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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Common Moral Sense: indelible even if suppressed, April 23, 2008
This review is from: What We Can't Not Know: A Guide (Paperback)
It seems impossible these days to speak of a moral consensus. Even the most basic moral duties are increasingly seen as dispensible: honesty, promise-keeping, faithfulness to spouses. The idea seems to be that at issue is not moral right or wrong, only moral disagreement. But school shootings and desertion of minor children by fathers are some of the symptoms of the chaos that results from adopting as axiomatic that you shall not impose you morality on someone else. In fact to claim as the author is doing, that not only is there a common moral law that applies to everyone, but that it is also in a sense known to everyone, is to evoke feelings of outrage. "Never before," he asserts, "has vice held the high moral ground." Affirming the moral law is called "being judgmental" and "being intolerant", which means it has been judged and will not be tolerated.

The problem has largely been that Christians have been making their case from the Bible when speaking to an unbelieving culture. To be sure, the Scriptures are essential and we must not just put them aside; the question is when is it appropriate and wise to utilize them. Christians believe that God has revealed Himself not only in the Bible but also in nature, in our very design. When making our case we need to follow the example of the apostle Paul, who argued from the Scriptures when speaking to people who accepted them as authoritative. But when speaking to those who didn't know or accept the Scriptures, he argued from what they did know: their altar to an unknown god, and references to their own poets. We learn from Paul that because God has written his law in our hearts, not only is there a moral law that is right for everyone but at some level it is known to everyone, even if repressed and held down. What we call "the natural law", then, involves what we can't not know.

There are four ways that "what we can't not know" is known; these can be called "witnesses". The first witness is deep conscience, to be distinguished from surface conscience in that it cannot be erased or be mistaken. Deep conscience includes basic moral truths like "murder is wrong" and the concept of fairness. The second witness is the witness of "design as such", and this ties in with the first because only if our deep conscience is designed is there any reason to think that it is telling us truth.

The third witness is of the details of our design. Since we are designed, we see that some of the Designer's intentions for us are clear from the human blueprint. We speak, then, of the purpose of the various features of our design. This is important because recognition of that purpose is necessary if the designed feature is to function properly. Finally, the fourth witness is that of natural consequences. These are what result when we thwart the various aspects of our design. Consequences are not the reason a particular act, say, extramarital sex, is wrong; rather they function to point out the natural purposes of things. For example, "the natural link between sex and pregnancy is not just a brute fact to be circumvented by latex; it declares that sex serves the purpose of procreation, of having and raising children."

Having said all that, it does seem that, in a sense, what can't not be known has been forgotten. How could this be? "There is nothing wrong with the basic programming of conscience; the problem is in the interface, the human will." It is true that deep conscience cannot err, but in working out the remote implications, we can err, and worse we can lie to ourselves so that we create problems at the level of surface conscience. We rationalize our deeds, trying to make it appear that what we have done was actually right. When we do this we truly are set on a downward road, going from evil to evil.

A good example of this is the sexual revolution, which, to attain its goals, required getting rid of chastity. This in turn required destroying the privilege of limiting sex to marriage. As one thing led to another this required denying what sex is for: it was no longer for procreation but for pleasure, and pregnancy became an unpleasant byproduct. And so we continued downward, until we reached a point "when we legalized the private use of lethal violence against babies yet unborn. The justification of such staggering betrayal takes more lies than there are words to tell them."

And yet the author is confident that there is hope. The sexual revolution has not brought liberation but bondage. Many of those who have experienced its devastation firsthand are exhausted and disillusioned. Though they may have spent their whole lives repressing what they can't not know, "like crabgrass growing through the cracks and crannies of concrete slabs, the awareness of the moral law breaks even through the cracks of our denials." Christians must become skilled at gently helping the lost navigate through the maze of lies our culture has created. When that is done, a terminal point is reached where the moral law can go no further. It tells us that we need forgiveness, but it does not tell us how that is to be obtained. When people reach that point, then Christians need to utilitize God's other revelation, that written in Scripture. For there is One who is eager not only to forgive, but to make whole again, to bring our lives back into harmony with our design.

For those who are interested, there is a two hour lecture that the author, J. Budziszewski (pronounced "Boo-jee-shef-ski") has given, with the same title, available from Stand to Reason, at their website. I have found it very helpful because it is a difficult book, and the lecture clarifies the central points.
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Location: Edmonton, Canada

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