Category Archives: Religious morality

Limits and Importance of the Law of Love

In Matthew 22:37-40, of the New International Version, we read the following.

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

How does the moral law “hang on” these two commandments? For instance, can we use these two commandments to decide that premarital sex is immoral? No, but they do tell us that there is an objectively correct answer to the question and God has determined the objectively correct answer.

To love is to will the good of the other. We cannot choose that things good for God happen to God for nothing bad could happen to God So, to will good for God is to will, or always try to will, the good God wills. The good God wills for people is lives in accordance with the moral laws since lives in accordance with moral laws are good lives for humans. For God always wills what is good.

Next, to love our neighbors as ourselves is to will for them the same good life we will for ourselves when we correctly will what is good for ourselves. Hence, to love our neighbors as ourselves is to will, or try always to will, that all of us live in accordance with the moral laws God has laid out for human beings.

The limits of the two laws of love are that they do not tell us any definite moral rules. And, of immense significance, they do not tell us that any feelings of love are a guide to morally correct behavior. The importance of the laws of love are that they tell us that there are objectively true moral answers and getting and following these right answers lead to good human lives.

When Should We Talk of Immorality as Sinful

Grant that the moral laws are commands of God. When should we think and talk of morality as based on Divine commands? When we teach morality we should let our children know that our “does and don’ts” are not our arbitrary commands but come from God. God has gifted human beings with the cognitive and emotional capabilities to develop a concept of a moral authority to whom all their actions are transparent. Perhaps, God gave us this gift through evolutionary development. Regardless of how we received this gift of what Freudians label a superego, we should lead children to identify the moral authority with God. Yes, this leads children to develop a fear of God. And that is not a bad thing. Fear of the Lord is, indeed , the beginning of wisdom. In short, we should educate our children to have a sense of sin.

There are contexts in which it is legally or socially prohibited to talk of God. For instance, in secular public schools, talking of God, let alone teaching morality as coming from God is forbidden. I am uncertain whether these are policies are always good for public order. But in the home and in civil society at large, we should not hesitate to link morality with what God commands. When we associate with fellow citizens of “The City of God” we should maintain our sense of immorality as sinful, deliberate rejection of God’s will

Also, when tempted, it helps to think of we are acting in accordance with the will of God by suppressing unruly desires. It is helpful to think of God as the author of morality when we make moral judgments about others. When we do so, we can readily distinguish between the act we morally condemn and the inner state of the actor whose act we condemn. For the inner state is transparent to the moral authority, namely God, but not to us.

Morality comes into play in our lives most of the time when we teach, learn it, struggle with it and pass judgment on ourselves and our neighbors. In all of these contexts, there should be no hesitation to think feel and talk as morality being based on God’s commands.

But there is one context in which those who hold a divine command theory of morality should not assert any moral laws as God’s commands. This philosophical context is one in which they are making a case that, say masturbation violates a moral law. For making a case that masturbation is morally forbidden is making a case that it is a Divine command. It would be question begging to use as a premise “Masturbation is forbidden by God” when the aim is to prove exactly that.

But this eschewal of mentioning God in moral arguments is not reverting to moral deism. It is only secularizing a special context. For most people, philosophical thought is irrelevant. So to quarantine philosophical argument from assertions of God as commanding is not secularizing morality.

Of even more significance, for appreciating removing God from philosophical moral arguments is not necessarily secularizing moral reasoning are background assumptions of a Divine command moral theorist. For the reasoning will cite facts of nature as premises in a moral argument. The holder of a Divine command theory will regard nature as God’s creation. And God’s creation contains facts with normative significance. In a nature created by God there are purposes – the way things ought to be.

Does Death Prove Nihilism?

Does Death Prove Nihilism?

The honest answer “Yes! If biological death is total annihilation.”

In my bookConfronting Sexual Nihilism, I made a case that if there are categorical moral laws for controlling our sexuality life is not meaningless. We have something to live for. Our lifelong duty is to make ourselves the kind of person who conforms to these laws. Even more generally, throughout our whole lives we have the duty of making ourselves the kind of person who performs our moral duties.

However, the nihilist within me retorts “What does it matter that you have done your duty?”

