to the reality that logic is the origin of all thoughts and actions. Righteous judgment — the act of rationalizing facts and determining which fact is most important — is a main ingredient in the betterment of an individual's intellect, and a main ingredient in Christianity.
Update August 23, 2020: Except for a few punctuation changes, this article has not been edited from its older version. Also noteworthy is of the comment: "Within one of the most ideal forms of love that I know of..." A couple years after having written the original article, I discovered/developed new forms of love that make all previous forms now seem crude and dirty. The item of importance is the recognition that there is no single type of love, nor is there a limit to what is possible.
Also noteworthy is to comment on "Perhaps a sensible interpretation of righteous judgment is that it points to the reasoning of facts and of what is fair, equitable, and just". A favorite quote that relates to the Christian ideal of fairness: 'Junzi bosom virtue, tiny person bosom materialism. Junzi bosom fairness, tiny person bosom favoritism.' (draft portion of 里仁 Li Ren #11). Nature does not change, and what was correct three-thousand years ago, is still correct today, and every day in-between.
'Happy anger, sorrow joy, it have-not expressed, call it center. Express and always center temperate, call it peace.' (draft translation of a portion of Zhong Yong #1). When the mind turns-off the cyclically flowing outward emotions, it is then that it is possible to love without yearning; it becomes as if a singularity. Comparing Saul's words, faith is selfish belief, and hope is selfish of favoritism, but of love, it could become a state of being that no other religion offers, nor is capable of achieving. Unfortunately, for as long as an individual bosoms favoritism and materialism, love cannot exist, and, neither can the Christian ethic.
(1) Robert J. Sternberg, "The New Psychology of Love", Yale University Press, New Haven, London ©2006, page 8.