Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Ethics and Justice. Part 10: The Eight Principles of Moral and Ethical Behavior

Consider the first nine parts of this series on Ethics and Justice to be an introduction. After all these principles, the question is still out there, “Okay, so what should I do?” Once certain principles are ingrained in your subconscious mind, the right thing to do will be the natural thing to do. So here are eight principles that can be used by anyone to live just and ethical lives.

1. Do no Harm
You’re not really proactively good, you just have the courtesy not to intentionally hurt people. Most people define ethics and morality in terms of not hurting anyone. People define goodness negatively - “Of course I’m good. I’ve never killed anyone or robbed a bank.” One man said to his wife, “You know, I’m a good husband. We’ve been married for thirty years, and I’ve never once hit you.” If you can’t do any good, just don’t do any harm!

2. Do Good
James 4:17Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” Doing the right thing, initiating good, taking proactive steps is to swim against the tide. It is human nature to be led, to go with the flow, to blend in - this is why mobs of people will commit crimes that, individually, people would never commit. Goodness requires empathy. If you are incapable of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, you are capable of doing great evil.

3. Tell the Truth
One of the 10 Commandments is “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” Living consistently with what you say is at the heart of personal integrity. Lying is the antithesis of who God is. Jesus says in John 14:6: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” If God is truth, then falsehood is like kryptonite – it goes against everything that God is. God can’t lie, and He will not tolerate deceit in people who are created to be like Him.

4. Keep Your Promises
This builds on the commitment to always tell the truth. Giving your word is a serious thing. And again, it’s about having respect for other people. Ethical people build reputations of honesty and integrity. Ethical people are reliable and dependable. Psalm 15 says, “Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary? He who keeps his oath even when it hurts.” God does not take lightly the breaking of covenants. Keep your word. Do what you say. Be faithful to your commitments because it honors God.

5. Respect Other People’s Freedom
This is staying out of other people’s business. Don’t meddle. Don’t be a busybody. The freedom to make our own decisions is a wonderful thing because it is a gift from God, and cannot be taken away by any person. This is why religion can never be coercive. Ethical behavior is built on the principle of respecting other people. When respect for another human being, created in the Image of God, is breached in any way, we are guilty of unethical behavior. Don’t tell adult people what to do just because you would do it differently.

6. Practice Fairness
Proverbs 29:7The Righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.” Ethical people are just and fair, and treat those who are weaker than them with respect and dignity. Here's a good measure. Ask yourself, "How do I treat people who are not in a position to do anything for me?" It's easy to be nice, and kind, and polite to people who can do something for us, people who have some power over us. But what about people who are weaker than us, people who are poorer than us, people who have no power over us? How do we treat them? God is deeply concerned with how we treat each other - so practice justice and fairness, and the more power and wealth you have, the greater the responsibility you have to act justly, and to be fair.

7. Make Reparations for Wrongs Committed
This practice of restitution, of reparation is deeply rooted in the principle of justice in the Hebrew Bible. If you stole something, you repaid what you took - a simple “I’m sorry” was not enough. This principle of restitution is an important step in addiction recovery programs - you’ve got to go back and fix what you did wrong. This is an important New Testament principle. It’s called repentance. 

8. Show Gratitude
We teach our kids that the foundation of politeness is to say “please” and “thank you.” It’s a wonderfully simple message, and yet it’s the most openly violated principle of polite behavior. Give thanks in all circumstances. Why? Because we who have tasted God’s love view all of life through the lens of thankfulness. “Thanks be to God.”

And finally, to quote Jesus, “Now go and DO likewise.”

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