The Book of Wisdom is an excellent source for reminding us what needs to be included in a strong philosophical antidote against nihilism. In addition to establishing the existence of a divine moral commander, there is a need to establish survival after biological death and the reality of postmortem reward and punishment. I quote extensively from the New American Bible because the Book of Wisdom expresses so elegantly the victory of nihilism if biological death is total annihilation.

I do not quote from Wisdom because it presents a philosophical antidote to nihilism. It does not. It expresses what I hope to justify philosophically. It expresses my religious dismissal of nihilism.

In Chapter Two, verses 1 – 9 the sage characterizes the nihilism of those believing death is total annihilation.
For, not thinking rightly, they said among themselves:
“Brief and troubled is our lifetime;
there is no remedy for our dying,
nor is anyone known to have come back from Hades.
2
For by mere chance were we born,
and hereafter we shall be as though we had not been;
Because the breath in our nostrils is smoke,
and reason a spark from the beating of our hearts,
3
And when this is quenched, our body will be ashes
and our spirit will be poured abroad like empty air.
4
Even our name will be forgotten in time,
and no one will recall our deeds.
So our life will pass away like the traces of a cloud,
and will be dispersed like a mist
Pursued by the sun’s rays and overpowered by its heat.
5
For our lifetime is the passing of a shadow;
and our dying cannot be deferred
because it is fixed with a seal; and no one returns.
6
Come, therefore, let us enjoy the good things that are here,
and make use of creation with youthful zest.
7
Let us have our fill of costly wine and perfumes,
and let no springtime blossom pass us by;
8
let us crown ourselves with rosebuds before they wither.
9
Let no meadow be free from our wantonness;
everywhere let us leave tokens of our merriment,
for this is our portion, and this our lot.

A significant case against nihilism requires a case for unending survival after biological death.

If however, in an after life the fate of the just and unjust are the same, then it does not matter whether we were just or unjust. In effect, there is still the nihilism of everything being permitted. Wisdom points out elegantly the hope of hell – damnation as part of the anti nihilistic stance. I quote a few passagesfrom Ch. 3 frequently read at funerals..

1.The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,
and no torment shall touch them.
2 They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead;
and their passing away was thought an affliction
3 and their going forth from us, utter destruction.
But they are in peace.
…………
7 In the time of their judgment* they shall shine
and dart about as sparks through stubble;
8 They shall judge nations and rule over peoples,
and the LORD shall be their King forever.
9 Those who trust in him shall understand truth,
and the faithful shall abide with him in love:
Because grace and mercy are with his holy ones,
and his care is with the elect.
10 But the wicked shall receive a punishment to match their thoughts,
since they neglected righteousness and forsook the LORD.
11 For those who despise wisdom and instruction are doomed.
Vain is their hope, fruitless their labors,
and worthless their works.
12Their wives are foolish and their children wicked,
accursed their brood.j

So a philosophical case against nihilism needs to include a case for hell.

I cannot have a reasonable hope that life has meaning and a purpose unless I have a hope reasonable that I can go to hell!

Invoking God to Confront Nihilism

I have changed the title of my blog site from “Confronting Sexual Nihilism: Notes on the philosophical foundations of sexual morality” to “Confronting Nihilism: Notes on the foundations of Divine Command Morality.” Why? There are several reasons.

My primary concern has always been exhibiting good reasons for thinking that nihilism is not a correct account of the human condition. This primary concern is to be distinguished from wanting good reasons, in the sense of motivation, for discovering good reasons for thinking that nihilism is not a correct account of the human condition. Aside from posturing hardheaded realism, clear headed thinkers dread nihilistic thoughts that nothing matters morally and ultimately human lives have no more significance than that which we attribute to mosquitoes and angle worms.

Unfortunately, the skeptical resources of philosophy have the power to cast doubt on any reasons for thinking that nihilism is false. Fortunately, the skeptical doubts do not show that the reasons for thinking nihilism is false are not good reasons. The skeptical arguments show only that the reasons against nihilism are not conclusive.reasons One can have good reasons for thinking nihilism to be false although the reasons do not warrant conviction that nihilism is false. That is why I write “confronting nihilism.” Reason can confront nihilism without defeat.although not without anxiety that nihilism is correct. But more than reason is is required for the victory of conviction that nihilism is false. Some factors different from reasons are needed to bring acceptance of good, but inconclusive reasons, to conclusive belief. Hence, I now write simply “notes on foundations”rather than “notes on philosophical foundations.” I will use more than philosophy to make a case that nihilism is false.

