Ethics and History
In our consideration of the place of ethics and our understanding of ethics, I have been playing around with some considerations from history. I would like to turn now to see how the Word of God addresses ethical issues. I’m going to call these next several blog entries my moral musings. (just to have some alliteration!)
In one of my earlier ponderings on ethics, I stated that, for me, a central text for my own understanding of what is ethical and moral arises from the prophet Micah’s declaration (in chapter 6:8),
He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
Chinese Exclusion Act 1882
I pondered this precept from God for many years already. I came to the realization that many who might quote this as their moral center, have failed to put it into practice. Too many of us have come to the point, along with much of Western culture, that if you are not caught and punished for some deed, it must be “OK.” The result? The laws of one’s land are the arbiter of what is good, moral, and just.
Here is one example that occurred in my country, the USA. In 1882, the Congress of the United States passed a law. It was called the Chinese Exclusion Act. The law suspended all immigration into the United States from China. It was only supposed to be in effect for 10 years, but actually remained in effect for 61 years. It was changed in 1943 when China allied itself with the United States in World War II.
Was that ethical?
Now was the law moral, or ethical, or just? Many in that day thought the law was just. Why? Because, anyone with Asian features aroused deep suspicion among the rest of the population. Chinese people “flooded” into California following the 1849 Gold Rush. The populace already in California said the Chinese were “causing social disruption” to their communities. By 1943, much of the anti-Chinese sentiment had faded. And immigration began again with 105 (yes you read that correctly) Chinese allowed to immigrate every year.
Again, I have to wonder, why did those in authority believe that someone of Asian origin was suspect? How did they manage to listen to sermons on Micah 6? Did they not ask themselves if the laws of the nation in which they lived reflected God’s will for the nation as much as for an individual? Where does the pursuit of what is right: to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God stop and the law of a country begin?
Is Morality only Personal?
Let’s ask ourselves, Do the laws of God extend to only me as a single person or are God’s laws also intended for the good of a whole society? As we muse on morality further in posts to come, let’s try to see how and if God’s will extends to counties as well as people. I hope you will join the discussion.