Where does morality come from?
We have all seen it, haven’t we? Children with the same parents, growing up with the same family. Yet, one child seems to be “good” from birth, while another appears to consistently make bad choices. We even have names for the latter, such as “black sheep.” Such phenomena cause us to wonder whether there may be something of a genetic component to morality.
I’m not sure I buy all that, but I can’t deny that it’s a good question, so often are the circumstances in which I hear one person described as “the good son” or “the prodigal daughter.”
Likewise, we have all seen the influence of good Christian upbringing and a solid family life on ethical and moral behavior in children. It is no wonder to me that so often the children I would want most to be part of my family are also from the parents I would want most to be part of my family. The fact that children learn right and wrong, good and bad from their parents (through word and deed) argues for a nurture component in morality.
Perhaps the truth is somewhere in between the two viewpoints. I really don’t know. But what I do know is this: Of all the factors that may influence a person’s moral behavior, none of them appears to be associated with fame or fortune.
And that is why the situation surrounding Bill Cosby is so surprising to me. I suppose I am surprised because people are surprised. I have heard astonishment and outrage that someone like Bill Cosby could possibly do the things he is accused of doing.
We are complicit in our own shock and dismay because we have attributed to Bill Cosby traits which he has not earned and which should never have been attributed to him.
What aspect of joke-telling and acting lends itself to moral behavior? None.
Likewise, we have attributed to athletes moral behavior for which they did not deserve. For instance, what aspect of running with a football predisposes one to moral behavior? Clearly in the case of O.J. Simpson, the answer would be none. Yet there was also shock when he was accused of brutally killing two people.
What aspect of being a successful politician lends itself to moral behavior? Apparently, none. We could start the list with Bill Clinton, but it would take all day to complete it. So, why the surprise when Monica Lewinsky became a household name?
By and large, the problems surrounding our astonishment and disappointment in these “celebrities gone bad” situations is that we inappropriately attribute to famous people characteristics they neither needed to become famous nor possess. And that is something we simply should not do.
Now, you may be thinking that, as a pastor, I am about to suggest that what we should be looking for Christian faith in people. Instead of saying that outright, I will say this:
First, Christians are not perfectly moral people. Christians can act just as immorally as anyone else.
Second, I cannot deny that of all the people I have been around in my life, from athletes to politicians to those famous and rich, the people who consistently demonstrate moral behavior, and consider their behavior regularly, are those I find in a pew Sunday morning.
And it is not because they are perfect; they (including me) clearly are not. They just have one reason more than others to act morally; they serve a holy God. And that is the best reason of all.