Sexual nihilism is the theory that nothing sexual matters. In principle, anything sexual is morally permissible. I have called this the moral neutrality of sexual morality. My strategy was to block total nihilism that there are no moral prohibitions by showing that there are some objective categorical sexual prohibitions. In my book, I made good, although not beyond all doubt, case that traditional sexual morality provided such prohibitions. However, my case was weak in so far as it made a case that the purpose of human life was to perform our duties for the sake of duty.

Life in accord with eternal moral laws which we are commanded to follow needed to be characterized as more attractive than resolutely making ourselves into people who obey these laws despite any and all inclinations to do otherwise. I was led, then, to religious reflections on what it meant to obey the moral laws. So, through a long series of posts on obeying a moral authority, I realized that we had to interpret moral laws as commands of God. Hence,I confront nihilism by making a case for Divine Command Morality.

Progressivism, Moral Harm and My Catholicism

The purpose of this post is to point out how the discovery of the notion of moral harm as harm which ought to be as a fundamental component of moral thinking has become my key to understanding numerous religious and philosophical claims in which I have faith.

In my previous post, I made a case that moral progressivism is inconsistent with Catholicism. I quickly added that individuals could be both moral progressives and Catholics because individuals do not need a consistent set of beliefs to guide their lives. Many individuals are fortunate enough so that facts never force them to feel cognitive dissonance in their beliefs; let alone having a predicament in which they think themselves obligated to do and not do the same thing.

But some of us care about consistency. Once we start caring about consistency we judge that we need consistency because we care about truth. We want true claims about what is and what ought to be. Consistency is a necessary condition our claims to be true.

Clarity is a necessary condition for appreciating truth. That is why so much of theology and philosophy can be labelled “Faith Seeking Understanding.”

An indication of clarity is when you can say to yourself “Now, I understand how I could say that.” For instance, after uncovering the notion of moral harm which led me to understand retributive punishment I could say of “Now I understand how I could say ‘He paid his debt to society by serving five years in prison.’ ”

After writing my post on the theoretical conflict between moral progressivism and Catholicism, I decided to look through some Catholic sources to verify that there is a conflict. I picked up St. Anselm’s Why God Became Man. I noticed on the cover that I had purchased the book at an American Philosophical Association meeting in 1976. Marginal notes indicated that I had struggle through the book twice.

My memories of the book had always been unpleasant because the difficult reading gave me absolutely no help in understand why God incarnated Himself to suffer crucifixion as punishment for some crimes of humanity. I could follow Anselm’s clever arguments on issues such as why God could not simply have waived the punishment by fiat. On this May 2020 reading, I suddenly realized that a fundamental barrier to my being able to say “Now I understand how I could say ‘God suffered the punishment for our sins” is that I did not understand punishment as retribution- as harm required by morality simply for having violated a moral law.

I had lived over eighty years in a Catholic environment believing that punishment is justifiable only as corrective action by properly established civil authorities. For violations of moral laws for which there were no civil sanctions there should be no punishment at all in this life. Actually I never really understood why there should be post-mortem punishment: be it in hell or purgatory. My moral thinking was inconsistent because I in fact held that no harm ought to be along with thinking that there were moral laws which ought never be violated.

But now, late in life, even after my 2014 book on sexual morality, I have realized that fundamental in moral thinking is the notion that harm ought to be as a sanction for violation of moral laws. I realized that my moral thinking was inconsistent and that I had to choose. The need to choose made vivid the thought that I had to accept retributive punishment. With the acceptance of retributive punishment I can much more readily bring myself to say that there had to be suffering for the sins of humanity. Unfortunately, with the need to choose I face the challenge of whether or not my choice against progressive morality is correct.

I will mail you a free copy of my book: Confronting Sexual Nihilism: Traditional Morality as an Antidote to Nihilism, Email me: kielkopf.1@osu.edu

Holy Week: Is It Only a Show?

This post is a reminder that virtual worship services support a widespread conviction that religious worship is only a show. There are narratives with scant, if any, historical evidence. Miraculous events are described. Moral language is used which is not generally used. That is not at all unusal for shows. When the show is over, one returns to real life, viz., where your body is. In real life one ignores the narratives and does not use the moral categories used in the show. The sense of a show would be diminished by actually being present. For then it is not only a show because one is actually there participating. It is in the real world.

