Moral Dilemma and Christian Morality

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Recently I have been commuting to work for my new job. During my total driving time of two hours, I have been listening to a variety of different Catholic podcasts. One of the apologists that I enjoy listening to is part of Catholic Answers, Trent Horn. What makes Mr. Horn’s apologies appealing to me is his very firm background in logic rooted in the Classics. During the radio show, Mr. Horn often opens up the forum to take calls of those who are either confused by Catholicism or firmly object to them. However, I would make a critique of the show, although he is very understanding of other viewpoints he and the other host often force every caller into answering leading closed questions rather than having an actual discussion. After the person either agrees with Mr. Horn, or sometimes hangs up, the show always cuts to commercial break thus ending with that final point.

One of the topics of Mr. Horn’s show that aired two days ago was Catholic Morality. Mr. Horn asked callers to call in and explain what and why they objected to Catholic Morality. Of course, many of the topics discussed were on the subject of life, the value of it, and the dignity of every human being. One caller, who admitted he was an Atheist, called in and asserted that religion offers nothing new to the table—an assertion I’ve heard made by many atheists. Mr. Horn and the gentleman eventually deduced the separation in their beliefs based on that Mr. Horn believes that what God reveals to be moral, such as how to worship, is not something that can be discovered by biological instincts as claimed by the caller.

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The discussion then either developed or regressed—I’m still trying to decide between the two—into general philosophical examples of moral dilemmas. One of the dilemma’s that stuck out to me was one that for some reason that I had thought of a couple of days prior to the radio show. The name of the dilemma is often referred to as the “Trolley Problem,” and as I have seen employed often to catch Christians in a “gotcha” moment to claim that Christians would naturally by moral instinct either save the most life. The problem often with Moral Dilemmas is they are most likely always logical fallacies for they often exclude the middle, another option, or what is also known as “tertium non datur: ”

The Trolley Problem is often framed as this scenario: A speeding train is heading toward a railroad car carrying five people. You can save these five people by hitting the train switch, which will change the direction of the train. However, the train will then turn towards one person on the tracks killing that person, or you can simply do nothing letting the five people die. The answer to the scenario is indeed complicated, however, it concludes that your action has only two possible results based on your logical reasoning. It forces one of Christian moral principle to choose to allow someone to die. One of the fundamental problems with is that the moral dilemma attempting to measure the general psychology of temporal perception forcefully and fallaciously negates the proper Christian response. A Christian, who has ultimately chosen to no longer live his own life, but that of Christ, as St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatians (2:20) would seek to offer up his own life to save the entirety of the group. Of course, the gotcha crowd will attempt to either assert that only two outcomes are possible, but in the course of the actual event: A. No one would know it. B. No, in fact, the psychologist or philosopher doesn’t either.  In fact, it’s a complete failure to understand Christian philosophy to attempt to eliminate hope with forced probability of outcomes.

Mr. Horn used another dilemma example, a War Chief would either get to rape a woman or he would murder a village of 1000 residents. After Mr. Horn explained to the caller that he would not let the War Chief rape the woman as an exchange, the caller was flabbergasted. “You would let him KILL 1000 people!” Mr. Horn reminded the caller that the Christian open to the grace of God cannot be complicit in intrinsically evil actions because we start to justify one evil as greater than another then ultimately the cost is too high. Finally, Mr. Horn ended with this scenario: A man breaks into his house and says, “I will kill your wife and let your family live, or I will kill you all.” Mr. Horn to the stunned callers silence said, “I will not choose to kill anyone, I would simply say may God have mercy on all of our souls.”

What the world, the philosopher, and the psychologist have forgotten is that the seeds of Christian moral philosophy are the seeds of martyrdom. All Christians value life as a gift; however, we must all pray for the Grace of God to give us the understanding of our call to truly love our neighbors.

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4 thoughts on “Moral Dilemma and Christian Morality

    • Pilate is very much comparable to the Modern Western perception. After all he’s a Roman government state official, he speaks, and acts very similar to how most Westerners think. Pilate asks, “What is truth?”

      Pilate gives the crowd a choice much of the same as you have noted in a similar dilemma. If he finds an innocent man guilty due to the demand of the masses, the result will be better on a whole.

      In the end, the modern Western perception is one that is purely secular. The Christian model is a model that sees life as a gift, but one that still acknowledges the well-being of the soul. The lesser of two evils, is still an act of evil, this is why Mr. Horn answers the way that he does.

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  1. Hey, these are both interesting discussions!

    Like the thought in your post – I was thinking the other day about abusive, manipulative situations, where a tormentor would give one the option of what manner of torment they would receive. Would either be the best option? Most would select that which they believed to be less painful – or some, out of spite would select that which would be more painful (there was a conversation in the movie ‘Good Will Hunting’ to that end).

    In fact, making a selection at all gives validation to the authority of the oppressor. If someone says: ‘I am going to commit a sin, you choose whether it is a grievous, violent sin, or just an insignificant sin.’ Your answering is only the giving of your human permission as though that person has the authority to do either. In essence you align yourself with that person’s sin – they have already decided to do something wicked, and in rebellion to the law of God. I think that is an appropriate way to see the situation.

    Oh man, and poor Pilate! I wonder from the context of the dialogues laid out in scripture if Pilate was beginning to come around to the Jewish perspective of God (particularly those in the book of John, where Pilate seems completely flabergasted about the situation: ‘Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me – What hast thou done?!’ (18:35) He asks Jesus). Even Pilate’s wife was having prophetic dreams about Jesus (Matt 27:19).

    Here he was, a secular stationed amongst the most spiritual people on the planet – in order to rule them he would have to be acquainted with their perspectives. No doubt he had read Torah – perhaps he was becoming persuaded; and now these most religious of all people strive to put this Holy Man to death?! WHAT IS TRUTH?!

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    • I think you’ve hit it on the head here. The issue is that a person compelling a person to decide an either or scenario is obviously an aggressor. Most would agree. However, what some may either reject or at least not acknowledge is that by allowing oneself to choose between the options of the aggressor, we, in fact, become an accomplice to the perpetrated evil.

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