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Reflections on Ethics 22
Why Do Right? A Secularist's Answer

by Charles Watts (1835 - 1906)

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Introduction

MOST persons can distinguish between right and wrong; but it is not so easy to decide why certain actions are right, and others the very reverse. According to orthodox Christianity, the sanction for right-doing is a conviction that our actions should accord with God's will, and that we should abstain from the performance of wrong acts through fear of punishment in some future existence. These are not the Secular reasons for doing the right thing or avoiding the wrong. Apart from the difficulty of ascertaining what the will of God is (for it is nowhere definitely stated), the value of that will would consist in its nature. We should ask, Is it just or reasonable to think that obedience to that will would secure the happiness of the community? Is it not a fact that all that can be known of the supposed will of the Christian God is to be learnt from the Bible? But then it should be remembered that the many representations given of the Divine will in that book are not only contradictory, but they would, if acted upon, prove most dangerous to the well-being of society. For instance, it is there stated that it is God's will that we should take no thought for oar lives (Matt. vi. 25); that we should not lay up for ourselves treasures on earth (Matt. vi. 19); that we should resist not evil (Matt. v. 39); that we should set our affections on things above, not on things on the earth (Col. iii. 2); that we should love not the world (I John ii. 15); that if we offend in one point of the law, we are guilty of all (James ii. 10); that we are to obey not only good, but bad, masters (I Peter ii. 18); and that it is good morality to say, "What, therefore, God hath joined together, let no man put asunder" (Matt. xix. 6); that we should swear not at all (Matt. v. 34). that we cannot go to Christ except the Father draw us (John vi. 44); that we are to labor not for the meat which perishoth (John vi. 27); that we are to hate our own flesh and blood (Luke xiv. 26); that those who leave their families for the "Gospel's sake" shall be rewarded here and hereafter (Mark x. 29, 30); that men should believe a lie, that they all might be damned (2 Thess. ii. 11, 12); that the world cannot be saved by any name except that of Christ Acts iv. 12); that salvation should be obtained through faith, and not of works (Ephes. ii. 8, 9); that the sick are to rely upon the "prayer of faith" to save them (James v. 15); that if any two Christians agree upon something, and send a supplication to heaven for that something, it shall be granted them (Matt. xviii. 19). Now, according to general experience, if we complied with the will of God, as here stated, society would not pronounce our actions as right, but they would be condemned as being hurtful to the commonwealth.

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