During Holy Week 2020 throughout the whole world severe restrictions are imposed on commercial and civil life to lessen spread of COVID-1 virus. Amongst other restrictions public worship is prohibited. Churches, temples and mosques are locked. The Catholic Triduum is not to be celebrated publicly. The fight against spread of the virus is the dominant social force. All the kingdoms of the earth bow down before it.

As substitutes for public worship, there are numerous on-line and TV presentations of the worship services. I personally, follow on-line liturgies from Bishop Robert Barron’s “Word on Fire” organization. In these substitute services, we hear the traditional biblical narratives and homilies about the suffering and death of Jesus. They tell a story whose events are alleged to have changed the human condition. We proclaim that by undergoing a horrible execution by crucifixion Jesus, who was God incarnate, suffered the immense punishment for some wrongdoing for which all of us and each of us is responsible. The harm He endured fulfilled a moral sentence that this immense punishment ought to occur. The wrongdoing was so grave that the harm that ought to be suffered could not be suffered by any ordinary human being.

If the presenters and we viewers are serious about our Catholicism we are supposed to think that what happened then accomplished something immensely more important for human beings than, say, finding a vaccine for COVID-19. Is this madness? Would not an explicit statement to this effect be taken by most of the world, and many Catholics, as asserting a pious myth which serious people should dismiss as irrelevant to current problems?

Beside the theological stance, the moral language embedded in the religious talk alone exacerbates the sense of irrelevance. The moral language presupposes a moral stance of an authoritarian morality. Only fragments of authoritarian morality remain in the moral stance in Europe and North America. The concept of suffering which ought to occur simply to make reparation for a past violation of a moral law is dismissed as primitive. Thinking that one person’s suffering could make reparation for the crime of another is regarded as immoral. The suggestion that God as a moral authority could demand suffering for violation of His laws is opposed as a blasphemous theological hypothesis.

To someone who struggles daily to understand and practice his commitment to Catholicism, this disconnect between the language of our Holy Week liturgies and and the language used in the fight against COVID-19 has become much more threatening.

I would love to be able to proclaim with conviction that what happened in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus accomplished something immensely more important for human beings than, say, finding a vaccine for COVID-19.

With only virtual services, it all seems much more to be only a show for people with a taste for that kind of show. Bringing it into the real world would be a threat to public health. This sharpens a sense that the only good religions can do in the real world-where our bodies are- is works of charity.

I will not accept that Christianity’s only value to society is to provide a curious motivations for NGOs and to keep alive as museum pieces ancient narratives and practices.

My way of resisting is to try to bring forward the concepts of authoritarian morality. If the concepts of authoritarian morality, which are now latent in our cultures, are brought into more common use, then the moral categories of traditional Catholicism would start to become part of the language used in the real world.

Perhaps, then, being only able to view liturgies as shows on my computer or TV has accomplished some good by encouraging me to continue my struggle to bring the concepts of authoritarian morality into greater use.

Religious Dimension of COVID-19 War

This post presents a suggestion for forming hypotheses about human religiosity as a significant causal factor in the social phenomena of the Spring 2020 global war on the COVID-19 virus. There is no suggestion that the global response is primarily religious. Primary causes are to be sought in fear of sickness and death coupled with past experience of infectious disease.

I wish insightful students of religiosity such as Emil Durkheim,( The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, 1912, William James(The Varieties of Religious Experience 1902) or Mary Douglas (Purity and Danger, 1966 were alive to formulate such hypotheses.

Of course, there is a null hypothesis that religiosity is an insignificant factor. But there is no need to make suggestions for formulating a null hypothesis.

My suggestion is based on the fact that similar measures are being taken by provincial and municipal officials throughout the entire world. The uniformity and haste is surprising. Usually when international experts gather in forums to discuss global problems nothing happens quickly.

Globalization and the internet forced on us a sense of being a single community although a dysfunctional community. A community forms a Durkheimian religion by representing itself as some object or situation. That object or situation becomes its totem. The totem is sacred or holy. Various rituals developed to protect or honor its totem provide a sense of protecting or honoring the community. That which damages or threatens the totem is taboo, unclean and unholy. Threats to the totem provide an opportunity for its community to feel strength and solidarity by protecting its totem.

