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Thursday, November 14, 2013

"Doing the Right Thing" (Scott B. Rae)

TITLE: Doing the Right Thing: Making Moral Choices in a World Full of Options
AUTHOR: Scott B. Rae
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013, (192 pages).

This book reminds us that we live in a culture that practices values very contrary to biblical teachings. In fact, not only are they at odds with biblical principles, they are increasingly more aggressive at shutting down traditional values that have underpinned society's success for so many decades. In an age of compromise, we have failed to uphold our promises. In a frantic search for profits, we let ethics fly out the window. In an age of relativism, we lose sight of absolute truths that are so critical to maintaining a sense of doing the right thing. "Reason is indispensable" so says Scott Rae, in this companion book to the late Charles Colson's film series of the same name. For the purpose of this review, while credit goes to Scott Rae, it is good to know that many of the ideas originated from the late Chuck Colson, simply because the book is based on the film series.

For thirty-five years, Colson had stood for the need to do the right thing in his circles of influence. Based on Colson's experiences with prison inmates and ministry knowledge through the Prison Fellowship, Colson's conviction is that people fall not because of "backgrounds, family dysfunction, or poverty" but because of poor moral choices made. While the DVD series was completed before Colson's death, the accompanying book was not. Rae helps complete this book project. The book aims to do what the film has been criticized for not doing enough. For instance, many have claimed that the films were not biblical enough, or lacked a fuller picture. The book addresses the criticisms and supplies much more. The two purposes for this book is firstly to help readers see clearly the need for moral choices; and secondly, to think biblically.

Chapter 1 talks about the ethical mess we are still in. For instance, the financial crisis is not about money but about the wrong moral choices made about the money. The author claims that when something went wrong, it was wrong ethically in the first place. For example, what kind of ethical standards is one having when one knowingly sells worthless stocks? Moral decay affects many parts of society. In education circles, teaching staff help students cheat. In legal courts, people blatantly lie while under oath. With lying comes cheating and thefts. From drug use to pornography, one moral lapse easily leads to a larger moral lap of dishonour. Worse, when questioned, perpetrators aggressively attack those who try to set things right!

Chapter 2 probes the question whether a moral law that we can know in the first place. Using the example of Dr Martin Luther King Jr, if there is such a thing as an unjust law, there is a way of knowing what is right and what is wrong. More crucially, moral truth is connected to moral law. Making a distinction between what is fact and what is opinion is key to understanding moral statements. Without any moral law, then society will be utterly confused what constitutes sexual assault, racial discrimination, human rights abuse, basic code for living, etc.

Chapter 3 moves from the knowing to the doing. Knowing what is right or wrong is one thing. Actually practicing it is another. Colson traces his own moral lapses that eventually led him to conviction and imprisonment. When winning supercedes right choices, or when choices are only right when the money says it is so, a moral lapse is already in play. People who compromise their ethics will try to shift the goal posts of morality. They accuse anyone standing up for morality with the common statement: "Who gives you the right to judge?" The ancient philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, Epicurus, Aristotle, Augustine, and others have laid much groundwork for the moral society.

Chapter 4 connects morality with humanity.  Without a moral stand, lives get cheapened. It is crucial to the understanding of meaning and significance of human lives. The author talks about abortion matters, which is the basic respect for human lives. He brings up the matter of stem cell research cautioning us that the living cells are more than mere "clumps of cells." He touches on euthanasia where assisted suicides if legalized make the elderly most vulnerable to abuse. Without a proper moral way, people deemed disabled will not have as much "rights" as the rest.

Chapter 5 is about "Ethics in the Marketplace" where the author begins by stating work itself is good, and is a legitimate way to be a means to an end. The problem is when workers do not go beyond this  instrumental meaning, work becomes a toil. It becomes a tool that enslaves. Instead of work being an extension of us as humans, it becomes a dreaded exercise for people just trying to make ends meet. Good work ethics require trust and virtue together. A lack of trust on the other hand is costly. Just think the the immense legal work and costs involved simply because business parties do not trust one another's words.

Chapter 6 is about public life, politics, and government. The author maintains that the role of government is not to lord over but to protect human lives. With conviction, Colson says that the role of government is "to preserve order, to do justice, and to promote human flourishing. In the biblical
understanding, that’s what a government does.
" When it comes to laws and morality, common law must be grounded on moral laws, and not the reverse. Even government must be under moral law. For government and justice, the role of government must uphold justice, and not just about executing the law. Differentiating the two can be tricky.

So What?

The key thing throughout the book is that every time a moral law is breached, it breaks many facets of society. Doing the right thing begins with knowing the right thing, moral truth and moral law. Doing the right things requires having the right actions and motivations.  Trust and virtue are core values needed for the proper functioning of any society. Unfortunately, morality is not only being threatened, it is at risk of coming under the lordship of secularism and relativism. While the early philosophers in the first 500 years built the framework for moral laws, a few hundred years later, people allow moral lapses to infiltrate many parts of society. The Rennaisance started to question it. The Enlightenment defied it. Postmodernity relativized it. Secularism neutralized it.

We hear about human rights all the time. Many even take to the streets to argue for freedom to do what they think is right, without adequate understanding of what is right or morally right. Yes, every person has a right to their own opinions. That does not mean every opinion is right. As long as society continues to shoot down anyone seeking to do the right thing, or to question the need for any moral statement to be made in the first place, there is a need for bold and clear minded people to stand up for what is right. The book of Proverbs in the King James Version said: "Where there is no vision, the people perish." Along that line, I like to supplement it by saying, where there are no morals, human rights and the sanctity of life will also perish, sooner or later.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Zondervan and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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