A recent article I wrote on Redemptive Morality made reference, in passing, to the current marriage equality debate raging in much of the English-speaking, Western world. Almost all the comments in response to this article focused mostly on the rightness or wrongness of alternative sexualities and the rights of those in a non-heterosexual relationship. This has prompted further thinking on why and how our morality might be considered to be so far removed from the morality that Jesus and the prophets seem to have demonstrated in the biblical records.
A few years ago, to break the boredom of a long flight from my home in New Zealand to the USA North-West to attend a couple of facilitated conversation events on Christian spirituality in action, I bought a copy of the Economist – something my friends found amusing given my complete lack of understanding of economics as evidenced in my personal budgeting deficiencies. I had an invigorating week with a dictionary in one hand trying to grasp the meaning of the fascinating material that I was reading. Amongst the many incredibly informative articles on a range of topics (hardly any on pure economics, thank God), was one on quantum computing. Given that I know only slightly more about computing than I know about economics, this was going to be a hard read.
However, with the help of Google and my trusty Smartphone dictionary, I gathered that quantum computing is where an atomic processor uses multiple processes simultaneously to handle the same byte of data at exactly the same time. This creates a situation where, in contrast to binary computing in which a processor uses linear logic that only allows for either an “on – I” or an “off – O” response to a byte of data, in quantum computing, the atomic processor employs a fuzzy logic approach that allows a response to the same byte of data with an “I” at the same time as the processor is responding with an “O”. Nevertheless, apparently this conflict can be harnessed to produce better quality solutions more quickly by using multiple processes and allowing this conflict to exist between them. (This is my summary after enduring a sustained period of brain ache!).
As I was attending these conversation events in the USA, a synthesis formed of what I was reading and what I was hearing and discussing. It seemed to me that, in our Christian belief system, we may have settled for a linear logic, binary thinking approach to doctrine, morality, ministry, behaviour, ecclesiology and life when perhaps God might be found to be more into a fuzzy logic, quantum thinking approach to exploring the intersection of life and faith that is demonstrated by Jesus and the prophets (and, interestingly, in Celtic Christian spirituality which seems to embrace a similar approach). Elsewhere, I will explore this notion in theological belief but, given the present context of this article, I want to explore it in relation to morality.
Our fascination in the West with linear logic can be traced to our heritage in Greco-Roman philosophy, in particular the Platonic version of this mindset. The influence (and, in my opinion, damage) in Christianity of this Greco-Roman approach on belief, teaching, learning, church government, religious architecture, theology and gender roles can be seen within the first century of the church’s existence (a topic which will be the subject of future articles). In all these areas, there is a quest to prove what is truth – what is right. And the result of this is a conclusion that, when we know what is right, every other option on this particular belief must be wrong (as Socrates discovered when he dared to suggest that we should have more questions than answers). From looking at my own experience and studying church history ancient and modern, it seems that we may have also fallen under the spell of this binary approach in our Christian morality.
In the previous article, I suggested that our personal and corporate morality is very much dictated by what we perceive, believe or have been taught to believe is right or wrong. A simple, linear logic is often employed to argue that if “Action A” is proscribed by “Absolute B” in our belief system, then “Action A” must be wrong. A sort of “A+B=C” approach (and please forgive me if I have got this wrong – I failed Algebra in Junior High – maths with numbers was hard enough, but maths without numbers did not compute in my brain). Thus, what follows is a binary morality that says that, because of this, “A” is always wrong and it can never be right. And so we have a neat and tidy way of deciding right and wrong.
But what if, as in quantum computing, God holds that “Action A” can be both right and wrong and he is more interested in a fuzzy logic approach to morality that focuses more on the implications of what I called “Redemptive Morality” in my previous article?
For many years I accepted the biblical story of the spies and Rahab in Jericho without questioning the moral conundrums it contains. God’s people sent two men as spies to scope out Jericho in advance of the Israelites implementing God’s plan for them to conquer the land of Canaan. They end up in the home of a prostitute, Rahab, who hides them and gives them the information they need and then protects them, has them stay in her house overnight and eventually facilitates their escape back to the Israelite camp to convey the necessary strategic information that will produce a successful conquest of her city. I rejoiced at the evidence of the provision and guidance of God and the compassion of the Israelites to Rahab who had risked her life to help God’s people and was rewarded in the short term with protection during the conquest and became part of the ancestry of David and Jesus and was, centuries later, declared a woman of faith in the Hebrew faith gallery.
But, a few years ago, a friend pointed out a few problems in this story of which I am sure most of us are aware but either ignore (as I did for many years) or put into the “too-hard” basket because to confront these details would challenge our linear logic, binary morality.
Firstly, what were two Israeli men doing going straight to a prostitute? Then, why did they stay there given the Jewish moral code about sexual relationships outside of marriage and with foreigners? Next, we have Rahab telling a blatant lie and sending the city authorities on a pursuit that she knew was pointless. To confuse the issue, the writer of the book of Joshua has this non-Jewish, sexually immoral woman reveal that she understands the all-powerful ways of Yahweh better than the Jewish men hiding in her house. Finally, the spies return to Joshua and report that God has spoken prophetically to his people through this non-Jewish woman who is a breaker of both the truth and sexual purity moral codes. This last sentence condemns her according to the Jewish legal, moral and religious code because she is not a member of the Jewish cult worship of Yahweh, she is engaging in proscribed moral behaviour, she is from an evil and sinful culture, and she is female.
A binary morality, based on the Jewish moral code in the torah, would consign this woman to damnation by applying a right and wrong filter to the data presented. Moreover, a binary morality should also condemn the Jewish spies for going to a place of sexual immorality. But, God seems to inspire the writer of the book of Joshua to ignore these sinful elements and instead focus on a bigger picture that allows for a fuzzy logic, quantum moral perspective that exposes how these events and people fitted God’s will.
This quantum morality that employs fuzzy logic concludes that two Jewish men going to the house of a foreign prostitute is wrong according to the torah but, at the same time, is right according to God’s will; that lying and deceit are proscribed in the torah but, at the same time, are prescribed when used to achieve God’s will; that sin must be punished according to the torah but can be rewarded when the implied immorality is used to achieve a successful implementation of God’s will; that the lying and deceit condemned in the torah result in the honour of being declared a person of faith because they helped bring about a commitment of God’s people to his will.
Does this mean that immorality, lying and deceit can be declared right? Far from it. But does that mean that immorality, lying and deceit can be declared wrong? From the above exploration, it would appear no. Are we asking the wrong question? Almost certainly the answer is yes. Instead of asking whether a particular belief, action, desire, practice or expression is right or wrong, perhaps we should engage in a much more difficult exercise and ask how a particular belief, action, desire, practice or expression can be part of God’s plan to bring his will on earth.
Which brings us back to redemptive morality. What is God’s will? Perhaps we can summarize it as to redeem his creation – people, communities, nations, and the environment. Jesus makes this point emphatically when he says that “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through him.” This is reinforced by Paul who talks twice about the work of Christ reconciling all things to himself. Could it be that somehow our linear logic, binary morality has twisted God’s will into being a crusade to persuade people to do what we Christians consider to be right in all situations. But, maybe this is merely our will individually and corporately in Christianity and perhaps there may be a more redemptive approach to morality to be found in a fuzzy logic, quantum morality that adheres more authentically to the will of God to redeem his creation.
Mal Green is a member of Incedo, a mission order in New Zealand exploring what it means to follow Jesus with young people 24/7 outside of the structures of Christianity so that we can invite them to join us in our faith adventure. He has been hanging out with young people since 1969 while studying, lecturing, mentoring, pastoring.