The COVID-19 pandemic provides an opportunity for the new global community to express itself and feel solidarity. My suggestion is that human religiosity uses the pandemic as an occasion for expressing itself. Religiosity does not create the pandemic. It transforms health into a totem.

Perhaps in the convoluted ways of religious representation health may be represented by the face mask and, then, the face mask becomes the totem.

The threat is COVID-19. COVID-19 is unholy -the taboo. The taboo is everywhere. It may be on anyone of us without our knowing about it. Heavy economic sacrifices and ritual behavior such as social distancing can be taken as ways of protecting the totem by purifying us from the taboo.

I stop now commenting on the COVID-19 crisis because I am not a sociologist. But if anyone ever reads my blog posts, this suggestion might be worth considering.

Pope Francis’ Opens a Door to Sexual Nihilism

I take the liberty of quoting the entire article by Edward Pentin from the on-line edition of National Catholic Register,September 14, 2019. It is evidence that Pope Francis either endorses what I have called “The moral neutrality of sexuality” or is willing to have inconsistent sexual moral theologies taught as authentically Catholic. However, the moral neutrality of sexuality would be the sexual morality taught at the important the Pontifical John Paul II Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences.

I have pointed out that accepting the moral neutrality of sexuality undercuts traditional Catholic sexual morality. Note that accepting the moral neutrality of sexuality is tantamount to accepting that no sexual acts are intrinsically morally disordered.

Let us pray that the Holy Father knows how to preserve Catholic Christianity as a serious religion if it in principle accepts that under certain conditions, with certain intentions and high probability of beneficial consequences any sexual act is morally permissible. The moral neutrality of sexuality undercuts the religious outlook of Catholic Christianity which views human beings as fallen, needing redemption for our sins, and divine help to avoid sin.

There is nothing like the struggle to be chaste, eg., struggling against temptations to masturbation, to convince us that we are strongly tempted to sin, we cannot avoid sin by our own efforts and we need forgiveness for our sins. Performance of the corporeal works of mercy is necessary for salvation. But they are far easier to perform than, say, practicing natural family planning. At least that has been my personal experience

The Catholic Register article follows.

New JPII Institute Professors Question Church Orthodoxy on Homosexuality, Contraception

Father Maurizio Chiodi and Father Pier Davide Guenzi currently teach moral theology at the University of Northern Italy in Milan, and both are well known for their questioning of moral absolutes.

VATICAN CITY — The latest development in what is becoming increasingly viewed as both a purge and a revolution of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute is the hiring of two moral theologians whose views on homosexuality and contraception contradict the magisterium.
The new professors, Father Maurizio Chiodi and Father Pier Davide Guenzi, both moral theologians at the University of Northern Italy in Milan, will begin teaching at the Pontifical John Paul II Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences as part of its 2019-2020 curriculum announced this week.
Father Chiodi, whom Archbishop Paglia appointed as a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life in 2017, is to teach “Theological Ethics of Life” at the institute.
Father Guenzi is to lecture on the “Anthropology and Ethics of Birth.” Both professors, whose appointments follow highly contentious removals of long-serving lecturers in July, are well known for their questioning of moral absolutes.
In 2017, Father Chiodi gave a controversial Rome lecture on Humanae Vitae in which he used Chapter 8 of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the family, Amoris Laetitia, to justify contraceptive use in some cases.
More recently, he gave an interview to the Italian bishops’ newspaper Avvenire in which he asserted that, while each homosexual person is called to chastity, “under certain conditions” and depending on circumstances, homosexual relationships can be “the most fruitful way” for same-sex attracted persons “to enjoy good relations.”
The interview appeared to suggest that Father Chiodi was open to considering homosexual acts as “objectively good,” according to bioethicist Tommaso Scandroglio, writing in the Italian Catholic daily La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana.
Father Guenzi expressed similar views to Father Chiodi in another recent interview with Avvenire. On the subject of whether homosexual acts could ever be licit, Father Guenzi equivocated, saying it depended on the “relationship, between the intention of the individual and the sense of their actions.” In this regard, he added, “they may be deemed ‘imperfect’ as other sexual behaviors are, even within the life of a stable heterosexual couple.”
With respect to homosexual relations generally, he drew on Amoris Laetitia, Chapter 8, to assert that every situation has to be discerned differently. In recent years “we have learned that the natural law must be continually rethought,” he said. “There are deep dynamics inherent to each human person which ask to be respected as inherent to the structure of anthropology.”
Fathers Chiodi and Guenzi are two of eight new lecturers to be hired by the institute this forthcoming academic year, all of them Italian, while other incumbent professors including Polish philosophy Prof. Stanislaw Grygiel, a close friend of Pope St. John Paul II, have been sidelined or given their marching orders.
Grygiel has said he believes the institute is being “destroyed” and that John Paul II’s anthropological teaching replaced by “sociological and psychological meanderings.”
Both Professors Chiodi and Guenzi are understood to be close associates of the institute’s grand chancellor, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, and effectively replace Msgr. Livio Melina, a former president of the institute who held the institute’s now-obsolete chair of fundamental moral theology, and moral theologian, Father José Noriega.
The removals in July of Msgr. Melina and Father Noriega, and the way they were dismissed, led to over 200 scholars worldwide, including well-known U.S. academics such as professor Robert George and professor. Scott Hahn, signing an open letter to Archbishop Paglia, and the institute’s president, Msgr. Pierangelo Sequeri, asking they be reinstated.
The personnel changes come two years after Pope Francis issued a decree refounding the institute and giving it a new name.
The Register asked Archbishop Paglia whether he could give reasons for employing Fathers Chiodi and Guenzi to teach at the institute in light of their views on homosexuality and contraception. He has yet to reply.

