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“Might Makes Right” and Christian Ethics

19 Feb

Does might make right? The question is one of ethics: who gets to say, in an ultimate sense, what is right and what is wrong? By what standard are we to know what is right?

People advocate a variety of answers to these questions. For some, what brings pleasure is the standard for what is right. For others, the measure is pragmatic: what works is what is right. Yet others insist that ethics are determined by whomever is strongest; this is the claim that might makes right.

The notion that might makes right is objectionable to most folks because it makes morality relative in a way that we find unacceptable. Typically, a single counterexample exposes the problem: if Hitler’s forces had prevailed in the Second World War, most insist that Hitler’s values would nonetheless be correctly judged corrupt and reprehensible. And his values would be no less worthy of contempt if, having conquered the world, he would have reigned without challenge until the end of the age.

The twist in the discussion came for me when I was told about a skeptic who suggested that the Christian position is equivalent to the claim that might makes right. And this objection seems plausible: the Bible clearly presents God as uniquely mighty, and as the one who will judge the living and the dead (Rev 20:11-15). He blesses those who do what he has commanded, and he condemns, for all eternity and in great torment, all those who will not do what he has dictated. Isn’t God simply the most egregious example of might making right? And if so, and if it is false that might makes right, shouldn’t a rational person object to the Christian message?

Now, as a Christian, I have to confess my belief in God the Father Almighty. The Bible says that “our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Ps 115:3). Denying the mightiness of God is no option for the Christian. That said, Scripture does not teach that God arbitrarily dictates what is right and wrong. Rather, moral standards are determined by God’s own unchanging character. In other words, it is not God’s mere mightiness that permits him to say what is right, but the fact that his character is wholly good.

But I think there’s an even more interesting reply to this objection. Suppose that Hitler does win, and does reign unchallenged until the universe ends. And further suppose that there is no justice awaiting him after his death. In that kind of universe, wasn’t he right? He won, didn’t he? But few of us would want to concede this point.

It seems to me that if we want to deny that mere might makes right, we must believe that the right must not only be mighty, but almighty. Otherwise, there is no justice in the universe, and there is no value in holding to the right. Without ultimate justice in the universe, then might really does equal right. The only safeguard against might making right is the existence of a right that ultimately overcomes all that is not right.

Now, those who object to Christianity will find the remaining truth (that God is still almighty) no less comfortable. For the if the right remains constant despite the objections of even the mighty, it will be the case that, in the end of things, we will stand before the Judge who never fails to do justice.

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Posted by on February 19, 2013 in Apologetics, Newspaper Article

 

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