Everyday Moral Choices

Article / Produced by TOW Project
Everyday moral choices

We have already suggested that most ethical decisions in our daily lives and work are made instantly, often under pressure and without much room for forethought. They are instinctive, being the product of habits of a lifetime, as well as shaped by the culture of the places we work and by the peer groups and faith communities we belong to.

Such decisions are influenced by the extent to which Christian virtues and character have been molded into the core of our being. This is regular Christian discipleship.

However, the importance of being as the foundation for our doing does not mean we have no need for moral reasoning. Within the virtuous life there is still a place for understanding rules and calculating consequences — but here the rules and consequences are subordinated to the virtues. They’re viewed as servants rather than masters. For example, even a person with the virtue of honesty has to understand and obey the rules of Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (International Financial Reporting Standards, outside the USA) in order to produce accurate financial statements. Terms such as “in our opinion” and “unforeseeable” have particular definitions that must be followed. But an honest person always uses the rules to increase the overall accuracy of the financial statement, never to find a way to obscure the truth without breaking any laws.

This emphasis on virtues does not eliminate moral dilemmas. In fact, competing virtues are also capable of pulling us in different directions. Examples of this are the tensions that sometimes exist between justice and peace, or loyalty and truth, or courage and prudence.

Making good moral decisions in these cases is less about seeing one right answer (because there probably is not just one) and more about striving for a balanced Christian response that recognizes all the competing priorities.

We are not just left striving earnestly all the time to discern and enact the perfect Christian response. In fact, recognizing that we live in a fallen world means realizing that often there is no perfect Christian response — that sometimes all courses of action include negative consequences. It is only by God’s grace that we can live forgiven and free as Christians. No longer desperately dependent on trying to do the right thing in order to earn God’s approval, but still committed to try to do the right thing as defined by the character of our Lord and Savior, the carpenter of Nazareth, in whose footsteps we follow as we go about our daily work.

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