End of Register article

I authored a book Confronting Sexual Nihilism: Traditional Sexual Morality as an Antidote to Nihilism Oklahoma City March 11, 2014. Sexual Nihilism is equivalent to the moral neutrality of sexuality. I argue that sexual nihilism leads to total moral nihilism which is frequently labeled moral relativism. See Book Web Page for more information about the book. Free copies can be obtained here by credit card by paying $3.75 for shipping and handling.





To receive a free book, send check of $3.75 for shipping and handling per copy. Send to:
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Respect For the Moral Law

In my normative theory of moral harm, I first proposed that moral harm is an ad hoc prescription that harm ought to occur because of a violation of a moral law. For instance, if the moral law is “Thou shalt not bear false witness against your neighbor” and a man perjurers himself by falsely accusing his neighbor of theft, the ad hoc moral prescription is “Harm ought to happen because of this violation.”

Throughout my posts on moral harm, I have usually allowed the ad hoc proposals to be specified in more detail as “Harm ought to happen to perpetrators and accomplices in some proportion to the nature of the violation.” To specify that the harm be to perpetrators etc., helps make my theory closer to common sense.

Nonetheless, once harm is required for violation of a moral law, it remains to ask “For whom?” and “How much?” However, in this post I do not explore the questions of “To whom?” and “How much?” So, feel free to understand these ad hoc prescriptions for harm as demanding punishment to fit the crime for perpetrators. When I discuss collective guilt, inherited guilt and substitutionary atonement it is useful to bring out the separation of the issues of “to whom?” and “how much?”

Here I want to explore the significant enhancement of the theory made in the previous post. The enhancement is that genuine moral thought requires a type of fear. The ad hoc prescription cannot be interpreted simply as a normative statement that harm ought to be done for the violation. As I put it at the end of the previous post on wrath of God.

The major “take-away” from this post is that the prescription in morality that harm ought to happen upon violation of a moral law cannot be regarded as simply the statement of a prescription for harm. It needs to be understood as the expression of a being offended by the violation of a moral law, with the authority to command the harm threatened by the moral law and some capability to bring about this prescribed harm.

Similarly, the basic moral laws are to be understood as the actual commands of a being with the authority to issue the commands. Moral laws are not to be understood as primarily statements of the moral law.

The suggestion that moral laws are primarily statements of what ought and ought not be suggests a distorted picture of morality. It suggests that experiencing what is required by morality is obtained by consulting some moral law book to learn what is required. Now the distortion is not the suggestion of a immaterial moral law book. The distortion is the suggestion that experiencing the moral law is learning the fact that such-and-such IS written in the book. OUGHT cannot be based merely on what IS; not even what is commanded. An ought- an obligation- must be experienced as the reception of a command.

