HHI Ethics Seminar
Feb. 7, 2018, Hilton Head Library
Neil Funnell offered a Google definition of morality: “A code of conduct put forth by society or religion”.
He then introduced the three speakers:
John Miller identified what he called a utilitarian definition of morality, actions providing the greatest good for the greatest number of people, and then offered a series of questions:
Greg Kronz answered the question of whether or not an atheist or an agnostic person can be immoral by saying his agnostic brother is definitely a moral person. He then gave context to what he called a decline in morality, saying it began in Europe in the 1600s and moved to this country in the 1700s and 1800s. He explained as follows: Rene Descartes’ statement, “I think therefore I am,” errs and should be replaced by the statement, “I think because God created me.”
Descartes was hinting at the notion, “I create my own morality.” David Hume said, “Any revelation after creation doesn’t exist.”
Greg said that he believes morals come from the Bible. Emanuel Kant argued that in the past humanity had external authorities to establish but that we don’t need those authorities any more. The thought was that reason, nature and time were ways to find morality. But from the Christian perspective, learning more science diminishes the authority of Scripture. Charles Darwin undermined the need for God.
The spiritual fervor or the Second Great Awakening exhibited great spiritual fervor full of subjectivity. Then came two world wars, then the morality of Ozzie and Harriet, then a new emphasis on reason, nature and time as the basis of morality. In our culture today, choice is almost a god. Authority is considered a problem. We are all choosing our own way.
Brad Bloom referenced Ecclesiastes, “There is nothing new under the sun.” He said history shows society constantly ascending and descending. Read any of the prophets in the Bible and you will find, he said, that “justice” meant “just us.” Outrageous notions have held in the past as well as now. “We in this room feel we know principles of right and wrong, recognize good and bad behavior, can make good decisions about values.” On the other hand, polls shows Americans believe we are on a moral decline. For a while the Bible was identified as a moral authority, but now the majority of millennials are un- affiliated with churches or synagogues so where will they get their morals?
Whether or not an action is “self-fulfilling” has become the test instead of religion. Society is very secularized. Biblical illiteracy is a problem. Pregnancy out of wedlock is a problem. Gun violence is a problem.
Isam Sakati and Neil Funnell moderated the discussion with the audience. Sakati began with a devil’s advocate statement. “It is arrogant to say morality came from God. Morality came from necessity. The concept of God came out of that evolution. We have been evolving since the beginning of time.”
From the audience:
Asked about the potential for an ecumenical council on the island as potential moral authority, Bloom asserted that it could be helpful and that he was frustrated to see his cherished colleagues not interested. Miller said one had existed until about 22 years ago when clergy decided that each congregation was more important than the whole community.
This was a particularly popular and well intended presentation, with over 70 attendees. Our sincere thanks to Rev. John Miller, Rev. Greg Kronz, and Rabbi Brad Bloom, for their well researched and thought provoking presentations. Thanks also to Neil Funnell and Isam Sakati for moderating and to Fran Bollin for her excellent note-taking and summary.