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.