I admit that the suggestion of hearing a command from an immaterial moral authority is no clearer than the suggestion of reading a statement of a moral law in the immaterial law book of an immaterial moral authority. But the analogy to hearing a command corresponds better to the experience of being obligated than to reading a statement of the law.

Unfortunately, any serious discussion of the basic moral concepts will come in conflict with a dominant bias that there is nothing over and above that which can be investigated by the methods of natural science.

Let us return to the main question of this post. Amongst the constellation of concepts for moral thought we have uncovered that in authentic moral thought there is a concept of a type of fear. What is this fear? Like almost all concepts this concept of fearing to violate a moral law is a mixture of cognitive and emotional components: a feeling structured by thoughts. (Sometimes I like to call these thought/feeling complexes attitudes.) There is an emotion of fear but it is structured by thoughts about the moral commands. It’s a fear of the ability and willingness of the moral authority to have the harm which ought to occur upon violation of the law to actually occur. There is this fear about both violating the general moral laws and not having the ad hoc prescriptions for harm not being fulfilled.

I think we can call this fear of violating a moral law RESPECT for the moral law.

(I confess to being influence in selection of this English term for his German term Achtung as the concept characterizing the attitude of genuine moral thought towards moral laws. But I make no pretense of interpreting Kant.)

Why use “respect” which suggests more thought than feeling?

Moral laws are too frequently violated to suggest that people live in terror of the moral authority. Those who try to follow moral laws could be characterized as having a thoughtful fear. Even those of us who think moral laws are commands of God and violations provoke the wrath of God, I think could be characterized by having respect for the wrath of God. We do not expect God to send down fire and brimstone at, say, the many sexual sins. We think that God is offended by what goes on in bathhouses and believe that harm is and will be occurring because of what goes on. But we do not expect anything dramatic to happen. I am personally reluctant to classify the AIDs epidemic as God’s wrath blazing. But maybe I should.

But most of all it must be emphasized that fear of violations of moral laws and prescriptions is not so strong that it overwhelms our free will. Despite fear of violating moral laws, we can, and do, choose to violate them. Yet we can never choose to violate a moral law and have it be a correct choice. “Respect” is a good term for an attitude towards a rule that we know we can violate but can never be right in violating it.

Moral Harm as The Wrath of God

In my previous posts on moral harm, morality has been discussed from a secular perspective. There was no mention of God or divine beings who cared about human morality; let alone created it. I did not take this secular perspective because I do not believe that God cares that humans follow the morality He gives us. I take the secular approach because I want to find the simplest or most basic concepts in our moral thinking. Thinking of a violation of a moral law as simply a violation of a law is simpler than thinking of the violation of a law commanded by God. Finding the simplest concepts in our moral thought enables us to recognize its structure. Recognizing the structure of our moral thinking increases our understanding of what we are thinking when we think morally.

In this post, I want to introduce the concept of moral laws as commands of God. Looking at moral laws as divine commands enables us to think of violations of moral laws as sins. Previously, I proposed from the secular perspective,Revision of Normative Theory of Moral Harm, that moral harm is the addition to morality of a negative prescription that harm ought to be done because of the violation. This negative prescription was characterized as dirt or junk in moral thought because it was something out of place in moral thought. This way of characterizing moral harm makes moral harm something formal or even verbal. However, with moral thought personalized as the thought of God on how humans ought to behave, the prescription that harm ought to occur because of the violation is not simply words. The prescription that harm ought to occur is God’s thought. A thought of God that harm ought to occur because of a violation of one of His laws can be fairly characterized as the wrath of God.

So from a religious perspective common in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the moral harm produced by simply violating a moral law, is the thought of God that now some harm ought to occur to humans – usually the perpetrator.

Unless God relents what He thinks ought to occur will occur. So, when we add a religious perspective, moral harm seems much, much more harmful than when described merely in secular terms.

The major “take-away” from this post is that the prescription in morality that harm ought to happen upon violation of a moral law cannot be regarded as simply the statement of a prescription for harm. It needs to be understood as the expression of a being offended by the violation of a moral law, with the authority to command the harm threatened by the moral law and some capability to bring about this prescribed harm